How to buy used books online
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Books Do Furnish A Room started selling used books on the web because I’d been buying them that way, mostly from Powells' website. Having been selling online for years it always surprises me that many people never think there may be sites for buying used books other than eBay and Half.com.1
Not that you can’t buy books really cheaply that way. Many common books can be had on eBay for very little. Mostly people selling books out of the spare room. Many uncommon books are rarely if ever listed on eBay. And they often fetch more dollars than the copies listed on used bookselling websites.
We never list a book on eBay unless we expect to two or more giddy bidders who’ll ravage each others’ wallets. We like selling on eBay when we can get four times what a more experienced buyer would pay.
I, to switch pronouns to the person who makes the decision, prefer selling at fixed prices to smarter buyers. They usually know what they are buying. Some folks on eBay never look at the scan or the description. Really. They’ll place a winning bid just from the listing title. So there are plenty of nifty, hard-to-find books we never bother listing on eBay.
Amazon's Marketplace is a better venue for suckers. Being the most visited book site on the web, many people only go there for books. Amazon is happy to sell a used copy instead of a new one. They make more when they let us sell a used copy than buying and shipping a copy from Ingram’s. Many common books go for less than a buck in Amazon’s Marketplace. But some out-print-titles can be sold on Amazon for two to ten times what they bring on one of the used book listing sites.
Amazon also makes a good slice of its profit from selling used books by keeping a chunk of what they show as the shipping charges. We’ve had more than one overseas buyer who was unhappily surprised to learn that his book would be shipping via surface mail because we didn’t get enough from Amazon to ship it via Global Priority even though Amazon’s fee was well above the USPS’s fee.
Never buy used books through Barnes & Noble. They are reselling books from bookdealers like myself who list on ABE. With the markup and extra shipping you’ll pay $20.00 for a book I’d get to you for maybe $10.00.
Most of Alibris’ inventory is likewise from bookdealers with a little extra added. Never buy from Alibris unless it isn’t listed elsewhere or is cheapest. Alibris does have its own inventory. Mostly pedestrian stuff. When Interloc became Alibris they had illusions of a grand future and bought a few bookshops’ inventories. Their IPO, made in the days when anything with a .com at the end, raised lots of cash they spent on advertising. It made Alibris very well known but they are desperate to buy the old stock.
Where to buy used books onlineBookfinder is a meta-search engine, i.e., it searches other search engines. Bookfinder searches all of the major listing services from ABE down to trivial places like Wanted Books. When using Bookfinder I strongly recommend that you select “Classic Display.” The new way of displaying books is only useful if you are looking for textbooks or books where the exact edition is important.
ABE’s servers are so busy that sometimes their listings won’t show on Bookfinder (you can find out by checking the bottom of Bookfinder’s search results). Then you should go directly to ABE's website. More dealers list their stock on ABE than all the other sites combined.
AddALL is another meta-search engine. A small set of listings services show up there but not on Bookfinder.
Books Do Furnish A Room belongs to TomFolio. TomFolio is a co-op, we own shares in it. The goal of TomFolio is to establish a used book listing service that isn’t subject to corporate whims. You might say TomFolio is the most honorable website to buy from. (Even had a ‘Code of Ethics.’)
1: Half.com only lists books with ISBNs. That eliminates almost every book published before 1975 and a few published since. It is a good place for loading up on cheap mystery paperbacks.