Yesterday I was chatting with my friend Zack, one of the co-founders of College Finance 101. This being buyback season, the conversation jumped to the topic of textbooks and the seemingly weird world of book-buyback.

During our chat, Zack told me that he’d finished an exam earlier in the day and when he went to sell back the main textbook used for the course, the campus bookstore wasn’t buying it. While this was a disappointment, the part that added insult to injury was that a friend of Zack’s who had taken the same class and used the same book, was able to sell hers (for a tidy sum of $75 no less) just a few days ago. When Zack mentioned this to the bookstore employee, Zack was told that a new edition of the textbook was expected soon and that his friend had been able to sell her book back because hers wasn’t considered an old edition at the time. What a difference a few days makes!

In addition to this story being all too true, it’s all too common. That said, let’s look at what’s at work here and why it often seems so confusing and frustrating. As we discussed in our most recent blog entry, “Selling Back Books: A Few Simple Rules,” the textbook market behaves as all markets do, namely with sensitivity to supply and demand. Those factors are in constant flux and subject to external forces (kinda like the news of the new edition that popped up in between the time that Zack went to sell his book back and got denied and the time when his friend sold hers for $75). It’s pretty hard to tell what really happened to Zack. Sure, new editions do crop up and render older editions obsolete or less valuable, but chances are also good that the bookstore maxed out on demand and didn’t need Zack’s copy. And honestly, the confusing reasons don’t much matter when Zack’s still left with a book he doesn’t need and his friend has cash instead.

So what do you need to know to improve your chances for being able to sell your books back and get the best prices for them? It’s crazy-simple actually: sell your books ASAP because the longer you wait, the greater the chances of demand being met and/or a new edition appearing, both of which will put the kibosh on your opportunity to turn books into bucks. Also remember that you have options beyond the campus bookstore; in fact, using the Selling Tools, there’s a whole marketplace at your fingertips, a marketplace with an entirely different supply-and-demand spectrum not to mention buyers who are willing to make due with an edition that’s not the very latest.

And hey, I almost forgot! While we’re talking about buyback, we want to hear more from you! Got a buyback tale to tell? A horror story? An awesome experience? Words of wisdom for your fellow students? Let us know and if we feature your story, we’ll throw a $25 gift card your way.


Buyback time has arrived and to help you get the most for your unwanted books, we’re taking a moment to loop you in on a few rules that will help you sell books quickly and for the best rates going. As buyback is time sensitive, let’s keep this short and to the point.

Sell your books as early as possible, preferably before everyone else in your class does. Why? Simple supply and demand. If 75 copies of a book are needed for next term, and you’re the 76th person to try to sell that book back, you’ll get much less (if anything) because demand has already been reached and there’s no need for any more supply. It pays to hustle.

Just as many students buy their books from sources other than the bookstore, so do many students sell their books elsewhere. In fact, there’s an entire virtual marketplace at your fingertips using the Buyback Comparison Tool. For each ISBN you enter, you’ll see a list of buyers currently seeking your book, how much they’re willing to pay, and the terms of the sale. If you can’t find demand for your book there, try selling it on a site like Facebook or Craig’s List. This takes a little more effort and patience, but in doing it, you might be able to keep the deal local and bypass any packing and shipping. It’s also a win-win opportunity for both buyer and seller because there’s no middleman taking a cut.

Say you’ve entered an ISBN into the Buyback Comparison Tool. There’s a buyer who’ll pay $26 for it, but you think you should get at least $32 for the book. Know that if you hold out, you could lose the chance to sell it entirely, plus the longer you wait, the longer you go without the sure cash in hand. Is losing that chance (and not having cash now) really worth $6? Know your thresholds in advance but also be flexible. Don’t blow a deal over small change. And keep in mind RULE #1, which says that the longer you hold, the less you’ll get.

The reality is that no matter how in demand and how good of condition your book is in, the buyback value is never going to be more than half of the price that the book sold for as brand new. That said, a book with a shelf price of $100 is going to max out — best-case scenario — for a buyback of $50. Max. Now this isn’t too shabby by any means, and it’s actually pretty sweet if you happened to buy the book used for $75, but remember that the half-rule by no means applies to every book. So when we say keep it real, we’re talking about your expectations and not freaking out when that same book that cost $100 at the beginning of the term fetches a value of $20 (or maybe even less given the demand) at buyback. Also remember that when you agree to sell your book, it’s on you to make that happen per your agreement with the buyer, so don’t forget to factor in shipping costs and a trip to the post office.