Six Months as an Amazon Seller

By Maggie Wells on 17 June 2010 (Updated 13 June 2011) 13 comments
Photo: kertlis

Back in January, I looked at my contract work for the spring and realized things were going to get a little sparse for a few months. I also was cleaning house and realized my books were not only double rowed on the shelves but tripled in some places. I had to stop the madness and also be able to still pay bills. Enter Amazon.

After six months I can safely say that I've had a variety of experiences with various features and exchanges with customers and the Amazon monolith itself. Here's what you need to know.

1. Figure out your goal for selling

You aren't really going to make that much money off of Amazon unless it's your life and you have nothing else to do and you have unlimited access to books you can sell. My goal was cleaning out the garage and getting my bookcases down to single rows with no extra file boxes full of books anywhere. My financial goal was being able to buy plane tickets and paying off one credit card. So far I'm about 65% in meeting those goals. It'll take another 3 months to meet all of them.

2. Decide which books to sell

Out of 2,000 books in my private collection I listed about 1,500. In a good month, I made about $600. In a low month I cleared $150. Not too shabby, but not worth quitting the day job. What sells well? Recent edition text books, small print run collectibles on small or interesting presses, and collectibles. If you go book scouting to yard sales and library sales pay attention to presses. No one wants to buy something that Costco is pricing under $10 and is a best seller with a million copies out there. Those are going to come up worth a penny when you look them up. But a hard to find photography book might yield $50 or a recent translation or reissue of something from the 1940s on New York Review of Books Press consistently sells for ten bucks.

I have good luck selling Grove Press books, the aforementioned NYRB, and any small press or university press books. If you see a philosophy book at a library sale for fifty cents, pick it up — philosophy texts are not revamped every year and have limited press runs. Someone donated a book of philosophy text books and our local library had them in a corner destined for the dump. I picked them up and each has sold for at least $10 a piece. Steer away from any textbooks on technology or English composition if they are more than a year old — they aren't going to really be worth anything and will be too heavy to ship economically. Small run poetry books don't really lose too much of their value over time because they are hard to find and have a very steady audience. So if you are at your Friends of the Library Sale, pick up the book from the poet you never heard of but put down that copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Too many copies of that one floating around.

3. Choose your price

If you look up prices of books on Amazon enough you'll realize that there's a heck of a lot of books being sold for a penny and shipped for $3.99. Amazon is going to take about $1.99 of that. So, while you want to be competitive, don't get in the position of paying the customer to take the book of your hands. If I kind of wanted to keep the book anyway I listed it at a highly competitive price. If it is something I'm trying to get out of here I priced cheaply. I find if you can give a good description of the book and maybe not be the cheapest price you still fair well because customers like descriptions.

Take the time to browse books you like and are familiar with. You are going to have to invest at least a weekend or two in this. Don't just price by the other sellers because their goals might not be the same as yours. I have one book listed at present for $99 because it is out of print, hard to find, and that $99 is 5 dollars cheaper than my next competitor. I have at least 100 listed at $5.99. It's all about which book it is and how rare it is. I tend to price karmically. Many of the expensive books I list could sell for $20 more but if I got them for cheap I sell them at that discount. I don't want to gouge anyone. At the same time if you sell a collectible too cheap then you cause a spiral of downward pricing that will get every seller on Amazon angry at you.

4. Pick your fees

If you have only a few items you are trying to get rid of then listing single items takes a dollar an item. If you have tons you might want to take advantage of Amazon's $39.99 a month plan. Sell one good art book and you have the month covered.

5. Prepare to deal with customers

Amazon abides by the customer is always right mode of operation. It sounds like a great idea until you have customers that are less than ideal. I've had three crazy customers and one rational one that gave me negative reviews out of hundreds of sales. For the one guy with a legitimate complaint (creases on the backcover I didn't notice) I'm truly sorry. However, in case of the woman who canceled the order and then wrote a complaint that I never sent it, I'm kind of mystified. Most people do not leave feedback if they liked the transaction. People who like to complain or had a negative experience do leave negative feedback. You know how it takes thousands of A assignments to maintain your A and only one F to bring it all down when you're in school? Same thing applies here. I had two of these in one month that made my ratings go way down but thankfully that was a few months ago and now they are back up to almost 100%.

6. Manage packaging and shipping

You can invest way too much money in packing materials and tape. We didn't want to do that so being the saver I am, I had boxes of envelopes and boxes and packing material. I've yet to have to buy anything to ship anything in. I also asked the two store owners who went out of business if they had extra stuff they wanted to get rid of and got more packing materials that way. People are always wanting to get rid of packing materials. Don't buy them unless you really need to. I just buy mailing tape which is expensive enough as it is. Also keep in mind how much Amazon credits for shipping. If you have a heavy book it's going to be over the $3.99 credit they give you so make sure you can make up that difference in the price of the book itself. Make it easier on yourself and your postmaster and start a stamps.com account or something similar if you think you are going to be shipping 50+ books a month.

7. Gems of the experience

I think my best sell was a book I picked off of a free giveaway table. It was a French textbook and turned out to be worth $75 and I was able to sell it for $50. My husband found a brand new house design book for a dollar that sold for $89 (it's listing price was $125). I'm just glad I was able to buy plane tickets to bring my kids to visit my grandmother without breaking our budget, that the credit card is now under control, and that while the bookcases are still double rowed, I've at least been able to get rid of ten file boxes of books.

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Guest's picture

Wow great story. Curious do you think selling books is better on Amazon.com than it would be on ebay?

Guest's picture
strawberrylady

I debated that when I had a couple of books to sell. I went with Amazon since you don't pay the listing fee until it actually sells. From what I could see, I had to pay ebay upfront to list, then a percentage of the sale.

What I liked is that with Amazon, they pay Amazon and then Amazon gives you your cut so you don't have to deal with that aspect.

Guest's picture

I've sold books on Amazon for about five years now after two years selling on eBay. The fee structure is much better on Amazon and the daily maintenance is much lower. When a book gets down to where my profit margin is too low, I use a paperback trade site to trade what I have for something else. Very often I can find books of higher value in a good enough condition to sell. More often I find something I'd really like to own!

Guest's picture

I really enjoy selling on Amazon. I have been selling books there on-and-off for a few years. I actually just sold a book called 'coil winding' that had been sitting on the shelf forever, and it got me a good amount of money!

Don't bother with low-balling. Often times a book will sell that is more expensive if it has a good description, as opposed to those that write 'great customer service' and that is it.

Great post.

Guest's picture
Guest

I would buy all my college texts online and mostly always on amazon. I would always be willing to pay a little more for a book with a good description. I was always a little weary of buying from a no description offer, and I always needed the book asap so I didn't have time to mess with returns.

Guest's picture

I love buying books on Amazon, then selling them back when I'm finished with them for the semester or whatever. I buy all my textbooks off of there because it's much cheaper than buying from the school store. Then, at the end of the year, I try to make a slight profit back. I can't believe you listed 1,500 books though!

Guest's picture

That's cool. i've got a whole bookshelf of books where I probably wouldn't realistically need half of them. Unfortunately most of them are probably more garage sale material and not the type where it'd be worth my while to set up all the listings and such.

Maggie Wells's picture

I found Amazon personally easier to manage for bookselling and I liked that so much was built in you didn't have to reinvent the wheel every time you list something. And yes indeed, 1500 books listed. I'm a little bit of a book nerd, I admit.

Guest's picture
JJ

fare, not fair

Guest's picture
adam gold

Good advice. Technicals books do well. The bestsellers are worth 0. The best sellers sell especially bad now because so many people get it on the Kindle. The Kindle and other readers definitely will put a dent in mom and pop book sellers.

Guest's picture

Amazon is indeed my vendor of choice to sell not only books but other things as well. here's my experience with Amazon at http://www.mewithoutdebt.com/2009/07/clutterless-way-to-lower-your-debt....

Guest's picture

www.half.com is another great place to buy and sell used books.

Guest's picture

I would be interested to know where the relationship between the author and Amazon is now. I am a small time seller selling my used photography gear as I trade up. I have only had 2 bad customers out of more than a hundred transactions. These two customers, the dollar amount's at issue, and Amazon's crazy unilateral and arbitrary enforcement of its policies caused me to call it quits and encourage others to do the same.

I detailed my situation here: http://blog.dassaro.com/2011/08/24/amazon-seller-nightmare-part-i/ in a three post series (so far). In short, Amazon admits that the customer bought the item from me to borrow it (e-mail is posted in Article II I think) and now wants her money back. How crazy is that? Amazon even told me that customers can file chargebacks 90 days later and keep the product and get a refund from the seller.

Anyway, I am duking it out with Amazon and even have an attorney onboard. I would caution people from selling on Amazon.