6 Tips for Selecting Books for Resale on Amazon FBA

You dug through the bin or to the back of the shelf, and you spotted it there – boom! Score – a book find to make your week and bring you lots of cash via Amazon FBA. Your scouting app tells you you’ll make $$$ if you sell it. Should you buy it?

It depends. Here’s my process for evaluating whether I should take a book home – or whether it should go back on the shelf. I should add that I typically sell books in the $15-$250 range. I have very little experience with selling rare or antiquarian books.

1. What is the current selling value/rank of the book? Scan the book with your scouting application, like Amazon’s Seller App, Profit Bandit, Scoutify, Neatoscan, or ASellerTool. I set my shipping cost to 0.75 cents/pound to account for shipping fees. Ask yourself the following:

  • Will I make enough profit from this book, considering the buy cost? Your app should tell you profit amount. Make sure you’ve entered the buy cost or mentally subtracted it from the profit number to come up with your overall profit. I personally don’t pick up a book unless I expect to sell for $9.95 or more.
  • What is the lowest Merchant Fulfilled price? Is the lowest Merchant Fulfilled price $0.49 or above?

In an interview on Cynthia Stine’s blog, Nathan Holmquist (BooktotheFuture.com) said he generally limits his choices to books selling for $0.49 or higher Merchant Fulfilled. This one comment has TOTALLY CHANGED how I select books. I used to choose books that APPEARED to have no Amazon FBA sellers (A good situation if you sell books FBA). However, I’d get home, prep my books for shipping, and realize there were a ton of FBA sellers selling the book at $4.00 shipped (meaning: no real profit). My listing for $9.95 would be buried on the 2nd or 3rd page of Used results. Not good. This is the result of an issue with the Amazon selling interface, and cannot be helped. The only way around this is to use the Amazon Seller app, which I find clunky. I sometimes use it to double check results, but I don’t like it and it is not database driven, so it is slow.

See the picture above? Even though it says 0.00 profit, I might be tempted to pick up a copy because the rank is good and it appears from the returned data that there are no FBA sellers. I might think: Sweet, then I can be the only FBA seller! But notice that the lowest MF price is $0.01. And in fact, when you check this ISBN on Amazon, you see that there are many FBA sellers priced from $6.50 to $7.99 on the first page – a pretty slim margin. Using this trick has saved me a lot in buying unprofitable inventory!

Here’s another screen capture. In this case, note that the lowest MF price is $4.77, and there are FBA offers listed of at least $9.95. Amazon itself is selling for $10.71. You could price at $9.95 and make your profit back quickly or wait at $12.95 or $14.95 and just wait for AZ to go out of stock and you’ll sell.

  • What is the book’s sales rank? There are many resources that explain selling rank of books. Some people say they only sell below 200,000 rank; others say 10 million. I sell plenty of long-tail books every week, so I am willing to gamble a bit. I generally stick to books 4 million and below. If the profit margin on the book is large, I may go up to 8 million. If the book is very bulky, I want a lower rank.

If yes to the above two questions and you are satisfied with the sales rank, then proceed.

2. Page through the book. Is there a lot of handwriting, underlining, highlighting? You can sell books in Acceptable condition, but unless it’s a textbook, I usually leave it on the shelf if there is more than 5 pages with marks. Unless it’s academic (something students would read), I put it back. Just personal preference. I don’t believe Amazon buyers read all that carefully and I do not want to offer myself up for bad feedback if someone buys a book in Acceptable condition and they thought they were getting Very Good.

3. You gotta sniff it. Hold that sucker up to your nose, and take a big whiff. It should not smell like cigarette smoke, mold, must, or pee. (Yes, that actually happened. Gross. I brought it home, couldn’t ID the smell right away, and took a big whiff. And almost puked.) Some booksellers say that you can put a book out in the sunlight for a few hours to get rid of smells. Personally, I have tried this with poor results. It didn’t work.

4. Check the binding. It’s easy to miss the binding quality, especially in a hectic buying situation like at a library book sale, but check  the binding of the book. If it is cracked or slightly loose, I put it back and move on to the next selection. If the entire book feels brittle – like it’s not cracked but feels like it might if it’s bumped or opened wide – I pass and move along.

5. Look for an autograph. I don’t sell autographed copies on Amazon; I sell them on Ebay. The value of an autographed book really depends on the book, the popularity or literary importance of the author, whether they’re dead or alive, etc. I do research on autographed book copies by going to Ebay and searching “book + autograph” and choosing Price: Highest Plus Shipping in Sold listings. This will give you a feel for authors whose autographed books are highly sought after. If you find an autograph that appears valuable, you may need to have it authenticated. (I know nothing about that process, though if you do, please comment below!)

6. Does the book have value outside Amazon? If the book seems uniquely vintage, there may be a market for selling it on Etsy. If the book is cheap enough and there are a lot of other related books you could buy (many books by the same author, a lot of quilting books, etc.), you could sell as a lot on Ebay, rather than individually on Amazon.

What are your tips for choosing books to resell?