A Overview of My Online Book Selling Business

by | May 11, 2014 | 0 comments

Today I’m going to take you guys back a few years to my college days for one of my first “real” businesses.  This business was selling used books on Amazon.  I operated the business for nearly 2 years, during which time it supported me financially while I received my undergraduate degree.

How I Got Started

I started selling books during my junior year of college.  Like most college students, I was always looking for ways to make money, and I preferred not to trade my extra time for a minimum wage job around town.

My cousin Kip was aware of this and mentioned how his friend made money selling used books on Amazon.  This was back in 2004-2005 time-frame and Amazon was big, but nowhere near what is today.  Intrigued, I contacted his friend an chatted about his business.  After getting an overview of how he was operating his business, I figured that I would give it a shot.

The Process

There were 5 basic steps to his book selling process.  Below I will walk through each step of this process.

Purchase Used Books

The first step was building an inventory of used books to be able to sell.  If you think of where you can purchase used books locally, what pops into your head?

Goodwill Store


That’s right, thift stores.  Most towns have at least one, and larger cities often have multiple.  These stores typically have shelves upon shelves of books that have been donated to them.  When I began purchasing books, most books were priced from $0.99-$2.99.

Sell Books on Amazon from Thrift Stores

My first trip out was to a few local thrift stores in my town, but their selection of books was limited.  So I went online and did a search on Google Maps.  I was attending college at Oswego State and Syracuse was the nearest city, so I did the following search:

“thrift stores near syracuse ny”

What I found was that there was a lot of thrift stores around Syracuse.

Sell Used Books Online - Finding Thrift Stores

So the next week I picked a few and took a day trip.  These stores had a TON of books.

So I spent the next few hours selecting books to sell.  How did I know which books were worth buying and would sell for a profit on Amazon?  And that is the key to this business.

Back in 2004-2005 we did not have the smart phones and apps that we had now.  Back then my cell phone looked like the one below and did not have internet.

Sell Used Books Online

I paid $9.95 to add mobile internet and spent another $9.95/month for an app called ScoutPal.  What ScoutPal allowed me to do was type in the ISBN number (a unique number for each book) into Amazon and it would return the current number of books selling and the current price that each book was selling for.  So I would go through each book and type the ISBN number into ScoutPal.  My target spread was $5.  So as long as the book was selling for $5 more on Amazon that I could purchase it for, I would buy it.

After a few hours and a few stores, I would typically come away with $150-$300 worth of books per trip.

Clean the Books

Books that were donated to thrift stores and sat on the shelves could range from brand new to dirt/bent/torn.  They also often has price sticker right on the book itself, so it was important to try and clean up the books the best that I could.  I found this amazing product called “Goo Gone“.  It cleaned most first/stickers off of the books and had a nice orange fragrance.

List Them on Amazon

Amazon allows you to individually list books on Amazon for sale, which is how I started.  Over time, I realized that you could list multiples items on Amazon at once by uploading a spreadsheet.  So I created a spreadsheet and added all books to the sheet, including the required items such as condition and price.  For most books I would list them 1 cent less than the cheapest book available.  This meant that I often would sell the books within the week.  On occasion if a book was rare and there were only a few copies, I could list the book for several hundred dollars.

Sales While I Sleep

Once the books were listed, sales were emailed to me.  I used Gmail to receive, filter and label these email as “Sold – Need to be Shipped”.  That way I could easily see what books were sold each day.

Package the Books

Once a day (in the morning) I would login to my email and see what books sold.  Amazon provided a label for each sale, so I printed the label and taped it to the envelope.  I purchased generic bubble envelopes to send the books.  By purchasing in bulk these were cheap.  Once the books were packaged, I would change the label in Gmail to “Sold – Shipped”.  This way  I would no longer see them as needing to be shipped.

Ship the Books

On my way to class I would swing by the post office and ship the books.  This typically only took 15 minutes a day.

Why I Closed the Business

I closed the business once I graduated from college.  Once we graduated we moved into our own apartment in Rochester.  We did not have a lot of space and we were both starting our professional jobs, so we decided that it was no longer worth it to continue the business.

I had a lot of fun with this business.  It generated several hundred dollars a week in profit for < 10 hours of work.  I also was able to purchase and keep several books that I wanted to read for very cheap.  If you would like to make a few hundred extra dollars a week and enjoy checking out different thrift stores, I would recommend trying out a business like this.