I LOVE finding a good bargain. I am a neurotic shopper to begin with, but put me in a thrift store or an antique store and you won’t see me again until next week. When my kids were little, I wanted to earn some extra money, so I started shopping at the Goodwill and re-selling things on eBay. It was a fun way to spend the time and I felt like I was getting something accomplished. I also learned a lot about reselling all kinds of things. This eventually turned into a mini-empire with stores on both eBay and Amazon, but that's a story for another day.
What I want to tell you about specifically today are books. Believe it or not, you can get a TON of money for vintage books on Amazon, and they're probably just laying around your house. I used to specialize mostly in children's book, which are plentiful at yard sales, estate sales, and thrift stores. Some of my favorites were what clearly was a collection of book-of-the-month club books. Many of these had never even been cracked - they arrived in the mail and promptly went on a bookshelf where they sat for the next 40 years. Then, when it was time for Grandma to downsize, they chucked them all in a box and carted them off the the thrift store. If they had known the prices some of those books would fetch, they'd have held onto them. People will pay dearly for nostalgia; I bought a Charles Harper children's book at an estate sale for $10 that was selling on Amazon for $200 when I bought it. That's a nice chunk of change. Although, I will never part with my copy because I love Charles Harper; that one's staying in my personal collection. Kids books aren't the only way to go though, they're just my particular interest, I've also bought coffee table books at the Goodwill for $1 and sold them for $160.
Most of the kids books that are valuable are "Vintage" not "Retro." Retro means it looks old, vintage means it is old. The vintage books are the one's you're looking for. Many times these books are from the time before bar codes, so if it doesn't have a bar code, you're off to a good start. If it does, that isn't always a bad thing, but it can give you an idea of age; if nothing else they are easier to look up. Some books are so old they don't even have ISBN numbers in them. This is the International Standard Book Number and it was adopted in 1970. Books without these standard identifying codes can be tricky, and I recommend the camera feature on the Amazon app for these, keep reading to find out what that is...
Value: So how do you know a book's value to start with? Amazon is the easiest way to do this research. They have so many book listings that 99% of the titles I look up are represented there. Of course, you can always search the book's title, but this isn't always the easiest or most reliable method. The best way to figure out how much the book is worth is to look on the inside cover or on the back cover and find the ISBN number. This number is really important because, it has information about the book AND its publication date/run. Some books will be very valuable from the original or early printings, but later printings may not be worth much at all. If you can't find the ISBN, use the camera feature on the Amazon app to take a picture of the front cover art. Amazon can usually locate the book that way, but then you have to make sure that you are looking at the value for the book you have, which may not be the book they pull up for you. They have another app for "Seller Central" but I've always found this app to be buggy and not as robust as the retail app - plus when people are looking for something on Amazon, they're going to use the consumer app. If you want to know what's going to come up highest in the results, use what your customers are going to use.
Selling: Ok, so now I have a book to sell on Amazon, but but how do I do that, you ask? As an Amazon user, you can sell books pretty easily with the account you already have. Sign up to be a seller if you have not already through your existing Amazon account (it will automatically redirect you to the seller area called “seller central” when you tell them you want to sell something. You don’t have to set up a business account unless you are planning on selling a ton of stuff right off the bat. To begin with, just register as an individual seller and you can pay per book sold. Keep in mind that Amazon will charge you 1000 different fees, so make sure you tally them all up before deciding if your book is worth posting. My general rule of thumb is – if it won’t sell for more than $10, it’s not worth your time. Because by the time Amazon finishes taking their piece of the pie, there’s only about $5 left of a $10 sale, and then you have to package an ship the thing. The higher the price of the book, the better return you get on your time. Your time is valuable, make sure you’re getting paid for it.
Listing your book: Now that you can sell on Amazon, I’ll tell you how to list the book. If you have been able to find the listing for the book – the exact book you have – there’s a little tab at the top or on the side of most listings that says “Have one to Sell?” Click this and it will automatically open the listing page for you. If you don’t have a seller account, this is the time to set one up, then move on to the listing page. Amazon works like a big catalog. Once a product has been sold on Amazon, it permanently has a page where it lives with all the complicated information on it. If someone has already created this page for you, all you have to do is basically say “me too!” and you can sell your copy. There will be several fields to fill in like condition, price, description. It is important to accurately represent your book in the condition field. Look at other listings of similar books and see what they have included – like shelf wear, ex-library, remainder mark. I find that the more accurate and detailed the description, the more trust the customer will have in your stated condition. A lot of volume book sellers have a standard definition that they pop into the condition field that doesn’t really tell you anything about that particular book. Most books that already have a page have a description of the story that has been written, so there’s really no need to fill in that part on your individual listing.
Shipping: When it comes to shipping, Amazon automatically adds $4 shipping to all books. This should usually cover the price of shipping for a book, unless it’s some monster coffee table book. When you ship it, send it “media mail.” This rate takes into account that books are heavy and gives you a better rate than 1st class. It does take longer to get there, but frankly if someone is willing to buy a book that’s not Prime, they’re probably not in a giant hurry anyway.
If you need to get it there fast, check into the USPS flat rate padded envelope. This is a great deal if time is of the essence but you don’t want to pay through the nose – it runs around $8, plus the padded mailer is free so you’re saving a little there too. The nice thing about selling through Amazon is they create the mailing label for you and there is a pretty easy to understand interface when it comes to getting it to your customer. Just keep in mind when you are pricing things and determining if it’s worth selling, don’t forget to take into account the shipping supplies. They can add up if you plan on selling more than a couple of books.
Best Practices: You should always include a packing slip/invoice in your shipment. You should always protect the book during the mailing process – this means either wrapping it in cardboard or putting it in a padded mailer. If it’s a particularly expensive book, I would do both and send it priority mail – you get $50 free insurance when you use priority, and like I said before, you get the mailing supplies for free. No matter how you send the book, if it is over $50, consider getting the insurance. Any mail carrier you use will be brutal on your packages and I can’t tell you how many times the insurance has saved me from a big loss. Also, it is nice to include a hand-written note thanking the person and asking for reviews. As a new Amazon seller, you need as many positive reviews as you can get and asking is a good way to get them. Lastly, you should always send the package out in a timely manner.
Pricing: How do you decide what price to ask for your book? Look at how many listings your book has. If there are a ton, you probably want to price it pretty competitively or it will never sell. If there are very few, you can price it higher, but you may have to wait a while for it to sell. The thing to know about Amazon pricing is that they have service plans for sellers that automatically adjust the prices of their items to be the most competitively priced. This means, if you price your book $.01 lower than the lowest price in an effort to be the cheapest, you probably won't be the cheapest tomorrow. But on the flip side, you can play the law of averages with the listing too. As books come and go, the lowest price for the book fluctuates, so this means that your slightly higher priced book has a chance of being the lowest priced book at some point as sales ebb and flow. Also, think about how much that book cost you and how much you are asking for it. If you paid $1 and you're asking $20, it might be worth it to undercut the other guys a fair amount to move the thing through your store. That's another thing you have to think about - how long do you want that book hanging around your house taking up space? If it's only 2 or 3 books, maybe that's not an issue; if it's 2 or 3 hundred books, you may be more motivated.
Lastly, one really important thing to know is – if you encounter problems while you are trying to list a book, Seller Central has an amazing support called “Seller Services” Call or email them if you have questions. Amazon really wants you to succeed as a seller, and they are full of great information and can explain a lot of things. When you make money, they make money. Just be prepared to hold for a little bit when you call.
So, the next time you get the itch to go yard-saleing, thrifting, or antiquing, you know where to look to possibly pick up some extra cash while you’re having fun. Even if you don't find anything to sell, it will at least be a good excuse to go.