The Money Hiding in Your House: Textbooks

Simplifying / Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Most of the time it’s not worth the trouble to try selling books online.

The vast majority of books don’t bring a lot of money. And the ones you think might be worth the most (John Grisham novels, books by Oprah’s trainer) are actually worth the least because there are so many of them floating around.

However, there are some books that are worth taking the time to list, sell, and ship, and if you remember heading to the campus bookstore hoping to sell your textbook back after the semester ends then you’ll realize I’m talking about textbooks.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I sold this health textbook on Amazon for $74.99.

Yep, textbooks can definitely be worth the trouble.

How to Find Out What Your Textbook is Worth

You can get a rough idea of what a textbook is worth by looking it up on Amazon or eBay. Check the used prices on Amazon and the completed (sold) listings on eBay.

Generally speaking, the more current a book is, the more it will bring. With each revision the book undergoes, your version becomes worth less.

So get textbooks listed as soon as you’re done with them. And know that your accounting textbooks from 20 years ago probably aren’t worth anything.

The book I sold was for a online health class that my son took in order to free up room in his high school schedule for music and Student Council. The minute his counselor told me that he had received credit for the class, I listed the book.

Where to Sell and How to Price Your Textbooks

Honestly, entire books have been written about where to sell books online and how to get the best price. I certainly don’t have all the info and — even if I did — I couldn’t begin to cover it here.

The truth is, I’m mostly interested in getting the book out of my house and pocketing a little money in the process. I’m going to assume that’s what you’re after too.

With that in mind, I can tell you that what works for me is using Amazon to sell textbooks. It’s incredibly easy to list a book at Amazon and that’s where most of the book buyers are too.

Regarding price, I look at what other books exactly like mine are listed for and I list at the low end of the spectrum. That’s the sum total of my strategy.

Other Things to Consider

  • Describe your book accurately. I tend to believe that the more detailed your description, the more you will stand out from other sellers. I know I trust a seller more when they give me a lot of info.
  • If your book is from a smoke-free or pet-free home, say that. If it’s not, don’t mention it.
  • If you ship your books via the US Postal service, you can use book rate postage, which is cheaper than other forms. Just make sure your buyer hasn’t paid for expedited shipping.
  • If you sell via Amazon, the postage reimbursement amount is set for you. The amount I pay to ship a book usually doesn’t match the amount I was reimbursed for postage. Sometimes I come out ahead, sometimes I don’t. I don’t sweat it.
  • Package your book well for shipping. I used padded mailers or bubble wrap and large envelopes.
  • If you’re shipping the book Priority Mail, you can schedule a free pickup online from the post office. And — you didn’t hear this from me — but my mailman will even pick up a non-Priority package if I schedule it as a Priority pickup. I’m usually not a rule breaker, but I make an exception when standing in line at the post office is involved.

Do you have money hiding in your house in the form of a textbook? Have you sold any online? What strategy has worked for you?

This post is part of Frugal Friday.

21 Replies to “The Money Hiding in Your House: Textbooks”

  1. I always sold textbooks when I was in college as soon as I was done with them. Unfortunately it seems like they come out with new editions every year or every other year now so if you don’t sell fast you might just have a paper weight. It never hurts to check though and they definitely pay better than selling normal books!

    1. Lance, you do have to get them listed quickly in order to get the most money, but you’re right – it never hurts to check, even on older books. It takes only a second.

  2. I’ve never sold books online but you are so right about mentioning if the item comes from a smoke free/pet free environment. I used to sell kids clothes on eBay and always put those words in my description. Also, since my daughter has allergies, I would never bid on anything that wasn’t from the same type of environment. With my oldest starting college soon I will definitely pay more attention to Amazon and EBay textbook listings.

    1. Bestmommy, it sounds like you have to be very vigilant with your daughter’s allergies so that info is crucial to have.

  3. I did always try to sell my textbooks when I could, even if it was trading them back in, that was pretty much the only option as online selling stuff wasn’t as readily available back when I using books.

  4. My son is taking a couple dual enrollment classes next year and I’m wondering if they are going to have to buy the textbooks. These classes give them college credit and high school credit at the same time. I will keep this in mind if he does have to buy his own textbooks for the dual enrollment classes. I know there’s a site online that will compare different places that buy back textbooks, but I’m not sure the name of the site. Amazon also have a textbook buy back program, which would be easier for someone who isn’t experienced in selling items online themselves. Although I’m assuming you wouldn’t get as much as if you were selling it directly to an individual buyer.

    1. Kim, thanks for mentioning the Amazon buy back program. I wasn’t aware they even had one until I listed my book this week and I neglected to mention it in the post.

      My daughter’s high school dual enrollment classes didn’t require a text book purchase, but her calc tutor gave her a couple of textbooks that we were able to sell when she finished the class.

  5. I’ve had the same experience as Lance. That’s great that you were able to unload the book & make some $$ Julie! The cost of textbooks for college kids is so steep; it always seemed ridiculous to me, but, that’s how the book stores are making money.

    1. It’s kind of a racket, Audrey. It’s to the benefit of everyone involved (except the students of course) to keep coming out with new versions.

  6. Great suggestion about textbooks. I’ve sold a number of books (and not just textbooks) online and even the pennies add up. It is important to sell textbooks quickly. Many of the publishers put out new editions every 2 years or so just to get around the used textbook market. Students should know that selling used books online almost always gets a better price than selling back to the campus bookstore at the end of the semester. My favorite online source for selling books is Cash4Books. You just type in the ISBN # and they’ll price it. You just print out their mailing label and they pay postage.

    1. Hi Vicki. I’ve used Cash4Books to sell other books and have always had great results. Thanks for adding another great resource to the conversation.

  7. You know, I actually kept some of my textbooks from college, thinking (erroneously) that I could refer back to them sometime. They could have fetched me something then, but years later they won’t.

    Totally agree that textbooks – particularly if newer – can get some decent money in return. We can learn a lot now by simple web searches anyway, for practical learning :)

    1. TTMK, I completely agree with everything you’ve said here. I kept exactly one book from college, the text from my Children’s Literature class. And I was a business major!

  8. Thanks for this post. I know its a year old but I just started going through my old room at my parents house. I’ve been gone for a few years after college. I saw bookshelves and boxes of old text books and books.

    I started going through some of those sell your books online and I could get a few bucks for them. I’m going to try another route that you mention and see if I can make more.

    But these text books are about 6 years old so we shall see.

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