Thursday, April 5, 2012

Selling Textbooks and

There is much talk on the internet and on college campuses about the trade in textbooks,  even Obama mentions it on occasion.  I have to agree with him that it's largely a big scam which, in the end, truly profits only the textbook companies.  I had an archaeology professor who once told me that with all of his royalty checks for a specialist textbook he had authored a few years before, he could afford a six pack of beer.  He did note that it could probably be really good beer.

That aside, you will undoubtedly come across not just formal "textbooks" in your travels, but all sorts of books that are taught in classes and, therefore, bought by online textbook firms.  These are the big players:, Powell's Books, Chegg, etc.  However, I never go directly to these websites.  Instead, I always start with Bookscouter, where you put in the ISBN and they automatically search 44 different companies and give you comparative prices.

There are a number of distinct advantages to dealing in textbooks:
  1. Guaranteed Profit:  If they offer you a price and you accept it, you know you'll make a profit.  These are guaranteed sales.
  2. Prepaid Shipping:  The legit companies offer shipping, all you need to do is print off the label and slap it to a box (more on strategically shipping).
  3. They're usually books you can't sell elsewhere: They are softcovers, recently written, etc.  This means you're not drawing from your carefully selected stock of beautiful old books.
There are, of course, disadvantages as well:
  1. Prices Change:  Most of these websites are seriously sneaky and are constantly changing their prices.  Hence, don't sit on the books, buy them and sell them that night in order to lock in the price.  The exception is which guarantees their prices for a month.
  2. Minimum Orders:  Every one of these sites has a minimum price or number of books (usually price), below which they will not buy your books.  They don't want to ship your single copy of The Merry Wives of Windsor across the country as it cuts into their profit margin.  These minimums are different for each site and you should make note of them.
  3. General Sleaze:  The textbook companies are bottom-of-the-barrel parasites.  I don't feel particularly good about working with them.
So, how do I work this?  I generally try to get a number of these books simultaneously, sending ISBNs to a partner via textmessaging who tells me which to buy.  Then I come home and try to cobble together the best deal.  Soon, I will be posting a guide to the spreadsheet I use to help me with these calculations.  Alternatively, I look on Craigslist for people selling single textbooks that are above the minimum, I have made $30 in profit on a single book in this way before.

Make sure you check the ISBN of any book you buy.


  1. Another good option is BookFool. You'll find more information at

    Our hope is that, not only will we help sellers liquidate some inventory; but, that they'll go out and initiate textbook buying from students & professors. As you said within this article, it's guaranteed profit.

    Oh, and hopefully BookFool isn't a "bottom-of-the-barrel parasite :-) We try not to be.

    Good luck.

    The Team

  2. BookFool-
    Thanks for the comment and I hope you weren't too offended. I'm afraid I've been a student for far too long (It'll be 11 years in September) to have any happy feelings about the textbook industry, though that is mostly directed towards McGraw Hill and the other big players, not the folks nearer the bottom of the pile. That said, I do hope you try not to be and push your fellows in the right direction; if so, best of luck to you. You are definitely right about the guaranteed profits, which is the best part of the textbook gig and it's biggest attraction.

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  4. That's a good alternative: selling single books instead of ala carte. Or at least a limited number at the time. Not ship so many will catch the eye of a middle man. The internet has loads of potentials as a marketing platform; it's all about calibrating our options and choosing ones that we can maximize the quickest.

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  6. I would also consider checking Bonavendi out. I have found it a handy price comparison website to sell used books, dvds, CDs, video games. Easy to use, very good prices!

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