How to Make Money Buying and Selling Textbooks

Buying textbooks is expensive. Selling textbooks back can be an exercise in frustration. You can, however, actually make a few bucks in the process, if you're careful and plan ahead.


  1. Image titled Find an Annual Proxy Statement Step 7
    Do your homework first. You need to know the ISBN, title, author, and edition number for each book you need for classes. You can get this from your syllabus, or from your campus bookstore. Some bookstores have tried to disallow taking notes in the store (!) so be discreet or just be bold. Better information will yield better results. For the majority of expensive textbooks, you want to compare prices, buy the official edition, and buy it as early as possible. You can compare prices on textbooks in a number of places. The specific place is not that important, as the final buying decisions will come from you.
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    Choose your battles. Sometimes you just aren't going to be buying a book that is a good candidate to make money on, so just get it cheap, cheap, cheap. An example would be something like Moby Dick-- there are a million editions, and chances are you'll be better off getting a $1 copy than trying to make money.
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    Buy smart, buy quality, buy early. This is 90% of the battle. For each book, the lowest price will normally be in the marketplace areas of Abebooks, Amazon, or Half, but it's smart to check first. Once you have a couple of places to check, look at the individual book listings. You are looking for words like 'economy', 'softcover', 'international', etc. You do not want these books. You want the actual ISBN you are looking for, and you should accept nothing less. Read the descriptions carefully, and follow up any purchase with an email to the seller making your expectation of the authentic book clear. 'Fake' listings for less valuable paper editions are annoying, but they are also what allow you to make a few bucks buying and selling books. They depress the listing prices for student sellers that don't have the time to research the issue in depth. So there will normally be multiple copies of the real book, but with prices more in line with softcover editions. This all makes buying early even more important. Not only are prices better if you buy long before the term starts, but you may have to return a book if the seller is less scrupulous. So look for your actual ISBN, in the best condition (very good or better) that is significantly discounted off of the new price. You're looking for books in the 35% of new price range. They are out there. Get it ordered, send out a confirmation to avoid getting softcover editions, and get on to your next book.
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    Take care of your books. You want to be able to sell your book in very good or better condition. Avoid dropping, writing in, highlighting, or otherwise damaging your books. Keep the notes separate, since you won't be keeping the book anyway. If you can keep the covers somewhat glossy you're doing a good job. Often times you can sell books you purchased as 'very good' as 'like new'.
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    Sell to a student, when they need it. Don't expect to sell your book a week into a new term. Many times you will need to leave your book listed through the next term so it will be in place before a new term starts. So just plan for that. You should list your book for sale on Amazon and Half, they are both free and pay pretty quickly. You might also try Craigslist as well, although you'll have to deal with accepting a payment yourself. When you list your book, make it very clear you are selling the original, hardcover, US edition textbook with the ISBN as displayed. Price it at a premium, but try to be cheap enough so that your book appears on the main display page (usually 5 books at each condition). As a quick check, run a buyback price comparison to make sure you aren't wasting your time selling yourself. Some books you may be able to sell immediately for more than you bought it for. You can check multiple buyback vendors, but chances are, a marketplace is the best bet.
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    Learn and improve your process. If you're just starting school, you've got 15-20 terms to do this. There are a number of things that will get easier as you get familiar with the process and the language of book listings. So if you're patient, if you're early, and if you're careful, I do believe you can finish school making money on your books instead of spending it.


  • Check online to find book prices for free. Compare with the current selling price and easily know what you can expect from the books you own.
  • If your class is using an old edition, consider buying the newest. Older editions are more difficult to sell at premium prices.
  • If your class is using a custom edition, consider buying the general edition. Many custom editions are updated often, are campus-specific, and are harder to sell to the smaller pool of students.
  • Buy your books with a card like a PayPal debit that gives you cash back. Every percent counts.


  • Don't get impatient. You will not get the best price selling in the middle of a term. If you can't let your cash sit long enough to sell properly, you may not want to try this.

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Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College