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I’m so happy to share this simple method for an online business! Please read further to find out how to make money selling used books.
As you know, I’ve tried for a while to find a business we could run from anywhere, would need minimal equipment, and make an income without stressing us out.
Selling used books for a profit is interesting to me because I love books. It also is location-independent because you can find books just about anywhere. If you ship them right away, they take up very little space.
Also, it’s flexible. You can choose how many hours you want to put into it each week. You can start it with minimal up-front cost and grow your business to replace your income while still working another job. And, because books don’t cost very much, if you decide to stop you won’t lose a large investment of money.
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How I started selling used books on Amazon
Yep, it’s Amazon again. I know if may seem like I’m putting a lot of my eggs into one basket. I do have other income sources, but none of them grew as quickly as this one. However, I do still plan on multiple income streams, which means that now we set this up I will look into other avenues very shortly. So don’t despair! If you decide selling books is not for you, I will give you other options.
I didn’t know this until recently, but Amazon is not just a single company that buys products and sells them online. While they do buy and sell their own products, they also allow other vendors to list and sell products. So little guys like me can get exposure to Amazon’s 300 million users without having to pay a fortune in advertising.
Also, Amazon started out as an online bookstore! So they know books. They were able to start with books and grow from there–which means using their platform, you can do the same thing.
There are cheaper and other ways to sell used books. If you really want to minimize overhead you can sell them through a free site like Craigslist. But your ads will only reach people locally, and you probably won’t get very good prices. Plus, you deal with customers directly, possibly out of your home so you could have unstable people coming to you.
You could also open a used bookstore. But then you have a lot of overhead, and again you will only have local customers.
You could sell used books online through your own website. You will still have some operating costs, handle all the customer service and shipping, and have (potential) worldwide exposure. But you’ll have to figure out how to market the website so you can reach as many customers as possible, and build a rapport with buyers as a trusted name.
You can sell books on eBay. They will have selling fees, and you handle shipping and customer service. eBay is supposedly a great place to sell collectible books. But for used (and new) books that are not collectible, Amazon is considered the place to go. We sold a lot of stuff through eBay, and I find their system frustrating and annoying so I try to use it only when I really have to.
Anyone can sell new or used non-collectible books with an approved Amazon seller account. For an approved account, all you need is to send in your picture ID and a copy of your most recent bank statement when requested. Amazon will review it and if there are no problems, you are accepted and can start selling used books immediately.
There are three ways you can sell used books on Amazon:
- Start an individual seller account. This option is good if you only have a few things to sell each month.
- Become a professional merchant seller (also known as fulfillment by merchant). This type of account lets you sell your products on Amazon but the customers deal directly with you for customer service and shipping.
- Start a professional seller account with fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). With this account you source the products and list them on Amazon but ship them to an Amazon warehouse for fulfillment. Amazon handles customer service, prepping and shipping of all the orders.
Here’s a breakdown of each type of account and how it works.
This type of account is free to open. You don’t need an Amazon Prime membership. You do need a free Amazon account, and if you don’t already have one it’s easy to set up.
Individual sellers do not have a monthly fee. Each listing costs $0.99, and then you pay additional fees when an item sells. This is a good account if you only plan to sell a few items per month. It’s a basic type of account that gives you access to Seller Central, Amazon’s selling dashboard.
Professional merchant seller
Both types of professional seller accounts pay a monthly subscription of $39.99. The $0.99 per-listing charge goes away, and you can list as many products as you want. If you sell more than 40 items per month, it is more cost-effective to get a professional seller account. Professional sellers get access to Seller Central also, but have more features like bulk listing. Merchant sellers, as mentioned above handle their own customer service and shipping of products. However, they must still follow Amazon’s guidelines for customer service and must package products according to Amazon’s specifications. Communication from customers must be answered promptly and orders must be sent out in a timely manner. Amazon monitors your performance and if you don’t meet their standards, they can close down your account.
If there are multiple listings for the same item, you can see the difference between a listing for a merchant and one for an FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) seller. Here’s an example of what a listing by a merchant seller looks like:
You can see the cost of the item. This seller is not charging for shipping, but the free shipping may take 1-2 weeks to arrive. You also see the feedback the merchant received.
Professional seller with fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
You pay the same monthly subscription fee as a merchant seller, with unlimited listings. However, the fee schedule is slightly different. Amazon charges more to these sellers, because they are doing more of the work for them. If a customer sends a question, Amazon takes care of it. When an item sells, Amazon packs it in their boxes and ships it out. These orders also qualify for Prime shipping (the free second-day shipping Prime members can get on qualified purchases). So a customer can get the same item much faster at no additional cost. Here’s what a listing for the same book looks like for our seller account.
That’s us! See that “Prime” next to the price?
You may also notice that we have no ratings yet. But we still sold hundreds of dollars’ worth of books to date, and it’s been less than a month since our account activation!
How much does selling used books cost through Amazon?
Regardless of which type of seller account you choose, they all have something in common. There are fees Amazon charges once you sell a product. They include (as of May 1st, 2017; please go to the Amazon Seller website for the most current information):
- Shipping fees. Amazon likes uniformity, so all individual sellers must use Amazon’s rates. Merchant sellers must also use Amazon’s shipping rates for books. Of course for FBA sellers Amazon handles shipping. The buyer pays for shipping (or gets free shipping if they have Prime) and the seller receives a credit for the exact amount charged. Here is the current shipping credit schedule for FBA sellers.
- Referral fees. Everyone gets charged a referral fee. This is the fee for using Amazon’s platform and reputation for selling used books. Amazon says:“Sellers pay a referral fee on each item sold. Items in several categories have a per-item minimum referral fee as listed below (for example, sellers pay the greater of the referral fee or the per-item minimum referral fee).For all products, Amazon deducts the greater of the applicable referral fee percentage or applicable per-item minimum referral fee calculated on the total sales price, excluding any taxes collected through Amazon tax calculation services. The total sales price is the total amount paid by the buyer, including the item price and any shipping or gift wrap charges.” For books, the referral fee is 15%, no minimum.
- Variable closing fees. Closing fees vary by category. The closing fee for books is $1.80 per item sold.
Which type of Amazon seller account is best for selling used books?
That’s really a matter of opinion, I guess. My opinion is that the FBA seller account is the best deal. We sold 8 books in 15 days in April. Carrying those books around, pulling them, packaging them and shipping them (along with answering any customer emails) would take a lot of time. I’ve heard a lot of people who used to be merchant fulfilled sellers who switched to an FBA account because they got tired of rushing around to ship things before or after work.
Here’s what I did. I think this saved us some money while we were still getting started and figuring things out. I signed up for the individual account. That gave us access to Amazon’s free tools that help you source books. We bought a bunch of inventory, and then right before we were ready to ship, we upgraded to a professional account. That way we didn’t get charged for the month of March, when all we did was buy books but not try to sell anything yet. This saved us $39.99 in fees.
It was confusing once we made the switch. I did it on April 1st, but it took until the 13th for Amazon to contact me and ask me to verify my account. I sent everything in the next day. Then they said it would take them up until the 23rd to check my documents, but they reviewed them in less than 24 hours. During that time from April 1st through the 14th, we thought we had active listings, but we didn’t.
Just know that professional accounts will not have active listings until your account is verified. Then your listings will be visible to customers. Our first sale was on the 15th–less than one day after our account was approved, because we already had inventory with inactive listings in place.
I can’t speak for what it’s like to be a merchant seller, but I know some people do swear by it. They apparently do not trust Amazon’s customer service nor their handling of products. And they are entitled to that opinion, but it is not a business model I am interested in. So far this is working well for me.
How much money did we make selling used books in April?
We made $100.25 profit from 8 books. This is after deducting how much it cost to buy the books and to ship them. We have about 370 books in inventory, plus about another 90 that will ship in the next few days. The cost to buy all those books was about $430. So less than one month into selling used books, we have already made back nearly 1/4 of our investment in inventory, and paid an average cost of less than $1 per book. Also the gross sales totaled $184.84, which yielded a 54% net profit.
Convinced yet that this might be right for you? In future posts, I will talk about what kinds of supplies you need and how to find them, how to find the best books at the best prices, and more.
If you have a topic you would like me to cover, please leave a comment below and I will add it to my list!