Creative Sourcing Part 1: Tapping into your virtual neighborhood


One of my favorite parts of the book business is sourcing books.  It’s like mining for gold – you never really know what you will discover on any given day!  Sourcing is also the part of the business that both allows for and rewards you for creativity. Sure, you can stick to the classic sources of thrift stores, garage/estate sales, and library sales (we’ll talk about these sources in future posts), but with a little outside-the-box-store thinking you can tap into some sources where there is very little competition.

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An example:  This past weekend I saw an ad on TV for, which is basically an extremely local version of Craigslist with a much better user interface.  While checking out the site, I noticed they had a Classifieds section.  I posted a quick ad that said “I buy books” and offered to pay cash for a single book or an entire collection.  Within two hours I already had three replies with people looking to sell me their books!  One of them offered to sell me “about 40 romance novels” (i.e. completely worthless), so that lead didn’t pan out.  Another had “a lot of self help and diet books”, so I am setting up a time to go look at that collection, as there may be some quality books on those shelves.

The best lead of the day was a simple email from a lady who said she had “a TON of books to sell.  Cookbooks, paperbacks, more.”  When I prodded her for more information, she replied that she had a bunch of fairly new Paleo cookbooks, and she was having a garage sale today to sell them.  I jumped in my car and drove the three blocks to her house and found about three boxes of books scattered around her small sale.  Paleo books are quite popular right now, and roughly 90% of her books were worth selling on Amazon (this is a rather large percentage of winners!).  Before I started scanning, I inquired how much she was asking per book.  She replied that they were 50 cents for softcover books and one dollar for hardcover books, and she would give me a discount if I purchased a lot of them.  (Note:  It’s important to ask for prices up front, BEFORE you bust out your scanner.  If there are no prices listed and the person in charge sees you scanning the books, they will often charge you higher prices because they know that you are making money off of their books.  Once you get them to agree to a price, scan away!)  I pulled 22 books from her collection and paid her $12.  I even got her contact information to set up time next week to go back and look at other science and engineering books that her husband wants to get rid of.  Not a bad lead off of a simple Classifieds posting!

The results:

Total time invested in scouting: <10 minutes

Cost per book:  $0.55 (cheaper than most thrift stores)

Total list price:  $409.72

Average list price:  $18.62

Average sales rank:  517,007

Estimated profit:  $233.83 (I use the “60% rule” based off the total list price… basically, roughly 60% of your total list price will eventually be realized as profit)

Future collections to analyze:  2, and hopefully more to come!

Key takeaways:

  • Always be on the lookout for creative new ways to source books – both online and offline.
  • Local websites ensure that you won’t have to travel far to find inventory.
  • If prices aren’t listed at a sale, ask for a price up front BEFORE you start scanning.
  • Using creative sourcing techniques means that you get first access to books before they wind up at a local thrift store and potentially end up in the hands of your competitors.  A little strategy can help you beat your competition to the best books and also pay significantly less for the books than you would at Goodwill or Salvation Army.

Happy flipping!

P.S. A modified 100 book weekly challenge:  A few people have mentioned that 100 books a week sounds like too much of a commitment given their current time constraints.  If you can’t commit to 100 books, why not scale it back slightly to 50 books, or even 25 books a week?  The important thing isn’t so much the number of books as it is the habit and discipline of building your business a little bit at a time.  Using the same figures as last week’s blog post, here are year one projections if you sourced and listed 25 books or 50 books a week:

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(Disclaimer:  Everyone’s individual results may vary.  These are not guarantees of your financial success, only estimates of what could be possible based on some average metrics from other booksellers.  If you would like to play around with the numbers yourself, contact me at and I’d be happy to send you my spreadsheet.)

How much time should you set aside each week to source and list 25, 50, or 100 books?  Once you get through the initial learning curve, it should take you roughly 2-3 hours for 25 books, 4-6 hours for 50 books, and 8-10 hours for 100 books.  Take a look at your current schedule and figure out how much time you can commit on a regular basis to build your business.

Comment below to let me know how many books you are committing to process every week.  Also, comment if you have any creative book sources you’d like to share with The Book Flipper Community.  We’re all in this together!





  1. Great idea and great tip using I am going to commit to 25 books/week.

  2. Also a tip I was recently made aware of is that there are often books at Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

  3. Caleb, I’m glad that I found your website after reading your interview on Peter Valley’s site. Thanks for sharing your tips with the rest of us. I’m new to bookselling (will be sending in my first shipment soon), and I have a lot to learn.

  4. Very cool! I found your blog from your interview with Peter Valley. It’s VERY encouraging that you do this around a full time job. So do I. I started on Amazon with books last year, but wasn’t consistent and got depressed by the low ball newbies matching their FBA price to the merchant fulfilled price of $4 or sometimes lower.

    I just got going with books again and just read your 100 book a week challenge. I love that plan and have been doing that before I read the article. On 8/8/15 I sent in 97 books. On 8/15/15 I sent in 93. Not quite 100 each week, but with your challenge and chart, it looks like a plan. So far I’ve sol 23 of the initial 97, so my sell through rate is higher than your estimate, but my average price is less than yours. But I feel like I’m off to a good start and on the right track.

    I look forward to any and all info you share in the future and I loved the interview Peter posted from you.

    Have a Blessed Day!

    • Thanks for sharing your metrics – if you commit to a number and stick to it you’ll be able to build a legitimate business over time! Great work on sending in nearly 100 a week. Perhaps someday I’ll turn this into a “full-time” job, but for now I enjoy my day job and books are a great way to add some supplemental income. Blessings upon you!

  5. Absolutely love your blog. I was referred here by a friend. I just ordered my scanner today and picked up an SD card for my cell phone. I can sign up for ASellerTool when I have these two things in place and then I am starting. I will start with the 25 books/week goal. I am so excited by the charts with your results. I probably won”t be able to keep track of my results like you do, but it should work just the same. My question is: Do you purchase a book if Amazon is a seller?

  6. Excellent Post! it really got me thinking outside the box.
    Also don’t forget to think like the people who may be offloading Books/other items…Elderly folks who are moving from house to a condo. where are you likely to catch their eye. Bulletin boards at grocery store? Newspaper.

    Regarding your example with the lady and the yard sale. Supposing you went back to have a look at the husband’s collection in their home. How do you deal with a situation where you are picking through their collection while they… stand there watching you? And then having to honestly answer the question “What are you doing with that phone?” “ohh, just looking up the value on these books to see how much I can profit from your ignorance” …is there a better way to spin this?

    With Spring Cleaning Season upon us, I am considering some hard marketing of my book removal service. Also targeting some Craigslist Yardsale ads (“Before the books get donated, call me”). But I want to be prepared for the inevitable and awkward questions that come up.

    • I’m glad you found value in the article! When scanning books in front of others, I try to get them to agree on a price per book before I even start scanning. If you can agree to a fixed price for the books, then you can select only the ones where you can sell at a profit. If you can’t agree on a price up front, it can be tricker to negotiate. If they see that books have value, they’re likely to just sell them on their own. Be up front with what you’re doing – selling them on Amazon. If they don’t want to sell them to you, no harm no foul!

      • Good answer to Ian’s question.

        Ian, also keep in mind what we are doing is simple, but not easy. It takes a lot of time and searching. If someone questions you can explain all the steps it takes to convert the books into money. It actually takes a lot of effort and time. You have to have an Amazon account, spend time setting the prices, packing and shipping. Then you have to wait for the sale. There is a price on the time value of money. Would you rather have $5 now or $20 a year from now? There are also lots of other expense with software and subscription services. Those are just the few barriers to entry that someone with a few books on the shelf that they don’t want anymore is probably not likely to do.

        In the end, if they don’t want to sell, walk away. But definitely agree on the price before scan is great advice.

  7. Hi!

    I just found your blog and have been using Amazon FBA for several months now. I’ve mostly been selling baby and toys, but sent in several books on my shelves to generate more capital– and I loved it! Books became one of my top selling categories. After that, I tried to help out a friend moving to Korea and she had so many great books and I was hooked! Last Saturday, I did my first yard sale and found a car load of profitable books (and collectible in box toys!

    But, I’m curious about your margins and your buying parameters. I aim for at least a 200% ROI on books, but am thinking that I want to raise that. You say you like to list for 20. Are you finding new books or used? I was just a bit curious at how high you were selling for.


    Now I’m on to, well, basically read your whole blog for some ideas 🙂

  8. I plan to commit to 100 books per week once I have enough confidence to get started. $70/mo for eFlip software is pretty stiff for me and I want the spreadsheet also.
    can you send me a copy of the plan spreadsheet?

  9. Hello, i just found your blog and signed up for it. I would love to get into this but i was wondering, is there training for this or is it strictly the blog that you learn through. Looking forward to hearing back so i can get started.

    • Hey John – welcome to the world of book selling! I don’t offer any formal tutorials or trainings for getting started, but I do offer limited coaching if you get stuck along the way. Feel free to reach out if you’re interested. There is tons of free info out there, but some solid paid trainings here and there as well.

  10. Caleb, I have stumbled upon your blog today and am very glad I did. I am very intrigued!!
    A few questions if you don’t mind:
    1: Do you only source used books? How about new ones? I have commonly seen unused books selling for $3-$5 (very popular titles/authors) with Amazon Selling for $18-$24. Is this a viable option?

    2: what is your responsibility with respect to collecting sales tax on your sales?

    Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas!

    • Hey Sam – thanks for stopping by! I focus primarily on used books, but have sold a handful of new ones. You can sell new books for higher prices in most cases, but most books I find in thrift stores have some defects, so I don’t sell them new. Plus, you can’t get the buy box for new media items when Amazon is also on the listing. In those cases, I typically sell the books as like new to try to move them faster. Regarding sales taxes, I would highly recommend finding an accountant who is familiar with selling on Amazon and defer to their instruction. You should at a minimum collect sales tax in your own state.

  11. How does the FBA new Long-Term Storage pricing change your scanning, pricing and long term inventory management. Is there a combination that makes sense to leave inventory at FBA over 6 months.

  12. Great tip!
    I left a post on Nextdoor a few days ago, and I was contacted twice already. One of them was a physician that had lots of books for sale. After asking a few question and her sending me a few pictures of the books, I offered to buy all of her books for a price, and she accepted. I was scanning them this afternoon and came across a few gems and a good number of textbooks that I can sell. But there are some books that are not worth sending in (especially with the new fees). Any suggestion on what to do with those? I was thinking about donating them to Goodwill.

    Appreciate it,

    • Nice find on using the Nextdoor site – it can be hit or miss, so a few gems are great. There are ALWAYS duds though along the way, just donate them to Goodwill or dump them in a BetterWorldBooks bin so they don’t end up on shelves that you’re scanning, and move on.

  13. It is my understanding that Amazon FAN requires a minimum number of units. So can i send Amazon 50 books all different titles or do they all have to be the same title?

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