Options for Basement Booksellers

May 29, 2007 | 4 2 min read

Last week, online used book retailer Alibris announced a new program called Alibris Basic targeting “small and moderate booksellers,” i.e. non-professionals. The program appears to differ from Alibris’ main offering in terms of pricing:

You can list up to 1,000 items for sale, and you only pay $1 plus a small commission for each one that you sell. If you don’t sell anything, you don’t pay anything except the annual subscription charge of $19.99.

This compares to the flat monthly fee (plus commissions) that larger scale booksellers are required to pay. For folks who have a lot of collectible books, the Alibris program is probably worth checking out, as the site specializes in this sort of inventory. As much as Alibris would like people to list all of their books for sale, however, there are better options for readers who are looking to unload their old non-collectible books.

Amazon lets you very easily list your books for sale in just a couple of steps through their “Sell Your Stuff” page. Amazon charges 99 cents plus a 15% commission on the books you sell. The main upside of going with Amazon, as I see it, is that it probably has the widest reach of all the bookselling programs out there.

Still, creating and managing listings for dozens of different books can be time consuming, and one must also deal with shipping off books that get sold to various individual buyers. If this sounds like a pain, then Barnes & Noble’s book buying program might be a better bet. You need only enter the book’s ISBN to get started. B&N will tell you if it’s buying that title and how much it’ll pay. After you’ve entered your books into the system, you print out an invoice and shipping label that allows you to send the books off to B&N for free. A few weeks later you get a check in the mail. I’ve tried B&N’s program, and I found it remarkably simple. You may not be getting the best price for your books, but it’s a lot easier than the other options. The main drawback I found is that B&N is somewhat limited in the books it is willing to buy. Textbooks are the best bet, and it’s a good way to try to unload any older ones you might have lying around.

Beyond the above programs, there’s always eBay, which in the realm of non-collectible books is more trouble than it’s worth (though I have had luck putting up a few dozen books at once, charging $1 a piece to start, and cross-promoting across all my other listings as a “$1 book sale.”) And then there’s the local used book shop. Buying policies at these stores vary greatly, but some pay well – and often much better if you’re willing to get paid in store credit. Of course, these “trade in” policies are how many of us ended up with such big collections of books in the first place.

Feel free to share any basement bookselling tips in the comments.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. You seem to be providing this info pretty uncritically. Do you worry about these methods hurting used bookstores? I know it's a debate between the "long tail" concept and the romanticized, nostalgic thought of wandering through dusty bookstores and finding books you didn't even know you wanted, though I seem trapped on the latter side of this debate. I'd rather put in and take out of these bookstores then try to cut a deal with B&N.

  2. I had a pretty rotten experience with Amazon's "Sell Your Books" program. Other than my credit card number, I was asked no other qualifying information than if I wanted to receive proceeds of my sales in Amazon credit. I said no.

    About a half hour later, following careful inventory of three or four of my collectibles, I received a message telling me my vendor account was rejected, and Amazon would not be able to provide any information about why, nor would it consider repeat applications. I sent follow-up e-mails to different seller customer service e-mails addresses, without ever receiving an explanation for the rejection.

    Even if it was just a glitch, Amazon's refusal to provide either an explanation or a do-over of the application showed some pretty appalling disregard for my time.

  3. I don't know if they're still running it, but Alibris used to also have a link that would allow you to post on Amazon through them for a small fee. I'm not sure if there's a way to link up the new program with that, if they're still doing it at all, but it might be worth checking out.

  4. In response to the first comment by Boston BookEd, while online selling has had a transformative–and overall very negative–effect on the viability of used bookshops, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a shop that's not selling its own books through the methods described in this post, even the dusty shops run by the littlest old ladies.

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