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In this post, I will go through the steps I took to get our used business started and the basic supplies you will need right from the beginning. I will also give you tips on how we find books for cheap, including just a few pennies per book and even free! Keep reading to find out how to start a used book business online as an Amazon FBA seller.
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1. Sign up for an Amazon seller account
The first thing you will need is to sign up for an Amazon seller account. There are free accounts available. I recommend starting with the free account, because you need it to access the tools to get started, but then you can take some time to find your inventory, get it prepped, and ship it in. To sign up for an account, go to the Amazon Seller website https://services.amazon.com/selling/faq.htm. Scroll down to the bottom and click on the “Sell as an individual” button:
On the next page you have the option to create a new account (if you don’t have any account with Amazon) or sign in with your existing account. You can link it to your existing Amazon account if you wish, or create a separate account just for selling. I just linked it to my Amazon login to make things simpler.
As you go through the process, you may be required to give them a credit/debit card number. Don’t worry; you won’t be charged unless you sell something, or if you switch to the professional account, they will charge for your first month’s fees in the amount of $39.99.
2. Get familiar with the Seller Central Dashboard
Get used to the dashboard tabs. There are videos you can watch and tutorials you can read, but you may want to save that for later. Here is what the top of the dashboard looks like.
3. Download the Amazon Seller app
Go to your smart phone or WiFi enabled-tablet and search for the Amazon Seller app. You can download it at any time, but you can only use it when you have an active seller account. Enter your seller account information to get the app activated. The app is free and is an Amazon product.
The app works best if you have a bar code on the back of the book or an ISBN you can type in. That’s why you need a smart phone that has a camera. Some people use PDAs, but most everyone has a smart phone these days so there’s no point in getting a PDA. If you do use one (or a tablet), you have to connect to internet to use the Amazon seller app. There are other apps you can use that do not need internet, but I’ll talk about those more later.
4. Find books!
There are many places to find books. Start at your own house! Even if you don’t want to sell the books, use them to start practicing so you can see how the app works.
Here are other places you can find books for cheap:
- Thrift stores. We find that the smaller thrift stores and Salvation Army are generally less expensive than Goodwill. Some thrift stores will sell you ten books for a dollar or as many books as you can fit into their plastic bags for a dollar. Ryan has lots of practice with stacking things in small spaces with our small RV refrigerator, so we once got a bunch of books for 2 cents each!
- Friends and family. Ask them if they have any books they don’t want anymore. Instead of donating them to charity, they can give them to you! To help them out, take all the books they don’t want and if there are some that have no value, bring them to the charity of their choice.
- Libraries. Many of them sell books to raise money.
- Garage sales and other private sales. Here’s a tip: if you go to a garage sale, before you pull out your phone and start scanning, check over the type and condition of the books. If it looks promising, ask the seller if they would be willing to part with the books at a bulk price. Settle on the price before you pull your scanner out, because if they see it they may raise their prices!
- Donation boxes. Funny story. We stopped in a parking lot and Ryan was packing up some books to ship out. I was working on my computer at the dashboard. Some movement caught my eye and I saw a woman with a box full of books, about to donate them in one of those donation containers you see in parking lots. I sent Ryan running out to her and she actually gave us all the books. There were even more boxes in her car, so we got close to 150 books for free!! Not all of them were worth something, but the rest can certainly be donated to charity. I’m not suggesting you start lurking around donation boxes, but keep your eye out. Also, it’s illegal to steal donations that are left for a charity. So definitely don’t take anything that someone left unattended outside a store or donation box. Plus, that’s just a scummy thing to do.
- Ads for free stuff. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, The Penny Saver, local newspapers, and more have ads for free stuff. Look for ads offering books. And don’t be one of those people who pick over the stuff. People usually want you to take all of it so they can be done with it, and they are doing you a favor. Take it, thank them graciously, then donate what you don’t want.
- Place your own ad. Put up a listing saying you will haul away unwanted books for free. Or if you have the cash to spend, say you will buy used books. Negotiate a price for the lot to save the most money.
5. Scan books
As I mentioned, it’s best to scan some books for practice so you know how the app works. To scan a book, the easiest way is to look for the bar code on the back of the book. Tap the little camera icon in the top right corner of the app:
The camera on your phone will open. Point it at the bar code. You want to get both the bar code and the ISBN into the picture.
If there is no bar code on the back, you can also use the “Add a product” option. Tap “Add a product” and type in the ISBN (no dashes or spaces) and tap enter or hit the magnifying glass (to the left of the search bar) to search:
Your search should bring up the book. If the book does not have an ISBN or does not come up in the search…that’s more complicated. For practice purposes, it’s best to focus on a newer book that has an ISBN and easily located in Amazon.
Here’s the book I searched for, that we just bought:
6. Look at book’s popularity on Amazon
There are a few things you want to look for when you are just starting out. The first is good reviews. This book has 9 reviews and an overall ranking of 5/5 stars. That means people who bought the book liked it. That’s definitely a good thing, but not a requirement. For example, I bought a book for a dollar with a 2.5/5 star overall ranking, and someone still bought it for $55!
The second, and possibly more important item is the Sales Rank. This number is proprietary to Amazon. Amazon has over 50 million books, so you will see rankings from zero (no rank, meaning it’s never sold on Amazon) to 50,000,000+. In general, you want to buy books that have a ranking below 1 million at the beginning. Anything over that, you will have to hold on to for longer.
Amazon is very secretive about how they calculate their sales rank. But a ranking of under 1 million means the book sold at least one copy in the past few days.
Of course, a book’s popularity changes over time with market demand. So if you buy all books with 1 million Sales Ranks or less, this is not a guarantee that someone will buy your copy of every book you list that week.
Tap anywhere on the listing to get more information.
This screen has a lot of good information. You can see a larger picture of the front cover, the reviews and the Sales Rank. The screen defaults to the sales price for new, and always shows the lowest price in the box (you will see that Amazon loves to talk you into selling items for the lowest price possible!).
The line for the low price calculates all the fees and gives you a gross profit, if the item is new. However, Amazon doesn’t know how much you paid for the book and how much it will cost you to ship it. Keep that in mind when you are looking at those numbers. More about that in a minute.
7. See what you can sell your book for
As mentioned above, Amazon only shows the lowest price. I recommend against “running a race to the bottom” by always listing at the lowest possible price. This business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. If you have patience, your items will sell without you having the lowest price. Every penny you give away by selling for bottom dollar is a penny out of your own pocket. And trust me, there will likely be at least one other person who is willing to undercut your price so THEY are the lowest. Then what? You lower your price again, they lower theirs again…and the next thing you know, everything sells for a penny and you are losing money on that book. Don’t be that person.
To find out a good price for your book, go to the second line of information where it shows who is selling the book. Tap on it for more information:
Our book is used, so we’re going to look at the used prices. Even though there are no FBA offers for a new book, there are several in the used section. Here are some of the numbers.
That’s a big range. You also have to consider the condition of the book you have compared to what other people have it listed under. The condition types you may sell a book under are:
- Used – Like New
- Used – Very Good
- Used – Good
- Used – Acceptable
For a detailed description of each, visit the Amazon Condition Guidelines page and scroll down to the “Books – New and Used” section. Examine your book carefully and decide which group the book falls.
8. Determine a potential profit
Hit the back button on your phone to go to the previous screen. Next, tap on the “Used” tab and then tap on the top line to input some numbers.
The app may default to the “Seller fulfilled” tab. This is for sellers that ship the books directly to the customers and handle all the customer service. This tutorial is about selling through FBA, and the fees are different, so make sure you are on the correct tab when you are looking at numbers. You can change the app settings to default to “Amazon fulfilled,” which is for FBA sellers.
This screen allows you to change the numbers so you don’t have to calculate in your head. If you remember from my previous post, some of Amazon’s fees are a percentage based on the sale price. Amazon will update the fees based on what you change the price to.
As usual, Amazon defaults to the lowest price. Usually, that price leaves barely any room to make a profit (or you will lose money), even if you are only buying a book for a dollar.
For this book, Ryan decided to list it for $12.49. The fees updated automatically. I then added a shipping cost (estimated at $0.50 and the cost to buy the book, which was $0.99. With these numbers, we will make $3.15 in profit.
9. Decide if you want the book
Remember, we are just practicing here, so you haven’t bought this book yet. These steps are something you will want to go through for each book before you decide to buy it. Originally, when Ryan looked at this book he was going to list it for higher. Unfortunately, when he got it home he noticed the book had more damage than he thought, and he felt more comfortable listing it as “Used – Acceptable” and putting in a lower price.
Normally, we try to aim for a profit of a minimum of $5.00 per book when we are looking for things to buy. That means if we buy for around a dollar, and it costs 50 cents to ship, the book sell for about $15.
It is not very difficult to find books that sell used for $15, nor to buy them for around a dollar. You just have to know what to look for. In general, newer paperback fiction does not have a high profit margin. Items that may have some profit are cookbooks and hardcover fiction, and some older paperback fiction. The books we usually aim for that can make profits are: nonfiction, textbooks (seasonally), Christian books and some children’s books.
Also, listing a book in acceptable condition is not ideal. However, if you look at the description, all it takes to drop a book into the acceptable category is a missing dust cover! The book is in otherwise pristine condition, but a missing dust cover makes it unacceptable. Now, I know there are some book sellers out there who hate this and routinely list books with a missing cover as something other than unacceptable, and just note in the comments that the dust cover is missing. However, this goes against Amazon’s policies. Should a customer complain, it will affect your account, and with enough poor ratings they will suspend your account. Again, don’t be that person. Follow the rules and save yourself from potential headaches down the road.
In general, try to look for books you can list as very good or like new. Or new. But only list a book as new if it really, truly is. Savvy shoppers who love books can tell the difference.
10. Buy the book
You found your first book. Make sure you get a receipt, and keep the receipt with the book so you can log it later. Also, keep track of your mileage to and from where you bought it. That’s a business tax deduction!
This post is getting so long! I think I’ll stop here. Next we’ll talk about what you do when you get your books home, and the supplies you need to list and ship them.