How to find the most profitable books on any thrift store shelf.


My scanner is going in for repair.  In the meantime, I’ll be using the BookScouter iPhone app to help me identify valuable books. Longer scan times will mean fewer results per hour, which makes this the perfect time to talk about what sort of books are most likely to turn a profit. In this article, I’ll take you through a typical book shelf and share what types of books I look for when on the hunt; but first, here’s three quick tips to get us started:

Thicker, heavier books usually translate to a higher price tag
Non-fiction > Fiction
No ISBN, no value

While there are exceptions to each of these rules, the heaviest piece of non-fiction with a valid barcode is a great place to begin your search. That’s why pro resellers start on…

… The Bottom Shelf,

where the two highest converting categories of books are most likely to live: Textbooks and Art.

Textbooks – Textbooks are the golden goose of used books. A textbook in its current edition can amount to a hundred dollars or more in profits. While any textbook is worth a look, Ive found some subjects to be more profitable then others.

Topics like Science, Computer Programming, and Medicine are constantly evolving as new developments are made. Textbooks in these areas are frequently updated, causing older editions to become obsolete and narrowing the window in which the most recent edition will stay current. That being said, the quick turnover in these subject areas keeps prices high, and a current book can fetch $100 + on the aftermarket.

Evergreen topics such as Math, Teaching, and History stay relevant longer. I have found books on these subjects dating back to the mid 90s still carrying a resale value of 40-60 dollars. These subjects account for many of my surprise paydays, and a dated looking cover or signs of excessive handling may leave them overlooked by the competition. The longer shelf life of these textbooks gives these titles longer time to accumulate on Amazon and Ebay. Still, a positive scan can result in a quick 30-75 dollars in profit.
Oversize/Art –  Art books can be incredibly valuable, yet unlike textbooks it can be much harder to predict their value. Gorgeous books can, frustratingly, scan for nothing, and it’s not uncommon to find modern books that don’t have barcodes, leaving you flipping to the title page to manually enter the ISBN. While the world of art can take a little more effort to cash in, I’ve found enough books in 40-80 dollar range to make this my number two category for profits.

The Middle Shelves:

Moving up from the bottom, we find the trade sized hardcovers and paperbacks on the middle shelves. Non-fiction rules this section, usually accounting for about 80 percent of the profitable books I pull from the shelves. There can be a lot of books squeezed onto these shelves, so to keep from being overwhelmed, here’s a few things I look for when choosing what to scan.

University Press - Low print runs can keep prices high for academic texts. If the book is currently being taught, even slim, unassuming paperbacks can sell in the 15-30 dollar range. These books are often left behind by more hasty competitors that don’t want to take the time to scan the middle shelves. If the publisher listed on the back of the book is a University, it’s usually worth a look.

Business - Business is a very profitable genre for resellers. Like academic press books, low print run books on niche-but-needed topics can bring in profits in the 15-30 dollar range. Check the spines for publisher’s marks like Wiley and Bloomsburg Business for your best shot at an expensive book.

Religion - Books that deal with God, spirituality, and religion never go out of style, and demand for used titles on these subjects is strong. Paperbacks and hardcovers, the thicker the better, usually sell in the 4-10 dollar range wholesale.

How-to - The more narrow the topic, the better. While broad subjects like cooking or knitting may be worth pennies, niche subjects like raising guppies or performing magic tricks can command a much higher resale price, 2.50-8 dollars wholesale.

The Top Shelf:

While most resellers skip over the mass market paperbacks, magazines, and other cheap, light fare that crowds the topmost shelves, there is value to be found on the topmost shelves. While none of these categories will wow you, here are a few profitable books to be found for the thorough scanner.

Classics - Sure there may be millions of copies in print, but as long as there are college students and readers with a sense of history, classics in good condition will always have a market. Pass over the Barnes and Noble published in favor of Signet Classics or Penguin, and net 2.50-4 dollars from the wholesalers.

Play Scripts - This is one of my favorite targets when book hunting, and one often overlooked by other hunters. Play scripts are often used as classroom texts for theatre majors and the contents don’t change as more editions are released. Best of all, you will usually find them grouped together on the same shelf of your local thrift store. Popular titles range from 2.50-4 dollars.

Manga – The cheap pulp look of many manga titles usually leaves them sorted into the top shelf junk, but they are anything but. The massive following of manga gives them enough ‘umph’ to be of interest to the aftermarket.

And THAT… is a typical bookshelf. Sure, contents may vary, and valuable books occasionally hide in the most unexpected places, but in terms of time spent to profits earned, the books mentioned in this guide represent the lion’s share of the value without having to scan every book.