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Selling Books On Amazon

Updated on June 26, 2016


Amazon box. Labeled for commercial use with modification.
Amazon box. Labeled for commercial use with modification. | Source

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During my Junior year of college, I was accumulating dozens of textbooks, many of which I never looked at after finishing the course that they were for. When I thought about how much it cost to purchase these books, I realized I had some high-value items just going to waste in my dorm room.

I bought most of my used textbooks on Amazon, so I thought there marketplace would be a good place to start selling. And it was! Consulting Amazon's prices was the start of a nice part-time gig for me.

Buying and selling used textbooks is a perfect source of cash for someone with another major commitment. Maybe you're in College and want to make a little cash to pay your way out of student loans. Whatever the reason may be, there is a clear path to make money selling used books on Amazon.

Step 1: Make a Seller Account

In order to create a seller account on Amazon, just go to, and click register. You will need to have a bank account, email and a legal residence that matches that account's address.

Step 2: Put Together an Inventory

Scour your house for textbooks that you don't need. Now that all of your books are in front of you, put together a list with their basic information. You will want to start with the information on or within the text like the name, ISBN edition, authors, country/city of publication. If you don't have Excel, Google as well as Open Office both have free spreadsheet options that you can use.

Some newer textbooks hold their value others do not. There are a number of bar code scanner apps for smartphone that will look up the price of a book on Amazon, eBay and a number of other places. I would start with Pricecheck, an application which is made by Amazon. If you find a book does not have value on Amazon, there's no point in listing it.

You can donate low value books for a tax write-off of up to $250 in value without itemizing its fair market value, something libraries and goodwill have not done for me. If you exceed that limit, you can try to find a large charity that will estimate it's fair market value. If that's fruitless, used bookstores are always looking for inventory and may pay in cash or store credit.

Step 3: List Your Books

Once you have the bare bones info organized electronically, it's time to estimate the book's costs. At a minimum, you will need to consider the: price of the book, weight, cost of packing materials, shipping method, Amazon commission and any applicable sales taxes. All of this matters because your goal is not making money, but making profits.

Before starting to consider the cost of any materials, it is essential to know your profit margin on the potential sale. Take one of the many paperback fiction books listed on Amazon for $0.01 + $3.99 in shipping. Can you profit off of selling for the difference between the $3.99 shipping credit Amazon offers and your own shipping costs? Maybe if you start with a MASSIVE value, paper-thing book, tons of time and decide to only ship to nearby states.

For the rest of us, it is important to recognize that the "profit margin", the difference between what you make and your costs selling the book is your maximum income from the sale. Even though this may be a part-time hobby, a growing enterprise of any scale needs investments to grow.

There are a number of web tools that will assist you, many of which are fee for service. I created a spreadsheet based on what I found on This website is very helpful. It helps you directly estimate your profit given the shipping costs, Amazon costs by category and amount paid to acquire the item. Visit for more information.

Amazon will also provide you a breakdown of the profits and losses upon listing an item and again with its sale. If you are dealing with more items or want to know your costs immediately, it may make sense to just make a spreadsheet or use mine.

Most secondary schools provide their students with the books they will be using. For this reason, the majority of students in the U.S. that purchase books are in college or higher. College Students typically buy textbooks for classes. When listing your books on Amazon, it's important to recognize that the timing is everything for the price.

Expect faster sales and better prices before or during the start of academic semesters and quarters. Students and their parents are the primary buyers of textbooks on Amazon. To get the most sales in the shortest period list your books for sale in late August, Early January, and late June, when fall, spring and summer semesters typically begin.

Another factor to consider is the book's sales position in the textbooks section. If your book is used in hundreds of different college courses, the listing will sell faster.

The tradeoff between price and patience is the most important decision to consider when listing your inventory. If your book is listed at a significantly higher price than its competitors, it will sell later. If this is during the start of the semester or it is a hot button item, you will still get sales relatively quickly. If your pricy listing is unpopular and it is a month into a semester, expect to wait.

I tend to list books that I am selling mid-semester at prices on the 2nd through 4th page of Amazon's used book listings. When I am selling at the start, I usually aim for the 4th- 8th page, depending on the book's traffic. I typically expect sales within 2 to 3 weeks of listing.

If you aren't as patient, a popular expression applies: buy low, sell high. If your price is the lowest listing on the used section for that book, it will always get snapped up quickly, but you will lose out on profits. You will lose out by listing too low, and the buyer will benefit by buying a high value item for cheap, but you will get paid quicker.

Step 3: Shipping Supplies

It isn't what you put in, but what you get out. Unfortunately, you will need to spend more than just time to get returns. It is essential to have shipping materials like boxes, bubble mailers and bubble wrap or another packing material. You will need boxes for some of your larger textbooks and bubble mailers for everything else.

Starting out, I bought bubble mailers in bulk on eBay. I quickly realized that my calculus textbook and other "big-ticket" items simply wouldn't fit in a bubble mailer. Luckily, boxes are easier to acquire. Go to a retailer in the area and ask them if they have any extra boxes. Personally, I went to a liquor store near my school once a month for a few years and just asked them for some boxes. Some of my customers think it is odd when they receive science textbooks within a wine box, but I haven't had any complaints.

Packing supplies are extremely important and relatively easy to acquire. If you, your roommates or your family receives a lot of packages, get everyone to save the bubble wrap. This isn't for environmental reasons, it's just more cost effective. If your sales start to exceed your close connections' package carcasses, you can always buy bulk bubble wrap for cheap on eBay or ULine.

For your books to go anywhere, it is essential to have the right containers and packing materials.

Step 4: Shipping Methods and Destinations

Amazon offers a shipping credit of $3.99 for domestic standard sales and up to $24.95 for international ones. They are partnered with UPS and will allow you to print out shipping labels directly from Amazon, just input the package's weight. Generally, I would recommend UPS ground. While this is not always the cheapest option, it is fairly straightforward.

Depending on the weight and fragility of the books you have listed, the overall package's weight may change. Bubble wrap is necessary to keep everything looking good for your customer. In addition, a larger box will have a greater impact on the package's weight. Weight impacts shipping costs, as Salecalc, Amazon and my spreadsheet demonstrate.

For both of these reasons, I would recommend purchasing a shipping scale. Scales can be focused on smaller weights like 2 pounds, larger weights like 110 pounds or somewhere in the middle like 20 or 30 lbs. Unless you are shipping some super heavy textbooks or have multiple orders from the same customer, I doubt your package will ever weigh more than 25 lbs. The heaviest package I had on a regular basis was James Steward's Calculus textbook, which weighs 5.6 pounds. Get a shipping scale to save yourself the trouble of having your book returned before reaching its address for an underpayment of shipping costs.

UPS is by no means the only shipping option that is offered. USPS media mail or priority mail may be much cheaper than UPS Ground, especially for larger items. Media mail is advertised as taking 2-8 business days, which is larger than UPS Ground's advertised 1 to 5 days.There is a trade-off between cost efficiency and customer satisfaction that you will need to make again and again.

You can purchase USPS directly by going to a post office or by creating an online account. I just went to a nearby post office near my school and shipped from there when using USPS. It's also possible to register for an account online. You will have the option of creating an individual or business account. A personal account will enable you to make purchases of shipping labels from the comfort of your computer and printer. I typically just shipped the books from the post office, but the online method may be easier. Of course, this decision is heavily dependent on your location and other daily commitments

There are a number of other shipping options like FedEx and DHL, but I would not recommend using them for book sales. In addition, it is very possible to use, Endicia and even Paypal to print out shipping labels online, sometimes for discounted rates. This is especially helpful for international sales, where Amazon will not provide a shipping label option.

I didn't ship any of my books internationally. Sorry readers, it's a pain to deal with payments for customs as well as hefty shipping costs. Amazon does give a larger shipping credit for international sales, but it may be too expensive for someone with a smaller inventory.

Step 5: Get Paid and Reviewed

Amazon pays biweekly. Once an item is shipped, your balance will be displayed in your seller account. However, Amazon will not transfer the funds until either: 1) the tracking id is received as its destination 2) the maximum anticipated number of shipping days for your package listed without a tracking ID arrive at its destination. To get paid quickly, save the tracking number and input it when confirming shipment of the item.

Once a customer receives your shipment, they will have a chance to rate the quality of your service. Getting consistent four or five star ratings is extremely important, as your average rating shows up on all of your listings.

Step 6: Repeat and Purchase Books for Resale

Once you have sold all of your textbooks, it's time to purchase them from other students, family and friends. Beware: when you buy books from other people, your profit margin will be lower. The purchase of the textbook is no longer a sunk cost, it is something you are paying specifically for this sale. It's important to get as many books for as little as possible if you are purchasing textbooks for resale.

There are a number of different ways to advertise easily on a college campus. They include: telling your friends in person and also on social networks, making a flyer, sending out a message via listserver, making a post about it on your school's forums or setting up a sales booth. All of these methods work, but some are much more effective than others.

I have found the highest success rate for purchase is from a friend. Friends have rapport and typically just want to help you. Give them a fair price (I aim for 15-25% margin) and they won't negotiate much. Connections are willing to do business with you and close deals quickly.

Flyers are super easy to make a smear around campus. I would caution that you may wish to seek approval from student activities or a similar organization at your school so that your flyers aren't summarily taken down. What I have found is that two groups of people respond to flyers: very extraverted people and extremely greedy. While it is great to buy from people that are super friendly and outgoing, the greedy people want to sell the book for more than they paid for it, which just doesn't work. Due to my encounters with so many monetarily-oriented people stuborn, I stopped putting flyers around my school in my second year of doing this.

The best way to meet an interested for me was through listserver messages. For those that don't know, many schools have email distribution lists that will go out to all students at the school, in a particular department, year and so on. At the school I went to, these were used frequently by people hoping to buy and sell books. Reaching out to people that are already interested in selling books has been the most fruitful for me. This group typically knows more about prices and wants the money.

My school also had forums that served essentially the same purpose as the listservers, but nobody used them. If your school has a more active forum community, you may have more luck working with people that are genuinely interested in selling their books.

5 Quick Suggestions for Sales

- Be nice and thank the person for working with you.

- Never meet someone you don't know in an isolated area.

- If somebody misrepresents the condition of their book, the edition and so on, there is no harm in walking away from the deal.

-Don't let anyone intimidate you.

-As a male, I had an easier time selling to females by just being friendly. When working with males, I felt that I would always need to start the prices lower and act like I was giving more ground so the other guy felt dominant. Try to figure out what kind of person you are dealing with, different people like to be treated differently.

Condition of Books

Pretty much go by Amazon's guidelines. They are very clear and to the point. Be sure to describe accurately what your book looks like. Don't take a picture, I have found they tend to look horrible with Amazon's user interface and prevent books from selling. Unless you have a great place to snap some shots, just put in something like ," cover slightly worn, some pages dogeared," and so on.


I can't comment on the tax implications of selling on Amazon. Amazon automatically incorporates sales tax into the purchases and they will provide you with tax information if you have over $20,000 in gross revenue in a year. Consult a tax professional with any questions you have.

Links - register here - Calculate costs - shipping info - condition guidelines

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