The Drawbacks to Book Buyback Programs

Michael Mould

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It is easy for me to rattle off a bunch of statistics about the cost of college textbooks from a university bookstore versus the online prices for the same books, but to compare apples to apples, I looked up several books currently being required for freshman courses at a university close to my own city. I found the average price per book was $101.71 if purchased from the university book store for a new book. The same books if purchased new online would cost $71.67, and if purchased online in “As New" condition would cost $57.33.

Thus, a college student wanting to buy new books online could save 29.5%, and if he/she were willing to accept “As New" books, which for all practical and aesthetic purposes are new books, he/she would save 43.6%.

Next, I used one of the online buyback websites to find out how much they would pay for these books if I had them to sell. For the new books required for a single freshman semester, that I would have to pay the university bookstore $712.12 to purchase, these buyback services would pay me $38.60. That is only 5.4% of what I would have to pay for them. No wonder the buy back services are so eager to buy college textbooks at the end of every term and show up in numbers trying to entice college students to sell them their unwanted textbooks.

As an online bookseller myself, I know these types of margins are indeed realistic. I would be happy to give anyone $38.60 for some used textbooks that I knew I could resell for $500+ as used books too, but I don't show up on campus at the end of each term to take advantage of college students.

Not only do these margins apply to college textbooks, they apply to other books as well. A while back I bought a copy of “Kate: The Kate Moss Book, " by Kate Moss, ISBN 0789301016, for $0.49 at a used book store. I sold the book online for $199.99, which is a nice profit. If I had opted to sell this book to one of the buyback services I would have gotten $3.24 (I looked up the buyback price immediately before posting this article). While buying something for $0.49 and selling it for $3.24 is not a bad profit margin, 561%, I see no reason to settle for a profit of $2.75 when I could wait a month and make another $196.26, do you?

This is exactly what thousands of college students do at the end of every term. They settle for a little bit of chump change for a few beers when they could sell their unwanted textbooks online and get a lot more for them by waiting a few weeks. They could also save a lot of money by learning about online bookselling and where to find the best textbook prices and not pay full list price for every book they buy. A little bit of time investigating online bookselling could definitely save the typical college student a lot of money over the course of their education.

Michael E. Mould is the author of “Online Bookselling: A Practical Guide with Detailed Explanations and Insightful Tips, " [Paperback ISBN 1427600708, CD-ROM ISBN 1599714876] and developer of “Bookkeeping for Booksellers, " [CD ISBN 1427600694] a 19 sheet linked and tabbed Excel Workbook designed to assist online booksellers with the calculation of their in-state retail sales tax obligations and the preparation of their Schedule C tax forms. “Bookkeeping for Booksellers" also provides 55 integrated graphs to visually show an online bookseller just how their business is performing.

If you would like to learn more about online bookselling, please visit:

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