How To Sell Books on eBay: From Sourcing to Shipping

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Despite what you hear from YouTube ads and Instagram coaches, creating an online income is really hard.

Usually, it either takes a huge investment of time or money. When people discover how hard it is, they usually decide to become a coach instead.

In other words, there is no turn-key solution to get rich quickly.

However, there is a way that offers flexible hours, high profits, and the possibility of positive cash flow from day one. Since you’re already reading this article, it’s probably pretty obvious that we’re talking about selling used books online.

People have been selling books for profit on Amazon for years but many people overlook the much less crowded option: selling books on eBay. Even with the massive influx of sellers, there is still a ton of money to be made and it’s no trick at all to be making $100/day within a month or two of starting.

Selling books on eBay is simply a numbers game. Once you have figured out how to source books to sell, list them quickly, and take care of your customers after the sale you can scale your business as far as you want!

But how do you get started selling books on eBay?

1. Where To Source Books To Resell

The most important part of selling books on eBay is to have the right products. If you want into any bookstore or second-hand store you’ll see tens of thousands of books.

From my experience, less than 5% of those books are profitable and only 1-2% of them are profitable enough to buy. So where is the highest concentration of profitable books?

Well, there are 3 places that I recommend you start sourcing if you’re just starting your eBay bookselling journey:

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores and the most productive (and least awkward) place for beginners to source books for reselling. In fact, Savers and Goodwill are still among my favorite places to look for books.

The main advantage of sourcing books at thrift stores is that you can take as much time as you need to be sure of what you’re finding. If you don’t have much time, never fear, the books are cheap enough that you won’t do much damage to your bank account if you buy a few duds.

The main drawback is that, since thrift stores are pretty much money trees, they can be pretty picked over. Try to source right after new books are put out if you want the best selection.

Yard/Estate Sales

Yard sales are a great opportunity to find books such as textbooks, repair manuals, or other expensive books. The problem is, many people don’t take kindly to the idea of you cherry-picking their books and making money on them.

Because of this, I normally don’t do too much research on books I source from yard sales. If I recognize that the type of books for sale are valuable I’ll either buy ones that seem profitable or make the seller an offer on all the books they’re selling. This can be a great way to get a bunch of inventory for a great price if you are ready to drop off the duds at a thrift store on your way home.

Goodwill Outlet

If you want to enter the craziest world of book selling, the Goodwill Outlet or “bins” as they’re affectionately called will be a baptism by fire.

This is the cheapest place to source books (unless you can get them for free) but it is also the most competitive.

Books at the bins are priced by the pound which means that you have the opportunity to make 50x your money (or more).

However, easy money brings out sharks. To be successful in sourcing books at the bins you’ll need to be waiting with a cart when new bins of books are wheeled out. Once they give you the go-ahead to start looking, grab every book that you think might be valuable and put it into your cart. Everyone else will be grabbing books like crazy so you’ll have to be quick.

Once you’ve filled your cart and the frenzy had died down you can take your time to slowly go through your books and decide which ones are worth buying.

2. Figuring Out What Books To Buy

Anyone can find books for sale, but how do you know which ones are worth flipping?

Amazon sellers typically use a book scanning app such as ScoutIQ or Scoutly to tell them if a book is likely to sell well. This method will also work for eBay as you can be reasonably assured that books which are valuable on one platform are at least worth selling on the other.

However, eBay attracts a very different kind of book buyer than Amazon.

While scanning apps are significantly faster, eBay has a built-in scanning tool that will allow you to quickly lookup a book to sell how much other sellers have it listed for.

how to scan books to sell on eBay app screenshot

From that point, you can easily search through sold items to see if a book has been selling in the past months.

I typically stick to books that sell for $10 or more as I find that any less isn’t worth my time.

3. Listing Your Books on eBay

As with most things, the best way to learn something is simply to do it and course-correct as you go!  So get up right now and find a book of yours that you no longer want.

Seriously….do it.  Go.  Now.  If you’re serious about this then there’s no time like the present!

Back with a book? Perfect! Here we go:

  1. Open up your eBay app and scan your book’s barcode
  2. Choose one of the listings that pop up for the same edition and condition of book that you have
  3. Scroll down in that listing and choose “Sell Similar”
  4. Enter a brief condition description and fill out any blank but required filters
  5. List your book for sale

Once you get into a rhythm it’s not hard to list 30-40 books on eBay in an hour. The faster you go the more money you can make so get practicing!

4. Inventorying

Strangely enough, the very best way to store books you have for sale might just be on a bookshelf.  We typically list books that we source within a day (so they don’t build up) and then they go straight on the shelf in the order that they’re listed.

We have one shelf where you can find vintage/antique books, a couple of shelves for fiction, and the balance for modern non-fiction books.  Since we do our best to focus on books that sell for at least $20 we avoid clogging up our storage space with books that are low profit and slow to sell.

At any given time, we have around 500 books in our inventory which can be stored on 3 bookshelves in our small bedroom.

Since we typically sell fewer than 10 books a day, it’s not a problem for us to remember the rough order things were listed in find them on the shelves.  However, if you sell lots of books, you will need a more sophisticated inventory system than ours.

As long as you protect your books from moisture and excessive heat, they can be stored in whatever way works best for you. I’ve seen eBay sellers store their books in totes, states, climate-controlled storage units, and even bank boxes. Find your own way!

5. Shipping Books

So you sold a book and got paid!  Hooray!  But now what?  Do you need to go out and put a box?  Or maybe you could just wrap it in brown paper?  Well, we’d invite you to take advantage of our plethora of mistakes and use what we consider to be the best (and cheapest) way to ship books you’ve sold.

In general, media mail is the cheapest way to ship books within the United States.

As far as packaging, we have experimented with just about every method. We have shipped books wrapped in brown paper, in polymailer, in boxes, and just about anything else you can think of.

We have now narrowed it down to two shipping methods. We decide how to ship a book based on its selling price and how fragile it is:

Books That Sell For Under $30

As far as we’re concerned, bubble wrap poly-mailers are the wave of the future.  They are simply plastic envelopes (so they don’t tear), with bubble wrap lining the inside (so books don’t get squashed), and an adhesive strip on the top (so they’re super easy to close).  We keep two sizes on hand (8.5×11.25 and 10.5×16) and can drop a book into one and seal it up in less than 30 seconds.  Check them out here on Amazon!

Expensive or Fragile Books

Since we love to sell antique books, we often feel they need a little more support than a poly-mailer has to offer.  These books come flat but can be made into a box in 10 seconds or so.  We typically keep only one or two sizes on hand at a time and, if the book moves around too much inside, we stuff the empty space with crumpled paper or bubble wrap.

If we sell a very expensive book ($100+) we’ll typically put the book in a bubble mailer and then in a book box.  Check out the book boxes we use here.

Now, if you’re serious, about selling used books on eBay, here’s our best advice: get off this website and go do it.  There is no time like the present and it’s about time you got started.

We’ve only been selling books on eBay for 5 years or so but in that time we’ve met teenagers who sell books for pocket money, college students who need a way to buy more ramen, single mothers who need rent money, and older couples who want to vacation more or stretch their retirement dollar.  And then there are weirdos like us.  Young couples in their 20’s who got started selling their old textbooks, and couldn’t stop!

How Much Money Can I Make Money Selling Books On eBay?

Without a doubt, one of the first questions we get is, “How much money can I make?”  Well, that depends…how much do you want to work?

While we’re not the biggest sellers (we actually have other jobs and only sell online part-time) we do our best to streamline the process and make the maximum amount of money in the smallest possible time frame.  In the past couple of years, we’ve used the money we make from selling books on eBay to fund several vacations, put a down payment on a house, and pay for tons of medical bills.

It’s always a comfort (especially in the current world climate) to know that if I were to lose my job tomorrow, things would be tight but our side hustle would keep us alive!

Now for the real answer: we make around $2,000 a month selling books part-time.

We have friends who make more, and friends who make less.  There are full-time booksellers who make over $10,000 a month working from home and full-scale used book businesses which are selling a million dollars worth of books a month.  The sky is the limit!

However, we would expect the average person to build their part-time business up to $1,000 in sales a month within a couple of months.

5 Reasons To Sell Books On eBay

Apart from the obvious reason (money to be made), there are actually a ton of reasons why selling used books on eBay can be the perfect side hustle or even a full-time job.

If you are looking for a way to make some extra money, let me try and convince you that this just might be the perfect option:

  1. It requires zero experience. I am one of those people who went to college and have 80% of two different degrees. That leaves me with a lot of knowledge and experience but a hard time getting a job. The possibility of avoiding job applications and making a ton of money as my own boss is appealing.
  2. Extremely low startup cost. You don’t actually need any money to get started. Most booksellers get started by selling their own books or books they get for free. Even if you don’t have a source for free inventory you can invest $100 or less and have a working business.
  3. Ridiculous profit margins. In our main eBay store, we shoot for 40-50% profit margins. In our web design business, we shoot for 70%. Well, what if I told you that, in bookselling, it’s possible to make 100x your money (or more). In the past couple months, we’ve sold 2 books for over $400, both of which we paid less than $2/apiece for.
  4. It can be automated. There are people who run six-figure bookselling businesses without even touching or shipping a book. You can hire people to scan books (or buy them in bulk), process them, and then send them to Amazon to sell.
  5. More work means more money. I’m one of those people who has always avoided being paid a salary. I know that I usually make more on a per/hour basis as I tend to be a workaholic and put in more hours than anyone. However, selling books is even more attractive because, if you want more money, just work more hours!

eBay vs. Amazon: Where should you sell books?

Knowing where to list your books is not just important, it’s essential if you want to maximize your profits.  We’ve had books that haven’t sold for months on Amazon only to be sold overnight when we shifted the listing to eBay.  The reason is, the platforms attract very different audiences and have different reputations.

I’d advise most people to start on eBay and shift to Amazon when they want to sell a higher volume of books.

But, if you’re on the fence, here is the breakdown:

eBay

  • eBay’s listing format is better suited for showcasing books that are unique or special in some way
  • A larger number of collectors shop on eBay.  They are often looking for specific books and are willing to pay a premium price
  • eBay’s used book market is less saturated
  • More versitile shipping options
  • Lower fees

Amazon

  • Easier and faster to list books.
  • Amazon attracts a huge number of customers who are looking specifically for books.

On paper, eBay is a clear winner.  However, the truth of the matter is that the bulk of booksellers. The speed at which you can list books makes it a non-choice if you want to sell at mega volume. For part-time sellers though, go where you feel comfortable. Because we have years of experience on eBay, we gravitate toward listing our books there.

What Tools Do You Need To Sell Used Books Online?

Thankfully, you don’t need many things at all to get started (which explains the minimal startup cost). However, there are a number of things that will make your life easier.

If you can’t afford any of these, don’t worry about it. You could, in theory, find free books and list them on eBay using a free computer at a public library. You’d require zero tools and would only have to pay to ship the books when they sold. However, if you want to invest in your business, here are the 3 things you should pick up (in order of importance):

A Bluetooth Scanner. The days of recognizing profitable books without the internet are long gone. It used to be that you went to a bookstore and trusted your gut. Now, you can (and should) avoid wasting money by looking up every book you find. While you can use your phone to read barcodes and look them up on both eBay and Amazon, you’ll be 5x faster (and therefore more profitable) if you buy a Bluetooth scanner. There are tiny little devices that connect with your phone and allow you to read barcodes with the touch of a button. You can find our favorite options and recommendations here.

A Scanning App. The eBay app provides basic functionality when it comes to looking up the price and sales history of books. This takes time and time is money. You’ll want an app that stores all the sales ranking and price information right on your phone in a database. This allows for nearly instantaneous feedback when you scan a book. Consider asellertool or Jungle Scout as great options once you decide to get more serious.

A label printer. One of my least favorite parts of selling books is the necessity to ship them. This is made 100x worse if you have to go wait in line at the Post Office to ship a stack of sold books. Invest in a great thermal printer so you can print off labels right at home. Shipping from home can get you huge discounts from most package carriers so your printer will pay for itself in no time. Check out our comparison of the two best label printers for book sellers here.

That’s really all you need! As you grow your business you’ll recognize the need for mundane items such as a tape gun or a lightbox but you don’t need them to get started!

While books are the only things to sell on eBay, they’re one of the easiest to list, store, and ship.

So if you’re looking to make some extra money, consider selling books on eBay!

SO whichever option you choose, work hard, work smart, and have fun!

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