A Step-by-Step Process

Starting a profitable and money-making book business is fairly elementary. Perfect for a weekend hobby, student business, or a stay-at-home mom; selling books can give a steady and growing stream of income each month to your bank account if the proper steps are taken.

When it comes to starting any business, a bit of capital is needed to get things off the ground. The beauty of starting a book business is used books are very cheap.  This article will serve as a comprehensive guide to making lots of money selling used books online.

CDRC Library
Credit: cdrcmissoula.org

Step One - Start an Amazon and Craigslist Account

Amazon.com is the way you will make your money online initially. So create an account. What many people do not realize is that there are plenty of other used book stores with websites out there that you can sell your products on simultaneously but start with the highest volume store on the web first. This will be the meat of your business so integrity and honesty in your listings is key. Once negative feedback starts it snowballs on Amazon so make extra time to make sure every listing, especially early on is correct, packaged well and shipped quickly.

Are Small Publishers Leading the Way to Higher Book Sales?
Credit: futureperfectpublishing.com

Step Two - Download Amazon Price App & Buy Scanner

When scanning through potential inventory, knowing the price it is selling for on Amazon is vital. Starting off there is no way you can know what a book is worth unless you have a tool to aid you. The Amazon Price App is free so that is a no brainer. It allows you to scan anything with a bar code, take a picture of the cover or simply type in the name of the books and up pops a price. Essential.

Something you will learn early on is many people sell books or "book deal" as it is known. The more stores and sales you go to the more you will see people using their phones and scanners. That leads me to the next device. The scanner. Many times you will become frustrated with the Amazon App due to its lack of information. For example, it does not list Amazon rankings (which can prove an important factor in selling books quickly). It also does take a bit of time to load because it uses Wi-Fi and 4G networks.

Scanners are a great supplement to the app because they use a laser bar code reader basically registering the bar code on your phone or palm pilot instantly. All the big book dealers use these because they can be accessed without internet. A simple Amazon inventory program can be purchased and loaded onto a Dell X51 Palm Pilot. These can be purchased used for around $50. There are many scanners available but the quickest and easiest to use are the handheld scanners that allow you to put your palm pilot in your pocket, hook up headphones and start scanning. Every time a book hits your criteria (Example: You can sell for over $12) it dings you so you know if buying it would make financial sense.

Socket CX2870-1409 Bluetooth CHS 7Ci Scanner
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Step Three - Create a Business Plan

No business can be run as effectively as possible without a business plan. Nothing too complex just a simple break even analysis. There are things you need to account for before deciding how much to buy each book at. Here is a list of costs to consider:

Amazon Professional Seller - $40/month = $1 for 40 books, $.50 for 80, etc.

Amazon Fee per book - $1.35

Amazon Commission per book - 15% Typical books sells for $7 = $1.05 APPROX.

Gas (Sales & Post Office) - $3.85 per gallon APPROX. = $.10-$.20 per book APPROX.

Media Mail - Typical book weighs 2 lbs. APPROX $3.20

Price of book - Books usually sell for $0.50 to $2.00

Material (Bubble wrap/wrapping/boxes) = $0.50 APPROX

Total = $8.20 Approx. That is your break even point. A book must be sold for at least $8.20 to break even. This includes the $3.99 credit Amazon gives you to ship the book.

Now you must add in a cushion and then a profit margin. Adding in a $1 cushion is smart because it allows you to go to book sales that you can't buy huge volumes at or it allows you to drive a little further to a sale, stay in a hotel (eventually once the business profits), etc.

Total = $9.20 for a $1 book the normal size (2 lbs)

After including a 20% or so margin, You must sell each $1 book you buy for around $10.50. This means it must be listed for $6.51 on Amazon to see a profit.

As a side not, Non-Fiction sell. Fiction does not. Usually. If the book is dense and is on a certain niche subject like writing late 1800's poetry, it generally is worth money. If it is a Stephen King novel...toss.

Also, depending on the sales rankings of your books on Amazon, selling 20-50% of your inventory per month is totally doable.

Step Four - Map out a Book Buying Plan

Now that you know what prices books must sell for to profit, it is time to create a book buying plan. Used books can be found everywhere, but your best bet for your time will be as followed:

1) Booksalefinder.com - If you live in a dense metro area like Chicagoland, there is no limit to the number of book sales that are going on at any given time. This website allows you to find ones in your surrounding area, how many books will be available, what the prices are and what time the doors open. Sales usually take place in libraries and often times very valuable books can be purchased. Books generally cost $1 each at these types of sales and certain sales have 100,000+ books to look through, which can become overwhelming so its best to start in a specific section. Map out the biggest sales for the next four weekends and plan to purchase 50 books per sale for the next month to get your inventory up.

2) Goodwill - Goodwills typically are fully stocked with interesting non-fiction books and can prove to be worth the extra $1 they usually cost to buy them. Also, there is typically no competition for books here. Get a Goodwill card to save a % on each purchase. Plan to map out all Goodwills in your area and hit them up 1-2 x week. You will typically get 4-6 books per Goodwill per trip worth selling. Just do the math to make sure it will be worth the drive.

3) Thrift stores - The plus is that lots of thrift stores exist. The down side is that they usually have a poor selection of quality books. Still, it is worth the time to map these stores out and hit them up once per month. You will typically get 1-4 books per store per trip doing this.

4) Garage sales - The best way to find interesting books, however it is vital to find out if each sale has books before attending if you don't want to spend lots of time being disappointed. You can typically find 1-2 books at garage sales selling books worth buying.

5) Craigslist - Lots of times people sell bulks of books on Craigslist. Also lots of times they pick out the valuable ones first. Be smart and scan the books before buying. Sometimes you can find ex-dealers selling their inventory for $.30-$1.00 per book. Other times book stores go out of business and sell by the box full. Craigslist also proves to be a valuable selling tool for your inventory. Sometimes you will buy a book you thought was valuable and it turns out its worth $0.01. This happens to everyone. Make a stack of these books and eventually you can liquidate them quickly on Craigslist by selling 50 for $20 or so.

Step Five - Create a space

If you really want to make money selling books then you have got to dedicate a large space to store them. Closets are good if you put shelves in them. Ideally an extra bedroom or study with plenty of shelves to organize books by "date purchased" or "price" is the most streamline way to go.

Step Six - Ship

I omitted listing your books online because I think it is self explaining. However, one thing to keep in mind. If the book you are listing is highly ranked on Amazon, look at the lowest price for the condition your book is and add 10-20%. That way it will still sell since it's a highly regarded book but you will improve your margin on the whole. If it is a lower ranked Amazon product, say around 400,000 or below mark it at the lowest price available for that condition or just a few cents above. Once you start to increase your Amazon Rating (based on service provided) you can up your prices a bit as people are willing to pay for quality service and peace of mind.

Shipping books can create the biggest hurdle when selling books. This is so because customers demand their books be protected from the elements and because materials for shipping and shipping itself is pricey. Start out by buying an industrial size bubble wrap. You can buy them online or in a store like Staples. They usually run 175 feet for around $17-$24. Next you should buy a few industrial rolls of brown paper. The material that paper bags are made out of. This combination protects the book from rain and damage while remaining the cheapest possible way to profit. A few rolls of industrial tape are the last things that need to be bought. You can get these everywhere. Take your time wrapping the bubble wrap around each book. Do not use more than one go around as that is just wastingmoney. Also take your time to fold the paper neatly and evenly on the book so it looks presentable. This is the first thing customers see and they don't want to be disappointed.

After this, going to the post office and using MEDIA MAIL is always the most dreaded part of this job. Books must be shipped out within three days of sales...Amazon rules. Once a book is sold, wrap it up and set it aside. You should be going to the post office every other day until you start to move lots of volume. Say 10-15 books per day. Once this happens, you can start spacing out your visits into 3 times per week. If you every start to sell around 1,000 books per month, the USPS offers bulk rate discounts and actually can pick your inventory up from your warehouse/home. This is something to consider once you get a large enough inventory.

Just some simple math to keep in mind:

250 in inventory = 50-70 books sold per month ($50-$150)

500 in inventory = 100-200 books sold per month ($100-$400 profit)

1000 in inventory = 400-600 books sold per month ($400-$1,000 profit)

2000 in inventory = 600-800 books sold per month ($600-$1,400 profit)


I hope you learned a bit more about making money selling used books online . It can prove to not only be a lucrative hobby but also a fun one. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment on this article and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

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