One day in November of 2017 I decided to reorganize my office. I discovered that I had way too many books for my available bookshelf space. I considered donating the books, but I decided to research selling books on Amazon based on a friend’s suggestion.
As a customer, I think Amazon is great. I am a card-carrying Prime member. I have the Amazon credit card, and I have been known to shop at Whole Foods. I was very curious to explore the perspective of an Amazon Seller.
From Amazon customer to Amazon seller
There are plenty of how-to videos and articles that guide you step-by-step through the process of selling on Amazon. Here is one I used. https://www.wikihow.com/Sell-Books-on-Amazon I will describe the process at a high level.
- Open an Amazon Seller account. This process is straightforward especially if you already have a regular Amazon account. You may choose a Professional Seller Account, which costs $39.99 per month with no per-sale closing fee, or an Individual Seller Account, which has no monthly fee but charges $0.99/sale. Since I planned to start out small, I opened an Individual Seller Account.
- Download the Amazon Seller app, which is separate from the regular Amazon app.
- Use the Amazon Seller app to scan barcodes and identify sales rank and current prices of books on Amazon.
- Create a listing of each book you want to sell. You can take pictures of the books and upload them through the app, describe the condition, and set the price.
At this point, if you want to fulfill the orders yourself you are done. I travel a lot for work, so this would not be practical for me. I opted for a different option known as Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA). This should not be confused with BPA, a chemical contained in various polycarbonate plastic products that you should avoid for health reasons.
The good and bad of FBA
The Fulfilled by Amazon program allows you to ship all your books to an Amazon fulfillment center, Amazon takes care of the rest of the sale, and you kick back and collect the money. Sounds great, right? Not so fast, as you shall see.
After listing each book I wanted to sell, I printed out barcode labels and attached one to each book. I packed all the books into a box and created a shipping label. I weighed the package to calculate the shipping costs and then headed to UPS, which is one of the Amazon preferred shipping partners. Yes, (surprise, surprise) I had to pay to ship the books to a fulfillment center.
The second surprise is that you have no idea where Amazon will have you ship the box until you print the mailing labels. If you are sending the package across the country, the price will be higher than shipping to a closer destination. Another surprise was a split shipment. In one case I had 20 books in the box, and 18 were scheduled to go to one fulfillment center, and two were scheduled to go to another. I decided it was a waste to ship two books, so I kept them and saved them for another shipment.
I sent a total of 41 books in three different shipments. Total shipping cost to Amazon fulfillment centers: $26.84. Even though this was cheaper than shipping the boxes through the USPS, it was still a surprise cost and an unpredictable variable.
It takes roughly 1–2 weeks for Amazon to receive the packages and make the inventory available for purchase on the site.
Pricing is a race to the bottom
Here is an example of the difficulty of pricing. One of my listings was the hardcover book Just After Sunset by Stephen King.
New book price with Prime shipping: $14.74
Lowest used price with Prime shipping: $7.72
Lowest used price without Prime shipping: $4.99
Since I am using the FBA program, the books I am selling are eligible for Prime shipping. This means I am competing with the middle $7.72 price point.
Here is a breakdown of the fees to sell this one book through the FBA program:
Amazon Referral Fee: $1.35
Variable Closing Fee: $1.80
Per Item Fee: $0.99
FBA Fulfillment Fees: $4.71
Total Fees: $8.85
Based on these fees I would have to list the book at $8.85 to break even (not counting the per-book cost of shipping the books to Amazon.) I suspect the seller listing this same book for $7.72 is a high-volume, professional seller who can afford to list a lower price because he fulfills his inventory instead of using FBA. By some miracle, I did sell this book for $8.99 and made a whopping $0.14.
In addition to the fees layered on each sale, there is a monthly inventory storage fee, which is seasonal (higher around the holiday season) and has fluctuated between $1.17 and $0.41 per month.
I sold my first book on 12/7/17 and the most recent book on 6/10/18. Here are my totals:
Total books sold: 25
Total gross sales: $242.07
Total fees: $236.28
Total profit: $5.79
I still have sixteen books listed on Amazon. In some cases, my listed price is a few pennies above the cost with fees. The best case scenario if I sell every book at the current price, I will make a total of $25.38 less inventory storage fees assessed every month until the books are sold.
Admittedly 41 books represent a small sample size. These are all books I had rather than books I picked specifically for their resale value. For all the work and hassle with no guarantee of selling every book, I think a profit of around $30 is just not worth it.
If you want to peruse the selection and help me earn a few more pennies, here is my page of products: Brandon’s Book Haven
What I learned
- I am sure individual sellers are making money on Amazon, but they are doing it with high-margin products or high volume or a combination of both. The category of books is a tough road for individual sellers.
- I am happy to remain an Amazon customer, but I do not wish to pursue any additional selling at this time.
- I do not want to discourage anyone from becoming a seller on Amazon and creating a business for yourself. If you have the passion for this type of business and are willing to put in the time and effort, you can be successful. Just look at this guy. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/02/28-year-olds-company-makes-millions-selling-walmart-buys-on-amazon.html
The Amazon Seller experiment is over. Was it a failure? No. I did not make a significant sum, but I learned a lot in the process.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about my “why” and my credo that I wrote about last year. I am working on the next great adventure, which I hope will be the start of something big. When I am ready to share, you’ll be the first to read about it!
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Find more of my content at bewellthy.substack.com