How To Sell Textbooks for the Best Price Possible

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When you finish a semester of college, the last thing you probably want to do is contend with a pile of used textbooks. But selling your textbooks as fast as possible is usually the best practice.

In this article, I’ll lay out all the options you have for selling your textbooks once the semester ends. I’ll mention the pros and cons of each option. And I’ll give you some tips on maximizing your return when you sell your used textbooks, whether that means the most money or the least amount of time.


Table of Contents


3 Ways To Sell Your Used Textbooks

The average four-year undergraduate student spent nearly $1,250 on textbooks and school supplies in 2021, according to Forbes.

That’s a large expense for a young person in college.

It can also feel like you’re getting fleeced, paying full freight for a stack of dense textbooks that your professors require, sold to you by the university to which you’re already paying big bucks. Especially when you’re unlikely to use those textbooks again once your classes end.

Fortunately, you can sell the books and recoup at least some of the money.

I’ll get into some of the details shortly. But it’s important to recognize first that there are three main ways to sell your used textbooks. Here they are in order from most to least practical.

MethodWhy Choose It
Other studentsSweet spot between low hassle and good price.
Campus bookstoreThe easiest possible method.
OnlineThe largest market and potentially the best price.

Selling Your Textbooks to Other Students: Pros & Cons

  • Pros: More money than the campus bookstore, convenient, satisfying
  • Cons: Finding students that need each book can be hit or miss.
  • Where: Online groups via social apps, via word of mouth

My youngest brother just finished his undergraduate degree at Auburn. He says there are some campus textbook-selling groups on Slack and GroupMe.

“If possible, most people I know will sell locally,” he said.

It helps if you have a wide network of friends and you aren’t shy about asking around.

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Selling to another student can create a win-win: You typically get more money than you would by selling it back to the bookstore. And the other student can buy the book for less money than they would if they bought it at the bookstore.

My campus bookstore made what seemed, at least to me, to be pitiful buyback offers. The bookstore already bled me for my hard-earned cash prior to the semester. Then it wanted to pay me a small fraction of what I gave it just months earlier. Many times the buyback price quoted was so small that I felt like keeping the book just out of principle.

When I didn’t sell them back to the bookstore, I often got stuck lugging the textbooks around through multiple moves. I didn’t have the time or patience to sell them individually. And new editions would make them nearly worthless by the time I acted.

It feels better when you can help out a fellow student instead, especially if they’re a friend.


Selling Your Textbooks to Your College Bookstore: Pros & Cons

  • Pros: Instant cash, minimal work
  • Cons: Poor pricing, can feel exploitive
  • Where: Campus bookstore (and sometimes at nearby bookstores off campus)

As I mentioned in the last section, selling a textbook back to the bookstore for a fraction of what you paid just months earlier — knowing the store will immediately mark it up and sell it to someone else — is a bit of a bummer.

But there’s an understandable premium on immediacy and convenience. Head to the bookstore after exams, and you can get a wallet full of cash before you leave campus for the holidays or for the summer.

At least this option removes the stress, not to mention the clutter wherever you’re living. You don’t have to create an online listing or go on a boring, protracted on-campus scavenger hunt to find people who need your books.

Sometimes off-site bookstores will purchase your textbooks from you. Try Barnes & Noble, search for a family-owned brand called Half Price Books or stop by any other local bookstore and ask.


Selling Your Textbooks Online: Pros & Cons

  • Pros: Multitude of options, larger addressable market
  • Cons: Time and headaches (shipping, choosing between websites, creating listings or comparison shopping)
  • Where: Chegg, Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, BookScouter and many more

For a myriad of reasons, branching out to a larger online audience can help. Maybe you attend a school with a more modest enrollment or located in a smaller college town. Perhaps the professor at your particular university is sunsetting the edition you’re trying to sell. Maybe the campus bookstore is closed.

Selling online also allows you to conduct a much more thorough price comparison. This isn’t textbook-specific, but money expert Clark Howard laments that more people don’t take the time to comparison shop in 2022. Clark thinks it’s a great way to save money.

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Selling your used textbooks online also invites a number of hassles. You’ll need to do more research. Figuring out shipping (and potentially paying extra for packaging and postage) is a headache. Taking lots of pictures in addition to assessing and answering questions about your book’s condition is another element that takes almost no time if you sell in person. You also may have to create accounts and listings on numerous websites and apps.

Online textbook sales options typically fall into one of three categories.

1. Third-Party Companies That Buy Your Textbooks Outright

Think of these sites as the online version of your campus bookstore.

Typically, you’ll input each book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and answer a few questions about the book’s condition. Most of the time you’ll get an immediate quote (and often a free shipping label, if you accept).

This is where having the patience to compare prices across many sites can pay off.

Companies that fit into this category include BookByte, Cash4Books, Chegg, Decluttr and GoTextbooks.

There’s also a sub-category: aggregators and lead generators that scrape other textbook services to help you compare prices. You can probably save time by using these to pinpoint the best sites to target.

Some of the popular price comparison sites include BookFinder, BookScouter and Valore Books.

2. Marketplaces That Allow You To List Your Textbooks For Sale Online To Other Individuals

This may be the biggest pain in the backside of all your options. It forces you to create professional, competitive listings. That usually means doing your own price discovery, creating an account (or accounts), building a listing (or listings) and figuring out shipping.

It’s a decent real-world lesson in e-commerce and online marketing. It does unlock some potentially massive audiences with huge sales volumes on sites such as Amazon and eBay.

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You can even auction your textbook on eBay and let the market take care of price discovery, although it’s also possible to lose money if your textbook sells for less than your shipping costs.

3. Marketplaces That Try To Connect You With In-Person Buyers

These options are more formalized, expansive versions of your in-school social channels. They can help you find students at other local colleges or potential buyers who live in your college town or hometown.

Examples include Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, OfferUp and Student2Student.

Your listing can get lost in a sea of others. In some cases, the sites in this category deal with inventory far beyond textbooks.

At a minimum, meeting with a complete stranger for a cash transaction requires some healthy skepticism and common-sense safety measures.


Tips on Getting the Most When You Sell Your Textbooks

Here are a few more practical tips that may help you sell your used textbook for the best possible price (or the least hassle):

  • Consider selling your textbooks the day that you finish your courses, if at all possible. Textbooks make money by consistently coming out with new editions, making the old ones obsolete.
  • Also, college textbooks sell during specific windows at the beginning and end of each semester. Sell fast and get the money right away, or you may be stuck waiting for months, hoping your edition doesn’t become outdated in the meantime.
  • It may feel unnatural, but it’s OK to get into sales mode. Did you buy the textbooks new? Did you avoid marking up the pages and keep them in great condition? Mention that when it makes sense.
  • Think about how fast you need the money and how much time you have and price accordingly. If you can afford to be patient and try for the biggest sale possible, and you’re willing to take the risk on your edition becoming outdated, you can be more aggressive. If you needed the cash yesterday or you don’t have many hours to spend working toward a sale, don’t overplay your hand.
  • Pictures are critical to selling, especially for online listings. Optimize for accuracy rather than trying to paint a favorable picture. That means displaying the condition as is even if it’s less than pristine. You don’t want a bad rating or to have the book returned to you.
  • Be as specific and clear as possible on the title, year and edition number. The buyer needs to be confident that they’re getting the exact book they need.
  • If you don’t need the money and you’re feeling generous, you can also consider donating to a local library, Goodwill or an individual student.

Final Thoughts

Buying a school year’s worth of textbooks is a four-figure expense for many college students.

Trying to recoup some of those costs can be a pain. But it’s usually better than retaining bulky books you probably won’t use again, especially when they can depreciate faster than a new car when you drive it off the lot.

There are plenty of options to sell textbooks, from fast and convenient to exacting and maxed out.

Accept that you probably aren’t going to sell your textbooks for anything close to the price you paid for them a few months earlier, especially if you bought them new. Then sell them to a fellow student or re-sell them to your campus bookstore if you can.

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