Par One: Buying the Books

Textbooks are expensive and at times ridiculously1 expensive.  Sometimes they’re so expensive, you’ll consider NOT buying the required book.  You’ll just try to wing it through the class by annoying your classmates, constantly asking them if you can borrow their books.

So buy them books, don’t be cheap like me.  I thought I was some super genius that could pass a class without buying the required text.  Imagine how surprised I was when I found out I was NOT a genius.  At the end, it’s pretty silly to fail a class for not buying a book, seeing as how the class usually cost A LOT more than the book.

Why are textbooks so expensive?  It’s sort of obvious if you think about it.  Most textbooks will not be in circulations for long.  Once you’ve taken (and pass) the course, will you need the textbook again?  Usually you don’t, unless its one of those major core textbook, that you need for millions of classes to come.  They’re not exactly something the general public will buy just to read with.  Some textbooks get outdated fast (especially in fast pace fields), which makes them less useful and at times completely worthless.  Prices these days are getting a bit silly though. Newer editions seem to be more about the publishers making more money, and less about updated information and revision within the textbooks.

Anyways, here are some tips on buying textbooks that should be helpful.

Shop ahead of time! Most colleges and universities will have a source where you can find out what the required textbook for the courses are.  This gives you more time to shop around and more time to find the best prices.  I’m not telling you to spend days shopping for the best price, but sometimes getting the cheapest book may require the longest time, which I will explain later.  It’s a given that when you have to buy something at the last minute, the thing you think about less is the price.  So if your college/university does not provide that information, ask the professor directly!  If you don’t know who is teaching the class, go and find out!  Generally, a visit to the campus bookstore will do the trick.

Be wary of campus bookstores. It’s not that they’re trying to rip you off, it’s just they charge ridiculously high retail prices.  Okay, they’re probably trying to rip you off, but it can’t be helped.  They’re quite useful for finding out what books you’ll need for what class though.

Check for local college bookstores near your campus. Generally most college and university has a local bookstore just a block away, selling the textbook your specific school uses at much cheaper prices. Some of their prices could be quite competitive, and even beat those you may find online. It’s simple business, if you have a large enough school, there is usually a small chain lurking around somewhere nearby.  Just ask amongst your fellow schoolmates, someone should know if they’re available or not.

Buy the non-hardcover edition, if they’re available. Many books, especially history books have non hardcover editions now.  For example, an $80 history book that has 600 pages (300 of which you don’t need for your specific class), may now have a two part paperback edition.  Part 1 covers pages 1-300, and part two covers 301-600.  They can still be expensive at maybe $50, but you’re still saving money.  So check to see if there are alternatives.  The professors are usually aware of what’s available for their particular courses, so ask them nicely.  J

Search online for some of the best deals. This isn’t really new to most people, but I’m still surprised by the amount of people I see going into the campus bookstores, or people paying full retail price for a book.  They’re most likely last minute buyers, since they can’t wait for the book to arrive in the mail.  This is why you should shop ahead of time!

Some great sites to search for books are:

www.campusi.com –  This is a great place to search for textbooks from some of the major online textbook retailers, small business bookstores, and private seller listings.  Type in the author, book title, or the ISBN to find the book you’re looking for.  Some of the results will show major online textbook retailer such as: www.textbookx.com

www.half.com –  This is a marketplace for sellers to list their books online (and many other things).  You can usually find good prices, because competition is huge, and lots of competition is always good for the consumer.  You’ll find a wide selection of new to used books, and you’ll also see many different prices.

www.amazon.com –  Amazon has a Marketplace that’s like half.com where anyone can list their books for sale.  Because of Amazon’s large web presence, a lot of competitions are also on this site, which results in good prices.

www.ebay.com –  You can always check ebay for the books you need.  I prefer half.com over ebay, because it’s a lot easier to find what you need, plus making payment is generally easier too.  You also have quite a lot more protection, if something goes wrong, than if you would at ebay.com, since half.com/amazon.com themselves are the middleman, they’re the one that takes your money, and pays the seller… so if there’s fraud involved, they’ll make more of an effort to resolve the issue (usually by promptly refunding your money).

WAIT!  Don’t go running off purchasing books just yet!  If you’re buying online, you should be aware of a few things.

Make sure you know who you’re buying from. Take www.textbookx.com for example, they’ve been online for awhile, and are a legitimate business that sells textbook online.  You should realize that they have a marketplace just like amazon.com and half.com, so if you’re buying something from textbookx.com or similar, make sure you can tell the difference between buying from THEM, and buying from some other student across the country.

As mentioned, listings like half.com and Amazon’s marketplace have lots of individual sellers, students like you and me.  They probably just finished their course, and want to get rid of their book and get as much money back as possible.  Like everything out there, there are honest, prompt sellers, and there are crappy ones.   Check the feedback of a seller before you purchase the book to determine what type of seller this person is.  Although its no complete guaranteed, it’s a better safety measure than just giving money to a complete stranger, hoping they’ll send you the book promptly, and that the books are as described.

Another thing to be take note of is that there are also a lot of businesses that sell on these listings too.  You can generally tell right away by the amount of feedback or transactions they’ve completed.  You can also tell a lot more from their feedback, as they have a lot more from users and buyers.  Anyone under 90% positive rating should be wary of, and even if they have over 95% positive feedback, you should look into it.  It doesn’t hurt to pay a bit more from a reputable seller, to ensure that you get what you pay for, delivered at a prompt time.

Be aware of shipping time and shipping location. This is why you should shop early, because sometimes the best price you found from the best seller, can only be shipped via USPS media mail, which sometimes can be VERY SLOW (3-4 weeks)!  USPS media mail is dirt cheap, and is meant for shipping books, CDs, video tapes, etc; hence “media” mail.  At times media mail can be fast if its from the same state, at times it may take longer than necessary.  It all depends on postal volume, and sometimes how lucky you are.

If you need the book fast, you should consider paying more for the faster shipping option.  You can check the feedback of a seller to see if they’re a prompt shipper or not.  Taking a look at when the purchase was made, and when the feedback was left can give you an idea of the usually time it takes for someone to receive their books.  If they’re swarmed with a lot of “slow shipping” feedbacks (even if it’s not the sellers fault) you should be stay away if class is starting soon.

Make sure you know the condition of the book. Yes, saving $20 on a book is nice, but buying a book covered with coffee stains, and other unknown stains can be a bit disgusting.  It’s especially worse if you can’t even read the text.  Although sometimes buying used is still the best way to go.  Who cares if the cover is messed up, as long as the pages inside are nice and clean?  A lot of us don’t take care of our books… so they can be damaged easily, but the pages inside are still in perfectly good condition.  If you plan to resell the book however, you may want to shop carefully.

Check the description of the book! Don’t accept vague terms.  Some sellers list books massively, and put stuff like “book is between very good, and acceptable condition” – what happens if they ship you whatever they have in whatever predetermined category policy they’ve set.  They may have a stack of used books, and just send you whatever is available, or best available.  Sometimes you get a good book, sometimes you don’t.

See if they mention estimated shipping time! Half.com and Amazon.com requires a seller to ship within a specific timeframe, depending on the shipping option you choose.  But it’s not like they can force a seller off his butt to go and ship your book.  If someone says they ship within 1-2 days, books will arrive within a week, and they have the feedback to back it up; then it’s a lot better than buying from someone with little to no feedbacks, saying vague stuff like “will send fast!”

1Ridiculously expensive? Once, for an Intro to Computer class, my professor required us to buy the three textbooks that he “wrote.”  The three books are called: How to Use Microsoft Word; How to Use Microsoft Excel; and How to Use Microsoft PowerPoint.  These books basically just contained screenshots of simple instructions like: Click File, Type in File Name, and Click Save As.  Even the Help file has more information than these “books.”  The package of three books cost $120.  To make it worse, you can’t buy used ones, since quizzes in his class are from tear out forms within the textbooks.  He hands the quizzes back to you, but he marks them so you can use them again.  Making money on the side?  Cool.  Ripping your student off by writing “books,” then brag about how you bought your dad (and yourself) a brand new Mercedes?  Not Cool.

Par Two: Selling the Books

If you haven’t read the first part in “How to Buy and Sell Textbook,” you might want to check it out.  It contains some info on how to buy on websites such as Half.com and Amazon.com’s marketplace, which will be useful information for what we’ll be talking about in this part.

This “how to” guide isn’t solely for textbooks too, it’s for any type of books; and most of the tips given can be apply to many other merchandise (DVDs, VHS, etc).

I’ve already rant about how expensive textbooks can be, so let’s figure out how we can get as much money back as possible, or make some money on the side if you feel like it.  Because this got pretty long, I’ve split it up into a few sections for easier reading.

First we’ll need to take a look at some of the avenues for selling textbooks (or any other media) online.  We’ll focus on Half.com and Amazon.com.  The main reason is because they’re established, which gives you a better market reach (of course you also get more competitions), and because they’ve been at doing this for awhile, they’ve made it easier to set up an account and get paid.

There are many more online market place out there like those mentioned above, and they work pretty much the same way.

Setting Up Seller Accounts

Let’s go over Half.com and Amazon.com’s marketplace together.  This is because they’re both very similar, and are pretty straight forward in setting up the sells.  If you already know how to sell textbooks online,skip this section and go straight to reading some of my tips.

What you’ll first need to do is register an account with the websites if you don’t have one.  To become a seller you’ll also need to input your credit card information (in case you take money and don’t ship products), and for verification process too.  Creating a username is part of the strategy in making your sales, although it does not have as much impact as other factors.  If you don’t know yet, your username will be display next to the book you’re trying to sell.  Obviously, creating a name such as “rip_off_people” may not get you as much sales as “book_seller_123.”  The point is, if you’re going to be constantly selling with this account, don’t pick a username that’ll make you not want to buy from yourself.

Now listing your book for sale is even easier.  All you’ll need is the ISBN number, the book title, or the author’s name.  The ISBN number can usually be located on the back of the book, right above the barcode.  They’re in the format of: #-###-#####-#

Easiest way is to punch in the ISBN number in the search field at half.com or amazon.com

After the book in question shows up on the list, you might have to sort through the selection and pick the right edition.  (I.e.: hardcover edition, 5th edition, CD-ROM included edition, etc.)

Once you’ve selected the correct book and edition, look for a “Sell Yours Now!” link on the right of the screen.  Half.com’s can be found on the top right, while Amazon.com’s link of “Sell yours here” can be found right below the “Add to Shopping Cart” button.

Now all you’ll have to do is set the price you want to sell the book at, select its condition, type in a description, and you’re done!  (Well, almost).  When a buyer selects to buy their book from you, you will receive an email from half.com or amazon.com with the buyer’s shipping information, in which you’ll be required to ship the books in around 3 business days (policy varies on each site).

That’s pretty much the gist of selling on these sites.  They’re very easy once you’ve sold a book or two, and if you have any further questions on how to set it up, each of the sites has a pretty detailed Help section with plenty of information.

Half.com’s Help | Amazon’s Help

Tips on Selling your Textbooks

To make sure your sales are successful and profitable (or at least, get as much money back as possible), there are some ways to edge out the competition, or at the very least ensure an actual sale.

Here are some tips.

See if it’s worth your time. Check the prices of current listing.  Are the sale prices worth your time?  Sometimes, books aren’t even worth anything anymore, and sometimes you’ll come across plenty of $0.99 listings, especially for popular books.  Don’t forget to factor in commission and shipping charges too (although a part of shipping cost is reimbursed by half.com and amazon.com).  If it isn’t worth your time, and you’ll only get $2 back (after all fees and expenses) for that $50 textbook of yours, maybe you should just keep it.  Although for me, I’ll most likely sell it since I already have a system setup.  Listing, selling, and shipping a book does not add much to my time, so it’s worth it to me.  So check if this is worth your time.

Sell your textbook IMMEDIATELY when you’re finished with it. For a lot of us, this is an obvious thing.  The longer you choose to sell your textbook, the more its value goes down as supply in the market increases.  One major impact we all know too well is the release of newer editions, which sometimes drop your book’s value down another 30% or at times make your book completely worthless.  If you’re done with the course and don’t need the book anymore, sell it!  If you need it for reference, buy the older edition and sell your current edition!  (Though this isn’t applicable all the time).  Sometimes I even sell my books a week before final, just because I KNOW I will pass the class (although that’s rare).

When possible, set your price to be the lowest price. This may sound crazy, but if you want to ensure an almost 99% sale, you should set the lowest price.  Besides the obvious reason of people looking for lowest prices, there’s another reason why I recommend this approach.  On half.com and amazon.com, listings are sorted in the order of the prices and condition.  The lowest price will be display on top of the item’s list.  On half.com, there’s a link titled Best Price, which when clicked on will bring the buyer to the lowest priced listing.  This gives you an advantage, as in a sense you have an “extra” listing.  For items with a large seller volume, setting your prices to the lowest (or one of the lowest) will increase your exposure and potential sales.

A lot of times people set at the prices they want, and sometimes they get the price they want, sometimes they don’t.  The worse scenario is, you never get the price you want and never make the sale.  Eventually when you decide to sell at a lower price, the book’s value has already gone much further down.

This doesn’t work apply all the time, of course.  Sometimes you’ll see ridiculously low prices, because a particular person may really want to get rid of the book fast.  In this case, go to the next lowest reasonable price, and beat that one.  Beating a price by $0.01 will still get you listed as the lowest price, but set the price accordingly.  Sometimes people hate seeing $24.95, sometimes they don’t.  This is something you’ll have to experiment with.  My preference is to have an easy number, if I have to beat $25.00, I’ll set $24.00 or $24.50.

Take pictures of the textbook! Here’s one easy way to edge out the competition, spend the time to take some pictures of the textbook!  Half.com allows you to upload one picture of the book you’re selling, so make it count!  Or if you’re savvy enough, take a couple shots and add them together to make one big picture!  There’s a size limit, so you’ll have to account for that.

When you take the picture of the book, make sure you use good lighting, and pick the best angle available.  I usually go with an angle that shows the side and top cover of the book.  Here’s one thing you should definitely consider when you take the picture of the book.

Get a white piece of paper and write clearly something along the lines of: “For Username’s Listing” or “Username’s Book.”  For example, if your username is Book_Seller, write “For Book_Seller’s Listing”

Include this paper in the picture, and make sure it comes out legible.

What this will do is confirm to the buyer that you probably have the book you’re trying to sell in your possession, and it’s in the condition you specify.

You’ll be surprise how well this works.  An actual picture can even allow you to sell at a higher price.  People will pay more to make sure they get what they want.

As mentioned, Half.com allows you to upload this picture, so what I usually do in my description is to put “Click for pics!” as the first few words, as they will only show a few words of your description on the initial listing page.

For Amazon, I will put “Email me for pics” as the first few words.

Taking pictures of books will definitely be more time consuming, so it’s up to you to see if its worth it or not.  If your current book is going for a good amount, I would definitely suggest you to invest the time into taking a quick picture with your digital camera.  If you don’t have a digital camera easily accessible to you, then this may not be an option.

Write clear, straight forward, and honest descriptions. Here’s another important part.  You’ll want to write simple, straight forward descriptions of the book without getting too wordy about it.  Don’t settle for something like “book is in good condition” though.  Don’t be vague!!  If book is in very good condition, say why.  Here’s an example of an okay description:  “Click for pics!  Book is in very good condition.  Cover pages are slightly worn, edges slightly round from regular use.  Bindings are tight.  Pages are in excellent like new condition!  No hand writing, no highlighting what-so-ever! Will ship within 24 hours!”

In your description, you should mention the condition of the cover, the condition of the spine and bindings, and finally the condition of the pages.  Are there high lightings?  Are there writings?  If there aren’t too many, mention that.  One way to ensure return buyers is to have honest description.  We all make mistake sometimes, but if you set out to deceive someone, it’ll just end up hurting your future sales when you receive a negative feedback.  Remember, people are quick to voice their complaint but slow to response in praise.

Remember to check out half.com and amazon.com’s policy on book conditions.  They’ll go over what should be consider like new, very good, good, and acceptable.  Follow their guidelines, and be honest!

Set your prices according to condition. Here’s a pretty straight forward one.  If your book is used and it’s in acceptable condition, you should set the prices accordingly.  It’ll be pretty silly to try to sell the book at the same price someone else is selling for their “like new” book, no?  Even if you beat their price, if your price is close, the odds aren’t really in your favor.  Most people will opt for the better condition book for a few more bucks.

Likewise, you can use this to your advantage.  If you have a brand new book, and you set your book to lower prices than other used book listing, why should someone buy those books instead of yours?

Offer expedite/faster shipping, if practical. To increase sales, you should offer expedite shipping services.  According to Half.com and Amazon.com, faster shipping should arrive within 6 business days after shipping.  So this gives you a few options.  The below time are estimates of US domestic shipping.

You can go with USPS First-Class mail if the item is light enough (13 oz and under), which usually takes 2-4 business day.  You can also go with USPS Priority Mail, which usually takes 2-3 business day.  Priority Mail can get costly at times, so you might want to try USPS Parcel Post, which usually takes 5-7 business day, and if you ship early, falls into the 6 business day policy.

Fedex Ground and UPS Ground are also usually 4-6 business day, depending on shipping location.  Sometimes they can be 1-3 business day too, if location is in same state.  They offer competitive rates and are usually cheaper for items above 2 lbs, compare to USPS Priority Mail.  You should check on each respective sites to see the rates.  www.usps.com, www.fedex.com, and www.ups.com.

Sometimes a book is just too heavy (5 lbs or more), where it’s just not practical to offer expedite shipping, as this will cut into your profit big time.  So you’ll have to make a judgment on that.  You can usually increase sales by offering faster shipping, but in result you’ll get less money.

For those that have experience in shipping, you should also consider offering international shipping.  I generally don’t offer it unless the item is light enough.  Standing in line and filling out those custom forms can be quite tedious.  Depending on the book (or product), offering international shipping will give you a bigger market, but also bring about more risk from fraud.

Ship promptly and choose the correct shipping services. This is one way to ensure customer satisfaction.  Ship your books promptly!  Half.com and Amazon.com requires you to ship the book within about 2 business days, but if you can ship it on the same day and you’re not busy, why not?

Most books are shipped via media mail, which can be ridiculously slow at times, so if you can upgrade the shipping service for just a bit more, you should consider doing it.  If a book is less than 13 oz, I’ll ship it via USPS First-Class, which usually takes 2-4 business days, pretty much the same speed as Priority Mail.

Respond to question promptly and clearly. Sometimes your buyers will have questions for you regarding the textbook.  Is this the CD-ROM edition?  Is the workbook in new condition?  Does it include so and so?  These are potential buyers that are considering your book, you’ve got them to actually put an effort and ask a question, so answer promptly!  If you answer 3 days later, don’t expect them to still be interested in the book.  Although we all can’t just sit in front of the computer waiting for emails, you should at least respond to emails within 48 hours at the latest.  Best is within 12-24 hours.

Here’s one thing to note.  If you’ve written the description correctly, there really shouldn’t be any questions.  So you should make a note and see if it’s something you can change for future listings.

Using Direct Deposit to receive your payments! This isn’t really a tip, it’s just to let you know how you’ll get paid.  One reason why I recommend Half.com and Amazon is because they’re the middle man in accepting payment.  When a buyer purchase a book, they pay either Half.com or Amazon.  After the book has been shipped and your buyer receive it, Half.com and Amazon will then pay you the amounts after fees and commissions.  Setting up direct deposit requires a checking account.  Once you’ve enter the necessary information (account number, routing number) you can have the money direct deposit into your checking account.  Fast and simple.

That’s all the tips I can think of right now. This got pretty long again, but I hope it’s been helpful.  You should realize that this doesn’t just apply to selling books; a lot of the tips mentioned above pretty much applies to selling ANYTHING online.

I wanted to give more info for selling on eBay, but eBay is a big subject (there’s plenty of books out there on Selling on eBay).  I might go into that one day.  The tips above apply to eBay too though.

Making Money on the Side Selling Textbooks

For those that are wondering how you can make some money on the side, what you basically need do is source the book for much lower price than the market prices you can find on the sites listed above.  Sounds easy enough, but it does require some research and time.  You’ll need to make sure that the books you acquire for sale will earn you a worthwhile profit.

What I did before was that I asked my fellow classmate if they’re willing to sell me their textbooks.  For example, if I know the book currently goes for around $45 dollars, I offer them $30 cash.  Sometimes people will just sell it to save themselves the hassle.  Back then (3 years ago?), online selling was not as popular, and a lot of people didn’t want to deal with the hassle.  As I was already selling my own book, setting up multiple listing was easy enough.  The amount I make varies from book to book, but generally if I can’t make at least $10 for my work, I won’t do it.  (It usually takes me a total of about 30-40 minute to list, and ship a book)

Checking the market prices of the book before course end is important.  You can also make agreement with classmates prior to the end of the course, giving you some flexibility in prices.  If prices change later on, you may be able to negotiate a different deal.

Another way is to do it by commission.  This requires a bit of trust, but it is less risky than buying books that you might not be able to sell.  Commission rate is up to you, but I generally do it where I can make at least $5-10 for each book.  I offer to sell their book for them, and take a percentage or a flat rate, depending on the going price of the book.  List it, package it, and ship it.  Full service.  Once I’m paid, I give the rest of the portion to the book owner.  I generally do this for friends and families, although I usually end up not charging them too, except for the packaging materials.

Again, checking market and street prices of the book before the course end will help.  For commissions, you can ask around as soon as class start to get you a head start on earning some trust or finding business.  It’s not too difficult to ask people “Do you want me to sell your book for you?  I can get you more than what you’ll get at the bookstore.”  That usually does the trick.

In either method, you can try asking verbally, post on bulletin boards, or have some flyers around (as long as the campus approves of the distribution).  Another trick is to stick around the bookstore and approach those that are coming to sell their used books (you might want to prepare a list of book prices though).

Like many small businesses, I use an online postage printing service such as Endicia.com, which allows me to print postage at home via my computer printer.  All I’ll have to do is simply attach the postage labels and drop off the packages at the postal office (no need to wait in line) or give it to the mail man.  Endicia cost $9.95 per month for their basic service, or an annual price of $99.95.  I have been using Endicia for years, and I definitely recommend it.

Online postage printing can also be found for free directly from www.usps.com, although they only offer it for Priority Mail or Express Mail.  You can also find the same service from PayPal or Ebay, which gives more shipping services option for a flat fee.

These days more people sell their books online themselves, but there are still quite a few people out there that don’t have the time for it, or the knowledge.  I still see people selling their used books back to the bookstores for pocket changes, so there’s still some opportunities left.  Don’t forget to apply some of the tips above, to ensure some success in sales and profit!

That’s all folks!

Again, I hope this “How To” has been helpful and not too confusing.  I’ll post it up for now and come back and edit it soon.  For whatever reason, I proof read better after a good sleep. If you have any other tips, suggestions, or comments, please let me know!