Selling books on Amazon can be a lucrative full-time business, or just a side hustle. Selling books is a great way to learn about selling on Amazon and get more comfortable with the Amazon Marketplace.
It can also be a giant waste of time if you don't know what you are doing and are careless with your methods.
This post will dig deep into the world of selling books on Amazon and try to cover all of the elements to consider in selling books on Amazon for profit in 2020.
Where Do I Find Books to Sell on Amazon?
Sure you probably have some books at home, but more than likely 99% of what you have at home will not be worth selling on Amazon. You have to learn what kinds of books are profitable, how to analyze books, and where to go find such books.
Library Book Sales
Library book sales are the best friend of most Amazon book sellers. You can easily find hundreds or even thousands of dollars in Amazon book value at most library book sales for pennies on the dollar.
Finding Book Sales
First you need to know about the sales to begin with. There are resources such as Book Sale Finder to help you find sales in your area. Also consider visiting online event calendars of the libraries in your area.
Getting in Early to the Book Sale
Many libraries have a "Friends of the Library" membership you can pay to join that allows entry to their book sales before everyone else. You should do that to hit the sale at opening before all of the best deals are picked through.
Yard Sales & Estate Sales
Many yard sales have books for sale on the cheap. Buying entire boxes of books for a few dollars is not unheard of. Also imagine going to a yard sale of a newly graduated nurse who kept all of her college textbooks? That could be a huge win.
Estate sales can be great if you are focusing more on antique books or collectable books to sell on Amazon or eBay.
Many dollar stores sell books. If you find a winning book there is a good chance that they have more than one copy, so stock up on the winning books.
Facebook Marketplace & Craiglist
Set up alerts for email and your phone when people are listing books for sale. I learned about a local book shop going out of business this way that I would not have known about otherwise.
While Craiglist is the old standby, I find more activity on Facebook Marketplace in my area. But use both.
Buying Lots of Books from Liquidation Centers
Hardcore Amazon book sellers are buying Gaylords of books in bulk from liquidation centers. You can buy books for pennies each, but this is a volume play, will require employees, warehouse space, and maybe even some equipment to destroy worthless books.
How to Sell Books for Profit on Amazon
What kind of books sell the best on Amazon? That is the big question.
The "riches are in the niches" as they say and that stands for books too.
Remember supply and demand are key in markets and the Amazon book game is no different.
Here is a quiz for you. You see both of the following books for sale at Goodwill for $1 each. Which one is the easy winner?
Tiki Mugs: Cult Artifacts of Polynesian Pop
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1
One of these books which earn you hundreds of dollars in profit, while the other won't even be worth the trouble at all.
Did you guess the Tiki Mugs book?
Good, then you are on track.
There are hundreds or maybe thousands of books on French cooking. But the number of books about collecting Tiki mugs are pretty limited. Also this book happens to be out of print, so the demand is far outpacing the supply.
I sold my copy of the Tiki Mugs book on Amazon for $375, but maybe I should have waited as prices are now over $500!
Of course this is an extreme example, but the collectables niche is a good one. At my local library book sale I found profitable books on collecting bottles, arrow heads, and records.
Non-Fiction Almost Always Beats Fiction
In general non-fiction books related to obscure topics are where most of the money is. 99% of fiction books will not be worth dealing with, especially the new ones.
So when hunting always start with non-fiction books. Philosophy, history, arts, business, etc.
Another big winner is with college textbooks. The trick there is that many of these books have new versions that come out every year or two. So finding a ten year old textbook often is not going to drive much profit — they need to be newer textbooks.
You can make money with fiction books, but often only with older first editions of popular books.
Profiting from First Editions of Popular Writers
I recently found at a Salvation Army several Steven King first editions from early in his career.
The book Carrie alone netted me about $300 and the others all sold for $30 - $65. Each book was $1 each. So that was a profitable lunch break.
Also think about authors that are popular now, but possibly did not sell much when they were alive. Phillip K. Dick comes to mind as original editions of his books can be hard to find.
One wrinkle with selling older books and first editions is that eBay is typically the better place to sell those.
eBay is a better marketplace for collectables and older items. So with books like this I usually focus on eBay instead of Amazon.
It is all About the Numbers Selling Books on Amazon
While many Amazon sellers preach about the best sellers rate, I don't always pay a lot of attention to it. While Amazon sales figures are important, I am more concerned about how much competition is currently on Amazon for that item.
This is because I am usually only finding one copy of a book at a time. Even slow selling books will eventually move if priced right. But if a book already has ten people trying to sell their copy, I may move on (unless it is a very popular book).
If I find a slow selling book, but with no other copies on Amazon I will still pick it up if the cost is a $1 or less and the profit margin is there.
For example I bought a copy of a Bulgarian cookbook. There were no other FBA items for sale in all of Amazon on that book. I realize that is a very niche kind of book and not in high demand.
I bought the book for a dollar and it eventually sold six months later via JoeLister for around $17.16. Minus my Amazon FBA fees of $5.95 and eBay sales fees of $1.71 gave me an overall profit of $8.50.
An $8.50 profit on an investment of $1 is pretty amazing if you think about the percentage in play here. If my math is correct — we are talking about an 850% return on your investment!
I always like to list my more niche books on eBay using JoeLister. Offloading unpopular items quicker is one of my favorite use-cases of JoeLister. Two marketplaces are better than one.
Also unusual books often just sell for more money on eBay. When you can sell on eBay, but still have the convenience of Amazon FBA mailing out your order for you — that feels like winning.
Tools You Need for Selling Books on Amazon
Analyzing Books for Profit on Amazon
If you are just getting started the free Amazon Seller app on your phone will do the trick.
You can just scan the barcode of the book and get an idea of the current market and listings for that item.
What if there is no barcode for the book? No worries, the Amazon app has some nifty tech in it where you can just scan the book cover and it will recognize the product using some OCR tech.
This works amazingly well. You can also just search for the book title if all else fails.
If you are going to go hardcore or start going to crowded library book sales, you may want to upgrade your Amazon book hunting setup.
If you are going to go serious with your Amazon book selling a Bluetooth barcode scanner and some better Amazon intelligence software like Scout IQ is the ticket. This will allow you to quickly determine which books are good candidates for selling on Amazon for a profit even after all of the fees.
Scout IQ allows you to download Amazon sales and product data to your phone. So unlike the free Amazon Seller app it does not have to do an Internet lookup for every scan — as the data is already within the app.
This makes things much faster and also is handy when you are trying to scan in areas with no WIFI or poor cell connectivity.
Using this combo you can go through a whole row of books in no time. Don't believe me? Check out this demonstration video.
How to List Your Books for Sale on Amazon
Ok you found some potentially profitable books at your local thrift store.
Just like with our book hunting setup, with listing your books on Amazon you can go with free Amazon tools or pay for speed and power.
If you are selling more than just a few items, using listing software will save you a great deal of time and make the experience more pleasant. Especially if you are listing FBA items.
Amazon is a great company, but usability is not a core competency or something they seem to care much about. So there is a huge difference in the ease and speed of listing using something like Inventory Lab vs Amazon Seller Central.
You also will want a bar code scanner to speed up the listing process. One scan and your item will populate within your Amazon listing tool.
For FBA shipments you will also need to print out an adhesive label for warehouse workers to scan for placement within the fulfillment centers. I use this Dymo printer and it has worked smoothly for me.
Selling Books on Amazon FBA vs Merchant
While there are successful sellers that sell via Amazon Merchant, it is clear to me that selling books with Amazon FBA is the way to go.
- You can charge more for your FBA books as everyone wants free Prime Shipping. This makes up for the added fees and when you consider the time savings it is worth extra fees.
- Amazon loves you selling your books via Amazon FBA, so guess what? The buy box gets owned almost always by FBA offerings instead of Merchant. Of course this is because Amazon wins twice here, they get more fees and they trust their own warehouses to ship the item quickly over you.
- You have a better chance of maintaining your Amazon ratings with FBA sales. One busy week where you are slow to ship could cost you. Also I have noticed that Amazon will force you to ship via Priority Mail (not allowing you to use less costly Media Mail shipping) when you are behind on shipping a Merchant book. When that happens it eats into your profits (or wipes out all profit).
Amazon Seller Pro
One of the best Amazon seller software programs is actually from Amazon. Amazon Seller Pro will cost you $40 a month, but with Amazon Seller Pro you will not have to pay a $1 listing fee for each item you list on Amazon. So it is basically "free" if you list 40 items or more per month.
Also with this subscription Amazon provides you access to the Amazon Marketplace Web Service which is what Amazon seller applications such as Inventory Lab, JoeLister and other require you to have to be able to connect to your Amazon Seller Account.
So you may find it worthwhile even if you are not listing hundreds of items every week. But you do have to factor in the cost in your profit calculations.
Package and Ship Books to Amazon
You have your book inventory uploaded to Amazon Seller Central and your books are all labeled. Now you need to package up your books and send to Amazon.
One thing I never understood before was how crazy Amazon's shipping discounts are. I could not understood how book selling on Amazon might be profitable as I assumed it would cost a ton of money to ship a big box of books to Amazon.
Well that is not the case.
My last shipment of books to Amazon was 42 pounds and it cost about $12 to ship. This was for about 30 items (a few non-books in there for good measure too.) So we are only talking 40 cents of extra upfront costs in shipping per product in this example.
So when you are getting books for $1 or less, even with the Amazon fees it is possible to find many books that will make you a few dollars.
A Great Hack to Saving Money on Shipping Supplies
Do you belong to your neighborhood group on Nextdoor? Nextdoor is a site for people to discuss neighborhood issues, share local news, etc.
You will see people there that just moved offering free boxes, bubble wrap, and other packing supplies. Snatch those supplies up for packaging your items to Amazon or buyers.
If you were to buy boxes or packaging materials, you will find that some of this stuff is not as cheap as you may expect.
Also check for free supplies on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
Ok your books are on Amazon. But did you know you can easily list the items on eBay with just a few clicks of the mouse?
Some longtail books can take months to sell, so I like to crosslist these items on eBay using JoeLister. This way I can get extra exposure and a better chance of moving out books before more competition comes along to drive down prices.
When your FBA items sell on JoeLister, everything just happens like magic. The sale is sent to Amazon, eBay is notified of the shipment, and when Amazon has shipped it off the tracking information is updated on your eBay order.
Amazon Book Selling Pros to Learn From
While I am trying to cover all of the bases for you here, there is still plenty to learn.
There are many Amazon gurus out there that can teach you about selling books on Amazon. Here are a few that I have learned from that focus a good deal on Amazon book selling.
- Steve Raiken > http://raikenprofit.com
- Reezy Resells > https://reezyresells.com
- Jim Pickins > http://jimpickins.com
Why I Love Selling Books on Amazon
The beauty of selling on FBA is that you can hunt for items on lunch breaks or weekends, list & pack your items and be done with it.
You may have a busy job and not want to have to package up items in a timely matter and drop off at the post office.
Selling on a system like Amazon FBA means that you will not be hating life if you are successful and selling like crazy. Who wants to be bummed out because their sales volume has gone nuts?
Selling books on Amazon is a great introduction to the Amazon Marketplace. Books are easily found in nearly all thrift stores, many yard sales, at dollar stores, and at most estate sales. You may also have some books around the house you no longer need.
The trick is learning what types of books are profitable to sell on Amazon, learning how to avoid wasted time and money on losing books and developing a system to continue and refine the process as you learn.
If you regularly list books on Amazon you could easily build up a monthly extra income to help pay off your car, student loan bills, or possibly even create a real business.