How to Make the Most Money Selling Your Used Textbooks

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Textbooks can be a crippling expense for college students. The average student spends up to $1,200 each year on textbooks and supplies. The high prices prevent some students from buying the books for their courses. This is according to the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group in its survey, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market,” which polled about 2,000 college students on 156 campuses in 33 states.

Comparison shopping pays

If you have been lugging your textbooks to your campus bookstore to sell at the end of each term without checking what you could get elsewhere, you may be leaving money on the table. Not that you shouldn’t check with your local bookstore. You should. But look at the other options, too.

Why bother with comparison shopping? CampusShift, an Internet textbook marketplace, compared buyers’ offers for 50 top textbooks and found offers varied as much as $86.63 between the lowest and highest.

An article at DailyFinance underscores the money to be gained by comparison shopping: Writer Kyle Taylor searched online for prices for an economics textbook and found a difference of $50 between the highest and lowest offers: “On BookScouter, the highest offer came from RentText at $91.55, and the lowest offer was eTextShop at $41.25.”

Before we dive right into the business of selling your textbooks, here are a few more things to know:

Sell ’em while they’re hot

For the best return, sell textbooks shortly before the start of the next school term. “Mnerd,” a LifeHacker reader, offers this advice:

List quickly after you are done with the course. The longer you wait, the greater the likelihood you’ll forget, the book will get damage, and even waiting a semester may mean that your edition will be out of date.

Find the ISBN

Identifying books by their International Standard Book Number helps make selling textbooks quick and easy. Every book published since the late 1960s has an ISBN. It’s on the back corner of the book typically with the price and barcode. If the ISBN isn’t easy to find, enter the book’s title or author into the search window at ISBN Search.

Guard your books’ condition

The condition of a used book is important to its price. Next time you buy textbooks, follow Lifehacker’s steps for protecting textbooks from damage, including sealing the edges (or the entire book) with easily removed painters’ tape and using sticky notes instead of underlining.

Tell it straight

When selling books, you might feel inclined to overlook some flaws in describing their condition. But being less than honest just means you could run into trouble collecting payment. Save the bother and just tell it like it is.

Read the rules

Each market, whether a bookseller or large general marketplace like eBay, has its own rules. Avoid problems and disappointment by reading policies and FAQs at each. Always look at the policy on the condition of books a company will buy. Cash4Books’ describes, for example, problems for which it will reject or might reject a book.

3 types of marketplaces

The markets for selling used textbooks fall into three types:

1. Campus

On and near campus you have access to other students in the market for the books you’re selling. Some schools hold textbook exchanges or sales. You may advertise your books for sale in the campus newspaper, on your school’s website, in the city’s newspaper or on bulletin boards in stores, college buildings or residences on or near campus. Also, check prices at the traditional source for buying and selling textbooks, the campus bookstore.

2. General markets

Large, general online marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist, Barnes & Noble and Amazon Marketplace let you sell textbooks directly to a larger universe of buyers. ValoreBooks, a textbook selling and comparison site, offers an illustrated guide to selling textbooks, including how, if you are using a general marketplace, to photograph your books, write a listing, communicate with buyers, pack and ship.

The guide includes separate sections explaining how to sell textbooks:

When selling books in a general marketplace, think about your pricing strategy. The first chapter of ValoreBooks’ guide says:

When listing your books for sale, setting your prices lower than average will decrease your revenue, but may also increase the chances of your book being sold. Alternatively, setting a higher-than-average price can be appropriate based on the quality of your textbooks and any bonus materials that are included.

3. Online textbook buyers

Some 50 online retailers offer money for used textbooks, Kiplinger says. Fortunately, you don’t have to deal directly with each of them because online comparison sites do the work for you. Just type your book’s 10-or 13-digit ISBN into a search tool at one of the many book price-comparison sites (we list a number of them below). You’ll instantly receive a list of buyers, the prices they’re offering for your book and links to their sites.

You can compare offers for the book and choose the top price. Look for sites that show users’ ratings for buyers so you can select buyers with the best combination of high price and high ratings.

Buyers often offer free shipping by providing a prepaid shipping label. Some have smartphone apps that can include barcode readers allowing you to scan your books into their search engines.

Online price search engines

Here are a few of the online markets with search tools that give you access to prices and offers for books and links to the buyers:

  • is the textbook arm of Bookscouter, a site that helps sellers find prices and buyers for all types of books.
  • ValoreBookssearch feature lets you load numerous ISBNs into the search window at once (insert a comma between them) so you can avoid the tedium of pricing books one at a time.
  • CampusShift lets you search prices and link to book buyers; it also hosts Campus Classifieds, an online marketplace for students to buy and sell books directly with each other.

Textbook buyers

These are straight-up buyers of textbooks:

  • buys and sells used texts. You can get (less) cash or (more) in-store credit for your books. Writes Daily Finance:

When you visit eCampus‘ website and click into its Sell Textbooks section, you’ll see how much they’ve paid to book resellers in the past 72 hours — $6,653, when I last checked.

eCampus hosts another marketplace for directly buying and selling texts.

  • TextbookRush, which buys textbooks, claims (here) to have purchased a million titles.

Once you’ve wrung the learning out of these books, we hope these tips will help you wring out a bit of cash as well. Do you have tips to share on selling textbooks or otherwise generating cash in college? Share them in comments below, or on our Facebook page.

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