Why selling textbooks online sucks

by Aaron Hurd, CEO and Co-Founder at Flamingo

This year you might be tempted to sell your textbooks online. After all, the prices on eBay and Amazon are more than your bookstore gives you, so why not sell your textbook there and keep all of your money?

Here’s a piece of advice from a former professional reseller: Selling online sucks. Don’t do it.

You pay a hefty price to sell online… and it’s much more than you think.

If you sell on Amazon, you pay a 15% referral fee to sell your book, plus a $1 per-item fee. You can choose to ship the item yourself or use a fulfillment service like Fulfilled by Amazon. In either case, you will end up paying at least a few dollars for boxing and shipping your books. Then you have to factor in the cost of returns, which from my experience and what I’ve read online, can typically be 10%. Add it all up and you’re paying $30 to sell a $100 textbook online. Already reselling sounds like a bad deal, but it gets worse...

Returns are almost always resolved in the customer’s favor.

When I was running my reselling business, I sold cameras on Amazon. I sold maybe two cameras before I received the inevitable return email. My heart sank. I knew that a camera that sold for $500 new was going to be returned to me and that I would have to sell it as an “open box” model for $300, at which point I was losing money. What happened next was worse. Much worse.

After almost a month of waiting for the customer to ship the camera back to Amazon, and then for Amazon to ship the camera back to me, I opened the box to find that the customer had swapped my new camera for his old, broken camera. That's right. The customer took my new DSLR camera and put his broken $50 point-and-shoot in the box.

After weeks of trying in vain to work with Amazon and get them to charge the customer for his fraudulent return, I learned the hard truth: In practice, almost all return disputes are resolved in the customer’s favor and I was out $500.

You are competing with dishonest sellers.

Have you ever bought a book online only to receive a “like new” book looked like it was used during football practice... or maybe you received an "international edition" by surprise? You’re not alone. When you sell online, you are competing against professional sellers who sell knockoff textbooks, sellers who will list damaged books as “like new”, and people selling international editions. These people can and do price aggressively, and you will be competing with these sellers on price. The end effect? Your book will either go unsold or you're going to sell it for a lot less than you expect.

What to do?

If high costs, fraudulent returns, and dishonest sellers aren't enough to show you how selling online is often a bad deal... well, best of luck.

If you want a better option, look locally to your campus bookstore. Often you can walk in and get cash for your book immediately, and if your bookstore knows they are using your book next semester, you will generally get a fair price. If you don't need cash immediately, try selling your book on a marketplace like Flamingo. You can sell to another student on your campus for free and receive buyback offers from your local bookstore on your phone.

Aaron Hurd is the CEO and co-founder of Flamingo, a marketplace app that enables students to save money on textbooks and empowers bookstores to return more money to students through buyback programs, source more used books, and reduce costs for the store and students.