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 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.