When’s the best time to sell back used textbooks? We spoke with Dean Graham, associate director at the college bookstore at UMaine to find out how to get the most money for used books.
The simple answer is, “the best time to sell used textbooks is as soon as possible.” That’s because school bookstores need a certain amount of each book for the next semester. Once that need is filled, the schools will still buy the books at lower prices.
As soon as possible generally means the last week of the semester or the first few days of finals week. One exception is that used books for classes that are only taught in fall or spring should be held onto just a little longer for the biggest payout.
Sell Most Used Textbooks as Soon as Possible
According to Dean Graham at the UMaine bookstore, the best time for students to sell back used textbooks is generally as soon as possible after the class ends. The University of Maine has 10,900 students and their store is budgeted for $5.6 million in sales.
“For example during the week of finals is a great time to sell back used books,” Graham says. “That’s because a bookstore is getting orders from faculty at that time. They say, here’s what we’re going to use for the next term. So if you have the right textbook, we as bookstores will pay top dollar at that time.”
Students can generally expect to get up to 50% of what they originally paid for used textbooks. So if the book was $100 new, the store might pay $50 for it. The price varies depending on the edition and how new the book is. New editions of a book will drive down the price of older editions. That’s another reason to sell used textbooks as soon as possible.
“The best time is at the end of the term,” says Graham, “because that’s when we’re going to try to take that book, buy it from the student and then put it back on the shelf.
Why After Finals Week Isn’t the Best Time
Bookstores need a certain number of each book the teachers will be using in the coming semester. Students who wait until after finals week can still sell their used textbooks. However, they might get a reduced amount of money for the sale.
“If you sell that book we might be looking for 30 copies of it,” says Graham. “That’s because 30 students are enrolled in the class and I’ve only bought 18 books. I’m still going to be trying to buy more at a better price. Once I fill my want, of course I’m not going to want to put a lot of money into a book that I’m not going to be able to resell.”
College Bookstores Buy Used Textbooks at Any Time of Year, But…
Bookstores typically buy used books for themselves and for national wholesalers. They’re likely to pay higher prices for textbooks they actually need for classes in the coming semester. The stores will still pay money for used books their teachers won’t be needing. Those books will quickly be resold to national wholesalers. Since the wholesalers buy the books from the college stores at a reduced price, the bookstores offer students less money also for the buyback.
“The national wholesalers go out there and they buy up all these books and they work through stores like us,” says Graham. “We use their guide prices. I’ll use the example of a book that costs $100. We may pay $50 for it when we buy it from a student, but the national wholesale value of it may be only $38.”
For students looking to sell back used textbooks, that means selling books back early gives a better chance of selling to the bookstore at a higher price, before they’ve filled their local need. If the bookstore has already filled their need, that means they have to turn around and sell the book to a wholesaler, and that means less money for the student.
Not All Used Textbooks Are Created Equal
“There are A level books,” says Graham, “B level books and C level books. The books that are in high demand like McConnell’s Economics, can be sold to wholesalers. But you get into a book that’s not so high demand and a professor has chosen a book that’s not mainstream, that book obviously isn’t worth as much.”
Those lower grade books become worth more at the store level and less at the national level. That’s because the stores only want to buy them and resell them locally. The higher demand books tend to have more value because they can be resold across the country.
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Sell Back Less Popular Used Textbooks Earlier
The best time to sell back less popular textbooks is as early as possible after the class ends. Books that are in high demand at schools all across the country will fetch a higher price even after finals week. That’s because those books are in demand with the national textbook wholesalers. Books that aren’t as popular may only have a value to the college bookstore they were purchased from originally. It’s more important to sell back those textbooks earlier. Once the store has filled its need for those books for the coming semester, the last student to try to sell one may get caught as the last person standing in a game of musical chairs.
The Bottom Line on Selling Back Used Textbooks
If you’re a student, the bottom line best time to sell used books is the first couple days of finals. A lot of bookstores even open buyback up the week before finals, say that Thursday or Friday. Getting in early before the bookstore can fill their need is the absolute best time. The last couple days right before finals week or the first couple days of finals is always the best time because the bookstore likely hasn’t filled their need yet.
When Selling Books Back too Early Hurts a Student’s Grade
Not every student will want to sell their textbooks back just before finals week or in the first two days of finals week. Of course textbooks are needed for studying and finals week is a big time for that. Students who tend to “cram” during finals week will have a hard time taking advantage of Graham’s advice to sell books early.
“Studying is very important because that’s why students are in school,” says Graham. “You just have to weigh the benefits. The student who waits until the last minute to study can’t always sell their books early enough to get the best price. The student who has studied all along and feels good about their command of the material is in a better position to sell their textbooks back earlier and get the most money.”
Students who study all semester long will have the best chance of picking up a little extra money for used textbooks. If a student buys a book for $100, they might get $50 for it during finals week and $38 for it afterward. A student who feels confident that they know the material can pick up $12 extra for that book. For the student who has waited until the last minute to study, it might be worth the extra $12 to keep the book an extra week and study, study, study.
“The students who study right along have the inside track because they can sell their books back early,” Graham says.
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Ask the Bookstore
“I would say, ask the bookstore, what does your supply look like?,” Graham says. “How many of these do you need? Am I safe to wait? Is the price going to change? Just ask those questions. Bookstores are usually willing to provide those answers. A bookstore will usually tell you, oh, I’m looking for 35 copies of that book. You’re in the class, you know how many students are in your class. If the bookstore is only looking for 5 of a certain book, you know the probability of getting more money for it is higher if you sell it as soon as you can.”
Sell Back Some Used Textbooks Later for More Money
“You have classes that are taught in the fall,” says Graham. “Then they won’t be taught in spring, but then they’ll be taught in the fall again. So it’s basically a fall class. That’s when it’s offered. The bookstore is going to pay the most money when the class is offered the very next semester. So say you have a class in the fall and it’s not taught again until next fall. To sell that book in December might not be as advantageous to you. Maybe you sell it in May, because in May the bookstore would be looking to pay more for it. The risk is, what if you hold it and the publisher changes the edition on you? Then you don’t get anything. That’s why I say, look at the copyright date. If it’s a fairly new book, say a year and a half old, then you can feel safe holding it until that class is taught again and sell it at that opportune time to optimize your money.
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The Worst Time to Sell Used Textbooks
Now that we’ve covered the best times to sell used textbooks, let’s look at the worst. Students who wait until after the holidays to sell their books back are going to get the least amount of money. Waiting until after the winter break means the bookstores have probably already filled their needs. They may still buy the books back from the students, but at reduced rates so they can sell those books to wholesalers.