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How & Where to Sell Used College Textbooks for Cash

By Casey Slide

sell textbooks onlineWhen I was in college, I never really felt as though I was truly finished with a course until I had sold the textbook. That final action signified that I had completed the class and was ready to move on to the next level. While I always walked away with a little money, I was never able to reach my full earning potential because each time I was in such a rush to get rid of my books so that I could focus on the next semester’s classes.

I took the quick and easy route, and I missed out on some extra cash. You can take a much better approach to selling back college textbooks and make plenty of profit. Here’s the best step-by-step process for prepping and selling your books, and some quick tricks to get the most money back.

Guide to Selling Back College Textbooks

Selling college textbooks seems easy, but it’s also easy to leave money on the table. To avoid that scenario, follow this plan:

1. Clean Up Your Book

Books in better condition earn you more cash back, so get your textbook in the best condition possible. No book makes it through a whole semester still looking brand new (unless you don’t open it, which a completely different problem), but you can definitely get it looking newer. Try these four steps:

  • Wipe down the front and back cover to remove any grime. I recommend a Lysol wipe or Windex.
  • Erase any pencil markings on the pages. This may mean you need to go through your book page by page. Have a get together with some friends for some entertainment while you go through your books.
  • Remove any miscellaneous papers that might have gotten stuck between the pages.
  • Flip up any pages that you dog-eared.

Insider’s Tip: After one semester of cleaning up your books, you’ll realize how much time you can save by taking better care of your books throughout the school year. You don’t have to invest in fancy book covers, but covering textbooks with a good brown paper bag will protect it from general wear and tear, making it more valuable when it’s time to sell it back.

2. Evaluate the Condition of Your Book

Now that you have your textbook in the best possible shape, you need to figure out the condition ranking so that you can determine how much you should get. Follow these guidelines to rate the condition of your book:

  • As New: The only way to get this rating is essentially to have never opened your book.
  • Excellent: To consider your book in excellent condition, very minimal usage needs to be evident. Perhaps the only defect would be a scratch or minor bruising to the book’s corners.
  • Very Good: A book with this rating would have some signs of wear and tear, but no major defects.
  • Good: After a semester of studying, most books fall into this category. You’ll see some notable damage but the book is generally in good shape.
  • Fair: To get a fair rating, your book would probably show heavy wear and tear on the inside and outside, but it can’t be missing any pages or other content.
  • Poor: Poor books may be falling apart, but they’re still readable and sellable.

3. Check Out the Competition

Once you know your book’s rating, you can figure out what price you can get. You can determine the value by using one or both of these two methods:

  • First, call up a few local bookstores to see if they are buying back that particular textbook. If they are, ask what they’re offering.
  • Second, go online to see how much your book is going for on various textbook selling websites such as Half.com, Amazon, and Alibris.

Write down all the data you can find because it will come in handy if you need to negotiate with your buyer.

Insider’s Tip: Have the ISBN of your book available when you make your calls and check online. This way, you’ll be sure you’re checking on the same edition of the book. You can find the ISBN on the back of the book near the bar code.

4. Sell the Book

You have two major options to choose from, direct sales and bookstores or online retailers.

  • Face-to-face sales, like selling to a fellow student, usually earns the biggest return. The good news is that when you find a friend or classmate for the sale, you’ll both benefit. You’ll sell for more than the going prices that you found in your research, but your buyer will still be able to get a used college textbook for less than what the local textbook store will charge. Plus, no one has to pay shipping or commission fees. This method, however, takes the most time and effort. Everyone’s trying to sell books right around the same time, so it’s tough to effectively find the right buyer. To find a potential customer, rely on word of mouth. You probably know other students who will be taking the same course you just completed so ask them if they would be interested in purchasing your book. Also ask around at your dorm, sorority or fraternity, or at any clubs you belong to associated with your major. And don’t forget to utilize your online networks or school message boards/mailing lists to announce your books for sale.
  • Selling to a local store or online retailer is your backup plan. They overcharge and underpay and they make plenty of money off the constant flow of students. If you couldn’t find anyone to sell to directly, you need to take a look at the information you collected from the bookstores and websites involving average selling prices. You’ll probably find that by selling your textbook online, you will get the best return. However, there were times in my college career when I got lucky and sold my books back to the bookstore for top dollar just because a particular course put my book in high demand for the next semester. Watch out if you’re dealing with online stores, though. It’s easy to get stuck with high packaging and shipping charges. Often the shipping and handling fees are enough to make the Internet sale not worth the hassle. In those cases, your bottom line will be the same even if a local store pays a little less.

girl glasses college textbooks

Tips for Selling Your Used Textbook

Now that you know the steps to take to sell, consider these tips to make sure you get the most bang for your book:

  1. Time your sale correctly. Unless you’re flat-out desperate for cash, don’t be in a rush to sell. Right after finals, everyone else is trying to sell their book too, and with supply so high, the price potential will be at its lowest. Wait until the beginning of the next semester when students are looking to purchase their books for the upcoming semester. That’s when demand rises, and bookstores may be a little more desperate and willing to shell out some cash to boost their supply.
  2. If you’re mailing your book, use a padded envelope. You don’t need to spend on a big box if you can fit your book into a padded envelope. You’ll still protect your book from any damage, but it’ll be simpler and cheaper, particularly if you’re selling multiple books at the same time.
  3. Send books as media mail. Books are heavy, and when you’re shipping, heavy means expensive. Maybe you haven’t heard of USPS media mail yet, but it’s a huge money saver. When you’re at the post office, just explain that you’re mailing a book and you need the media mail rate.
  4. Sell paperbacks locally. Small paperbacks and novels won’t garner you a lot of cash, so don’t waste time looking for a buyer ready to spend top dollar. Top dollar is only going to be a few extra bucks. Just sell the paperbacks back at a local store and spend the time looking for buyers for your more valuable products.
  5. Check popular websites. To get the most attention, use the sites with the biggest audiences. Half.com was the most popular textbook selling website when I was in college, and it is still a great one to use today. Some other popular textbook selling websites include Amazon, Alibris, Valore Books, eCampus, and AbeBooks.
  6. Consider trades. You’re going to be buying books at the beginning of the semester too, so don’t pass up the chance to save on those expenses. If you find a friend or classmate who will buy from you, see if you can work out a trade for a book you’ll need. It’s a classic move when you’re trying to save money on college textbooks.
  7. Be realistic. In most cases, you’re not going to make back more than you spent. Don’t get your hopes up thinking that just because your book is in excellent condition that you are going to get a full refund after months of use. Set realistic goals and you’ll avoid wasting time on frustrating and disappointing efforts.

Final Word

The college textbook marketplace is a very competitive one, especially with the growing popularity of free downloadable ebooks from sites like Flat World Knowledge. These sites specialize in making textbooks available through various media outlets. Be smart with your timing and your selling method to ensure that you can sell your textbook and get the most money for it.

What other tips and traps have you discovered when selling your used textbooks?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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