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Monday, December 17, 2007

What to do with old textbooks

Over on College of Cash, there was an article about whether or not to sell your college textbooks back to the school bookstore. The article was linked to from the most recent Carnival of Personal Finance (which I highly recommend), so I’m sure it’s getting a number of hits.

I agree with some of the advice and disagree with some of the advice. In general, I do recommend selling any books that you don’t think you will ever use again, unless it was a book you truly enjoyed. I sold almost all of my law school textbooks. I didn’t sell all of my undergraduate books, but I have an English degree, so many of the books were short novels that I enjoyed and wanted to read again. Besides, I had made so many notes in them that the most I could get for any of them was around a quarter. Not really worth it in my mind.

Where the author and I disagree is on how to sell the books. The author mentions getting books for cheap on Amazon, and I am guessing that this means the books were bought used through Amazon’s resale service. Then, the author suggests selling the books back to the school’s bookstore. Why not resell the books on Amazon or on half.com?

One quick answer to this would be that if you sell the books to the bookstore, it is instant cash. At both my undergrad and my law school, you could take the books to the bookstore, they would look up how much they could give you, and then you were handed a stack of cash. That was a very satisfying feeling.

But I quickly discovered that I could make significantly more money by selling the books online. My tactic was always to look at what the books were selling for and try to list mine at the lowest price. If I thought the lowest price listed was completely unreasonable, I would bump my price up, but for the most part, I was quite content to list my book for 50 cents below the lowest listed price.

And inevitably, the books were snapped up. Yes, I had to take them to the post office for mailing. And that is a hassle for a lot of people.

I prefer to sell on half.com. Why? Their fees are lower, meaning that at the end of the day, I take home a bigger percentage of the sell price. Both sites do provide you with shipping costs and from my experience, the money given for shipping costs has always been slightly more than the actual cost to mail the books. That can account for packaging costs, but most times, a book can either be wrapped in an old paper bag or placed in a manila envelope. I don’t think I have ever purchased any special materials to ship a book.

I think it all depends on what is important to you. And how much money the bookstore is willing to offer – it never hurts to go in and ask them what they will give you for your books. Sometimes the price is right, but you don’t have to say yes if the price they quote you is too low.

My advice, however, is to check out online sales. I even managed to unload a few old college texts this past summer. I listed them for very cheap, and even though they were old versions, people were willing to buy to save money. The money doesn’t roll in quite as quickly, but usually within three months, your books will have sold and you will have made more money back from the books than you would have by selling to the bookstore.

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