Flipping Books for Profit: A Literary Side Hustle

Ever thought about flipping books from your storeroom or Grandma's attic? Here's everything you need to know to get started.
Last updated Aug. 16, 2022 | By Melissa Brock | Edited By Michael Kurko
Young African-American woman holding books

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Do you have stacks of books sitting around? How about textbooks from college? Some people earn thousands of dollars per month flipping all sorts of books. Even if you don’t have dozens of books sitting around, that's OK. Most book flippers started small.

Used books are big business. In 2020, the estimated net revenue of the U.S. book publishing industry amounted to $25.71 billion. This marks a small decrease from the previous year, but revenue remains stable.

In this article, we’ll show you how to make money by flipping books, including the types of books you can flip, the cost of flipping books, where to sell them, and how much extra money you can expect to make.

In this article

What is book flipping?

Book flipping is a type of online arbitrage where you take advantage of a price difference between two markets — in this case, the book buyer's and bookseller's market. In this case, you buy a book for a lower price from a particular market and resell it on another market. If it sells for a higher price, your profit is the difference in price between the two.

Get paid up to $225 a month while watching viral videos

It sounds crazy. And maybe you’re not even sure if it’s worth your time. But come on… you’re at least a little curious. Getting paid to watch viral videos is a real way to earn cash, and you can do it with a company called Inbox Dollars

No… it’s not going to get you rich. Yes... it’s probably one of the lowest-effort side hustles. But it’s totally worth it if you’re just sitting on the couch scrolling anyway. Instead of watching viral videos on YouTube, you could be getting paid actual cash to watch those videos and take surveys instead. Every little bit of extra money counts.

It's simple. You sign up here and confirm your email. Then you watch. Then you earn cash (yes, actual cash… not "points"). And taking these surveys whenever you’re just chilling on the couch can earn you up to an extra $225 every month. 

Get paid to take surveys 


What types of books can you flip?

Textbooks

Although digital textbooks are on the rise, a 2018 Library Journal survey found that 75% of college students find reading print books easier than e-books. Textbooks are also easy to get and come up for sale often because students don't hold them for long. You can find textbooks at college campus sales and through individual students.

First-edition books

First-edition books go for big money if you can find them. For example, a first edition of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" sells for around $500,000 — not too shabby if you happen to dig one up. Just don't expect to find one for $10 and flip it for half a million.

You may want to consider targeting modern first-edition books from about 30 to 50 years ago at yard sales, thrift stores, and antique shops. You can then sell them at a higher price to collectors and book enthusiasts. The older your first-edition books, the more money you'll likely make on the sale.

Rare books

You can generate good cash from rare books, including out-of-print books. Look for them at old second-hand bookstores and thrift stores. Be sure to check the price range and competitor sellers and look for signs of wear such as torn pages, loose binding, and stains. The cleaner the copy, the more you can make off the book.

What does it cost to start flipping books?

It doesn't usually cost a lot to get started book flipping, especially if you know what to look for. If you don't already have a ready-to-sell collection, you could pick up books for cheap from thrift stores such as Goodwill or buy old books from garage sales. If you can get a book for 10 cents and turn around and sell it, you could make a hefty profit. College students may also sell fairly new books on Craigslist.

You can find cheap books on eBay as well, especially if avid book readers decide to sell their collections. If it's in good condition, you can likely resell the book for profit.

The chances of getting a good resale deal on Amazon are quite low. However, it's an excellent platform where you can search for high-quality, unique books that bring good profit.

Where to sell books

Bookseller sites

One of the most common ways to sell your books is through bookseller sites such as BookScouter.com or AbeBooks. Investigate the fees for each site before you choose one over another. Some bookseller sites don't charge you a dime and make all their money through affiliate marketing or by sending your sale or purchase to the site that offers the best price.

Amazon

You may gravitate toward selling on Amazon because it's quick, available, and easy to use. You can choose from an individual seller plan or the professional plan.

The individual seller plan offers somewhat limited features but allows you to create new product pages in the Amazon catalog and use Amazon's set shipping rates.

The professional seller plan‌ lets you create new pages in the Amazon catalog, manage inventory and orders, receive reports, set your shipping rate, and offer promotions and gift services.

You can either pay a subscription fee of $39.99 for a Professional Amazon Seller plan or opt for the individual selling plan, with a per-item fee of 99 cents when an item sells. An individual seller plan could work for you if you don't need access to volume selling tools.

You can also choose the Amazon FBA option. This allows you to ship your inventory to Amazon, set your pricing, and let Amazon do all the hard work of shipping your books directly to the customer when it sells. You'll have to pay extra for this service, however.

Which works best for book flippers? It depends on the number of books you sell and the size of your business. If you sell one book a month, it might not make sense to pay the subscription fee for a professional plan. However, if you're selling hundreds of books a month, you might gravitate toward the professional plan because it'll cost you less in the long run.

You can also ‌look at Amazon's tool for listing, which will help you determine your sales margin. Note that you'll have to pay a category referral fee of 15% plus a $1.80 closing fee per book you sell. If you choose an individual seller plan, you will also pay an additional 99 cents per book sold. You might choose a different marketplace that may not charge referral fees.

eBay

eBay offers thousands of collectible and vintage items you can resell, including books. After you list your items, you pay a final value fee only when it sells. eBay can also recommend a price based on recent sales of similar items and you can watch how others price similar items. Once sold, you can ship your book using an eBay delivery label. Just make sure you are as transparent as possible about your book's condition.

Other sites

You may also want to consider sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to sell your items, but remember that these sites may not cast a wide enough net for your books because many of them sell to your area directly.

Brick-and-mortar booksellers

You can't ignore the bookstore right in your town, particularly if you find a kindred spirit in the bookstore owner. However, bookstores often purchase used books at 50% of what they will sell resell them for. If the store sells a book for $6, it will buy it for less than $3. You probably won't make a lot of money if you go this route, but if you need to clear out some space for other more profitable books, you could go this route.

How to flip books

Even if you're feeling ambitious, seriously consider starting slowly on your newfound side hustle. You can start out flipping books with just one book. Even Warren Buffett started out buying just one stock when he was just 11 years old.

Maybe you are a medical school student and want to make some money on your last anatomy textbook or have a book you picked up at a garage sale. Once you start making money, you can start building an inventory to flip.

Step 1: Check the ISBN

Every book has an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), which permanently identifies a title or edition. You can use a tool like AbeBooks, ScoutIQ, or BookScouter’s book scanning app to tell you the value of the book in seconds. You may want to compare each site to see how much you can earn from each one.

Step 2: Choose the right marketplace

Create an account and list your book on the marketplace that will offer you the best bang for your buck — it's a matter of researching where you can sell your book for the most money. Sites such as AbeBooks, Amazon, Textbooks.com, Chegg, and eBay are some of the best places to sell. Compare sites and check fees before you choose to list.

The downside to listing your item on a site like eBay or Amazon is that you'll have to wait for your books to sell and you'll also need to budget for shipping costs, depending on the option you choose.

Step 3: Ship the book

Unless you choose Amazon FBA, you'll be in charge of shipping the book yourself. Box the book neatly to prevent damage, stick the packing slip inside, and affix the shipping label to the outside of the box. You may want to notify your customer of the tracking number so they’ll know the book is on its way.

Consider adding insurance for rare books because you want to cover your losses if the book becomes damaged or gets lost in the mail. Don't forget to take pictures or a video of the book before you ship, so you have a record of its condition.

Step 4: Get paid

All online platforms vary in how you receive the money. Many marketplace platforms require the customer to make payment upfront, so you'll usually get your money fairly quickly. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace may require some extra effort to get paid, including possibly meeting the buyer in person.

How much can you make flipping books?

As with anything, the amount of money you can make varies. It depends on the inventory you have, the method you choose for selling your books, and shipping costs.

Let's go through an example using Amazon's tool for listing your sales margin. Let's say you buy a book for $3. You list it for $53 (it's a good buy!) and choose "fulfillment by seller." Let's also say it costs $3 to ship.

Here's the breakdown using Amazon. Note that your profit per sale could be much different if you use a different company or website to sell your book.

Item sale price: $53.00
Cost of goods: -$3.00
Category referral fee: -$10.20 (15% + $1.80 closing fee)*
Individual plan fee (per item sold) - $0.99
Total profit: $38.81

* 15% is calculated on the item sale price plus the cost of shipping

FAQs

How do you flip a book?

Start by targeting the right kind of book to flip, whether you choose a first-edition book, a textbook, or another option. Then, do your research based on the condition, ISBN, and find the right type of site or dealer. If you know you have a special book on your hands, you may want to take more time to investigate your options. Next, sell and package your book and collect payment.

Is flipping books profitable?

You could make money flipping books depending on the types of books you sell, the outlet you choose to sell them, and whether you pay close attention to your profit margins. You'll also want to make sure you're not spending more money on shipping than you're making.

What are the best books to flip?

Textbooks, such as science books or medical school books, are excellent choices because of their high original prices. The College Board found that students at a private college paid $1,240 for books and supplies on average during the 2019 to 2020 school year. This figure could be higher for majors such as the sciences.

Modern first-edition books might net you less than a first edition of "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott, for instance, but they add up, particularly if you focus on scooping them up at thrift stores or garage sales for 10 cents.

Bottom line

Book flipping could be one of the best ways to earn extra money you can find. It's also completely possible to learn how to start a business by expanding your side hustle into a full-time flipping business. You don't have to invest a lot of money upfront. As with most things, it depends on how hard you work at it to be successful. 

You may have to spend some time learning about book flipping because books do have their own distinctive pricing, particularly when you look into books you can sell for high prices. Even if you're content flipping textbooks and steer clear of first editions, you could still make some extra cash.

Cancel your car insurance

We've got bad news. You could be wasting $500 every year on overpriced, second-rate car insurance. And you should probably cancel your existing insurance right now, because there's something much better.

This new tool from FinanceBuzz can tell you if you're overpaying for your car insurance in just a few clicks. On average, we find around $500 a year in savings for drivers. And once you try it out, you'll never have to look for affordable insurance again because we find you the lowest rates that other companies can't match.

Oh, and it's also free. And come on — you can't tell us you don't want to save up to $500. To find out if you're losing up to $500 or more a year, just enter your zip code here, answer a few questions and see if you're overpaying. It takes less than 2 minutes.

See if you're overpaying


Lower Your Monthly Bills Learn More
Earn cash back reward with your debit card Learn More
Turn Grocery Receipts Into Gift Cards Learn More

Author Details

Melissa Brock Melissa Brock works as a freelance writer and full-time financial editor covering higher education, investing, personal finance, mortgages, saving for college, insurance, and more. Her work has been featured on Entrepreneur, Investopedia, The Balance, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, The Journal of College Admission, and more.