The used book business globally rakes in billions of dollars a year. Seriously. It’s a huge market. The estimates suggest it’s over US$2 billion per year and I think anybody with the right abilities would want a piece of that market. So how do you get into it? Well, the idea of a used book business is probably as old as the printing of books itself. What we are going to look at is how to take this idea online.

Used book store

Just to make sure we are on the same page we need to take a little time to discuss what a used book store actually does. You as a business owner will attempt to match used books to people looking for them. To understand the idea best, think about the used book market in schools and tertiary institutions. An organised business or individual with excess cash can buy up textbooks after use at the end of one semester and sell them at the beginning of another semester. At a profit too. In fact, the majority of the used book industry is in school textbooks.


Now to take the idea online you will need a website of course to display the books available. A fully integrated eCommerce website would be ideal but we have to e honest about the monetary situation in the country and accept that a partial eCommerce approach may be best. The online element helps with increasing your reach which two very important things for your business. Firstly, you can sell to a wider market, theoretically anywhere in the world. Secondly, you can source books from all over.

Stocking up

Where to find books is one the most important elements of this business. As I mentioned before the second-hand book market is dominated by school textbooks and I see no reason why you should ignore that nugget if you are going into this business. Generally, readers form communities so plugging yourself into reader communities can help you find a lot of valuable books. Another thing which I don’t see enough of is just asking people. Put out adverts on classified spaces and social media to tell people that you are looking for books. You’d be surprised at how favourable the responses you receive are.

Success tips

Every business has its success tips and tricks. When comes to an online used book store here are 6 tips that will put you a step ahead.

Learn the lingo

Learn the book trade and terminology. Study everything you can and add to your knowledge each day.

More is more

Do make sure you have a sufficient number of titles. The more books you have to sell, the better. People want to buy now. They won’t wait around until you find the title. They’ll just move on to the next Internet seller.

Be factual

Be thorough and accurate in your descriptions, revealing any flaws in the condition of the book. Don’t be afraid to list your book one step down in condition to stay on the safe side (example: if you have a book in “Very Good” condition, consider listing it in “Good” condition to delight the average book buyer, and not disappoint the discriminating book buyer.

Do your homework

The book community has its specific needs and preferences and not all books are created equal. If you describe a book as a First Edition, be sure that it is one. If you don’t know how to tell for certain, then don’t add this detail.

Learn the ropes

Learn the basics of how publishers insert bibliographical descriptions in the front section of books. These identity to collectors the year of copyright, the print edition, the publisher, the ISBN (10-digit ID number for books that you will use often to search up values and availability of books), and more.

You make your profit when you buy right

Determine where to purchase used books. Negotiate for the best pricing. Make yourself available to those with books they want to offload and make the process easy for them.

You will also have to pay attention when it comes to supporting services. Your courier partner can make or break your business so you will need to make sure you’re dealing with a good one.