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Why list books for One Cent

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Posted on Aug 3, 2012 7:55:56 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 3, 2012 7:57:56 AM PDT
lovepumps says:
I just sold two bucks and I can tell you I didn't make a profit. I sold a small book for 2 bucks then actually had to pay to get packaging material and send it out. Along with that I sold a math textbook and we all know those are big. That one alone for postage was 10 bucks and I only sold it for 5 bucks so I only made 7 dollars and paid about 17 bucks to send them out. So, I lost 10 bucks. Oh im also overseas. Is there a way to send them out. The post office told me that media mail takes 4-8 weeks and we all know when we need a textbook we can't wait that long.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2012 8:42:29 AM PDT
Ms. Ann says:
yep ... but sending media mail really makes it less costly to you.

Posted on Aug 3, 2012 12:51:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 3, 2012 12:59:03 PM PDT
I belong to a book swapping site, so I always have packaging material to recycle by using it again. The typical mailer, barring sustaining real damage enroute somehow, can survive at least two or three trips through the mail really well, and protect the contents just the same. It doesn't need to be a brand new mailer every time you mail something. So, start saving your packaging whenever you get something in the mail, if it's in solid shape. That'll save you a lot of money if you intend to sell things online. I always make sure I have tape on all edges, because those are the weakest points and most likely to get a hole punched in them if not taped, and no receiver or buyer has ever notified me of an item damaged enroute. You still can't make a profit on a penny book, but you can make a profit on a much lower priced item than you would otherwise.

If you're overseas, you really should plan out your shipping ahead of time, and factor any upgrade costs into your item asking price. Media mail from overseas is usually VERY slow, far more so than when mailing from one state to another. But, unless the book is under 13 ounces and can go first class, the only other option is to upgrade to Priority. Shipping via Media Mail, it'll most likely arrive outside of the expected timeframe in which items are supposed to arrive, and cause a very upset buyer with valid complaints. But, it's up to you what you want to do. Media mail costs far less, but shipping from overseas, with some things it simply isn't the greatest idea. Most schools start classes within a month or so.

Posted on Aug 3, 2012 2:01:03 PM PDT
Thanks for noting that. I was puzzled to see so many claim that packaging cost them two dollars or so per order. I have closets full of barely used packaging that I'd be glad to give away for free to anyone. I guess it must be worth hundreds of dollars?

Posted on Aug 6, 2012 1:42:33 AM PDT
And THAT is capitalism. Amazon is an example of why free markets are wonderful.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2012 6:39:10 AM PDT
T. Kelly says:
Just as an aside, my husband belongs to a book club: you send a book to someone and get a credit, then order a book for that credit; CDs "cost" 2 credits, plus the sender always pays the postage. Nobody pays anybody any money. It's called Paperback Swap. Anyway, it's a standing joke at our house to guess if it was sent by a male or a female before looking at the return address, based on how much cellophane tape and extra padding it has. Guess which sex uses the most; almost guaranteed? You got it. So if you're female you might need to budget a little more for your packing expenses! : )

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2012 7:08:00 AM PDT
T. Kelly says:
Actually, Amazon is a good example of why free markets are wonderful so long as there are no dangers to any of the workers or consumers. Would you like to have a totally free market for our meats and vegetables? Toys? How about building materials and standards of construction? A good example of a really "free market" would be Haiti. They had practically NO effective government; an excellent example of what "small government" can do for you. I really, really wish all those who want so much "free enterprise" would move to places like Haiti AND LIVE THERE and just have at it; produce and sell any kind of crap they can dream up since they probably wouldn't be able to sell it here, what with our big government and all. The main thing that has made this democracy semi successful is the fact that it's partially "socialized". It was so successful in the past because it had a thriving middle class due to "socialized" college for vets, medicare and social security. Notice the word "social" in social security? Notice the word "security"? The problem is we have "socialized" the care a feeding of Wall Street and it's major banks! And by the way, that is NOT capitalism. Meanwhile, hardly anybody can afford college anymore and it doesn't necessarily get them a better job anyway. So the American Dream is fading due to over-capitalization. There has to be a medium between capitalization and socialization! Otherwise, there will be NO viable middle class.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2012 1:54:42 PM PDT
ladyfern31 says:
I'm sure you've had enough of this, but I do a lot of online auctioning, including books, and there are just so many books out there, and not enough people who read anymore, so the prices are really based on supply and demand. You can make a bit of money selling items through auctions, or online, however...I am a teacher, and I supplement my summer recess this way. I sell about $100 per week. The best thing to do is go to yard sales and collect stuff in really good condition cheap! You would be amazed at how well they auction online...even if you sell for just over what you bought it for!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2012 2:42:46 PM PDT
I'm a teacher as well and should do what you are doing. If you obtain a book for free, how much do you have to sell it for to not lose money?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2012 12:27:30 AM PDT
Richard says:
I came to the same conclusion -- that it simply is not possible for an individual selling off parts of his library in retirement to make sufficient profit to make the venture worthwhile after one considers the cost of packaging, gas, time and so forth. If I cannot sell it for a few dollars, I won't bother. I have a friend who refuses to sell anything for under $10. He doesn't have many sales, but at least he makes money (a little bit) when he has one.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2012 1:31:02 AM PDT
If you obtain a book for free, how much do you have to sell it for to not lose money?

Posted on Aug 7, 2012 6:14:30 AM PDT
T. Kelly says:
Okay, I just found the answer to the issue of selling books for $.01! Assuming you got the book free, the calculations go like this: Book sells for $.01 PLUS $3.99 for postage. Amazon collects 15% commission ($.60), $1.35 variable closing fee ($1.35), $.50 fulfillment fee ($.50) and $.40/lb. for postage ($.13 for 6 oz. pocket book) for a total of $2.58, subtracted from $4.00 equals $1.42 profit. Sooooo, multiply that times 100 free books and you've got yourself $142 .... eventually! (Minus the cost of wrapping materials.) And some Amazon book selling enthusiasts say you can get free books by just asking for them on Craigslist, or your local news paper, or perhaps your friends and relatives! Such a deal!!!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2012 10:44:21 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 7, 2012 11:06:15 AM PDT
Um, what the heck are you talking about? I don't know where you're getting those numbers, but you're a bit off. Put a dummy sale listing through far enough to reach the confirmation page, instead of making any attempt at doing your own math. It's far easier that way. For the standard sale, fulfilled by the seller with standard shipping where they need to ship it themselves, Amazon takes $2.34 in commission, leaving the seller with $1.66. Out of that money, they still need to actually MAIL the book to the buyer at their expense. Even assuming they mail enough stuff to get bulk shipping discounts, and the book is fairly small, you're still looking basically at pennies worth of profit, if that.

If the book is sold FBA, the seller needs to actually ship the book TO Amazon in the first place, having done all the necessary prep work and proper packaging and labelling to meet the requirements, then Amazon would take a $2.34 commission PLUS the FBA fees after the sale. Even assuming enough volume to ship to Amazon for a very low per-item cost, you still also need to factor in storage, pick & pack, handling, and so on. There wouldn't be a pre-fulfillment order fee for a media item like a book, but you'd still be looking at over $1 in extra fees on top of the commission, and not counting the shipping to Amazon part of things. It's impossible to calculate it exactly, since much depends on how long it takes to sell, the exact item weight, and so on. In any case, there is NO $1.42 in profit in any scenario at play here, regardless of if you got the book free initially or not.

Posted on Aug 7, 2012 10:58:40 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 7, 2012 11:11:46 AM PDT
So, basically, if you sell enough inventory to get those bulk shipping discounts, you're going to want to sell the $.01 books to help you keep your numbers high enough to continue to get those rates. Also, if you're a pro merchant, and get the per-transaction fee waived on orders in exchange for a monthly fee, your profits to be made on a $.01 sale would go up, especially with the discounted shipping rates. Then, my numbers posted above would be different. In fact, for all practical purposes, that's really the only way to reliably make any profit on such sales at all without ending up in the hole. If you look at shipping costs, you'll see what I mean.

In other words, the casual regular sellers simply cannot compete with the bulk pro merchant sellers. And, believe me, there are very seldom valuable books to be gotten for free. You can get a lot of extremely mass-distributed books (John Grisham, Dan Brown, etc.), and romances and such, but most people don't often give away books that are of the kind that can sell for several dollars. So, it's all far more of a headache than you make it sound like. Packaging and mailing numerous $.01 books doesn't sound like a lot of fun for most people, and the profits would trickle in very slowly on them to boot, regardless of account type. Most people won't have the patience for it, and will consider their time worth more, unless they can also find enough stuff that sells for more.

Posted on Aug 7, 2012 1:09:01 PM PDT
T. Kelly says:
Okay, I think I'll just "Stand Corrected" since I got those figures out of a book and I cannot defend them. Except to say that must be an FBA calculation since there's no way an individual can mail a book for $.13. It's more like $3.00. So that's probably an estimation of a pocket book included in a box of 20 books being sent to Amazon for FBA. But as a result of your comments I do realize now that the point of selling $.01 books on FBA is to keep the volume up over 40/month to get the pro merchant discount. But just for the record, my post was intended as tongue in cheek anyway. But I certainly should have specified that my reference was to FBA only. Anyway, thank you for clearing that up for all of us.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2012 10:05:38 PM PDT
lovepumps says:
Im new to selling can you tell me how to factor upgrades? Or do you recommend to just price my books a bit higher? Thanks for your help it's really appreciated.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2012 10:08:40 PM PDT
lovepumps says:
Well I'm in a military overseas address and if you wouldn't mind sending it over here I would take it. If so let me know and I can give you my mailing address.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 9, 2012 12:54:40 AM PDT
Basically, yes. If you know you're in a situation that you know warrants needing to mail by a more expensive method than the cheapest avaliable, you would adjust your item asking price upwards to compensate.

This may sound like you risk pricing yourself out of sales, but that's not as much the case as it may seem. Picture it this way: You offer the item with the Standard Shipping option, priced just a bit higher, but you put in the description something along the lines of "as I am overseas, I'll give you a free upgrade to Priority (or First Class, depending how heavy the thing is) shipping when you order". Viola. Suddenly, it sounds like a not so bad deal, and you come off sounding considerate and thoughtful. See how that works? Of course, for items that don't seem like a time crunch would apply, this isn't always necessary (buyers are far more patient in such cases, so you can often just let them know it'll be a little longer than normal), but for ones that clearly have a deadline it'd be very much appreciated by most.

I used something similar to this when selling online while I was living in Alaska (the lowest priced shipping could be unreasonably slow at times), and also still kind of use it whenever I sell something unusually big or heavy that I know will cost more to mail (adjust my asking price to compensate for the actual shipping costs). After a while, you start getting used to what you should ask for things to come out feeling happy with the results.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 9, 2012 11:57:48 AM PDT
CLTurn says:
The shipping rate now, for media mail is 5.39. PLUS, when shipping media mail, the post office told me that you cannot send any correspondence AT ALL in the package. Not even the packing list. I sold my book for 9.60, plus 3.99 postage, (to beat the next highest price) and after Amazon got their cut, I am getting a whopping $9.81. Plus I spent a couple of bucks on an envelope. I sent the packing slip in a separate envelope and put a first class stamp on it. Hope the buyer doesn't mind - he got a good deal. Now, I'm not selling used textbooks to make any money, I'm just doing it to clear out my son's college left-behinds, but I'd be better off just throwing them away, if you take my time into consideration at all. I don't think that Amazon is the place for an occasional seller to get rid of old college books.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 11, 2012 12:23:08 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 11, 2012 12:32:35 PM PDT
I mentioned BetterWorldBooks previously in this thread to point out the obvious about how the larger booksellers make their money selling low priced books (BWB happens to donate millions for literacy as part of their operation): it's an economy of scale. Their inventory is huge, and of course not all of the books that they sell (obtained by purchasing from university libraries) are listed for a penny plus s/h. Second, the key to success in a national and now global book market is the diversity of onsite locations where BWB lists to sell. That includes Alibris, Amazon,, etc. THIS is how many booksellers operate. And here's the tip of the day for buyers looking for the cheapest price, or new sellers trying to figure out 'how to do it': go to What you need to know is there are hundreds of sellers competing for your buck, and not just at Amazon. Good luck!

Posted on Aug 11, 2012 3:12:35 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 11, 2012 3:14:01 PM PDT
Can't speak to this one cent sale, but a few years ago on E-bay there was a fellow in Egypt selling "man-made" diamonds for $1.00 each. Shipping and handling was $50. (For the uninitiated shipping and handling is NOT refundable.)

Posted on Oct 25, 2012 1:02:54 PM PDT
Netties Kid says:
The $3.99 shipping for books keeps me buying local. I haven't purchased a book from Amazon in ages.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2012 9:24:00 AM PDT
The big problem is that INDIVIDUALS who want to use Amazon Marketplace to sell a FEW used books cannot do so, because Amazon charges about $1 a book flat plus a percentage of the sales price for the listing. (you can pay $40 a month flat instead, but that's only practical if you're in the BUSINESS of selling used books) ... I listed some music books (I used to work as a cabaret musician, but don't any more, and I wanted to get rid of some books) for a LOT more than 1˘ apiece, and STILL ended up either not making any money or even losing money. AMAZON didn't lose money. And even media mail, the cost of THOSE books (which are about 9"x12" so they don't fit in "normal" catalog envelopes, and they weigh more) is more than $3.99, which is all the shipping credit that Amazon offers. So, it seems to me that listing on Amazon Marketplace is in no way a good substitute for eBay or Craigslist. Just sayin'. So yes, it's a "scam."

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2012 9:29:07 AM PDT
Sure, except that you have to factor in that Amazon has a $3.99 shipping/handling credit no matter what the size or weight of the book is, and the media mail rate even for LIGHT, SMALL books is probably about $2.70, plus the cost of the envelope (9x12" bubble mailer catalog envelopes are most likely, and cost about 30-40˘ apiece in volume), then you have to consider that Amazon charges at least $40 a month (or about $1 per item) plus a percentage of the sales price for the listing, so actually the only folks making any MONEY from this service, for the most part, is Amazon. For larger-format books, the shipping credit is often STILL only 3.99, but the cost of the mailer is more than a dollar, and the media mail (cheapest) shipping cost to the seller is about $3.50. You decide.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2012 9:30:21 AM PDT
It depends on the parcel. It STARTS at about $2.80 a parcel, but quickly goes up. It's still the cheapest, so you're right.
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