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The Secrets to Buying and Selling Textbooks: How to Make Money and Profit

Updated on January 18, 2015
Overpriced textbook
Overpriced textbook

Tips and Advice for College Students

Are you a college student in need of some cash? Looking for a way to make money without a lot of effort? Then this opportunity is for you.

Now, does that first sentence sound like the beginnings of a scam? Sure it does. It's just in this case, there's no scam. As a college bookstore professional, what I'm about to tell you will make you as much cash as the effort you're willing to put into it. Believe it or not, buying and selling college textbooks can reap measurable financial gain. And here's the best part: the place that's going to pay you the money - the bookstore - will welcome the entire effort. Heck, they'll even work with you to maximize your profits. Buying and selling textbooks is their business and if they can't get textbooks with less effort, they're going to do it.

Know Your School's Buyback Schedule

College students looking to pick up some extra cash should head on down to their campus bookstore about a month or two prior to the store's buyback. By getting the store's buyback list (the list of books that will be used for the next quarter/semester that they plan to buy back), they will be able to make significant profit by using that list to buy books off sites like and and then sell them back to the bookstore.

Here's why: the biggest profits on textbooks can be made by purchasing books off the web and reselling them on the shelves of your college bookstore. Unfortunately, it's too costly for most bookstores to purchase these books because the costs exceed the benefits. In other words, it costs a bookstore far too much in labor to receive single copies of books and then sell them in their store even though a book they sell for $9.95 might be available for sale on Amazon's Marketplace for a penny. It takes even more time to order them and keep track of everything. That's why most bookstore's don't order books this way.

That being said, what if bookstores had an army of students out there scouring the web for cheap books that they could then buy from the students at buyback? Would they do it? All I can say as a college bookstore professional is this: in a heartbeat. Although I will say that programs and services are emerging that are making such a process increasingly likely and minimizing the opportunity for entrepreneurial students to go out and do it themselves. The market, as it often does, is balancing. Still, there's an opportunity here if you approach it with the right expectations.

The most profitable way to perform this activity is to find out-of-print books (books that are no longer being published) that are still being used in some classes. The reason this is the most profitable form of buying and selling is that out-of-print books are frequently available on the web for pennies, but the bookstore may sell them anywhere from a reduced price all the way up to full retail. Generally-speaking, a major University is less likely to use out-of-print books while a community college may use quite a number to keep prices down. The key to finding any of these is to talk to the textbook buyer at your local college bookstore and simply ask if there are any classes that regularly use out-of-print books and if the bookstore will be buying those books back at the end of the semester for future semesters. The textbook buyer, if he or she is smart, will be happy to tell you. It's that simple.

How Much Money Can You Make Buying and Selling College Textbooks?

Now, how much money can you make? That depends. In my store, I've reduced the price of our out-of-print books where I can, but usually they sell for around $30 or so. They're available on the web for around $1. Add $3.99 in shipping and you'll be making $25 on every book you sell back to your bookstore. Trust me, if they need 100 of these for some class, they'll be happy to buy them from you, tell you what they will be paying for them, and won't care what you paid for them. I'd even go so far as to tell them what you're doing. I happen to know of one bookstore at a major University where a student engaged in this process and the store basically hired the student to do it. It's safe, legal, and the all you need is some capital or the stomach to charge up some books on your credit card while you're waiting for the books to come in.

Now, buying books that are not out-of-print and reselling them to your college or university may require more work, but if you can find one or two titles where there's a clear differential between the price you are paying and the number you can purchase online, it's a piece of cake to make $100 or so simply buying ten copies and selling them for $10 more than you paid for them. You just have to get the list and do a little research. The store will be happy to tell you what they are paying for them. Most stores do a buyback year round during which time they will likely not be paying as much. If you go closer to their end-of-semester buyback however, they'll be able to tell you which books have been readopted for the next semester and those are the books they will be paying top dollar for.

What's Your Favorite Option for Selling Textbooks?

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What Kind of Risks Are There?

What are the risks? The main risk to this process involve not getting what you paid for from third-party sellers on or Fortunately, both sites have guarantees and you should always be able to file a complaint and get your money back. Make absolutely sure that you have the exact ISBN for the book you want to buy. The ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is unique to each book. That being said, there are lots of unscrupulous sellers on the Internet who will send you books other than the one you ordered. The most common mishap involves a seller sending you a different edition than the one you requested or an international edition or a comp copy. Most bookstores will not buy international editions or comp copies. Comp copies are the copies publishers give teachers for free and are often identified by a big black strip across the top of the book. Many people will just cover the mark (which says "comp copy) with a sticker or something, but bookstores know this trick and won't buy it.

Let me provide a couple of examples of books that offer the potential for huge profits. Take Lial, "Calculus with Applications (brief version)" as an example. Your school may be using this book this summer. The book retails for $120 and that's likely what your bookstore will be selling it for. Most bookstores buy books back at 50% of the new price, so they'll be paying $60 for it. You can purchase this book on Amazon for less than $20. For argument's sake, let's just say that with shipping the book will cost you $25. Depending on how many copies your bookstore needs for the upcoming semester, you can potentially make $35 on each book you sell to them.

When is the Best Time to Buy and Sell Textbooks?

Summer terms are the ideal time to implement this plan because even if there is a new edition of a book coming out, summer faculty won't likely use it, so there are an expanded number of out-of-print or going out-of-print titles in use.

Here's another example: Dugopolski, "Precalculus". This book retails for $176. It can be purchased on Amazon right now for less than $30. Your bookstore may be buying this book back for $88. That's $58 per book you could make.

Before I end, let me be very clear about this endeavor: the market for buying and selling regular, in-print books is drying up. There are companies all over the place buying up the cheap copies of books and reselling them, so you're not as likely to find your average, everyday book that you can buy low and sell high. But with the price of education and textbooks soaring, more and more faculty are turning to old editions as a way to lower the cost of education. Thus, there are increasing opportunities to buy and sell out-of-print books and these books should be the target of your capital. Work with your local store and this whole process will be as easy as it can be. Good luck!

A new note (entered 9.27.11) - Many of you who are familiar with selling textbooks may have some experience with's buyback, which is now part of their automated listings for textbooks. If Amazon is buying a book back, there will be a link in the listing for the book. Although a third-party buys those books, it's been my experience that their prices are excellent. While you don't get cash (you get an Amazon gift certificate instead), it can be worth it. However, understand that the prices, like Amazon's sale prices for textbooks, change. The buyback prices work on an algorithm, rising when demand is high and going down when demand is low. If you trade in your book when everyone else is trading in, you're likely to get the lowest price. Wait until the demand is higher, and you'll get a better price.

A new note (entered 10.06.11) - One issue I didn't address in this article about buying and selling textbooks is the third party seller. If you are not aware, much money can be made as a middleman buying and selling college textbooks. What many sellers do on Ebay and is list textbooks that they do not actually own, but know are on the market for less money than they are offering. So say the are listing a book for $50 and somebody on Ebay buys it. The seller goes out on the Internet and looks for a copy for less than $50, buys it, and has it sent directly to their buyer from the third party. Although the seller may only make a small amount of money, they do so with virtually no effort. There are people out there who make a living doing this.


Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    3 years ago

    you can find the best deal on selling your textbooks at You just type in the

    isbn or title and can get cheapest prices to buy the book

    or the option to sell it to a merchant. Give it a try as I

    saved a lot of $ buying from the site and then selling the

    books back when I didn't need them anymore.

  • Drstabile profile image


    6 years ago

    Great article. I'm a textbook manager myself, and I appreciate an article that take the POV of the bookstore. Selling your books back to your college bookstore really is the best option if the title will be used the following semester and the store has not yet hit their limit (which for us is 70% of our future need). Thanks for posting. Voted up!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Thanks! This is great information, and you clearly spell out how a student can make money while in school. I'm going to try this along with the Mybookcart referral program that I'm participating in. They pay me for referrals - very easy.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Great article! Your basic math breaks it down on how a student could actually make this book buying/selling process profitable. I know that Neebo - also buys books back online - with free shipping too. You could always see if they will buy back some of the books you find.

  • seanorjohn profile image


    7 years ago

    This info is very useful for students. I will have to check out if it is applicable to English Universities. I will try to link your hub to ahub of mine about frugal living tips for students. Looks like you have got off to a great start with your hubs. Voted up and useful.

  • crankalicious profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Colorado

    Thanks. As a fellow parent of a two-year-old, there's time for little else.

  • Tweetmom profile image


    7 years ago from Newark

    I can see that you really love writing. I am a fan


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