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Need cash? Check your bookshelves

Online booksellers are buying. Make a little cash and clear some clutter, too.

By Donna_Freedman Jul 3, 2012 11:05AM
Image: Woman reading book on sunlounger on vacation © Image Source/Image Source/Getty ImagesWhile browsing on recently, a personal finance blogger named Andrea noticed an on-screen message: "Do you own this book? Trade it in for $24!" This made her think of all those college textbooks she'd kept because she was sure she'd use them all the time.

You guessed it: She hasn't touched a single one since earning her master's degree seven years ago. Andrea wondered whether Amazon would be interested in some trades.

Would it ever.

Although many of her texts were outdated, the online retailer wanted 22 of them. And that's how Andrea came to write "How I got a $460 Amazon gift card for $4." 

College texts aren't the only titles that online booksellers want, however -- and some of these companies pay not in gift cards but in cold, hard cash. (Or PayPal.)

You're not likely to get rich doing this. However, it's a fairly simple procedure that will pull in a little extra dough and clear some clutter to boot.

After finishing my college degree a few years ago I sold 32 textbooks and paperbacks online. In all I earned $112.28 -- not a bad deal given that I'd bought all of them used. The best price, $18.44, was for a book I picked up for a buck at a lost-and-found sale.

Finding the best price

Start with an aggregator site called, which compares offers from more than 40 online booksellers. Once you've decided which company (or companies) to use, the buyers will e-mail postage-paid labels and packing instructions. (Post continues after video.)

Do this carefully, since your books will be worth less if they're damaged en route. And do it promptly, as the buyer's offer might be good for a limited time. (With Amazon, it was one week.)

If the buyers pay postage, why did Andrea shell out $4? That was for the box and tape at a UPS Store. You can provide your own packaging, but she wanted to make sure there wouldn't be any problems in transit. Since unused books turned into $460 worth of credit, she figured $4 was a good investment.

A few more tips for wannabe sellers:

Don't misrepresent a book's condition. It will be inspected by the bookseller before any payment is made.

Don't be discouraged if some of your books have relatively little value.  Of the 11 titles I ran through Bookscouter today only eight were salable, at prices ranging from 14 cents to $4.67.

Interested in more books rather than cash? That's good, since your titles are worth more in trade. For example, three of my books would have brought $9.74 in trade-in value at the wonderful Powell's Books. If I opted for PayPal I'd get only $6.50. has a smartphone app; the Android version supports Bluetooth barcode scanners. If you're an inveterate book-browser at yard sales or thrift stores, your habit might start to pay for itself.

More on MSN Money:

May 21, 2013 11:14AM
I wanted to also suggest as a great book comparison site. You can compare buyback prices, purchase prices, and rental prices all in one spot. Thank you for the great article. 
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.