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A Comprehensive Guide to Selling Books Online

Threecolts
Dave Consolazio
Published
September 28, 2023
Modified
May 7, 2024
Photo of a beautiful library with a large painting, twin staircases, and hundreds of books

I started selling books online in 2015 on Amazon and eBay as part of my retail arbitrage business. I made weekly stops into local thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army looking for things to resell and always spent a bit of extra time perusing through the book section.

In my five years as a full-time reseller selling items across multiple categories, my highest profit on a single item came from a hardcover copy of a design book called The Givenchy Style that I found at a local Goodwill.

After looking up its value and finding out it was a rare book, I purchased it for $5.99 at Goodwill and put it up in my Amazon store that week. Less than a month later, it sold for over $500.

Needless to say, this was an extremely rare find, and selling books online isn’t always this glamorous. But if you are willing to put in the work and enjoy the process, selling books can be anything from a fun hobby to a full-fledged business. I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to teach you everything you need to know about selling books online.

The Best Places to Sell Books Online

Before you start selling books online, you need to decide where you are going to do so. The right online marketplace to sell on will depend on a number of factors including what type of books you want to sell, how many books you want to sell, their condition, and more.

Don’t feel the need to limit yourself to just one; diversifying your online presence is a great way to reach more customers and to find out what works best for you. Also keep in mind that most of these platforms have fees that you should look into and understand before selling so that you can factor them into your pricing and profitability.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the best places to sell books online along and what their best uses are.

Amazon

Amazon opened as an online bookseller back in 1995. And while it has since become one of the biggest e-commerce platforms in the world selling virtually everything online, it is still also among the best places to buy and sell books online.

There are a handful of reasons that Amazon could be considered the top option on this list:

  • Its customer base is massive, with two billion visitors to the site each month (per Similarweb)
  • Book sellers can sell books in almost any condition
  • Professional sellers can take advantage of Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) to outsource a lot of shipping and handling work

Amazon sellers also have access to customers all around the world thanks to Amazon’s global marketplaces. If you are interested in expanding your potential customer base and optimizing selling books online in Canada, Mexico and other global Amazon marketplaces, you can learn more on how to do so with SellerRunning.

Whether you have only a few books to sell or plan on turning selling books online into a full-time gig, it’s worth having an Amazon account. Check out our blog post on how to sell books on Amazon for a deeper dive into this lucrative platform.

eBay

eBay is best known as an auction platform, but nowadays the majority of its products are sold as “Buy it Now” transactions with no bidding necessary. Roughly 80% of all merchandise sold on the platform is in new condition, and 88% of purchases are made without bidding according to eBay.

If you are selling a rare book, a “lot” of multiple books together, or a book you are just trying to sell regardless of the price it goes for, eBay auctions are still a good option. For new or less rare books, you’ll want to use the Buy it Now option to ensure that you get the price you are looking for.

Searching for a book on eBay will allow you to see what other sellers are selling the same book for. Clicking on the “Sold Items” filter in the “Show only” section on these searches is also very helpful to get an indication of what prices sales have actually been completed at. You can compare these prices to other platforms to determine whether or not eBay is the right place to list your book.

Walmart Marketplace

Walmart is the wild card on this list. They state that you cannot sell used or antique books on Walmart and are limited only to new books with valid ISBNs. However, a quick look shows that at least a few sellers are now offering used books there, and dominating the best sellers list:

Best selling books online on Walmart Marketplace, including some used books
A screenshot of the top of the Best Sellers list on Walmart.com, September 28, 2023.

This makes Walmart an iffy option for many people selling books online. But if you are able to reliably source books in new condition, or if you can get approved to sell used books, it could be a great option for you. Walmart’s e-commerce presence has steadily been growing in recent years, and you’ll find less competition on this platform than Amazon.

BookScouter

Book sellers who are just trying to get rid of their books as opposed to selling them for profit should check out BookScouter. When you search the ISBN of your used book or textbook on BookScouter, the site scans its collection of over 30 vendors to see which one is offering the best price for your book. You can quickly compare offers and reviews and select which vendor you want to sell to if the price is right.

Facebook Marketplace

Another great option for selling books online quickly is to post them on Facebook Marketplace. The marketplace will connect you with local buyers who you can meet up with to complete the transaction. You can sell books individually or in lots.

Your Own Online Storefront

If you can drive traffic to your own personal online storefront, you can use that storefront to sell books. There are plenty of great e-commerce options like Shopify and WooCommerce available to help you handle the logistics of turning you website into a trustworthy online store. And if you need help with customer service, ChannelReply’s Onsite Support integration is an excellent option that pairs with these platforms and many more.

What Type of Books to Sell Online

Person looking through a box of used graphic novels in an outdoor market

There are no limits to the different types of books that you can sell online. Regardless of the genre or condition of your book, chances are there is an interested buyer out there if the price is right. Let’s review the most common types of books to sell online.

Selling Used Books Online

The majority of resellers selling books online are dealing with used books. These are the easiest books to come across when sourcing for books to sell, and they can still retain plenty of value depending on their genre and what shape they are in. Keep in mind that even if a book you want to sell doesn’t have an ISBN, you can still sell it on Amazon by requesting a GTIN exemption.

Used books sold on Amazon must be readable, have all pages intact, and be free of mold or heavy stains. They are broken into four categories:

  • Used – Like New
  • Used – Very Good
  • Used – Good
  • Used – Acceptable

Selling New Books Online

New Books on Sale

New books sell for the highest prices online due to their condition and also give sellers the most options in regard to where they can sell them online. When you are sourcing books to sell and come across a book that looks brand new, be sure to check it thoroughly for markings of any kind on the cover or pages. If you aren’t sure if a book is in new condition, don’t sell it as new.

Selling Textbooks Online

Both new and used textbooks are very frequently sold online. While the companies that produce textbooks frequently release new editions of their books to encourage students to buy the most up-to-date version, there is often very little difference among these editions. As a result, there is always a large market for used textbooks among budget-conscious students and people interested in studying topics on their own.

Publishing and Selling E-books Online

It has never been easier to self-publish your own e-book than it is today. If you want to leverage the massive customer base that Amazon has to offer, you can publish your e-book for free using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The ease and freedom of self-publishing is a double-edged sword, however, as virtually every genre is flooded and over-saturated with content. To stand out from the crowd, you will need to be an excellent writer and have strong marketing skills to drive potential readers to your e-book.

Where to Find Cheap Books to Sell

People finding cheap books on sale in a bookstore

Now that we’ve covered the basics on where to sell books online and what types of books you can sell, it’s time to get into how to find cheap books to sell. No matter what methods you use to source books, you are going to have an efficient way to determine whether the books you are considering buying to resell will yield a worthwhile profit.

For this, I highly recommend ScoutIQ. You can use ScoutIQ to scan barcodes or enter the ISBN of any book to receive immediate feedback on what the book is selling for on Amazon, how well it is selling, and how much profit you’d stand to make. Check out all the features that ScoutIQ has to offer and try it free for 14 days at ScoutIQ.co.

ScoutIQ homepage

Your Own Collection

There’s no better place to start your journey of selling books online than your own bookshelf. Whether you have books gathering dust on the shelf or stuffed away in your closet, you can turn those unwanted books into cash when you sell them online. And if you’ve still got some of your old textbooks from high school or college, you might be surprised by what some of them are worth.

Retail Arbitrage

The word arbitrage is defined as buying assets at a low price and then selling those same assets elsewhere at a higher price. To describe the practice of finding books or other goods in a retail store with the intention of turning around and flipping them at a higher price on another market, the term “retail arbitrage” was coined.

Generally speaking, the price you would pay for new books at a retail store like Walmart or Target is about the same as what you’d pay online, leaving you no room for making a profit reselling. Fortunately, there are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Rare or hard-to-find limited edition or collector’s versions of books may have an inflated price online due to their rarity
  • Store sales such as a buy-one-get-one-free sale give you the opportunity to get two copies of a book at 50% off each
  • Books put on clearance can be found for much lower prices than their suggested retail price
  • Discount stores like the Dollar Tree, 99 Cent Store, ROSS, Marshall’s and more routinely sell books below their retail price

Having a tool like the ScoutIQ profit scanner makes the process of determining whether or not books are worth buying to resell much faster and easier. For more information on finding books to sell using retail arbitrage, read The Book Flipper’s Intro to Sourcing Used Books to Sell on Amazon.

Online Arbitrage

Following the same principles as retail arbitrage, online arbitrage can also be used to find books cheap around the web that can be sold for a higher price on popular marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. This is difficult for new sellers to pull off given the level of experienced competition out there with access to the same sales and discounts, but it is possible.

If you want to get a leg up on the competition, consider enlisting the help of Tactical Arbitrage. Tactical Arbitrage makes product sourcing easy with an online arbitrage module that includes over 500 e-commerce sites in the United States and over 1,000 around the globe. You can get current pricing on books around the web along with dynamic data analysis on the sales rank and buy box price history of that book on Amazon. Dive into how to sell books on Amazon or eBay with Tactical Arbitrage.

Thrift Stores

As illustrated in the story I opened this guide with, you never know what you are going to find at thrift stores. In general, used paperback novels usually don’t have much resale value. When you are sourcing at thrift stores, keep your eyes open for hardcover books, complete sets, textbooks, and any books that are in excellent condition that you may be able to sell as new or “like new.”

Library Sales

People perusing a library

Libraries frequently have book sales where they sell books that have been donated to them at low prices. Unlike library books that often have low resale value due to the markings inside of them, these donated books range in quality but can frequently be found in excellent condition. To keep up with library sales happening in your area, visit BookSaleFinder.com.

Garage and Estate Sales

Garage and estate sales are other places where you can sometimes find cheap books to sell online. Estate sales in particular can be interesting given that many other buyers might be interested in bigger items like furniture and overlook valuable books. Finding valuable books at garage sales and estate sales is rare, but when you do, you can get usually get them at a fantastic price.

Dropshipping

If you’re not a fan of handling books in person, you may want to consider dropshipping. Dropshipping is when you sell something that you don’t physically keep in stock, enlisting the help of a third party (such as the book’s publisher) to ship the goods to the buyer when you make a sale. You can learn more about dropshipping books in this great article from Shopify.

Important Tips for Selling Books Online

Finishing packing a small shipping box

Now that you know how to source books and where to sell them, you are just about ready to start selling books online. But before you run off to start sourcing cheap books, there are a few more things I want to go over first to help put you in a position to succeed with this venture.

How to Pack and Ship Books You Are Selling Online

Finding envelopes or boxes that are appropriately sized for the types of books you plan on selling will be important. For smaller books, large bubble-wrap envelopes usually work well. For larger books like textbooks, measure the dimensions of your books and look to buy boxes in bulk online to cut costs.

If you are selling on Amazon and are shipping books into their warehouses to sell using FBA, make sure to use relatively small boxes to load your books in. Medium or large boxes get too heavy to handle when loaded with books.

When packaging books for shipping in a box that is larger than the book, consider using bubble-wrap or packing paper to prevent the book from sliding around in the box and getting damaged during the shipping process. You don’t need to do anything special with books being sent to Amazon’s warehouses, but I used to add a poly bag to expensive new books as an added measure of security to protect the book from collecting dust in the warehouse.

Packing and shipping books can eat up a lot of time, and time is money. You can speed up your shipping workflow with Stratify’s barcode integration at InventoryLab.

Don’t Forget About Taxes

If you make more than $600 selling books or anything else online in a year, you will need to pay taxes on that income. Trying to figure out taxes on your own can feel overwhelming, especially when it comes to state taxes and selling across state borders or even international borders. Don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a tax professional to help you with this process.

You can also gain a much clearer picture of your finances with the accounting services offered by InventoryLab. InventoryLab keeps track of every element of your online business from the prices you buy and sell your books at to shipping costs, refunds, supply costs and more. Whether you do your taxes yourself or use a professional, accurate and detailed records like the ones InventoryLab provides are invaluable.

Great Customer Support Builds Relationships

Think about all the times that you’ve had to deal with bad or unresponsive customer service in your life. How many of those companies lost your business moving forward? The same is true when it comes to selling books online. If someone has an issue or a question about their shipment or book, they are going to expect a polite and speedy response from you.

This will likely be easy enough to handle if you are just selling books on a small scale. But if you ramp up your book sales to the point where you are selling on multiple platforms and customer service becomes too much to handle on your own, you could benefit greatly from the services provided by ChannelReply.

ChannelReply can put all of your messages from eBay, Amazon and other platforms on one screen to make them easier to see and manage at once. And you can unlock even more customer support features using Onsite Support as your Amazon helpdesk. These valuable tools can ensure that your quality customer support doesn’t drop off as your business grows.

Resolving an Amazon customer request and requesting a review in Onsite Support with ChannelReply
Resolving an Amazon ticket and requesting a review in Onsite Support with ChannelReply.

Your Reputation as a Seller Matters

Amazon seller feedback and product reviews have become gold standards in the e-commerce industry. You are going to have tons of competition selling books online, and the two most important factors potential customers are going to consider when making their decision is the price and the seller’s feedback.

Consider this hypothetical. Say you want to buy a book that is being offered by two sellers in the same condition. One book is $24.50 offered by a seller with 80% positive feedback from only five seller reviews. The other is $24.99 offered by a seller with 96% positive feedback from over 1000 reviews. Wouldn’t you consider buying from the more trustworthy seller, even at a higher price?

FeedbackWhiz specializes in helping you maximize the amount of seller feedback you get on your sales. With features like automating pressing the Amazon Request a Review button, email automation, and feedback management, FeedbackWhiz helps you make the process of requesting feedback from your customers easy. And if you are packaging your books well and shipping them out on time, there’s no reason the majority of that requested feedback shouldn’t come back positive.

The Biggest Step to Selling Books Online Is Getting Started

And that’s about all there is to it. I’ve offered as much advice as I can about selling books online in this article, but the absolute best advice that I can give is to just start doing it. I read dozens of articles and watched hours of YouTube videos on retail arbitrage before I finally started doing it.

Those resources were helpful, but the best experience came from actually doing it myself. Download a book scanner like ScoutIQ, head out to a nearby thrift shop or retail store and start scanning! You’ll figure out the rest as you go. Good luck!

Browse through and read our other blog posts that are data-driven insights with our very own proprietary data and learn more on Mother's Day trends and best practices, Easter sales, price elasticity of demand, Amazon FBA fee changes, Amazon product title optimization, winter seasonal products, Amazon end of year sales, Valentine’s Day trends and best Amazon fulfillment centers by location and throughput.

Learn with Threecolts

Small group workshops to help you learn, optimize, and grow.