The Truth about Selling Used Books on Amazon

I got a mail into my inbox with the following text:

“Do you have any old books in your house you don’t look at any more ?

Or have you ever seen books sold for pence at boot fairs or in charity shops ?

Tap into this amazing revenue stream by utilising Amazon to turn them into fast cash.

Check out this page for details of Robin Williams from the UK and his system for making an income part-time from home using Amazon:

so I thought I’d check it out. It makes more sense than a lot of other schemes I could mention. This one can’t be completely dodgy because I know Amazon and I know exactly how it could work. You can read the link above to see the full sales pitch (the sales pitch, by the way isn’t getting you to sell books on Amazon from which whoever created this page would be making no money, it’s to sell you the book that he’s written which (supposedly) tells you how).

You can read below for some feedback you can trust (because guess what, I’m not trying to sell you anything) and make your own mind up. It even occurred to me that for this piece of marketing, perhaps Robin Williams is a made up name – because what are you going to get if you Google ‘Robin Williams’ to try and find this guy and ask him about what he’s promoting?

Guess what, you can buy his book on Amazon. There are plenty of others too, I think ‘used Books to Gold’ is another one. Just finish reading this article before you buy any of them…

So, anyways, here is what I did:

3 Very Simple Steps to List the Books for Sale in Amazon

  1. Find the Books – I found some books I’d be happy to part with from the bookshelves in our house, one particular book was ‘Napoleon for Dummies’ which I had bought my wife just as a joke (she’s French and had been going on about Napoleon so much the previous week that I bought her this book) for 50p from a charity sale.
  2. Set up an Amazon seller account – this is very easy to do and all quite intuitive from within amazon itself so I won’t go into details here
  3. List the Books – I listed 4 books including ‘Napoleon for Dummies’ (I’m quoting this one because this is the one which I’ve just sold) – listing each book is as simple as entering the ISIN number from the inside cover – Amazon will do the rest (i.e. the listing will have a picture of the book, reviews and the facility to ‘look inside’ and preview most books – all automatically after you enter the ISIN). Amazon is so huge, every book I listed already had other copies available for sale. So for each one I undercut the lowest price just slightly to make mine the best offer. For the Napoleon book which I’d bought for just 50p, the lowest price was £2!! So I listed mine for £1.80 making mine the best offer.

Pretty cool so far.

That’s it – I’m all done, now I just wait to sell one. I didn’t want to invest too much time listing lots and lots of books because I don’t have lots and lots of books I’d be happy to part with (we gave all of those to charity shops already) and I wanted to see the whole process working first before spending time on it. I thought it would probably be ages before I sold one of these, if at all. Then I got an email from Marketplace with the subject heading ‘Sold, dispatch now: ED-TIHR-ZRTB Napoleon For Dummies [Paperback] by Markham, J. David’ !!!

Yippee! I’d sold a book. Not only that, it was the book that I’d bought for 50p and sold for £1.80. Of course I knew there would be fees to come out of this, but still expected to make some profit.

So here are the all important details which will give you the first part of the full story – i.e. some numbers – here is exactly what the mail from Amazon said:

Dear Alan*

Your order has been confirmed.

This e-mail includes all steps required for dispatching and confirming your order.

Order ID: 203-6121652-7765164

Please dispatch this product using Standard delivery.

Item: Napoleon For Dummies [Paperback]  by Markham, J. David
Condition: Used – Good
Listing ID: 0927ITXGL62
Quantity: 1
Order date: 11/10/2011
Buyer’s price: £1.80
Amazon fees: -£1.66
Shipping: £2.80
Your earnings: £2.94

You have agreed to dispatch an item within two business days after the order date on 11/10/2011. Keep in mind that you are responsible for the item until it reaches the buyer at the address provided within your Seller Account.

The mail had more in it with instructions as to where to go in amazon to handle the dispatch etc.

* – the mail actually had my full email address here

Notice the fees Amazon take. I made only 14p profit on the sale of the book!!! They took £1.66 of the £1.80 sale price. That’s over 92% of the sale price!!! And it’s not exactly as if I’d listed it at a rock-bottom price either.

The other thing Amazon do is they have fixed charges for postage which I think are different for different size and categories of book. So I guessed that this is where I might make a bit of money.

I saved money by using my own Jiffy bag and sticking the address on with paper and cellotape rather than using any fancy labels. Then off I went to the post office to fidn out how much it was going to be to post the Napoleon book.

The postage was £3.05 for first class (delivery estimated for next day) or £2.60 for second class (delivery estimated in 3 days). I paid £2.60 for the second class postage.

All in all I therefore made 34p selling this book. It was in good condition, worth a lot more new (obviously) and even after buying it for just 50p and managing to sell it for £1.80. I still managed to make an overall loss of 16p!!

I would have made an even greater loss if I’d had to buy a jiffy bag.

So there you have it. You possibly can make money with this technique, but it’s not going to make you rich. You’re not going to make a big margin on the book sale (and may be making a loss when you consider what you paid ofr what the book is worth to you) because of the huge fees Amazon take from you and it doesn’t look like you’ll make much margin on the post either. As you can see from above, you’ll be very lucky to make any money at all.

Probably the only way to make money selling used books via Amazon is if you’re selling very rare books or first editions – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have or find these and you know what you’re looking for.


The Truth about Selling Used Books on Amazon — 29 Comments

  1. From upstate New York:

    I’ve sold books on ebay for ten years until recently when I got tired of their belligerent treatment of small sellers. So I’m now on Amazon. Both have their advantages and disadvantages: too bad someone like google cannot combine the best of both sites.

    Unlike ebay Amazon doesn’t continuously nag sellers with new fees, rules and regulations. ebay is set up better for antique and vintage books because the presentation is simply for user friendly and focused. One big disadvantage to Amazon, so far as I know is that sellers cannot list with “or best offer” as on ebay which means that I have to reduce my prices a few cents every day until they sell–which can take months.

    This business works best for people who love books, especially older and antique books; and for those who love the thrill of the hunt at estate sales, yard sales, etc.

    I often spend many hours on ebay reviewing completed price records on ebay starting from highest to lowest to develop a general idea of what type of old books are in demand: for example small editions of local history books; limited edition museum exhibition books, etc. It is regrettable that Amazon, so far as I know does not have a function like ebay for reviewing completed sale prices. Amazon could also use a better, more sophisticated and more extensive image manipulation for uploading and editing, and for potential sellers to view items for sale.

    In some ways Amazon is so primitive and it’s “individual” product pages are so complicated and crowded compared to ebay that I wonder how they became so successful. I still have trouble finding postage rates and detailed descriptions such as size for Amazon product listngs. Amazon’s structure is best suited to newer products with ISBN, SKU numbers and such.

    Another disadvantage of Amazon over ebay is that small sellers such as myself, so far as I know can list up to 40 books for free but after that must pay around $30 for month. This is not workable for sellers like me who often don’t have a sale for weeks and who don’t sell any book for over $50. ebay on the other hand allows you to list far more books without paying a monthly fee for the privilege to the best of my knowledge. Again it would be great if someone or something like google would combine the best of both and remove the worst.

    Like many thousands of ebay sellers who are tired of ebay and Paypal’s bullying, monopolistic, often irrational behavior toward sellers I’ve been looking at alternatives for my non-book antiques and collectibles. looks very user friendly and has received many excellent reviews in the e-business press.

    Finally, as far as fees are concerned, this becomes moot when a seller has, after sufficient study and experience, learned to , for example, an old book for .25 cents to $1 and sell it for $20 to $50; I have done this many times and I know that many other motivated, knowledgeable old booksellers do this on a regular basis.

    In summary if you want to make $ selling books online:
    1. Love books=bibliophile.
    2. Research completed book price sales on ebay from highest to lowest: you don’t need to enter anything into the ebay search box.
    3. You have to learn book description terms such as condition.
    4. You have to love the hunt and jump out of bed first thing in the morning to be first in line at that’s day’s rummage sale or estate sale.
    5. Keep looking and digging. Many people do not have the patience, determination or stamina to squat down and dig through scores of boxes of old and sometimes dusty or even mouse chewed books; that’s where I often find a treasure.
    6. To reduce the impact of Amazon or ebay fees concentrate on books in the $20 and up price range that you paid one tenth or less than that price to buy.


  2. I look for books every chance I get, every where I go. It excites me! Locally, regionally, traveling to sisters in Maryland or Moms in Arkansas. Thrift stores are your best bet…they don’t usually know the potential value of a book, used book stores usually do. If I fly somewhere and rent a car, if I find good bops, I’ll ship them back…it’s only a few dollars.
    Books that don’t list well, or I decide for one reason or another not to take up shelf space,(any more) I’ll put out on my $5 table for people to buy who come in my office. (Or at least I hope they buy…I’ve just started this venture and hope to turn into a used book store (for wayward solid clean books) when I retire. That way I’m not out any $.

    • Awesome & good for you. I know what you mean because I love to get a bargain myself and see potential in things. I can only imagine that having learned a feeling for what sells and what doesn’t the feeling of excitement you might get when you come across a book you think might just do really well.

      I also love what you said about it being a deferred process. That makes a lot of sense and is a very sensible way to set it up and look at it. With all things, if you can be patient and defer payment (as well as having a proven model/system that you can rely on and you know works) then you will do far better than looking for instant gratification.

      Your comments have reassured me that there is a genuine money making opportunity here, and that with the appropriate work, habits and learned skills (e.g. what makes a ‘bop’) it can be very lucrative.

      You also describe it as much as a hobby that you get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction out of as purely a business venture, which is great.

  3. I sell $1 books for $20-$50…ALL-THE TIME!…to the tune of $2000/month, most every month, and I’m only part time. I know full time sellers who do much more than that! The trick (?) is buying the right books (for .50 – $1), (usually gut feeling which will come with time)and having space for them to sit for a year or two…(or sell immediately). You never know. Selling books on-line is fun, but also work! I can’t see most people with full time jobs investing 2-3 hours a day working his book business, but you must.
    I have 8000 bops (books of potential) and sell 1.5 % (+-)a month. That’s not a large per cent but it is good $.
    Read every book you can find on selling books on-line. You will learn from everybody. I’m working on my own book now…maybe I’ll put it together this winter when the snow flies in Nebraska.

    • Hi Ken,

      thanks for the comment. The numbers you describe make sense but also confirm that it’s not as easy as some of the ‘gurus’ in this space would have us believe. I never said this was a scam, just that it’s not as easy as made out. 1.5% of your stock in sales/month sounds like a realistic figure but also indicates that if people want to be successful at this, like any other area, it will require a lot of hard work and even then is far from certain to make a return.

      I’m really happy to hear that it’s working for you though and it sounds like a realistic example. Presumably you’re picking up your books from thrift shops, car boot sales etc? Are you out looking for books every single day?

      best wishes,

  4. Amazon is still one of the best online store in the world, almost all products we need are available in there.
    If you find yourself sitting around wishing you could find ways to earn some extra cash, this is definitely one avenue to try out.
    Success Alan!!

  5. Reading helps you to become more smarter and intelligent, knowledge is power and one of the advantages of reading a book, magazine or article is it can help you expand your knowledge, increase your intellect and make you a more wiser and interesting person. The more you learn and the more knowledge you acquire the more you will have to talk about.

  6. Thanks for the super useful real-life experience. I’ve just collected tons of books from around the house, years of buying marketing and business books and rather than take them to a thrift store (where they’ll sit on the shelf forever and a day, because let’s be honest, business minded people don’t shop in thrift stores), I was looking for whichever way would require the least effort and produce the biggest payday.

    Your article has just saved me about 3 hours of research and wasted time. I’m sure you can make a fortune with 2nd hand books applying the ‘rule of 15’ on Amazon, but I think eBay will probably be my best option.

    Cheers mate 🙂

        • Best of luck selling your books Adam. Ebay is a good place to sell book lots when you have related topics. I am making better margins since I began following Rule of 15. Over past month I paid avg of 80 cents per book. Avg sale was just shy of $17.00
          I buy fewer books but make more profits. I list almost all my inventory on Amazon. Seldom on ebau. Let me know how things work out for you.

          • Hey Steve,

            that’s awesome. It certainly doesn’t match my experience of trying it but then after seeing the kind of margins Amazon take and finding the situation ridiculous firstly compared to what I actually paid for the book then sold it for and secondly the comparison with the claims in the initial email I got, I stopped.

            Did you make up the ‘Rule of 15’ for yourself or learn it from somewhere?

            How many books do you sell per month on average then?

        • Ah cool, sorry Steve left that comment a while ago so I’d forgotten about his ‘Rule of 15’ 😉 he’s obviously better at selling used books on Amazon than I am!!

  7. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I’m moving house and have lots of books, I just logged on to a site who claim to purchase used books. The first 5 I typed came back with a message saying they aren’t buying as there is no demand – at least 3 of the titles were in the top 10 bestsellers in the last six months. That left me doubting the money I could make versus the effort it would take so I googled and found this article. I am now happy to box them up and spread them around the local charity shops where I hope they make some money from them.

    • Hey Sarah,

      thanks so much for the comment and I’m glad the article helped you.

      That’s the same conclusion I came to after this little experiment though it’s also worth reading some of the other comments here as it seems like some people do manage to make money this way. For me it seems like too much hard work and without the rewards being quite (anywhere near) as attractive or easy to come by as I was led to believe.

      take care & best wishes,

  8. Reading provides positive escapism from the real world, which can help detract from the stress of daily life. Remember, kids have stress too, and they need their own heroes, villains, and fantastical creatures to help them take their mind off the present. Young or old, there’s nothing like a good afternoon of peaceful page-turning to make you feel relaxed and at ease.

  9. I found selling on ebay much cheaper. Insertion fees on buy it now items are only 20p (not including extras like more photos/sub title etc) and insertion fees on auction items are usually free, final selling fee is only around 10% the item sale value. For example I posted for sale on auction an x box 360 game.

    Insertion fee = free
    sold for = £5.06p
    sales fee = 0.51p
    profit = £4.55p

    P&P was payed for by the customer at £1.60p But really I could have charge £1.80 and made myself an extra 20p profit as other similar items were charging higher P&P.

    If I had posted it for buy it now i would have still made a considerable profit.

    use Ebay.

  10. Hi Alan,
    I’ve had success using a “Rule of 15” … If I pay $1 for the book, DVD, or textbook, I need to be able to sell it for at least $15. If I pay $2 for the product, I need to be able to sell it for at least $30. I’m never out more than $2 on any one product, and over time I’ve gotten good at being able to identify good deals when I’m at a booksale, yard sale, or an an auction. I seldom list at the lowest price. My lowest price is usually $7.97, so that I wind up netting a minimum of $4. I, too, wrote an e-book on how I make money at this crazy business. It’s for sale now in the U.K. Amazon Kindle store at:
    or on the U.S. Amazon site:

    • OK Steve,

      well you sound genuine enough and if you’re managing to make money doing this then all power to you and I can say I find that very impressive after discovering myself that it’s not as easy as some would have us believe. Obviously possible though.

      I think there are two aspects that are more difficult when you get into it – 1) the amount of time (presumably even for a keen eye) you have to spend to find books in the first place that are good candidates for re-sale and 2) the kind of return the average Joe will make (again though it looks possible, not as easy as claimed by some).

      Thanks for the comment and best of luck with the book,

  11. I also have quite a number of used textbooks from my 1st and 2nd year of degree. Seems like Amazon is a great site to sell my textbooks and earn some profit. Gonna try it later!

    • Hi Norb,

      You read the article, right? I’m still not convincced given my experience when trying this but I’d love to hear how you get on with some further examples (assuming you’re happy to share the actual figures & proof),

      thanks for stopping by,

  12. Another tip is getting your own electronic scales. Earning £5 isn’t great if you spend 30 mins in a postoffice queue. Just weight it yourself, round up for safety and stick the stamps on (buy them in bulk in advance). Then dump straight at the parcel collection point.

    I sold maybe 20 or 30 old books this way, £10-£30 each.

    • Good Tip.

      Can you remember how much of the £10-30 you got from these sales? With my recent experience in the article above, I got 14p from a £1.80 book after paying Amazon £1.66 in fees!! I’d be interested to find out how much of a higher value item Amazon take – I guess it’s still a fair chunk?


  13. It’s good for selling higher value books like old textbooks. Anything selling for less than about £10 is a waste of time.

    Don’t necessarily undercut the lowest price – often the lowest is a foreign seller. Don’t even be lowest if you are willing to wait.

    • Hi Will!

      Thanks for visiting our little site & commenting. I think you hit the nail on the head with the £10 threshold. The problem is that there aren’t that many books (even text books) which you easily can sell 2nd hand for over £10. The main point of the article wsa basically that it’s not as easy as a lot of these shady online marketers would have you believe (in order to sell you a copy of their latest overpriced e-book),


  14. I made a bit of money selling some textbooks that my husband had used just once for some exams, so they were almost new and quite technical. But the books cost £50 each & we only got £20 for them. I can’t see how you could make a business selling books full time – too much effort for too little return.

    • Hey Debbie,

      thanks for the comment and I completely agree wiith you – Amazon really do take the biscuit when it comes to their fees!!

      also apologies for taking so long to get back to you – somehow this got marked as spam no idea why!

      at least this one doesn’t seem like a complete con but it’s certainly not as lucrative, nor as easy as some would have us believe!

      take care,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *