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How to Sell your Second Hand Books.

BookshopIt wasn’t so very long ago that every town had at least one second-hand bookshop and so clearing out old books that one no longer wanted was easy. They could be sold to the local second hand bookshop for either cash or shop credit, a model that made reading remarkably cheap for the casual reader. The rise of the internet has pushed down the price of many books, but when you add in the cost of shipping, the old read and return model may still have been a better deal for the average reader, perhaps less so for those wanting more specialist or collectible titles. The real benefit of the internet for both the reader and the collector is the almost infinite range it offers and the ease with which one can search through all those books. So by providing these benefits to book buyers the internet has squeezed out second-hand bookshops and in doing so has left those same book buyers with a problem: How to dispose of the books they no longer want?


The most obvious solution might be to try and sell them online, after all both Ebay and Amazon have made this remarkably easy. However, while it’s now very easy to offer your books for sale on these sites, the returns for the work involved may be somewhat disappointing. The days when one could put books into 10 day auctions on Ebay, all starting at 1p and expect a reasonable % to sell for a reasonable price are long past. These days those (few) still auctioning books successfully on Ebay have a lot of experience and a large number of people that ‘follow’ their auctions. One can also offer Ebay Logobooks for sale at fixed prices on Ebay but the monthly per item fee makes the cost of listing on Ebay quite high. The upfront costs at Amazon are lower with the per item fee being charged after a sale but it’s not just the costs that one needs to consider.

If you’re thinking about selling your books online then one needs to think about not just the possible returns, but also the time and effort involved. The beauty of selling books to a second-hand bookshop was that in a single visit one sold one’s books and got paid right then and there. Selling online is somewhat different. Firstly many of the books you have won’t be worth listing, they’re too common and the prices too low. Secondly listing books takes time, but of the books one does list not all will sell and those that do sell will sell over a period of time. So rather than receiving a lump sum for all your books, as one would have done when selling to a bookshop, you’ll get a small amount now and then, and in the meantime you’ll be spending your lunch hour running down to the post office to post the odd book. All that might be fine if one has particularly valuable books to sell but for most books the returns simply won’t justify the time and effort involved.

Book AuctioneerA second solution might be to send books to an auction house. It’s really only an option of one has either a very large collection of books to be disposed of, or one has particularly valuable books to sell. In most parts of the country there are local auction houses that hold regular general sales. The lots offered for sale in these auctions often come from house clearance or deceased estates. Such sales often contain lots of books and maybe an option for someone with a large number (3 shelves+) of general books to dispose of. For more specialist or valuable books a specialist book auctioneer may be a better bet. Such an auctioneer would be able to advise on the best way to sell one’s books and the likely sale price.

There are a few things to be aware of when selling at auction. Firstly there are the auctioneer’s fees, usually 15%-20% of the hammer price and there may well be a charge if the auctioneer photographs your lot for their catalogue. Secondly most of the buyers at an auction will be trade buyers and they’ll be looking to buy at a considerable discount off the likely retail price. When one considers that auctioneer will charge the buyer 20% on top of the hammer price the actual return from selling books at auction may not be quite what one expects. Auctions work best when what one is selling is truly desirable and sometimes one can be pleasantly surprised by what a lot makes at auction. For this reason having a number of lots in a sale seems to work best as the good prices and the poor prices cancel each other out. Over a number of lots one would expect the auctioneer’s estimates to be pretty accurate.

The last option is to find a dealer who specialises in the sort of books one has to sell, something that the internet has made relatively easy to do. There are a number of advantages to selling to a specialist. Firstly in order to be a specialist in anything a dealer needs books that match that specialism and they therefor have strong motivation to be buying those books and to be offering the best possible price. Such a price will probably be similar to what one would expect the hammer price to be at an auction (most buyers at auction are trade buyers), but by selling direct you save the auctioneers fees and the buyer saves on the commission. Secondly the effort involved is far less than trying to sell the books oneself and one can expect to be paid in a single lump sum, much as one would if one was selling to a shop. However if one has particularly valuable or desirable books it may be possible to get an even better price from dealer if one is willing to wait for payment.

Many dealers are willing to take books on consignment. In a consignment deal the dealer takes the books on ‘consignment,’ paying no money upfront but, when the books sell, the seller takes a larger % of the sale price than they would have otherwise got. While not all dealers will want to work on consignment it’s an arrangement that has advantages for both parties. For the dealer there’s no initial outlay meaning less capital is tied up in books and he may be able to deal in books he would otherwise be unable to afford. For the seller there’s a better % of the sale price while benefiting from the dealers ability to market the books. Again finding a dealer who specialises in the sort of books one has to offer gives the best chance of getting the best price.

In summary the best way to sell your books will vary somewhat depending on the number and quality of the books one has to sell. Selling a few books online might be an option, although competition and the rise of Ebooks makes this harder than it once was. For large collections and more valuable items an auction may provide a simple route to disposing of the books. Lastly, while second hand bookshops may now be few and far between, a dealer in used books may be able to offer a good price for both individual items and large collections.

Double-B-Books is always looking to buy books. We're particularly interested in books from the Folio Society, private press books, books about books and books from and about the 17th century. Click on the link for more details of the books we buy.


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About the Blog

This is where the staff of Double-B-Books come to share their experiences and thoughts with you. Though the name might be a little bit of a misnomer.

While some of our musings might refer to rare books our interest in books extends far wider than that. So you might find thoughts on the future of the trade, writings about individual tomes, notes on authors, publishers and sellers, reports of events and auctions and more besides.

Our aim here is to attempt to be informative, entertaining and accurate, while accepting we might not manage all of that, all of the time. And dialogue being more fun than monologue we welcome your comments and contributions.

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