Easy weekend business: sell used books
When I started blogging I wrote an article about saving money in college. In this article I wrote that I made money by selling used books. Some people were curious as to how I could make money doing this, so here is a quick guide to how you can start your own used book business from the comfort of your home.
Getting the merchandise
The best places for me to find cheap books were the public libraries around the Bay Area. Some of these libraries hold big annual sales where books are sold off in brown paperbags for $3 to $5 per bag. In one particular sale I got six bags of books for under $20 and sold a good amount of them for over $500. In particular, one rare out of print book sold for $75 almost instantly.
My other sources for merchandise included library bookstores and a local recycling center that gave out books for free before they decided to shred the unwanted ones. Some large church sales were also quite fruitful.
Tips about choosing books
When I first selling books I picked the ones that looked popular, but then I soon found out that used fiction books did not garner a great price unless it was in so much demand that bookstores cannot keep up. Non-fiction books kept their values a lot better because they are usually released in smaller printings than popular fiction, and people tend to search for specific used nonfiction books to buy. Topics like mysticism , aliens, and self help generally sold pretty well.
You should also pick books that are in good condition. This means that the spines are intact and the pages are not water stained. Books in better condition generally fetch a higher price.
When you are at the big book sales you often do not have much time to pick out books because you will have a lot of competition from other resellers and bibliophiles. So the key is to pack your bags quickly and efficiently. After doing this a while you will get better at picking the books that could possibly fetch a premium.
Sorting and listing the books
This is definitely the step that takes the most time, but it is also the most interesting. I sorted my books into three piles. One pile contained books I wanted to read; one pile contained books I wanted to list immediately; the third contained the rejects. I generally rejected the books I had no interest in and had a list price of 1 cent on the Amazon Marketplace. The reason is that you will make no profit from these books after the fees you have to pay. These rejects were often donated back to the library. I listed the books that would sell for at least $5 on Amazon Marketplace. Once I started to sell more than 40 items a month I signed up for the Amazon Markplace Pro Merchant service to waive the $0.99 per item fee. You should do an honest assessment of the condition of the book and list the book with the defects it has and write it in the description.
Sometimes Amazon Marketplace would not have a listing for a book, then you would need to do some research. For example, I found a really old book about horses at the Elmerdorf Farm in my local libraryfor $1. After doing some research online I found that similar copies have sold for $70 to $125. So I wrote up a good description and listed it on eBay and it fetched nearly $100.
Sometimes there are also autographed books, then you should also list it as a collectible on eBay or sites other than Amazon. Other collectible books include first editions and advanced review copies. So you do need to flip through each book a little bit to determine its worth. There are definitely treasures out there and finding one is always quite exciting.
Tools of the trade
Once you collect hundreds of books, you need a place to store it. I stored most of my books in my room. Generally you want to store the books in a place without too much sun and without too much humidity so that the paper does not degrade. You also want to separate the books a bit so that the more "pulpy" books do not sit with the trade paperbacks. The reason is that some books are more acidic than others, and that could seep into other books when you put them together.
You do need a small scale to weigh the books you want to ship. This is so that you can figure out the exact amount of postage you need. Customers very rarely want expedited shipping so most of the time media mail is fine. Books under one pound can be dropped into regular mailboxes so you will save a lot of time by organizing the books you need to ship and putting on the exact postage price.
Next, you need some packing materials. Usually manila envelopes or small boxes are fine. You can pad the envelopes a little with foam, but usually books are sturdy enough to ship with just envelopes. There was only one instance where my envelope was chewed up by the post office. They sent back a letter apologizing for the problem and also sent me a necklace that they thought was in my envelope. I think it was a major accident because they had no idea what packages belonged where.
As to postage, I usually tried to print postage from the post office's automatic tellers or online. I could have optimized this further by printing every stamp at home or gotten a postal meter.
I also kept all my transactions and listed books in a big Excel spreadsheet. My accounting was really not that complicated, but you do need to keep records of when and what shipped and what you sold each item for taxes and returns.
After a year of selling used books, I sold nearly 1000 books to people in 16 countries and made a profit of $5000 to $6000. For the time I put into selling books I made somewhere around $12 to $14 an hour. This did not make me rich, but it was enough to pay for rent and some food on certain months. I also learned a lot through the process, and annoyed my mom with the piles of books I brought home. I stopped selling books after I started my first job because there were just too many things to do, but sometimes I still find myself drawn to booksales. I think it would be a great weekend business for a teenager or anyone else who is looking for a little extra income. If you are organized and devoted enough you can make this into a full time gig because the initial capital investment is very low. You also get better at picking the profitable books as time goes on, and it is also fun to read all the random works people have written.