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Textbook Buybacks

By Cyndi Allison

Textbooks are expensive. Although you may consider some of your books valuable and keep them for future reference, most texts end up back in the system. Typically the campus store will purchase books back at 50 percent of sticker price and then resell at 75 percent sticker or list price. Of course, this is assuming that the book is going to be used on campus in the upcoming semester. If the book is not a sure bet or if an overload of copies comes in, then you’re stuck with a few dollars back or maybe nothing at all.

If you’re going the bookstore route, then you’re missing out on online options. Internet book buying/selling generally means lower overall prices for buyers and higher return rates for sellers. It’s a great option for students, especially returning students who can often wait out the market.

How Does Online Book Buyback Work?

There are two different ways of selling textbooks online. The first option is similar to the bookstore method. You sell to the company, and then the company sells your book to another student. This is indirect, since you don’t have any contact with the buyer. The second option involves direct sales. Although the online company matches sellers and buyers and generally handles pay out, the seller sets the price and handles mailing out the book to the buyer. Selling to a bookstore merchant online is usually faster and easier, but direct selling is usually more profitable.

Selling to the Online Book Company

Many online bookstores actively buy used texts from students and then resell the texts. Some specialize in texts while other companies sell mainstream as well as textbooks. For a good solid list of stores to check out, see the Discount Textbook Section.

Assume that you purchased News Reporting & Writing by Melvin Mencher (1999 version with ISBN 0-31218-0195). List price is $55.95. The text is not being used on your campus next semester. Although your local bookstore may buy the book and then pack it to ship out, they probably will not offer you more than a couple of dollars. In most cases, your store will probably pass on an iffy investment like a discontinued on-campus book.

Take that same text online to Textbooks 4 Cash. Type in the ISBN number and check the buyback price—$15.86 new and $13.44 used. If your copy is in used condition, and most students do use the books, then your actual cost for the use of the book after selling it back is $42.51. Let’s say you bought the book used at the College Store at 75% or $41.96. Then your text use price drops to $28.52. If you bought online and got the book for half the list price and sell back to Textbooks 4 Cash, then you end up paying only $14.35 for the use of the book.

When you sell directly to an online company, then you know immediately if the book is in demand (the company wants to buy it) and how much you’ll be paid for the book (assuming you accurately represented the condition of the book). You simply box up the book, ship out to the online company, and wait for the check to come in the mail. At some point, you will probably be able to get even faster payment by setting up and using a Pay Pal or a similar online service account for immediate transfer.

Barnes and Noble recently added textbook buyback, and other book companies will probably follow suit. At B&N, you’ll need to click on textbooks on the top bar menu and then look to the left for the buyback information. Buyback at B&N is not as user friendly as some of the older textbook broker companies, but this does mark the entrance of a major brick and mortar bookseller in the textbook buyback market. The big drawing card with B&N currently is that they send you the mailing label with postage paid. Since textbooks are heavy, this is a nice bonus. Other textbook buyers do offset for shipping, but you pay upfront for shipping and then get reimbursed.

In the case of News Reporting and Writing, B&N wasn’t buying (though they may be tomorrow or next week). They either have enough copies in stock or anticipate a change in demand or a text update by the publisher.

Overall, I find B&N more conservative on buyback, but they do have good buyback prices on texts they do want. They pay out about the same as Textbooks 4 Cash plus they send the prepaid shipping label.

Selling Directly to Other Students

If you have time, patience, and a place to store books, then you can rack up better sell back prices by cutting out the middle man. When you sell through a vendor (online bookstore), then you split the profit. When you sell on your own, the online company does get a small cut (usually 15%), but you rake up the bulk of the profit. You also call the price for the most part, so you could take a good used book and then resell it for the same amount you paid or even for a profit.

Let’s look at News Reporting and Writing again. You bought the text online for half the cover price, which tends to be the going rate for online used textbooks. Your purchase price was $27.97. The current low sell back price on (now eBay), is $25 running up to a high of $69.52. If you list your book at the lowest rate (and prices do vary a lot even from hour to hour on the site depending on which books are moving and for what price), then you end up with a total cost for using the book of $2.97. Go a little higher on your asking price, wait out the market, and you actually turn a profit for using the book.

The major company in direct sales of textbooks is eBay. Sellers list items like video games, compact discs, mainstream books, and textbooks for sale. The seller sets the asking price (with some guidelines offered onsite). The price is firm unless the owner of the text changes the amount.

According to Michael Pizzo, public relations specialist, textbooks have become an important part of inventory. “We have seen a large increase in sales on textbooks. It is one of our most popular sections,” said Pizzo.

To sell at eBay, you set up an account with a user name and password. You list and describe (briefly) the condition of the text you want to sell. Buyers look over your listing and then can request to purchase your text. EBay notifies you that a buyer is available. You confirm. Then, mail the text to the buyer. EBay pays either by snail mail or by direct bank deposit.

Is Selling as Simple as it Sounds?

Selling textbooks online is really very painless. Most of the sites walk you through the process with mouse clicks. You simply type an ISBN number (from the back of the textbook) in the search bar and then either get an instant price offer (indirect sales) or list your text at your named price and wait for a buyer (direct sales).

Pack your text and mail to the online company (indirect) or the buyer (direct). The company provides the mailing information and most email a printable address label to run off and paste on the package.

You get paid through the online site whether you’re participating in indirect or direct selling of texts. Payment options vary, but typically you can get a check sent to your mailing address or a direct deposit in your banking account.

What’s the Catch?

Going online to sell textbooks is a real win/win situation for students. Buyers get a better price and sellers get a better return. Participating companies get some return of course, but the amount is not excessive. With indirect sales, the online company has to find a buyer to move the book so the cut is larger for the company. With direct selling, the company takes a small cut (around 15%) for offering space to market the text and for collecting payment.

The real downside to selling used texts online is that textbook writers, production companies, and college stores do not reap a profit. Overall, prices for texts continue to go up when writers, producers, and distributors do not benefit from online sales of used texts. When hard copy products don’t pay at the base level, then fewer members of the academic and associated communities participate to provide content, and the books produced go up in price.

Perhaps we’ve moved beyond hard copy in the world of academia. It’s cheaper, faster, and more content-specific to provide online text content. In the meantime, it does make sense for students to both buy and sell online.

Are You Ready to Sell Your Texts?

If you’re sold on the idea of selling your texts online, then be aware that selling online involves being reasonable and responsible.

First, you need to evaluate your books. In most cases, books do check in as used. If you opened and read the book, then it’s used. If you broke the seal of the CD in the back, then the book is used. If you lost the CD, then the book is toast. Don’t try to sell incomplete packages.

Then you need to access the used condition of the text. If you have water damage, missing pages, missing or torn covers, then you really don’t have a product to sell. The key question to ask is: Would I buy this book if I walked in the bookstore and looked at it?

If the book is in decent condition, then it will probably move. Even older versions of texts sell if you have the time to wait for a buyer to find your copy. High demand books may sell within an hour or so. Others may take a day or two. Many are snapped up within the first few weeks. Harder-to-sell books take longer, but most do find a home.

Should I Sell to the Company or Directly to a Buyer?

In some cases (especially with older texts), you don’t have an option. Online companies may not be willing to take a book and then wait for a buyer. In cases where you can’t get an offer from an online company, you’ll need to go direct if you want a return.

In most cases when you’re selling recent texts, you can find an indirect buyer. If you need cash fast or if you aren’t good on follow-up, then you may want to pack and mail to the vendor. Let them find a buyer. If you aren’t in a big rush, and you don’t mind spending a little bit of time taking care of business, then it does pay off to sell direct. My estimate is that you will, in fact, get double for most books.

Here are some questions to ask if you’re not sure which route to go . . ..

  • Can I wait for the money?
  • Do I have space to store books?
  • Do I check my e-mail often?
  • Can I pack and ship fast (usually within 24 hours)?
  • Can I handle being rated online by others?

If you answered No to questions, then you may want to sell to a vendor and cash in. If you answered Yes, then you will probably work out well as an online seller and make a better profit.

If You Decide to Go it On Your Own

If you decide to market and sell your texts, you’ll be going into business (though on a small scale). Make sure know what you’re getting into. Read the web page carefully before starting out. All companies have specific expectations that are carefully outlined on site for review or print out.

After you set up an account, you’ll need to list your books for sale. The key is to ask fair prices and describe the conditions of the books. Sites generally provide solid guidelines. They know the market, so pay attention.

If the site suggests going half the price, then you may go a bit higher . . . but not a lot higher. The seller on eBay with News Reporting & Writing listed at $69.95 is not likely to sell the text, which lists at $55.95. Who would pay more for a used book than for a brand new copy?

If you have a book with very few listings, then you may be able to go higher. For instance, I bought How to Write and Sell Your Personal Experiences by Lois Duncan for $8.00 with a book jacket list of $12.95. This is an old title and out-of-print, so I would not expect to get the book for half or less of the original price. In fact, I was thrilled to get the book for $8.00 and would have gone higher.

When you describe the books, be specific. If you highlight your texts, then say so (which can actually be a plus). If you wrote your name on the cover, then mention it. Bent or scuffed on the corners? Say so. Most buyers aren’t concerned about minor use, but they do want to know before they buy. If you’re not sure how to describe your books, then check out how other sellers are listing the conditions.

My Books are Listed. What Now?

If you have books listed, then watch your email. If you can’t check every day or every other day, then pull the books down for a while or click the “vacation” option. I know I’ll be away a week next month, and I plan to put my books on hold during that time. If someone wants to buy a book and I don’t confirm by email in 48 hours, then the sale is cancelled (and I don’t look like a very responsible seller).

Once you confirm, mail the book. In many cases, students need the book yesterday. Although it’s fine to use media mail (slower but lower priced) unless instructed to do otherwise, you want to mail as soon as you can.

It’s a good idea to have a mailing plan in place, so you are ready when you sell a book. If you’re not sure how to handle mail-outs, then here is an easy list covering the basics:

  • Double check the book and make sure you are mailing out the right book.
  • Cushion and stabilize the text. I use a bubble wrap and packing tape once horizontal and once vertical.
  • Put in a sturdy box. I save and use old boxes if they are thick and well made.
  • Add packing. I reuse packing material like popcorn or use slick magazine pages. Newspaper print tends to rub off and can decrease the value of the book.
  • Tape up the box including corners.
  • Label carefully including return address (your address and not the dot com address).
  • Write “media mail” on the box unless you’re asked to mail faster at a higher cost.
  • Insure if the book is worth more than a few dollars.

It’s also nice to include a short, personal note. I stick an inexpensive note card in thanking the student for buying and wishing them well in class.

Why Should I Go the Extra Mile?

Most direct sale sites give buyers the option to rate sellers. It’s really helpful to know if you can count on the person at the other end of the online chain. Most buyers do look at the ratings and are more likely to buy if you have a high rating. If you price fairly, describe well, and mail out fast, then you should rate high, and buyers are more likely to buy your books.

If you have a textbook gathering dust on the shelf, pull it out and sell it. Someone will be thrilled to get a good price on a used book, and you’ll have a few extra dollars to put in your wallet. It doesn’t take a lot of time and effort though research and planning will mean a smoother transaction and better shot at being an online text bookseller.

Cyndi Allison is a lecturer at Catawba College and a freelance writer.

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