Used Book Market

Where can I sell my books online?

I have sold many used textbooks online as a book broker. This was a simple supply and demand business in the purest form. I would buy the books at the end of a semester when students are dumping them, store them for 30 days, clean them up a bit (the books), and resell them the next semester when students are buying used textbooks and desperate to save money. The profit? I typically doubled my money in the process for my time and provided a good supply of used textbooks for many college students.

Used Textbooks


This was an easy process. I simply created a flyer on bright yellow paper saying "-WANTED - Used Textbooks - call phone#" and posted 100+ copies of the flyer in the hallways of larger dorms, the walls of dinning halls, and on the entranceway of the room their final exams were being held. Students need their books until the moment they walk out of that final exam, then the "value" of that book (at least to them) just dropped close to zero $dollars$.

Which books to target? I would target Freshman courses in business and technology. Why Freshman courses? Volume. There are 1,200 students taking Finite Mathematics at the University of New Hampshire each semester. Your market is huge and since this was a Gen Ed class, a high percentage of the students were thrilled to have the class behind them and wanted to dump the book the moment they walked out of that final exam.

Other classes that I targeted were Business Accounting, Micro Economics, Statistics, Calculus, Physics, Geography, and Astrology. All of the classes were Gen Ed class, all were Freshman level classes, and each class had 1,000+ students taking the course. If I were successful at buying just 1% of all the textbooks in these 6 classes, I could easily have purchased 60+ non-damaged textbooks. Non-damaged is a key issue. Avoid buying anything with water damage, coffee stains, torn pages, or a broken spine. For $30 cash, most students were glad to part with these books, plus this was more money than the campus bookstore racket would pay them. One key note, make sure you understand which version of a textbook is the latest edition and research to confirm there is not a newer edition being released in 3 months. You can verify the current edition number (example: 6th Edition) by looking online at the publisher's website. Become a specialist and only focus on 6-8 titles. Over time, you will know the version of each textbook by the color or photograph on the cover. It becomes 2nd nature.

Storing & Cleaning

Textbooks are heavy. Piling 100 used textbooks into an apartment needs to be done with some forethought. Why? Well, 100 textbooks at 5-7 lbs each is 1/4 ton of weight. If the floor of a 3rd floor apartment creeks when you walk on them, they definitely won't like having 500 lbs of paper and glue stacked up in one spot. Store the books in separate piles throughout your apartment to spread the weight load.

Cleaning - here's a secret that many (most) students fail to understand when selling their textbooks, NO ONE likes to buy a book that looks dirty. A dirty book gives the impression the book is damaged. I would buy 1/2 dozen Business Accounting books each semester that the publishers had the wisdom of using a white vinyl cover. They always looked cruddy by the end of a semester as though someone had dragged through a pit of pencil lead. Looking like Pig Pen (from Peanuts) had owned them, I would apply some Windex window cleaner to the cover, wipe it down with a paper towel, and this would immediately change their appearance from "Poor" to "Like NEW" with two squirts of the bottle.

Other cleaning tips - remove any "Used" stickers off the side of the book and clean the sticky glue off with WD-40 and a paper towel. Who wants to buy a twice used book? By the way, the smell of Windex or WD-40 dissipates in 1/2 hour. Not to be noticed by the next student. Another idea is to erase pencil marks. If the book originally had a CD, make sure you match it to the correct book. I made the mistake once of mailing an Astrology CD inside a Finite Math book. I found the correct CD later and mailed it with an apology. The Astrology book I sold solo, without it's CD, at an additional 20% off to a happy buyer.

Cash for Books


Your marketing of books online is the fun part of the process. I used 3 sites to sell my books. Amazon, eCampus, and Half (a subsidiary of eBay). I enjoyed using the sites and the most. Their formats are easy to understand. You simply list the book by ISBN, they provide the photo, and you select a Condition of "New", "Like New", "Good", or "Poor". Since I wasn't selling "New" books, nor would I purchase any textbooks with damage in "Poor" condition, most of the books I sold were in "Like New" or "Good" condition. "Like New" if the books had a clean cover, no writing, and no highlighting. "Good" if the book had a clean cover, some writing, or some highlighting.

Be honest and candid when writing a brief description about the condition of the book. An example of a typical description I would write would be: "5th Edition - with CD, clean cover, pages crisp, no writing, 12-15 pages of highlighting, no coffee stains". A clear description provides confidence to the buyer that they will receive what is outlined. Buyers will rave about you in their feedback.

Marketing strategy - if you have more than one copy of a textbook, only list your worse copy first, one at time, and price it as the 2nd to lowest price in your Condition class. Keep in mind you are selling a commodity. Like a commidity exchange, sell your weakest version at the lowest price first. As the buying frenzy occurs during the beginning of the semester and the supply QUICKLY dries up, you are sitting on your best quality products at a much higher selling price. Most of your profits, like a commodities market, will be in the selling of your "premium" versions. Sell them off too early during the buying frenzy and you will lose out on your upside potential and will have difficulty getting a premium dollar for your lesser quality goods.


Do not flyer outside the campus bookstore. Yes, I was that brazen! I once did this and had a run-in with the store manager. If your goal is to provide impoverished students with quality used textbooks at a discounted price, far under a bookstore's used price, you should also attempt to stay under the campus bookstore's radar. They are funny about competition and will cry foul if anyone attempts to interfere with their monopoly. Overcharging young students carrying freshly minted credit cards is their bread and butter.

Hopefully, you will try selling your books online. With the tips you've learned, you should easily receive 50% more cash than your campus bookstore is willing to pay you. I strongly recommend trying Half and Amazon as their commodity style format is easy to use and understand.