UX Librarian: How To Sell Books, CDs, and DVDs on Amazon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How To Sell Books, CDs, and DVDs on Amazon

I started selling books and CDs online ten years ago when I realized that I had too many and that I needed to part with some of my collection to make room for newer items. It has taken me a long time to become good at selling online. I have also made a lot of mistakes along the way. But below, in cheat sheet form, is how to sell stuff on Amazon.

Open an Account

If you have never bought anything on Amazon you need to start an account. If you have bought on Amazon, you already have an account that you can use as your seller account. Go to Amazon.com to get started.

Start Small

Start with a small stack of books, CDs, or DVDs that you would like to sell. Using the ISBN, author, or title, search (on Amazon) for the item that you would like to sell on Amazon. Once you find the record for it, if you look to the right of the page you will see a small button that says, "Have one to sell?" Click on this button and follow the prompts for listing your item. (This part is just like Level One cataloguing. You cannot create a new record on Amazon--you have to attach it to a record that already exists.)


Take some time to examine each item so that you can accurately assess the condition of your book, CD, or DVD. Does the book have a dust jacket? Include a description of the condition of the dust jacket ("mild shelf wear", "a few small rips", "like mint"). How is the binding of the book? Are all the pages intact? Has someone written their name or notes in the book? Does your book info match up to the Amazon book info? If it has a different copyright or printing date, you want to include that. Does the book smell funny? Has it been kept in a smoke-free household? Is the cover scuffed? Is the CD lightly scratched but still playable? These are all aspects of each item that you should consider and include in an accurate description that will help you sell more easily. Be careful in your descriptions. Discerning book buyers will not hesitate to return an item that is not as described.

When evaluating condition, always err on the side of reducing the condition.

Condition choices include:

Like New - This item should look like it just came from a bookstore shelf. I have had books returned for minor scuffing on the dust jacket.

Very Good - This item might have minor cosmetic blemishes but is almost Like New.

Good - These are books that have writing someone's name on the inside cover, perhaps the pages are slightly yellowed, but the binding is tight and all the pages are intact and readable.

Acceptable - I almost never sell books that are rated at this level because it means a book has serious condition issues. If these books don't have substantial resale value these "acceptable" books are also great for lighting your fireplace in winter.


Take a look at the quantity of other copies that you are selling. If there are several hundred copies of a book for sale, chances are it is selling for not a lot of cash. It is up to you to decide what your financial threshold is for selling books. For example, I have decided that books that are worth less than $10 are probably not worth selling online personally. (These books probably go to the library book sale or Better World Books.) I try to price my books ten-cents below the lowest price on Amazon, therefore my listing gets picked first by the shopper looking for the cheapest price.

The price of a book is just like a stock or bond in that it's value may fluctuate regularly based on number of available copies. As a dedicated bookseller, I update my inventory pricing once a week to remain the lowest price seller on all of my items. I also usually tweak inventory on Fridays knowing that weekends are the busiest shopping time.


Consider which shipping options that you will offer to your sellers. The more options you have the more chances you have at making a sale. However, because of my location (in a remote state) I only offer "regular shipping". One-day and two-day shipping are just not viable options when you live in the hills of West Virginia.

Yay, You've Sold a Book!

Once you sell a book you need to be diligent about shipping out within one to two days, otherwise customers will complain. When shipping books, CDs, or DVDs, I recommend shipping via Media Mail as this is usually the cheapest form of mailing. First Class mail may be cheaper for smaller and lighter items such as CDs and DVDs. Talk to your local postal employees and make those people your friends. They can be very helpful in recommending shipping choices that will save you cash.

Amazon makes order fulfillment easy by providing you with a shipping label (use it, it avoids typos) and a receipt, both of which you print out from your printer. Technically, if you include even a handwritten note of thanks on the invoice the post office can make you pay First Class. The Postmaster of any USPS center has the right to open and inspect any Media Mail package to confirm that you are sticking to the rules, but honestly, in all my years of selling and shipping this has never happened.

Make sure that you package your book, CD, or DVD for safe shipping. A cheap way to handle this is by buying bubble mailers in bulk at a place online called ULine. (There are many places and just like books, these prices fluctuate too. Do some research to find the best price.) Imagine that the item that you have sold is going to get thrown and tossed by the package handlers and pack accordingly.

Getting Paid

Amazon pays out twice a month directly into your (or your library's) bank account. They hold cash out in case of refunds and they also take their cut. (You didn't think Amazon would help you sell for free, did you?) Amazon is purposefully vague about their percentage, but as best as I can figure, they take about a third of your profits. Amazon also reimburses you for shipping, but if you are shipping larger or heavier items you might lose money in this process. That is why it is more profitable to sell small things rather than big things. (Avoid heavy coffee table-sized books.)

That's pretty much all you need to know to get started. The real trick is being able to figure out quickly which books have resale value and which do not. This skill has taken me years. I will say that I have truly enjoyed my Internet wheeling and dealing, and am thrilled to be able to earn cash for the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

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