4 Tips to Turn Textbooks Into Cash

E-textbooks have been threatening to win the hearts and wallets of college students for years, but a recent survey from the National Association of College Stores shows three-quarters of college students are sticking with traditional textbooks.

There’s plenty of advice out there on buying textbooks cheaply, but not as much on how to sell them for as much as possible. So if you (or a family member) have recovered from finals week and want to get rid of that 100-pound stack of textbooks, here’s how to turn them into cash…

1. Avoid e-books and rentals

Since most college students are sticking to the printed page, let’s forget about e-textbooks for the moment. What about renting textbooks instead of buying them?

While textbook rental site Chegg claims it can save you “up to $400 a year” by renting from them, I found I could save more by buying books used and then selling them online before the next edition comes out. For example, when I looked around for the best place to buy my inorganic chemistry textbook, I found Chegg sells it for:

  • $165.49 new
  • $155.49 used
  • $117.99 as an e-book
  • $50.99 for a rental copy

But I bought the same book used on Amazon for $75 – and when I was ready to sell it, one bookstore near my campus offered me $72 for my copy. Final price: $3 for a textbook!

You won’t always break even like that, but you can almost always save more by buying and selling than by renting. E-books are probably the worst option, since they’re not much cheaper than used copies – and they expire after several months, so you can’t sell them when you’re done.

2. Check local bookstores

Most bookstores around college campuses have textbook-buyback programs, but you may find the best deals beyond campus. The bookstore on my campus is notorious for marking up textbook prices – my chemistry book would’ve cost me about $175 there.

Not surprisingly, their buyback program isn’t the best, either: They only offered me $54 for my chem book. But the independent bookstore directly across the street from campus offered me $10 more (which paid for dinner that night).

You can usually get more money for your books online, but you need the time and patience to list your books on sites like eBay or Craigslist and wait for bidders or buyers. While you might not get the best deal in a local store, as long as you have the newest edition, you’ll get cold cash fast.

On the other hand, if there’s a newer edition out, you might not get anything for your copy. Popular textbooks have new editions published all the time – one of my $250 textbooks went through three editions in the past four years, rendering my copy worthless to the major resellers. (You can get all 1,087 pages for close to a dollar.)

3. Check resellers’ websites

Online resellers like Amazon.com, Half.com, and Chegg – three of the biggest and best-known – also have textbook-buyback programs. They all have similar rules:

  • Look up how much your books are worth and compile a list.
  • Print out a label and packing slip.
  • Send the books to the company at their expense.
  • They either send you a check or credit your account, depending on the website and which payment method you choose.

The easiest way to search for books is by their 10-digit or 13-digit ISBN – the numbers next to the barcode, which identify the exact edition. You can just type up all of the ISBNs and copy/paste them into the companies’ search engines – but a website called BookScouter comes in handy for this.

BookScouter doesn’t buy and sell books. Instead, it searches about 40 websites when you submit an ISBN. Then it shows you a list of what each website is currently offering for your book.

This is probably the quickest way to find the best deal, since you don’t have to keep inputting the same info on different websites. BookScouter also gives brief summaries of each company’s buyback policies, like what payment methods are available and who pays for shipping. They also have an iPhone app and a mobile site for other phones.

Offers vary from one website to the next – and the differences can be pretty dramatic. For example, my chemistry book is worth only $2.30 at Moola4books.com, but Chegg will pay me $83.50 for it.

There are dozens of websites to choose from, but Half.com, Amazon.com, and Chegg are the Big Three. So let’s compare and contrast. Your results may vary…

Half.com

If you already have an eBay or Half.com account, all you have to do is visit the Instant Sale site and add all the books you want to sell to your account. You’ll see three payment options:

  1. Sell your books yourself, in which case Half.com acts as a listing service and middleman.
  2. Sell them to Half.com and accept store credit.
  3. Sell them to Half.com and receive a check or PayPal credit (which can be deposited into your checking account).

Cool: Decent trade-in prices, good selection of payment options, and if you choose a Half.com credit, you’ll get a higher offer (by about 15 percent).

But: If you opt for store credit, make sure you can buy something you need.

Amazon.com

You can either sell books yourself on Amazon, or Amazon will buy them from you. If you choose to sell them yourself, you’ll have to register as a “merchant,” which is free unless you sell more than 40 books per month.

If you sell them straight to Amazon, all you have to do is search for the book you own and check to see if there’s a “trade in” button on the listing page − it’ll be in the right-hand column under the “sell on Amazon” box. If there’s no such button, that means Amazon isn’t currently buying that book (or that edition).

Make sure you’re looking at the right editions, and make sure your copies are in good condition. If you like the offers, act quickly − because the price offered for each book can fluctuate frequently and dramatically.

For example, Amazon was willing to give me $152 for one textbook in my trade-in account – almost as much as I paid for it new. But two days later, the price had dropped to $72. A few days later, another book of mine was removed from my list altogether.

Cool: Some very good offers for used books.

But: They only offer an Amazon gift card in return for your trade-in.

Chegg

While Chegg emphasizes their rental and e-book business, they also buy textbooks. And they have some surprisingly good deals.

Cool: Some very competitive offers when accepting payment by check or PayPal, and by far some of the best offers when accepting Chegg credit.

But: Opting for the higher offer by accepting store credit won’t necessarily pay off in the end: Chegg’s used books tend to sell for a lot more than on the other sites.

4. Use your social networks (digital and analog)

When it comes to getting rid of books that are one edition too old, or that are too marked up or damaged to be worth anything to bookstore companies, Facebook can be useful.

Since outdated editions still work fine for many classes – some of the changes are minor and are probably made just to make a buck – I’ve sold them to friends through word-of-mouth and over Facebook. Don’t mass-spam people you don’t know through your school’s email system, though. That’s just obnoxious.

For tips on buying smart, pay attention to these 8 Smart Ways to Save on College Textbooks, and see if you can use these Places to Get Free or Cheap Textbooks.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,077 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.