How to Make Money Selling Second-Hand Books Online

Updated on September 29, 2019
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I write about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

Vintage Pelican paperbacks can fetch good money as so few survive in good condition.
Vintage Pelican paperbacks can fetch good money as so few survive in good condition. | Source

How to Start Selling Used Books Online

The best way to start is to advertise a few of your own books you no longer want or need. This gives you the chance to see if you can make a profit. If you find the effort is not worth it, you have had no outlay and so lost nothing.

It's a competitive market, so you need to stand out from the crowd. Aim to be #1 for customer service by fulfilling orders quickly and accurately. Make sure the goods are well packaged so they don't get damaged in transit. I like to use a bright color like hot pink for my bubble mailers. Customers remember receiving such distinctive packages and will return to buy more from you.

Where to Buy Stock to Sell

If you find you enjoy selling books online and can make a profit then you will need to find more stock. This is where experience and research will help you succeed.

Just because a book is old, it doesn't mean it's valuable. And vice versa, the opposite may also be true; some new books are sought after because publishers miscalculated their popularity and so small print runs left unmet demand.

Thrift stores and charity shops can be a good source of cheap second-hand books. However the internet makes achievable prices visible to everyone and so it is becoming more and more difficult to find hidden gems in these stores. Nonetheless, if you specialize in a particular subject area, it is still possible to occasionally find a valuable book in a thrift store. Persistence and knowledge are the keys to success in this business, although luck also plays a part.

Auction sites online and auction houses offline are also worth checking out for second-hand books. House clearances can be a good source of book collections. Often relatives of the deceased just want to clear the house with as little hassle as possible. If you have transport you may be paid by executors to take hundreds of books away for dumping, and retrieve a couple of gems from the dross.

Where to Find Books to Sell Online

Print Books Are Still in Demand

It used to be said that print books were doomed as e-book sales were increasing. However print books are holding their own and 80% of new books (2014) are sold as traditional print books.

Many books are read once (or not at all) and then given to a thrift shop, sold at auction or discarded by being left on public transport. There are many reasons for preowned books coming onto the market. Sometimes the original book owner wants to make space in their home or they may want to buy an updated version of the same book. Perhaps they want to raise some cash. Whatever their reasons you can grab a bargain and sell them on at a profit.

Selling books online as a home-based business is a competitive undertaking. If you want to be successful, you need to be professional in the way you fulfil your orders.

  • Describe the goods properly in your ads.
  • Price the books competitively.
  • Make sure your books are in the best condition they can be.
  • Mail them promptly once they are sold.

Second Hand or Rare and Collectable

There are two main categories of second-hand books. The first and most common is that of a book which has been owned by someone else (yourself or another person) and is now being resold at a percentage of the original cover price. This category could include textbooks for students, popular fiction, or ordinary books which are being sold off following the death of their original owner.

The second and smaller category is that of rare and collectable books. This is a specialist market in which the book’s value is determined not just by its condition and rarity, but also by investment potential. The values in this sector of the second-hand book market can be highly volatile.

The way you describe your books online is crucially important to a successful sale. Photographs as well as words can help a potential buyer understand exactly what you are selling. They need to know not just the title and date of publication of the book, but also a detailed description of its condition. This is especially important for higher value items.

"The Diverting History of John Gilpin" Book illustration by Randolph Caldecott 1887. Book illustrations may add value if they are detailed engravings or colored prints.
"The Diverting History of John Gilpin" Book illustration by Randolph Caldecott 1887. Book illustrations may add value if they are detailed engravings or colored prints. | Source

Describe Your Books Clearly

Photos and descriptions of your books are a key part of your marketing. Be as detailed and accurate as possible. If a website allows you to do so, post lots of photos. These should show the front back and spine of the book, as well as any illustrations. If there is any damage, it is best to include a photo of this as well.

The description of your book should include the date of publication, title and author, as well as the illustrator (if relevant). If it is a modern book it will also have an ISBN number which is a unique identifier relating to the publishing format and date of publication. If there is anything unique about the book, for example it is signed by the author then this should also be included in the description.

The book should be presented in as clean a condition as possible. If there are any marks these should be noted in the description. It is not a good idea to try and remove them with modern chemicals as this can damage the paper or binding. You can quickly reduce a valuable book to scrap paper by thinking restoration is easy!

Common Mistakes When Reselling Books Online

Calculate Shipping and Postage Costs

Books are heavy items. Most buyers will expect to have their books delivered to them and you need to consider shipping and postage costs when you price your wares. Some websites have standard postal charge (e.g. Amazon). This may not cover the actual shipping costs. So make sure the book sale price is sufficient to cover your outgoings and make a profit for you. Some websites (e.g. eBay) allow you to determine what (if anything) you want to charge for shipping on top of the sale price. You may also be able to specify different costs for tracked delivery compared to standard delivery.

For rare and collectable books, use a traceable delivery method in case the package gets lost in transit. Remember to include the cost of your bubble mailer and Scotch tape in your shipping costs. Depending on the size of the book, these can be as much as the postal charge itself. It is worth using good quality packing materials. These will ensure that your buyer receives their book(s) undamaged by any rough handling in transit. Happy customers mean repeat purchases and recommendations to their friends.

Reasonable Sale Prices Attract Buyers

Ordinary Books
Rare and Collectable Books
Research Sold Prices
Internet Book Sites
Specialist Auctions
Clean and no pages missing
Depends on rarity
Edition and Publisher
Textbooks should be as recent as possible
1st editions may be collectable
Shipping and postage costs
State the shipping costs in advert
Use trackable delivery

Amazon, eBay, AbeBooks and Other Online Retailers

Amazon. AbeBooks and eBay are popular re-seller marketplaces for second-hand and used books. Anyone can list their books for sale on them and choose their asking price. It's easy to assume that these prices are achievable. However always remember that the price listed is the one a seller would like to achieve, not what a buyer is actually willing to pay.

Try to find out what a particular book has sold for recently. Amazon doesn't display completed sales, but you can search eBay for closing prices on completed auctions. There are also other websites that may give an indication of market value, for example, Abe books, Alibris, and Book finder. The video below describes recent changes to Amazon's charging structure. These could affect the viability of small volume online booksellers.

Amazon Changes Affect Used Book Profits

How Do You Know if a Book Has Significant Monetary Value?

Rare and antique books are a specialist market within the general antiques and collectables trade. Their price is determined not just by a book’s condition but also by how other investment markets are doing. There are always investors with cash to splash even in times of recession. When interest rates are low, cash moves into other investment classes. The value of antiques and other “collectables” including books may rise as a result.

For truly valuable and rare books, online booksellers are not the best place to find reliable information on achievable prices. These websites show the price a seller would like to achieve, not what a buyer is actually willing to pay. The seller has nothing to lose by asking a totally unachievable price in the hope of catching someone with more money than sense.

If you have any books you think may have special value, I recommend you take photos of the covers and a few of the inside pages of the books. Then after phoning first, email the pictures to some auction houses or specialist book traders. People can be generous with their knowledge and time. Even if you don’t have a hidden gem on your bookshelf you may learn a little more of the history of your books.

Don't assume a book is valuable just because it is old.
Don't assume a book is valuable just because it is old. | Source

Why Buy and Sell Second-Hand Books?

  1. To save money - A used or second-hand book can often be bought for less than half the price of an identical new book.
  2. To protect the environment - Buying a pre-owned book is a good way of saving landfill and recycling resources.
  3. As an investment - As books age some will get damaged; undamaged ones can become collector’s items as their rarity increases.
  4. To own an out-of-print book - A book may have had a short print run and is no longer on sale brand new. It may not be a collector’s item, but is still of interest to subject specialists.

Can Selling Books Online Be a Viable Homebased Business?

Like any business, selling books online for profit takes hard work and determination. Many people start home-based businesses to fit around childcare or other family responsibilities. But it's not an easy option! You will need to remain self-motivated despite days or weeks of no sales.

To make this type of side hustle pay you need specialist knowledge. This could be knowing which editions are collectable, or having useful contacts in the antique or vintage trade. Getting the right books to sell and matching them to waiting customers is the key to success.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Submit a Comment
  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    5 years ago from USA

    This is a terrific topic and well-covered. I have way too many books and need to unload some. Voted up+++ and pinning.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    5 years ago from SW England

    Useful hub here, Beth. I often buy books online but usually new ones. I rarely get rid of books as I don't like to do so; I've always chosen my books well, often read before I buy my own copy and so have copies of books I like to re-read often.

    If I have any books I don't wish to keep, then I take them to the charity shop. I don't think I'd ever sell online but this is a clear description of how to do it for those who want to. Up, useful & interesting. Ann

  • mgeorge1050 profile image


    5 years ago from West Georgia

    Thanks for all the great tips. I have had some limited success selling used books online. I browse thrift stores everywhere I go looking for books. I will be using some of the information you have presented here to hopefully increase sales.

  • mecheshier profile image


    5 years ago

    What a fabulous Hub! I love books. You have some great ideas and tips. However, I am not so sure if it would be profitable for me. I seem to collect books and have a hard time getting rid of them. lol... Thanks for the great read. Voted up

  • Beth Eaglescliffe profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Eaglescliffe 

    5 years ago from UK

    It's wonderful to have too many books rather than too few. A library of exciting literature to dip into whenever you want. An online bookstore may be a good idea ... but wait until hubby has gone first!

  • Marisa Wright profile image

    Kate Swanson 

    5 years ago from Sydney

    My husband collects books about the English language. He has thousands - far more than he will ever be able to read! I keep threatening that if he goes before I do, I'm going to open a bookstore with them. Maybe I should make that an online bookstore!


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