Selling used books on Amazon FBA: How to start a successful used-book business on Amazon
Maybe you have a bunch of old books lying around home collecting dust, or perhaps you’ve contemplated starting an Amazon business, but aren’t 100% sure what to sell.
Selling used books on Amazon is a great way to get started. If you’re apprehensive about financial risk, selling used books can be a way to launch your business without spending your life savings on inventory. It’s also a clever way of dipping your toes in the Amazon water before selling your own private-label products.
While it’s not as simple as taking a picture, setting a price, and waiting for your books to sell, starting a used-book business using Amazon FBA is a pretty straight-forward process.
If you’re looking to get into the Amazon FBA game, then dust off those books, have a read of this guide – and let’s get you started!
What books sell well on Amazon?
Amazon is one of the world’s largest online marketplaces – you can buy and sell almost anything on the platform these days. You may dismiss the idea of starting a used-book business, but every successful business starts somewhere – and for Amazon, it was selling books!
Amazon controls over 50% of all book sales throughout the US. At any given time, there are millions of book titles on Amazon for sale, and you might ask, “How will my books sell with that many competitors?”
There are tips and tricks to standing out from the crowd. First, it’s important to understand what books sell well on Amazon.
- Print versus digital: while there’s no denying the growth of e-books, Amazon print sales remain high with many buyers. There’s also a higher potential for profit – particularly with rare or unusual books.
- New versus old: nothing beats the smell of a freshly printed manuscript – other than perhaps a well-loved book looking for a new home. New books can be challenging unless you’re prepared to do business with suppliers and wholesalers. Selling used books can be a lot easier.
- Fiction versus non-fiction: as a whole, non-fiction books sell more (volume) but popular fiction titles sell the most.
Best Sellers in Books list: understanding sales ranking
Understanding Amazon’s Best Sellers in Books list, and its ranking system, will help you determine whether a book is worth selling, and what kind of sales turnaround time you can expect.
Ranking is relative to the number of items in each category. The list only displays the top 100 sellers, but all books rank somewhere, and you can find it on their listing.
The most popular books will have stiff competition, with numerous new and used copies available for purchase. Prices tend to drop extremely low, meaning you need a real point of difference if you’re going to make a sale – let alone turn a profit.
On the other end of the spectrum, the not-so-popular books take a lifetime to sell. Generally, the price competition is as challenging as the most popular books.
You ideally want to sit in the middle – with books in great condition, in a good price range, selling at a decent rate. Amazon’s price for the same titles will give you a good indication of what people are willing to spend on a book.
Where to source used books
There are used books everywhere! If you don’t have a collection of your own, there are plenty of places to find used books. It helps to have an idea of the types of books you’re looking for.
Sourcing books locally
Thrift stores like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and Savers usually have shelves full of donated books you can purchase cheaply. Used bookstores are generally a little more expensive but can save rummaging time as titles are often arranged by category.
While retail and discount stores like Ollie’s and Big Lots aren’t as consistent as other sources, they’re a great place to find overstock or remainder copies of books. Or hit up a big library sale – a goldmine for booksellers. Local garage sales or estate sales are good options too.
Sourcing books online
Dusty piles of second-hand books aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so another option is searching online. Just be mindful that it’s hard to tell the condition of a second-hand book online.
Online marketplaces like Facebook and Craigslist are a good option – create a post asking if anyone has used books they’d like to donate. While it’s usually the pricier option, browse Amazon itself – and then flip it.
Creating your Amazon seller account
Whether you have a regular Amazon account already, or you’re a total newbie, the process is relatively straightforward.
Once you’ve created a seller account, you’ll need to choose whether you operate as an individual or professional seller. It’s free to sell on Amazon as an individual, but you pay an extra fee for each unit you sell. As a professional, you don’t have to pay this fee, but there is a monthly account cost.
As a new bookseller, it makes more sense to start as an individual seller – until you’re selling more than 40 units per month.
Order fulfilment – Amazon FBA
The next step is setting up how you want to fulfil your orders. FBA – fulfilment by Amazon – is when you ship your books to one of Amazon’s many fulfilment centers , where they are stored, packaged and shipped to your customers on your behalf. You pay an additional fee for this service, but it’s a fantastic way of both selling your books (especially if you don’t have the time to pack and ship them yourself) – and getting them out of the house.
Here are two more reasons why Amazon FBA is a great option for booksellers:
- Your customers can take advantage of quicker shipping times.
- Books are heavy and can drive the price of shipping up.
Scanning barcodes – Amazon Seller app
If rummaging through piles of used books isn’t your thing, a scanning app can make all the difference. Amazon has its own – the Amazon Seller app.
When you’re just starting, you need a scanning app. It enables you to make smart buying decisions on the spot. Simply scan a book’s barcode using your phone’s camera, and instantly get access to competitive pricing data, like the current price on Amazon, estimated profit after fees, and the book’s current ranking.
With experience, you’ll be able to rely less on your scanning app, and more on your ability to spot a profitable book.
Listing your books to sell
Once you have a good selection of books to sell, you need to create a listing for each title. You can use the Amazon Seller app to take pictures of your books and upload them. Or, you can add each book manually by typing the ISBN into Amazon’s search bar and clicking ‘I have one to sell.’
Amazon’s condition guidelines
Amazon has very specific guidelines on how to grade and list used books. Following these guidelines closely can help greatly with sales and customer feedback.
When you create a book listing, you’ll be asked to add a condition category:
- Used – like new
- Used – very good
- Used – good
- Used – acceptable
With used books, you can also add a ‘specific condition’ note with more information, e.g. book has highlighting or a handwritten note in front. Prep your books before sale – flip through each one and check for notes, highlighting and tears, remove any stickers, and wipe down any hard covers.
Setting the right price
When you’re setting a sale price for your books, consider the following:
- The condition – a book with less wear and tear will sell for more.
- Amazon’s price – take note of Amazon’s price, as well as the price other booksellers are asking for their copies. More experienced booksellers can generally charge more than those who are just starting out.
- Cheaper versus pricier – do you want to sell the book for the lowest price or hold out for slightly more?
- Copies – do you have more than one copy of the same title for sale?
- Amazon fees – consider all the fees – account, FBA, variable closing, referral, and per-item – because once sold, you’ll need to subtract the total fee amount from your purchase price to determine what your profit is. Don’t assume you can buy a book for $2, sell it for $15 and take the difference as profit.
- Win the Buy Box – if you are going after the lowest price, try your best to win the Buy Box price. Then when someone clicks on ‘Add to Cart’, they’ll be purchasing your book.
Getting your books to an Amazon FBA warehouse
When you sign up for FBA, Amazon will send you a list of fulfilment centres. Select the one nearest to your location and follow the shipping instructions. It’s your responsibility to get your books to an Amazon warehouse – but Amazon will take care of shipping them to your customers.
Package your books into a box carefully, making sure you don’t damage any of your well-hunted treasures. Amazon will generate product and shipment labels which you’ll need to print and attach. Then ship your goods using one of Amazon’s preferred carriers (you might be eligible for a cheeky discount too).
You’ll be notified when your books have arrived at the warehouse.
Let Amazon do the rest while you build your business
The beauty of Amazon FBA is, once your inventory arrives at the warehouse Amazon gets to work. When a customer purchases your book, Amazon will ship the order and update your listing, then send you an email notification.
With shipping under control, you’re able to concentrate on building your business.
Set your business up for success from the start
No matter your reason for getting into the bookselling business, the best thing you can do is set your FBA business up for success right from the get-go. As tempting as it may be to dive headfirst into every second-hand bookstore within a 30km radius of your location, things will only get challenging if you don’t take care of the business end of things.
- Accounting and sales tax
- Sales tax obligations in the US
- Working with an e-commerce specialist accountant
Leveraging the right technology to automate the back office of your business will set you up well for growth. A great piece of cloud-based accounting software gives you a platform to better manage your numbers, and A2X for Amazon integration automatically imports summarised settlement transactions so you can easily reconcile down the last cent every time you get paid.
Have a chat with an A2X expert and get your business off to the best start.