Make A Profit Selling Your Textbooks

Written by

Capitalist extraordinaire Zach van Schouwen shows you how.

Textbook buyback is probably the most depressing time of the year. Ten minutes after exams end, a human wave seems to descend on the bookstore, hoping to get $18 back on their $70 purchase. On a good day. The more inventive resort to taped up flyers across campus, hoping against hope that someone passing through some dimly-lit stairwell in the basement of Lewisohn will really need to buy “Proto-feminism in 18th Century East Asian Critique.” Or,
worse yet, hoping for a stranger to pass through your dimly-lit Facebook profile.

So, the options are dismal. But I made a profit on my textbooks this semester.

How is this possible? It barely is. The first step was to get four of the books from the CU, Barnard, and city library systems. (All three.) Sounds like a waste of time, but it’s probably worth spending two hours of your life on the train to the Jamaica branch if it saves you $150. The others I scavenged off the Internet, checking maybe a dozen used-book sites and buying dirt-cheap a couple months in advance.

At the end of the term, I sold them back to the web, but set the prices near the high end of the spectrum and they sold anyway. My Graph Theory textbook fetched $78 on a site I won’t name to avoid sounding like an ad (it rhymes with Calf.com). All this after the bookstore had made me wait in line for twenty-five minutes (while six or so people sat behind the counter, drinking coffee and performing various personal hygiene tasks) offered me $11. Other books fared similarly.

The Internet is a big free market economy, and the bookstore is Uncle Pennybags. An incompetent, overpriced monopolist that thrives on information asymmetry and your inability to sell books anywhere else—in a top hat. And he knows that having a cashier hand you a stack of singles still feels pretty satisfying. So here’s a hint: Media Mail, even to the West Coast, is only $3. It’s just a small gift, from globalization to you.



  1. creamy  

    As your avid readers, we thank you for the countless hours of procrastination you provide. However, there has been a recent trend of lameness infiltrating the gloried language of Bwog, so we must inform you that you are banned from using the c.r.e.a.m tag for two weeks.

    If this is not respected, we will be forced take legal action.

  2. EAL  

    Anyone selling the textbooks at the bookstore is a complete sucker. Get an account on textbooks.com or half.com and you can sell them for much higher prices. That's where the real money is.

  3. N.B  

    My problem has been buying older editions of textbooks. For the few science classes I've taken, I've saved a bit of money buy buying older versions on rhymes-with-calf-dot-com and other sites. But selling them back is impossible, since most people aren't like me. So now, I have a drawer filled with books I will never look at again.

  4. facetious  

    The title of the article raised my hopes that i might learn how to make a profit on textbooks. Going to jamaica beach or getting books out of libraries has nothing to do with making profits (unless you steal them, but that has more to do with theft). Sure it saves you money, but it doesn't make you any.

    making money can be down to two steps:
    - by books cheaply off the internet
    - sell them later at higher prices. Very hard to do, i would imagine, and this article certainly doesn't tell me how.

    • ZvS

      Truly! The point is that since you're unlikely to make a profit on a large number of books, you can minimize your risk by paying for as few books as possible in the first place.

      Also important: on half.com and company, you can do well by selling early and setting prices high, because there's no auction deadline -- you just wait until somebody's willing to pay the price you set... and, as long as it's well under the cost of a new book, inventory is so limited that they almost always will.

  5. T.A.  

    Be a TA. Get free textbooks and sell them. Hallelujah!

  6. the way

    to make money on textbooks is as follows. wade through the piles of books left over during move out. any can be sold back to the bookstore. i once got 75 books for a language book that someone left after moving out. that's where the money is to be had. if you really coordinate the effort, you could probably net yourself a thousand bucks with a day or two worth of work.

  7. what happens when  

    you can't afford all your textbooks?

    You're in a bind!

  8. alexw  


  9. wtf  

    does c.r.e.a.m. even mean???

  10. Apexrs  

    Buy international editions. They are not that hard to find, especially for the sciences, and if you get a really good deal, you can sell them, make a good profit, and benefit someone else in the process.

  11. lame  

    cash rules? that's an odd anthropomorphism in an even odder acronym.

  12. CC'12


  13. zach!

    you are as good a writer as you are a tech wiz. keep it up!

  14. you know that...  

    you can get the NYPL to send materials straight to the local morningside branch. it may take a few days, but saves a lot of pointless travel time. great way to get free music too...

  15. Charles Alexander

    The books are usually cheaper in the middle/end of the semester, and increase in the beginning... so you can make a bit of profit there...

  16. Hmm  

    Is there any way to sell textbook futures? Can you short a textbook, I wonder? (Jokes aside, I think that's what a lot of companies [cough, Alibris, cough] with really slow delivery times are pretty much trying to do).

  17. green

    eliminate paper, invest in electronic textbooks. i love google books...if I'm doing a paper on...let's say the use of the color green in so and so's such and such novel, then i pull up the book and type in green, and it highlights every instance that word is mentioned in such and such novel.

  18. BBones

    You can always buy cheap textbooks from www.CheapestTextbooks.com they price comparison.

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