Selling Books on the Internet

Selling books on the internet is an amazingly easy way to build your very own small business with little money and little risk.


First let me get one item out of the way right from the start – eBooks. If the mainstream media reports were to be believed you would think that starting a business that involves ‘real books’ doesn’t make sense since books are a dying breed, after all most books being sold now are digital or eBooks – aren’t they? While digital books are making headway they are not what I would call mainstream yet. I watched a video just yesterday where bestselling author Tim Ferriss says that Kindle sales of his book represent less than 2% of overall sales. Real books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. One other simple question you can ask yourself – ‘How many of my friends use a Kindle?” Probably not a lot. Books are easy to find, easy to ship, easy to store – the only key is finding out which books will be selling best on the internet. Often this is an easy question to answer. But before we get into what books will sell, let’s start with the mechanics of how to setup your business. I will omit tax and legal scenarios for you to look up as they will be different in each location/country. It should be inexpensive and easy to set up a small sole proprietorship business in your community.

selling books on the web
Book Sale

Before we go about selling books on the Internet we need to have a plan. Here’s my easy peasy 1-2-3 plan. Create some accounts – buy some books – organize your workstation/storage area. You can go out and buy a few books on how to set all this up; you’ll get a little more detail but in general the steps are simple and if you have questions – just fire away in the comments section below.

I think a key is to start out with a couple strategies. Yours may be different but here are my main thoughts. Sell very unique non-fiction books on all sorts of bizarre topics. Have them listed on as many sites as you can and don’t offer them at bargain basement prices. Better to sell 1 book at $40 than to sell 20 at $2 – unless you love packaging books and spending all day at the post office.

Your going to start by creating an account with The Art of Books. This is a site that will help control your inventory on all the other sites by maintaining a master list that automatically updates eBay, Amazon, Abe and all the rest. The service is inexpensive and as you business grows you’ll be very pleased that it was started with a strong foundation.

Next up – your 3 Amigos. You’ll setup accounts at the worlds top 3 online book selling sites. They bring in a ton of people with money to spend. You only need to jump on their coattails and go for a ride. Now keep in mind your expectations. I’m not for a second saying your going to get rich doing this. This will be a nice way to put an extra couple hundred in your pocket every month. If that starts to happen regularly then you can start to think  about pushing through to the next level. A quite comfortable living can be made but you first have to learn the ropes. OK – go set up your accounts at Amazon.com, eBay.com and Abe.com. Once you’ve sorted all that out then you’ll want to come back to AOB (the art of books) and put in the login info for those accounts. This way once you list that first book it will automatically pop up at these three site, nice eh? No reason to spend time at each site entering data. Just do it once and hit the ‘send’ button. Over time you can add a pile of other sites into your system for no extra cost and almost no extra work (just the account creation process). That being said you will sell 90% of your books at these 3 sites (most likely).

OK – you’re all setup online next up, go buy some good sellable books.

When you are selling books on the internet there is one thing that should be paramount, the condition of the book. Do not waste time buying anything that isn’t ‘nearly new’. You will save many headaches if you start with this principle. Quality will only help your business. Happy customers, good feedback and no returns. Time to head out on your book hunt. Here’s something I do. Create a book hunting guide. I use a nice day planner. What I do is scour the eBay completed listings looking only for non-fiction books that sold for over $30 and had more than 1 bid. This gives me a list of books that should sell. You won’t find these all the time but over the months as your guide gets thicker you’ll start to spot these books in the wild and when you do you’ll know that it’s ‘instant money’. An example of this that worked well for me was spotting Rubin Carter’s 16th round on a completed eBay listing. I made a note of it in my guide and have already found 3 of them in various places. 2 were in another bookshop selling for $10 each and another in an Op Shop for $1. These bad boys sold for over $80 each!

OK – start hunting. This is the process that I most enjoyed. You’ll want to visit local (or even out of town) thrift shops, church sales, garage sales and libraries if they have a sales rack. You’ll want to be looking for weird, off the wall, non fiction on just about any topic. Try to avoid common interests as they will be tough to sell. Stay away from sports books – they never sell. Keep looking over eBay’s completed items and you’ll get a feel for what to look for. I would also stay away from chess books – poker books however should do well. Some knitting books are like gold but many are garbage, proceed with caution. You’ll make a bunch of buying mistakes at the begining but each mistake is a learning opportunity. You’ll get better as each week passes.

Next step – take some of the gems you’ve found and start listing. Listing simply means to describe the book and choose a fair price. Look over other ‘listings’ at Abe.com to get a feel for how folks are describing their books for sale. You’ll notice right away that some sound like pros while others don’t describe the books much at all. I’ll leave it to you which camp you want to fall into. I’ll just mention that by starting out the right way you’ll develop some good habits and start some good trends. I know when I buy books I’ll often spend a couple extra dollars and buy a book from a seller that takes the time to accurately describe what he’s selling. It gives me confidence that I’ll receive a quality book. This also goes back to the earlier comment about only buying quality books. This will make them much easier to describe. It’s a lot easier to write down ‘crisp and clean throughout’ than to have to make a story about the various pencil marks and ripped edges.

So you’ve created accounts, scanned book listings on other sites, looked up what sells on eBay, searched for high quality oddball topic books (something like ‘Dangerous Wives and Sacred Sisters: high caste women in Nepal’ is a good example) and listed them. With the push of a button AOB will disperse the listings to the three Amigos. Mow wait for some emails to come in with orders or questions – it’s as easy as that.

A note on book storage. You’ll want to get some cheap shelving so that all of your books will be displayed and easy to find. Archive boxes are not a great solution (I tried that with a pile of numbered boxes – bad idea). Sort your books either by Title or Author. Don’t bother using sections as many books will be tricky to classify and even worse – hard to find once they have sold. There’s nothing worse than selling a book then not finding it. Keep them organized from the start.

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