What To Sell: BOOKS

"What To Sell" is an ongoing series of posts that examine different categories of items that can be picked cheaply and then sold online. For this first article, let's examine one of the most common genres of resale items you'll find both online and in stores... books!

There's gold in them thar shelves!

The other night I was walking home from the liquor store, as I often do. On the sidewalk in front of a neighboring apartment building was a couple boxes and some broken shelves that had an affixed sign that read "free". The boxes were filled with books, most of which didn't interest me. But at the bottom of the box, beneath the usual old thesaurus and Opera Book Club dregs were a few textbooks. A quick check on my iPhone and, sure enough, I'm walking home with a few dscarded books under my arm. By the end of the week, I've sold all three books I grabbed for a total of $45. Researching these castaway books took me all of 90 seconds (including the ones that weren't worth taking). The profit margin was 100%. And this isn't even an exceptional circumstance... I find free or cheap books to resell all the time.

The reason I'm able to decipher which books are worth picking and trying to sell and which to pass up is because I can research them quickly with my smart phone. I use apps and my phone's camera to scan the barcode (or manually enter the ISBN or title) and get quick information on what a book is being sold for by others online.

I have found books to be one of the easiest and hassle-free items to quickly flip online. Almost all the books I resell are sold through Amazon.com. Amazon takes a decent cut, but I feel it they have earned it by providing a huge worldwide audience of potential buyers I would not otherwise have access to.
The book selling process is very simple:

  1. I scan books at various location to see if they are worth picking.
  2. I list the books on my Amazon merchant account.
  3. I update my listings so that my book is one of the most affordable on the site. But I always make sure that I'm still making an adequate profit.
  4. When the book sells, I package it up and ship it off.
  5. I count my money.
The good thing about Amazon is that they have millions of customers perusing their inventory (which includes the offerings of independent sellers like me) every day! The bad thing about Amazon is that I am competing with hundreds of other sellers, mostly on price. The competition to offer the best value on an item leads to ridiculous price reductions, with many popular titles being offered for only a penny. This is great if you are a buyer, but eliminates a lot of potential books to sell if you are a Part Time Picker like me.

So where do I find books to list on Amazon? Anywhere I can.
I routinely lurk all the locations where new inventory of second-hand books are being regularly offered. I check:
  • Garage Sales
  • Library Sales
  • Thrift Stores
  • Flea Markets
  • Used Book Stores (they often have a "dollar book" cart on the sidewalk)
  • Craigslist or Freecycle websites
  • even Dumpsters (especially near the college campuses when the semester ends)
Once you have them, books are pretty easy to resell on Amazon. Unlike eBay, you don't need to take photographs of your items or write a detailed description. You don't even have to figure out the shipping costs. Amazon handles it all. You just list the condition, give a brief (1 or 2 sentence) description of any flaws or noteworthy exceptions to your book, and set your price. Then, when the book sells, you ship it to the buyer and Amazon gives you the money for your book, plus money for shipping, minus their fees.

With the current widespread ownership of smart phones, why doesn't everybody sell books on Amazon?
Because, despite being so easy, it isn't so easy. Most books aren't worth jack squat on the Amazon resale marketplace. Some might have higher asking prices but aren't very likely to sell at any price for a long, long time. A few days searching and scanning books at random without netting yourself any cold hard cash can get discouraging. A few carelessly handled orders can result in enough negative feedback to scare off most potential customers. Being a Part Time Picker of books will require time, strategy, knowledge, organization skills, storage space, patience, and luck.

But don't fear. I've got lots of great tips and techniques for you that will help you shorten the learning curve and get you sitting pretty in no time. Stay tuned, because now that you know where to search for books to sell (see the list above), and where to sell them (Amazon.com), the next post will get even more detailed on my own personal techniques for picking books for part time riches.

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