There’s a great business model that I stumbled upon over ten years ago, that still works great to this day, and that is selling used books on Amazon. I personally used this as my sole source of income after graduating college and I did so for many years.
Bookselling involves buying and re-selling books, media, and other items very cheaply and reselling them on the Amazon marketplace for a profit. This is something that can be done to make some extra cash or you can turn it into a full-time business. It’s the ideal business for someone who wants to make their own hours, invest little money with high returns, and to have fun finding hidden treasures locally that you can resell for a hefty profit.
The idea behind it is a form of retail arbitrage – where you buy something for a lower price and sell it for a higher price. You know the old stock market adage – buy low sell high? That’s essentially all you are doing, sourcing low priced items from your local stores and reselling them for a profit. If you do this enough, you can make a full-time income selling on the Amazon marketplace. But instead of buying new items like you would in “retail arbitrage” we are focusing on used items. Selling used items often have the highest returns, but the drawback is you have to spend more time scouting for inventory.
The fact is, you likely live near libraries, thrift stores, etc that all have a treasure trove of used items you can resell for a profit.
It’s super easy to get your inventory listed on Amazon. You simply list it, set its condition and boom, your item is live, for sale to millions of Amazon users. This is leveraging Amazon so that Amazon’s customer base can purchase the items from you.
Benefits of becoming a bookseller
If you want to sell used books for extra cash, you can do it part time or full time. There are so many benefits to bookselling, such as
- Make your own hours: You are your own boss and you make your hours
- Books are everywhere: Books are literally everywhere and can be bought very cheaply.
- Profit margins are great: Because you pay so little for books locally, the profit margins are often extremely high.
- No skills/ knowledge needed: No specialized knowledge of books is needed to scan.
- Not much money needed to start: Since the prices are low and the profit margins are great, you won’t have to start with much money.
- Low Barrier to entry: Because it requires no skills, knowledge and low capital, it is a very low barrier to entry business – nearly anyone can do it!
- Its fun: It is fun finding valuable books that you can resell. I also love that I can either zone out and listen to music while scanning, or expand my mind and listen to audiobooks/ podcasts.
How much can you make selling books online?
This business model doesn’t require much more than a few hundred dollars to start, it’s easy to do, and you can start making money within 1-2 months. It really is one of the best beginner-friendly businesses you can start. Depending on your area, there is a good chance you can build a business that will give you a full-time income on Amazon (40-100k per year).
Note that it will take a lot of effort to create a full-time income through this business, but you can also use it as a side income source without spending much time on it. But the greatest thing about it is, this business also has the potential to grow into a multi-million dollar a year business if you pivot your strategies down the road, to more advanced inventory sourcing methods (i.e private labeling).
Part-time income (extra cash)
One great aspect of being a bookseller is you can do it part-time. You can start with a few hours here, a few hours there – and just go scout books when you have time. If you use Amazon FBA, you can ship it off to Amazon’s warehouse and you’ve got yourself a pretty automated side income hustle.
With Amazon FBA, Amazon will ship your order anytime a customer orders your items. And if you’re running this as a part-time venture, you can always transition to doing it full time.
Full time income
I always recommend doing it part time until you build up enough inventory and you’re actually making enough money. Preferably, you will be making as much as you were at your job before you decide to quit. But you can always run it simultaneously with your day job. I personally did the riskier route and I went full-force into bookselling full time, right out of college. I didn’t even seek employment or a job. I just went right into this business.
If you put enough effort into the business, and you live in an area that has a good supply of books, media and other things to resell, you should definitely also be able to make this business successful as I did. However, it is a lot of work, so don’t think it’s a walk in the park.
Can anyone start an Amazon book selling business?
Can anyone sell used books? The answer is – absolutely YES!
Literally, anyone of any age can do this business. One of the biggest benefits of being a bookseller is that it has a very low barrier to entry. What I mean by that is it’s easy to start this business, since you don’t need any background knowledge. It also requires very little capital investment, which is not usually the norm when starting a business.
These are the reasons why this business can be great for anybody. I usually recommend it as a beginning business because you can hit the ground running and start making money within your first month. Well, if you do Amazon FBA, maybe within your first two months – because it takes a while for you to ship the items to the Amazon warehouse. It all depends on where you live and how close you are to the Amazon warehouses.
What skills are needed to become a book seller?
The great thing about this business model of selling books on Amazon, is you don’t need any special skillsets. The only skills you might need are not really skills. They’re really just going through the learning curve of setting up the apps that you’ll be using to scan, and learning the book scanning apps.
That’s the real beauty of this model – the technology is doing the work for you! You don’t need any skills to do it. Anybody in any previous profession can start making money selling used books, right away. When you have the right app or software and a barcode scanner (or your phone’s camera) you can begin scanning books right away.
It will tell you exactly what books to buy based on the price, the sales rank (demand), etc. You can even set up buy signals in the scouting apps. These buy signals will make a ring (a certain tone) every time a book matches the criteria. So at this point, it’s just scanning a bunch of books and every time you hear a Ding it will prompt you to put that book in your cart and buy it.
Where can you Sell Used Books Online?
Where can you sell the used books online? There are many places that you can list your books online and if you get serious about selling books as a business you can also use software to manage different marketplaces or selling channels. Some of the top marketplaces where you can sell used books are:
- Sell Back Your Book
- Half price books
- Book scouter
There are many places you can list and sell your books online -Amazon, eBay, Half Price Books, cash for books, book scouter. However, Amazon is the best place to sell books online. In fact, most booksellers primarily use Amazon. Especially once you get into Amazon FBA – this is where you can make the big bucks. Most of the buyers are buying their books through Amazon, so it makes sense to go where the buyers are.
How to Sell a Book on Amazon
To sell a book on the Amazon marketplace:
- Determine the market price
- Determine the sales rank
- List your book for sale
1. Determine the market price
Before you know how much money you can make selling a used book, you’ll obviously need to find the market price of the book. The market price is not necessarily the lowest price that is available for sale. It’s more based on what you will be able to sell the book for – what the average selling price of the book is.
There are many paid apps that you can quickly scan books to find the price. But if you wanted to start slow and bootstrap your way to success you can also use the free Amazon App or other free apps.
The Amazon app will allow you to scan books with your phone – It uses your phone’s camera as a scanner. You just click on the scan function and hover your phone’s camera over the barcode. Within a few seconds, it will bring up the book price.
2. Determine the sales rank
The only problem with using a free solution like this is you will not have access to sales rank info.
Sales rank represents the demand. Sales rank is a really important metric if you sell used books, especially if you’re going to be making a business out of it. Sales rank goes like this: the lower the number the faster the book will sell.
For example, if the sales rank is 1 that means it’s the number one seller out of all the books. This means that this particular book is selling tons and tons of copies every day. If you have a sales rank of 1,000,000 it means the book only sells once a month or once every few months.
3. List your book for sale
Once you are confident in book price and the sales rank, you can now list your book. Listing the book is simple.
Search the book by ISBN: First, go to Amazon and type in the ISBN.
List the book: list the condition of the book and write an optional short description. For example, if the book had any ripped or dog-eared pages you may want to make note of that. You will want to eventually use bulk listing software or bulk file upload (excel) to speed things up if listing a lot of books.
Set shipping options: Next, you set your shipping options and the
Set price: Next, set price. You probably want to list the price so that it is lowest, or around the lowest price. This is so it sells quickly. Note that if there is an outlier, you don’t want to match the outlier’s lowest price.
Adjust prices (Repricing): Over time, if the book doesn’t sell, the pricing of all the other books will change – so you will need to reprice your books too. Since other booksellers are constantly trying to get a lower price to sell quicker (competition), the market price of any book is in constant fluctuation. Prices can fluctuate on a day to day basis, week to week, or month to month. Typically pricing will go down, but sometimes it can rise on high demand/ low supply items. So it’s important to adjust your prices to fit the current marketplace. If you’re selling a lot of used books it’s definitely beneficial to get a repricing software (monthly subscription) so it automatically reprices to your specifications. For example, maybe you want your book to automatically reprice to the lowest price (within certain boundaries – i.e. exclude outliers). You can also use Amazon’s free repricing software that they recently added.
Where to find used books to resell (flip)
Start with your own used goods
The best way is to start at home. Take a look around and see what items you don’t use anymore and you would like to get rid of.
Got a bookshelf full of books you don’t need anymore? Start scanning those.
Got a library of Blu-rays you don’t really use? Scan those.
Got some old games, kids toys, or /anything/ with a UPC/ barcode? Scan those.
This is the perfect way to get your feet wet selling on the Amazon marketplace. You don’t need any money to start this, as you are using all of your own used items that you want to get rid of anyways.
So start at home, and list the items that you do not use anymore.
Then start scouting in your local area
After you have listed all your used items for sale, that you don’t want anymore, you can begin to look elsewhere to buy and resell used books and media. You can start sourcing inventory from local establishments and profit from the price difference. But just be aware if you want to make some serious money – to where this is actually a /business/ not a hobby, you will be spending a good amount of time sourcing inventory.
The trick with this business is, even though you can start making money right away, the trick is to be consistent in sourcing and listing items so that you build up your inventory. Once your inventory level is a good amount, you will start seeing a good monthly income coming in.
Places to buy used books:
- Library sales (large monthly/ quarterly sales)
- Library sales (ongoing sales)
- Thrift stores
- Estate sales
- Garage sales
- Used Bookstores
Types of books to look for
- Very niche books
- Repair manuals
Types of books to avoid
- Readers Digest books
- Books in very poor condition
Book Selling Tips for beginners
You make money when you buy
It’s been said that “you make money when you buy, not sell”. This comes from a popular real estate investing adage that explains that the purchase price is what really determines your profit down the road.
So make sure you don’t buy books that are overly expensive. Not only does it assure your profit margins will be higher, it will also help reduce your risk. For example, maybe you found a bunch of books that you thought were going to sell. Say you paid five dollars apiece. If you bought 20, that’s a hundred dollars. Say those books didn’t pan out and just never sold. Now you’re out $100.
However, if you paid $0.25 for each of those books it’s not very much money to risk. So on one end it helps reduce the risk but also you’re going to give yourself some leeway for creating a profit with all the Amazon fees (especially if you do Amazon FBA).
If you focus on going to library sales, thrift stores and other places that have books for sale very cheaply, you shouldn’t have a problem with this.
Don’t buy really high sales rank books
You want to buy books that have a healthy sales rank – anywhere below 1 million sales rank should be fine. Some sellers decide to go up to 2,000,000 or even 3,000,000 sales rank. The problem with that is if you get too many 1 to 3 million sales rank books they’re going to be sitting on the shelf for a long time.
I tend to only focus on books that are lower than 1 million sales rank because I know that most of those are going to sell fairly quickly. The only time I venture off into 1,000,000+ sales rank is if the book is worth a lot. For example, if the book is worth over $200 dollars and it has 1,500,000 sales rank, it might be worth getting and just waiting for it to sell.
Once it sells, it will give me a pretty good profit, especially if I only bought it for a dollar or two. However, keep in mind that if the sales rank is very high, you will likely get other sellers listing the book for much cheaper in an attempt to sell it quicker. So the market price can really drop in several months, depending on other seller’s actions.
You also want to be weary of best-selling books. This may sound a little strange, but you likely won’t make good money on bestsellers unless the market price is pretty high.
Sometimes, even though it might appear to be a great sales rank and a good price, the market price may start to drop quickly on bestsellers. The reason is that with bestseller books, there is such a large supply of that title that the used marketplace gets flooded. The market price drops because of all the excess supply.
Booksellers Tools & Resources
You might think that you need a bunch of software and to create a business selling books.
But that’s the beauty of this business – you really don’t need much. If you want to bootstrap your way to success, you only need your phone to get started. Then if you want it to be more efficient, you can buy a barcode scanner to help you scan books at a faster rate.
One great resource for booksellers is booksalefinder.com. This will list all the library books sales in your area. You can schedule them on your calendar based on which sales you want to visit, or just visit the library sales when you have time.
Lots of people can go to at least one large book sale a month or every couple of months. Some are lucky enough to have several per month in their city.
If just have a few books and don’t want to create a business of buying and reselling books, you can use the Amazon trade-in program.
This is an easy way to get rid of your old items and get some Amazon gift cards. Keep in mind though that they’re not going to give you the market price equivalent to the gift card amount. You’re going to get a much smaller amount than you would if you were to just sell it as a merchant. The benefit of the trade in program is it’s super easy and quick.