5 Tips on How to Sell Old Books that Aren’t Super Valuable

October 15, 2023

So you’ve got a pile of old books you’d like to get rid of, but have discovered that they may not have any serious value.

If you’re not sure if you’ve got a valuable rare book on your hands, try our 2024 Guide for Evaluating Books or Home Libraries which is packed with tips to help you figure out what’s valuable and what’s not.

If your book turns out to be common or not-very-collectible, what do you do next?

Let’s dive into some practical tips for everyone, from those just tidying up shelves to savvy online sellers.

Sizing Up Your Collection

To determine how much an old book is worth for resale online, follow these steps:

Research Similar Listings:

Look for the same or similar books on online marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, or specialized book-selling platforms. Take note of the prices at which these books are listed – but more importantly, note what they have actually SOLD for. An asking price is just that – asking.

Check Completed Sales:

On platforms like eBay, check completed sales to see what similar books actually sold for. This gives you a more accurate representation of market value.

Utilize Book Pricing Tools:

Use online book pricing tools or apps that provide insights into the market value of books. Some tools allow you to scan the book’s barcode to get instant pricing information.

The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) was introduced in 1967. The use of ISBN numbers has become the standard in the book publishing, helping streamline the process of cataloging and selling books.

Consult Book Collectors’ Guides:

Refer to book collectors’ guides or price guides that provide information on the value of different editions, rare books, or collectibles. These guides can be found online or in print.

Consider Book Condition:

Assess the condition of the book. Books in excellent condition generally command higher prices. Be honest about the book’s condition when determining its value.

People will be concerned about things like missing pages, severe staining, water damage or a funky smell. Smelly damaged books are probably best left for the trash.

Factor in Shipping Costs and Fees:

Account for shipping costs and any fees associated with the platform you choose to sell on. These will impact your overall profit.

Check Local Marketplaces:

Explore local online marketplaces or community forums. Sometimes, local buyers may be interested in specific books, and you can avoid shipping costs.

Adjust Your Pricing Strategy:

Based on your research, set a competitive and realistic prices that grab attention but won’t scare buyers away. Even non-valuable books often find buyers when priced just right.

How to Look Up ISBN Numbers

ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a unique identifier assigned to books. It acts as a universal method to recognize and locate a specific edition of a publication. ISBNs typically consist of 13 digits (formerly 10), and each number provides information about the book’s edition, publisher, and country.

Where to Find ISBN Numbers

  1. Book Cover: Check the back cover of the book near the barcode. The ISBN is often displayed prominently.
  2. Title Page: Open the book to the title page, where you’ll likely find the ISBN along with other bibliographic information.
  3. Copyright Page: Flip to the copyright page, usually located on the reverse side of the title page. The ISBN is commonly listed here.

How to Research an ISBN

Use Online ISBN Databases: Websites like Bookfinder.com, ISBNsearch.org, or WorldCat allow you to input an ISBN and get information about the book, including its title, author, and publication details.

No ISBN, No Problem!

When you’re faced with a group of vintage books lacking ISBN numbers, figuring out their value can be challenging.

Start with eBay’s “Sold” Listings

You should first try searching “sold” listings on eBay to see what similar editions of your book have actually sold for. Searching recent eBay sales listings is free.

Check WorthPoint’s Price Guide

An incredibly valuable resource for this kind of searching is WorthPoint’s price guide. It’s a back catalog going back well over a decade and includes actual sales of all kinds of books (and other stuff). WorthPoint offers a 7-day free trial, and afterwards is subscription based for unlimited searches.

Research Book Retailer Websites

While you can research using book websites like AbeBooks and Biblio, note that the prices you see there are only seller’s asking prices. Asking prices aren’t really reflective of what you can realistically hope to achieve when attempting to sell the same book.

Use a Paid Auction Valuation Service

If your research hits a dead end and you feel you have something potentially out of the ordinary, our paid auction estimate service becomes a helpful solution. Let us help you discover how much your old books might be worth, giving you an opportunity to sell them yourself.

1. BookScouter.com: Your Textbooks’ Adventure Hub

BookScouter.com makes selling used textbooks a breeze by comparing prices across multiple platforms.

It’s a user-friendly website where you can sell your books or find great deals on new ones. By simply entering the book’s ISBN, BookScouter.com provides you with a list of offers from various book buyers.

The platform is versatile, covering a wide range of books, from textbooks to novels and more. Note that sites like BookScouter.com are geared towards modern books with ISBN numbers and not older books (ie, pre-1967 publications).

2. eBay: Easy Auctions and Buy-It-Now Listings

If you’re itching to sell used books, eBay’s your playground. Toss in both auctions and fixed-price listings to grab the attention of different buyers. 

Selling old books on eBay is a quick and straightforward process. You can create listings either on your computer or on your mobile phone thanks to eBay’s user-friendly app. These days, eBay also handles the entire payment transaction, so that’s one less thing to deal with.

eBay’s fee structure varies on a few factors, and each selling category has a slightly different fee. As of 2024, eBay’s fees for the Books & Magazines category is 14.95% on total amount of the sale up to $7,500 calculated per item, or 2.35% on the portion of the sale over $7,500.

Here are potential charges to consider:

  • Insertion Fees: eBay often charges a fee for listing an item. The first 50 listings per month are typically free, but additional listings may incur fees.
  • Final Value Fees (FVFs): This fee is a percentage of the total amount (item price plus shipping) that the buyer pays. The percentage varies based on the category of the item.
  • Optional Listing Upgrade Fees: If you choose optional listing upgrades (e.g., adding extra photos or using a subtitle), additional fees may apply.
  • Payment Processing Fees: If you use eBay’s managed payments system, there may be payment processing fees.
  • Store Subscription Fees: If you have an eBay store, subscription fees apply. Different store subscription levels have varying fees and benefits.

A few tips for selling old books on eBay:

  • Keep in mind that competition on eBay is high, and your book might not sell right away. Or at all. But there’s a huge market for all kinds of collectors and dealers there, so eBay’s main benefit is visibility.
  • Consider offering free shipping in your auction listing to attract more bids or encourage immediate purchases. 
  • If your old books don’t sell initially, you can either relist them or opt for eBay’s “Good Till Cancelled” option for extended visibility. 

3. Amazon: A Jungle of Potential Opportunities

Amazon’s huge online marketplace also has a LOT of competition among low-value books. 

The up side is the worldwide exposure to shoppers looking to buy an old book like yours. The down side? Amazon’s selling process is a lot trickier than eBay’s and many sellers find it a hassle.

While Amazon is a good option for selling online, it may not be the best one when trying to sell old books.

How to Sell Old Books on Amazon

If you’re new to selling used books on Amazon, here’s a brief outline of the steps involved:

  1. If you don’t have one, sign up for an Amazon seller account. You can choose between an Individual or Professional account based on your selling volume.
  2. Collect details about the books you want to sell, including ISBN numbers, edition, and condition.
  3. Go to your seller account and click on “Inventory” then “Add a Product.” Enter the book’s ISBN, and Amazon will populate the listing with relevant details. If the book is not in their catalog, you can create a new product listing.
  4. Decide on a competitive price for your used books. Consider factors like the book’s condition, market demand, and pricing of similar listings.
  5. Be honest about the book’s condition when creating the listing. Amazon has specific condition guidelines (New, Like New, Good, Acceptable), so choose the most accurate description.
  6. Decide whether you want to fulfill orders yourself (meaning packing and shipping them from home) or use Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) service. FBA handles packing, shipping, and customer service for a fee.
  7. Once your listing is complete, submit it for review. Amazon will make your books visible to potential buyers once approved.

The End of Amazon’s Buyback Program

Introduced in 2011, the Amazon textbook buyback program enjoyed a successful nine-year run, facilitating the exchange of millions of books and textbooks. This was hugely beneficial to people trying to sell old books online, as well as for students looking to save money in school.  However, in 2020, the curtains closed on the Amazon buyback program. 

Though it doesn’t apply to used books, a little known feature that Amazon now offers is their Trade-In Program. Using the Trade-In Program, you can get an Amazon.com gift card (not cash) for a variety of eligible items. Eligible items span across categories such as Amazon devices, electronics, video games, and more.

To participate in the Amazon Trade-In program online, ensure you have an active Amazon account.

4. Selling Old Books Locally

If you’re looking for minimal effort to sell used books locally and connect with buyers in your area, platforms like Craigslist, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace offer decent opportunities. 

The benefit here is the ease of use and the fact that buying and selling on any of these platforms is completely free. Plus, you don’t have to pack and ship books when they sell. You’ll hand them off to the buyer in person.

Collecting payment is simple, too. When people use Craigslist, OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace, transactions are almost always made in cash, and increasingly, with Venmo.

Craigslist: Efficient Local Exposure

Craigslist provides a straightforward and widely used platform for selling books locally. 

The benefit lies in its simplicity and the potential for exposure to a broad local audience. Sellers can reach people in their immediate community, making it a convenient option for quick and in-person transactions. 

Craigslist is particularly effective for those who prefer a no-frills approach to local selling. As of this writing, there is no Craigslist app – you can only post listings from a computer.

OfferUp: User-Friendly Interface and In-App Transactions

OfferUp’s app has a user-friendly interface makes it easy for sellers to create visually appealing listings. 

Additionally, OfferUp facilitates secure in-app transactions, providing a level of convenience for both parties involved. The ease of use and built-in transaction features make OfferUp a practical choice for selling books locally.

While you can log into your OfferUp account on a computer, it’s a lot easier to use the service on your mobile phone using their app. 

In terms of security, you can also verify your account by adding a phone number, and take verification even further by scanning your driver’s license. This is a nice feature that shows a blue tick next to “verified” buyers and sellers on the app, which feels a little safer than the Wild West of Craigslist.

Facebook Marketplace: Social Network Integration and Community Reach

With Facebook Marketplace, sellers can tap into the vast user base of the social media giant. 

The integration with Facebook profiles allows for a more personalized selling experience. Sellers can take advantage of their social networks by sharing listings on personal profiles or book-oriented Facebook groups, potentially reaching a wider audience. 

Facebook Marketplace combines the familiarity of social networking with the convenience of local selling.

A few tips for selling used books locally:

  • Take lots of photos so potential buyers get a clear picture of what is being offered.
  • Search for book groups on Facebook – there are many out there where you’ll be able to post old books you want to sell.
  • When a buyer expresses interest, arrange a safe and public meeting place to complete the transaction. Many sellers prefer meeting in busy public locations for security. Some even opt to meet up in the parking lot behind a local police or fire station, which are monitored.
How to Donate Old Used Books
Donating books to a local charity, church or thrift store is the easiest way to unload

5. Thrift Stores: The Last Frontier

When you’ve exhausted your options and are ready to part with your old books, consider donating them to a local thrift store. 

In addition to potentially receiving a small tax write-off, donating your used books allows you to contribute to community organizations like Goodwill, The Salvation Army and Savers. Some larger thrift stores offer coupon vouchers when you make any kind of donation.

Even though your old books might not fetch any price at all, at least there’s the gratification of backing a good cause that adds a meaningful touch to the experience.

How to Get a Tax Write Off for Donations

Determining the exact tax write-off for thrift store donations involves assessing the fair market value of the items you donated. For example, Goodwill offers a Donation Valuation Guide which shows that, as of their 2020 update, they recommend a rough value of $1 per donated book.

Messing with itemized book donations at tax time is honestly more bother than it’s worth, but if you’re interested in learning more, read on.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides guidelines and tools to help you estimate the value of your donated goods. 

Here’s a simplified process:

  1. Itemize Your Donations: Keep a detailed list of the items you’re donating. Note the type, quantity, and condition of each item.
  2. Research Fair Market Value: Determine the fair market value for each item. This is the price a willing buyer would pay and a willing seller would accept in an open market. Resources like thrift store pricing guides, online marketplaces, or the IRS valuation guide can help.
  3. Check IRS Guidelines: Review the IRS guidelines for charitable contributions (IRS Publication 526). It provides information on eligible organizations, record-keeping requirements, and the rules for claiming deductions.
  4. Complete IRS Form 8283: For non-cash donations exceeding $500 in total value, you’ll need to complete Section A of IRS Form 8283 and attach it to your tax return.
  5. Keep Receipts and Documentation: Retain receipts from the thrift store or a written acknowledgment from the charitable organization. Documentation should include details of the donation, such as descriptions of items and their condition.
  6. Consult a Tax Professional: If you have substantial donations or complex situations, it’s advisable to consult a tax pro. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific circumstances.

Remember, the value of your tax write-off is based on the fair market value of the items, not their original purchase price. Be thorough in your documentation to ensure a smooth tax filing process.

Wrapping It Up: Extra Space is Priceless

Whether you’re creating some breathing room around the house or aiming to sell used books online, there’s value in every page.

In a lot of cases, getting rid of old books might not bring in the bucks – but having open space where there once was clutter can be priceless.

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