BooksBeing a book reseller is a self-employment idea I’m particularly fond of, since I love books.  If you love books too, you will love this job.  Once you get good at it, you could also offer your services as a book “hunter.”  You would hunt down rare or valuable books for book collectors, and then collect a finder’s fee from the collector.

The Good

If you love books, you’re going to love this job.  You’ll be going to library book sales, used book stores, and yard sales to see what gems you can find.  You’ll be keeping books alive and giving customers a chance to get acquainted with new stories for little money.  You might get into the textbook trade, especially if you live near a university, and help students find the used textbooks they need for cheap.  If you like searching for books, being a book “hunter” for collectors would be fun for you.

The best part about this job is that the Internet has made it much easier than it used to be.  You no longer need a store or a warehouse to sell books.  You can keep all your books at home and sell them online.  Online retailers like let you register and display your books on their web sites, where you can reach potentially millions of shoppers.

The Bad

Profit margins are thin with used books.  You might buy a book from a yard sale for fifty cents and only be able to resell it for a dollar.  Prices for different books depend on what someone is willing to pay.  If no one wants your book, you won’t sell it.

The storage of all your books can be a headache.  Even though you don’t need an actual storefront anymore (thanks to the Internet), you still have to store all your books somewhere.  Books take up a lot of space and gather dust.  Depending on how much inventory you want to carry, you might fill up an entire spare bedroom or basement with boxes of books.

Skills required

To find books, you need to be able to sniff out good deals.  Visit used bookstores and see what you can find.  Haggle with the owner if you think the prices are negotiable.  Visit garage sales to find really cheap books.  Local library book sales are often gold mines.  On the last day of the sale they will usually offer huge deals, such as filling up a box of books and getting the whole box for a dollar!

To sell books online, all you need is a computer, Internet access, and basic computer skills.  With basic computer skills, you can set up your virtual storefront on Amazon without having to create a web site of your own (though I do recommend you create your own web site too).

To hunt down rare books for collectors, you just need to know where to look.  Go to Google and search for the name of your city and “rare books.”  If you live in a small town or rural area, you might have to travel to the nearest big city to find good rare bookstores.  You can also check out these web sites to get started:


You can open a used bookstore in your area if you want to, but it is not necessary.  You can work from home and sell all your inventory online.

Startup costs

If you want to do this business on the cheap, I recommend doing it from home and registering with a site like Amazon.  You will pay Amazon a fee of $40 per month, or less, depending on how many sales you make.  Amazon handles all the advertising and promotion of your books.  If you create your own web site, you’d have to pay for the creation, the advertising, the credit card services, etc.

The main cost will be purchasing your inventory.  If you hunt for good deals, though, I can’t imagine spending more than $1000 on an initial inventory.  I could be wrong, but if you can find enough library book sales like I mentioned above, you could get a huge inventory for little money.

In addition to inventory, you will have to buy shipping materials like boxes, bubble wrap, and postage.  Try to find a variety of sizes of boxes and use the smallest box possible when shipping your books.  This can save you money on postage.

How to start

Visit garage sales, library book sales, and used bookstores and start building up a small inventory.  Register as a reseller with one of the big online sellers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble and put your books up for sale.  Once you sell a few books you’ll gain momentum to build your inventory and keep selling.

Represent the condition of your books accurately and ship your books promptly and carefully.  These steps will ensure you get positive ratings online, which helps you get new and repeat customers.  When new customers also give you good ratings, the process snowballs.


Again, when dealing with used items, they are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them.  If the book is in bad shape, you’ll need to charge less than you would if it were in new condition.  If quality is not an issue, I recommend seeing how much other sellers are charging (on Amazon, eBay, or Barnes & Noble) and trying to undercut them (if you can still maintain a profit).

Further reading