How to Buy and Sell Used Textbooks Online

How to buy used textbooks online

This isn’t the normal kind of thing I post on my blog, but it’s almost that time of year again, (and I did reference my textbook buying exploits a while ago) so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve found so helpful. I graduated from Azusa Pacific University two years ago after transferring in from community college, and am now doing summer online classes in preparation for attending ministry school at International House of Prayer University in Fall 2013. That’s three colleges, around 50 classes, and around 150 textbooks. My parents raised me to be thrifty, so I’ve developed a bit of a system for getting the best deal on books, both in buying and in selling. Here are a few of the tips that have helped me and my family save hundreds of dollars on textbooks:

  1. Shop early. As soon as you get your class list and know what books you’ll need, start looking. Prices go up the longer you wait. This also allows plenty of time for your books to arrive.
  2. Compare, compare, compare! Open a word document or an email to yourself where you can keep track of the books you need and their ISBNs (trust me, you’ll be copying and pasting those ISBNs often!), and all the prices you find with links so you can easily hop back to those pages.
  3. Bigwords.com is your new best friend. This website is pretty much all you need. It will automatically compare prices on all the major sites, plus a few you probably haven’t heard of before. I’ve tried several price comparison websites, and this one is truly the best.
  4. See if your college has an “Underground Bookstore” Facebook page. This will be a place where students post what they have to sell or what they’re looking for. You can meet up on campus to make an exchange!
  5. Find out if you reeeeaally need the newest edition of a book. For textbooks, probably yes, for classics, probably not. Just make sure it has all the material. (Some books you can even read online for free!)
  6. Don’t rely on your college bookstore, but DO factor it into your price comparison. Sometimes, wonder of wonders, their used prices are actually cheaper than online.
  7. Make sure you calculate in shipping! 9 times out of 10, online prices are low enough that shipping won’t deter you, but do check. Half.com’s shipping for books is $3.49, compared to $3.99 on Amazon. (Remember that if you buy something locally, either from a student or the bookstore, you won’t have to pay shipping at all.)
  8. Pay attention to seller stats. Look for good ratings, and if possible you want someone semi-local. I always feel more comfortable buying from a “real person” rather than a big company, because in my experience their description of the book’s condition will be more accurate and helpful.
  9. Be flexible on condition. Yes, you want a nice book, but how nice do you need it to be? I very rarely buy “Acceptable” books, but I’m perfectly comfortable with “Good.” Although, if it looks like a good book you might want to keep, splurge the extra dollar or so and get a “Very Good.
  10. Other options, which I have never tried, include renting textbooks, sharing with fellow students, and photocopying/scanning a textbook. I would not recommend renting. It will be cheaper on the front end, but you won’t be able to earn back your money by selling the book afterwards.

How to sell used textbooks online

Now it’s time to do it all in reverse! A few things you’ll want to remember:

  1. Plan your timing carefully. The best time to list is a few weeks before a new semester when everyone is shopping for textbooks and prices are competitive. BUT, you don’t want to wait so long that a new edition comes out and a $70 textbook now sells for $3. Don’t repeat my mistakes.
  2. Again, Bigwords.com is God’s gift to college students. Best of all, they offer comparisons on online buyback sites as well as sites like Half.com and Amazon! These buyback sites are great, but be careful. Don’t be tempted by fast cash if there’s a reasonable possibility that your book will eventually sell elsewhere for a lot more.
  3. Some buyback sites offer store credit. Don’t do it. Who knows whether you’ll ever actually use it? For example, ecampus.com might offer you $10.00 in store credit for a book, but only $8.00 in cash. Make sure you’re comparing the lower price, since Bigwords.com will only show you the higher price. Also, some buyback sites, such as Textbooks.com, only accept a $10 minimum buyback. It might be worth it to sell all your books through them to get over the $10, or it might not.
  4. The best thing about these buyback sites, though: FREE SHIPPING! They give you a label to print out and all you have to do is take it to the post office (or UPS store, on some sites like Textbooks.com).
  5. Most of the time, your choice of listing will come down to either Amazon or Half.com. Unless the price is widely different, my advice is to go with Half.com every time. Why? Amazon takes rather outrageous commissions, about 18%. Half.com takes only about 15-12%, depending on the price of your item.
  6. Most people only shop on the major sites, like Amazon and Half.com. You might be able to list for higher prices on more “fringe” websites, but keep in mind that pretty much everyone will have already looked at the lower prices on the big sites.
  7. Take a good look at your book’s condition, and assess whether it’s Like New, Very Good, Good, or Acceptable. Most of my books get listed as Very Good. Never go for Acceptable unless the book is falling apart and/or has a lot of notes inside.
  8. Write a brief description of your book’s condition. The goal is to be honest, but positive. Details are good. Be professional, but try to sound like a real person, not like a big company that sells used textbooks by the hundreds. I often describe my books with something like, “Great condition! Clean pages, tight binding. No notes or highlighting. Some shelf wear and sticker on back.” This sounds like I’ve examined it carefully, I’m confident in what I’m selling, and I’m not afraid to let you know of any minor defects that you probably don’t care about anyway. This builds trust with the buyer.
  9. Look at the other used prices for the item before you list. I always list my book for about 50 cents lower than the lowest price, unless it’s in exceptionally good condition and I think I can be competitive at a higher price.
  10. Once you make your sale, ship it promptly with the packing slip included, and then leave feedback on your buyer to encourage them to leave feedback for you! The better your ratings are, the more trust you’ll have earned for your next selling season.

What tricks have you learned to save money on books?

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Camp
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 12:51:21

    Book buying and selling can definitely be tedious if you don’t know where to look in order to get the best deals. I once spent over $650 just on textbooks because I had to get the online registration with them. No way to get out of that one!

    Reply

  2. Shannon
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 17:08:30

    I just used this post to sell a ton of my old books from college. Thanks, Caitlyn!

    Reply

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