Sell Used Books: Strange Ways to Make Money

Ah, but this isn’t strange, you say. Of course when I’m done with a book I’ll sell it on Amazon or eBay. But what if you could sell books you got for free, or that you paid only pennies for? Then you would make nothing but profit. If you want to sell used books, you don’t want to pay a lot to get the stock you’re going to sell. If you’re a big reader to start with and you buy a lot of books anyway, your personal stash is a good place to start, but those books likely cost you a fair amount of money.

The trick to making money selling used books is to know where to find books for free, or nearly so. Many people run entire used book stores on inventory that they got for free or for pennies. (I know because they plow me down every year at the annual library book sale in their hurry to get the cheap books). If a whole store can be run that way then you, too, can certainly make a little extra money selling used books. Here are some places where you can score cheap or free books.

Books family and friends no longer want

If you have friends and family that discard a lot of books, ask if you can have them. They’ll probably give them to you just to keep from having to dispose of them themselves.

Abandoned books in public places

Once you start looking for books, you’ll be surprised how many you find abandoned in hotel drawers or the seat pockets of airplanes. I’ve even found books just left on top of a trash can in the mall or outside the doctor’s office. Clearly someone was finished with it, but didn’t have the heart to toss it so they abandoned it hoping someone else would want it.

Yard sales

You’ll likely have to pay for any books you find at a yard sale, but the cost will be pennies compared to buying new. You may also get freebies at yard sales, as some sellers will toss books into a box labeled “free” just to get rid of them or as attention getters. Yard sales are great for scoring children’s books.

Estate sales

Books are often a feature of estate sales. While some may be collectible and thus not cheap, others may be very cheap. If the deceased was a big reader, you might find the estate selling the whole lot for just a few bucks rather than trying to sell individual titles.

Book sales

Many library systems have book sales to get rid of old books to make room for new ones. Very often the last day of these sales sees paperbacks going for $0.10 to $0.25 and hardbacks for $1.00 or less. At our sale, the last day has all you can cram into a box for $5 and all you can cram into a bag for $2. If you get there early on the last day you can find some good quality books going cheap.

Discount shelf at used bookstores

Some used bookstores keep a discount shelf where everything on the rack is a quarter or fifty cents. It’s often found outside and payment is usually on the honor system, as the rack stays out overnight. Always pay for anything you take, but you can get some cheap books this way. I’ve seen set ups like this in airports, too.

College dumpsters

It never fails that at the end of the term, there are always some students too lazy or hurried to sell their books back to the bookstore. Many are just dumped in the dumpster (along with a whole lot of other stuff you can sell like desks, electronics, CD’s/DVD’s. etc.). A little dumpster diving during the last days of the term can net you some very valuable textbooks for free.

Book swap box at the library

Many libraries encourage people to drop off books they no longer want into a communal swap bin. You can take what you want for free. If you do this, though, it would be nice if you “paid back” the system by depositing anything you can’t sell into that bin rather than just taking and not giving.

Thrift and charity stores

Goodwill, thrift shops, Salvation Army stores, and the like all sell books. Sometimes these are priced on the high side, but you can sometimes score deals, too. It’s worth a look.


Some publishers will send out advance copies of books to people who sign up and agree to review them. While many go to professional reviewers, some publishers do use Joe Public for reviews. Sometimes these books are marked “ARC'” or “Advanced Reader Copy” and cannot technically be resold. Sometimes, however, you get an actual market-ready copy of the book. Visit publisher’s websites to see if they’re recruiting readers and how you get books. (Many publishers that do this do so on a lottery system, so you might not get something every time, but it usually costs nothing to sign up).

Book of the month clubs

Sometimes you can join a book of the month type club and get a lot of free books. Some don’t require you to make any additional purchases, so the introductory books really are free. If you do have to make additional purchases, sometimes that number is so low (like only buy one more book), that the introductory books only cost you a few pennies. If you can find a club with membership terms that make it favorable to you, and you can see yourself fulfilling those terms, you can get some good inventory to sell.

There are lots of ways to get free or low cost books to resell. You just have to be a little creative. Once you’ve scored your inventory, you can sell them through, eBay, Craigslist, various web-based used bookstores, or even to a good, physical used bookstore that pays well. Do your research and figure out where you’re likely to get the most money for what you have.

You won’t get rich doing this, but it can provide a nice little side income. The best money is made on textbooks, anything out of print or hard to find, and books in pristine condition. However, there is a market for almost everything so gather what you can. Anything you can’t sell can be donated to your local library, Goodwill, or other charitable organizations for a tax deduction. It’s not “making money,” but it still saves you money come tax time.

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6 Responses to Sell Used Books: Strange Ways to Make Money

  1. Annie Jones says:

    If there a lot of books at a garage sale, you can ask if they will discount their prices if you buy all of them. I did this once; I spent $100 on a lot of about 350 books (all fairly current novels, no more than a few years old). I grouped them into complete sets and series where I could and sold the rest as partial sets or as individual books. I sold them on eBay and for more than $500 ($400+ in profit).

    I had kept out just a few that I wanted to read myself, then also sold those when I was finished.

    The few that didn’t sell (less than a dozen) were donated to a thrift store.

  2. Julie Anna says:

    HI Jennifer,

    Terrific article. Yes, you can make just a little money selling used books or a bunch of money. Another tip is to buy up yard sale left overs and turn the books into your local book selling store for store credit. Then you can peruse their shelves for valuable books. Most brick and mortar sellers have no idea how much some books sell for online. Even if you did have to pay $4 for a book that sells for $40 it’s a great ROI. I’ll trade $4 for $40 all day long. :) Thanks for the tips!

  3. snshijuptr says:

    It is difficult to sell most paperbacks on I have sold most types of books on there and after paying for envelopes and media mail, I made <$1 a book. Most paperbacks are never purchased. The ones that work are textbooks, hard covers, and hobby books (think dungeons and dragons). I rarely sold even very popular paperbacks.

  4. athenabyron75 says:

    These are great ideas, especially the ones about joining a book club and reselling the books. I did this several times. The big sellers are new cookbooks and self-help/diet books.

  5. Rich says:

    The key is not only cost but time. If you get a whole bunch of books for free but they are worth very little and it takes a ton of time you will make money but you have to ask your self “was it worth it?”

  6. Aaron Truez says:

    Also, watch for the used bookstores that will be going out of business in the next year or two. They will be a great source of cheap books, just remember to stock up when you have the opportunity!

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