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Textbook Pricing Strategies – Fall Edition

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It’s that time of the year – Textbook Season!  And unlike Christmas or Shark Week, Textbook Season comes around not once, but twice.  For the next 4-5 weeks, you can expect to see higher than normal sales for your educational books.  For us as booksellers, this is the equivalent to the Q4 surge that Retail Arbitrage sellers experience.

In honor of this spectacular time of the year, I’m going to share a handful of useful tips and tricks to help you navigate this fall textbook season like a champ!  But first, let’s take a step back to look at the basic pricing philosophies.

Pricing Philosophies:  From a pricing perspective, there are two major schools of thought:

1 — price low to move inventory as fast as possible

2 — price high to maximize profits

There are trade-offs with either philosophy.  Pricing low may help you extract profits quickly which you can use to buy more inventory, but you may wind up leaving money on the table by letting go of your books too quickly.  Pricing high may help you maximize your profits, but you run the risk of the market prices dropping before you can sell your items.  Personally, I prefer a hybrid model in an attempt to balance turn rates with profits.  I monitor my textbooks throughout the textbook season, looking for quick wins as well as opportunities to increase my prices.  If the sales rank is great – well under 100k – it indicates sustained demand for a title.  I will take a closer look at the other prime offers and then decide whether to drop my price to the current market price in an attempt to generate a quick sale, or potentially raise my price and wait for the market price to rise up to me.  If the sales rank indicates weaker demand for a textbook, I will look to price those items more aggressively in an attempt to move them.

Before you price (or reprice) your textbooks, commit to your own pricing philosophy.  During the next 4-5 weeks, it can be easy to let fear or greed motivate you, rather than sticking to a more disciplined approach.

When to reprice:  Ah yes, the million dollar question.  When exactly is the peak of textbook season?  Let’s take a look at my inventory turn rates from the 2015 fall textbook season to see what we can learn.  As a general rule, I typically sell between 2.0 – 2.5% of my inventory in any given week.  Here’s how the increased demand played out during last fall’s textbook rush:

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As you can see, there is a strong surge of sales lasting for about 5-6 weeks, with a peak during the 4th week of August.  We are currently half-way through the third week of August, so the best is still yet to come!  If you only have time to reprice your textbooks once during the fall season, the best use of your time would be to reprice near the end of the third week to set up your inventory as best as you can to move your books during the peak of the busy season.

How to reprice:  Whether or not you use a repricing software in your day-to-day operations, it is better to put human eyes on your textbooks when making pricing decisions.  Fortunately, there are a few tools available within Seller Central to help speed up the repricing process.  For starters, go to the Manage Inventory page, and click on the “Preferences” box in the upper right hand corner:

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From there, you’ll see a screen that looks like this:

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You’ll want to make sure the Sales Rank box is checked, along with the Buy Box Price.  For books, the Buy Box Price will be Amazon’s offer, so you can ensure your price isn’t too close (or higher) than Amazon’s.  As you scroll further down the page, you’ll come across this section:

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Be sure to change the second box to read “Listings with the same fulfillment method”, as this will show the lowest Prime price instead of the MF prices (assuming you’re an FBA seller).  You can also set it up to only show listings from sellers who have books in the same condition as yours.  When you’re done, you’ll see data like this:

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You’ll see your price compared to the lowest prime price, along with the sales rank.  This isn’t all the data you’ll need to make wise pricing decisions, but it’s a helpful tool to spot check your textbooks.

Some final textbook pricing tips:  Before you head off to start repricing your textbooks, here are a few tips and pearls to aid you in the process:

  • Be patient – if you are refreshing the page every 15 minutes and attempting to keep your items as current as possible, you’ll quickly drive yourself crazy.  There are mega-sellers with algorithmic repricing software that can update every few minutes.  You will be hard-pressed to beat them at their own game.  Choose a price that fits into your pricing philosophy, and let the market dynamics ultimately prevail.
  • Reprice your multiples – on the Manage Inventory page, Amazon will let you sort your offers by quantity.  If you have 20 copies of a particular textbook, you’ll want to pay closer attention to those to make sure you can move as many of them as possible during the textbook frenzy.
  • Don’t let your ego rule you – we all like to be right.  But when it comes to a portfolio of books (or stocks, for that matter), there will inevitably be some losers among the lot.  Forget what you paid for a book – if the market prices have dropped considerably, you may have to cut your losses and run.  The market doesn’t care if you earn a profit or not.  You can either wait for the spring semester and hope for the best, or sell now and extract as much money as possible to invest in more books down the road.
  • Price higher for current editions – Amazon will usually tell you if a particular ISBN is the current edition.  If it is, price it a bit higher than you normally would.  Older editions often sell well for several semesters, but in general you can expect their prices to trend downward as new editions are introduced.  Try to avoid holding textbooks for multiple seasons, unless they are the current edition.  But if you miss the “sweet spot” for the fall semester, the spring semester will be here before you know it!

So there you have it.  Here’s to your best textbook season yet!

**Special thanks to Stewart Honeck, who graciously shared his experiences on textbook pricing with me.  He deals almost exclusively with textbooks, and is one of the thought leaders in this arena!**

17 Comments

  1. Caleb, as always, has something refreshing up his sleeves.

    Question to you, Caleb. If there are no FBA offers and Amazon is the only offer on the table, can’t I price higher than Amazon for a book with sales rank below 100k?

    Emmanuel

    • Hey Emmanuel – thanks for reading! As a rule, you should never price higher than Amazon, because a customer will choose a new copy from Amazon over a used Prime copy from you about 9.9 times out of 10. Every so often customers only look at used prices because they assume they will be cheaper than new, and you may be able to sneak in a sale or two, but it’s not a strategy I would employ often.

  2. Thank you Caleb for the post. First season for me so I did not realize it lasted into September. Good information.

  3. I think we should have Textbook Season four times a year. Let’s get a petition started.

  4. Hey Caleb,
    I was wondering how do you set price alerts for the FBAscan. I was wondering if you do or do you look at each individual to see if it will sell well as FBA offer? I have been selling on Amazon for almost 8 months and will be pushing to make selling on amazon full time. Part of my growth strategy is source lots of books and use OA to source over inventory as well. Thank you for your blog!

    • Hey Blaze – I don’t set alerts for FBAScan. If you do, you’ll either overbuy or underbuy, since the app can’t always “see” the prime prices. If you’re fine with underbuying, you can definitely set up filters to speed up your scouting, but I prefer to take a quick glance at each book as I scan it.

  5. ” Whether or not you use a repricing software in your day-to-day operations, it is better to put human eyes on your textbooks when making pricing decision”

    I am impressed. I have been saying this forever. If you use a repricer and never look at your listings , a seller misses out on ‘ understanding ‘ the marketplace on his/her listings.
    Of course, there is a range of book prices in everyone’s inventory. The inexpensive books are not as critical. Once you move into the +$20 range(for example) I think its best to put your eyeballs on your listing.

    Of course, everyones book inventory is different and you have to select your own criteria, make good use of your time, etc.

    • Bingo! Everyone will have different cut-offs for what they deem as material, and as the size of your inventory scales it may not be feasible to put your own eyes on every listing. That’s where hiring a VA or trusting a repricer can come into play.

  6. If you are buying and flipping books on Azn, can you buy them using the same business account you are selling them from?

    • Yes, but not if you’re buying Prime items to resell via Prime. You can buy MF items all day with the same account. You can’t use Prime benefits for resale, so if you want to go that route you should sign up for a Business Account. Or just stick to MF offers and you’ll be fine!

  7. New to all this. If you only want to flip books on amazon, what income range (gross annual) would you expect if only one person is working at it. I’m retired and am flexible, but don’t want to do it full time.

    thanks so much.

    d williams

    • There are so many variables in play here – how much time can you spend, how many thrift stores and libraries are in driving distance from you, how much money can you invest, etc. You could earn up into the low six figures in gross income if you can hit it hard, or $10k-$30k if you want to do it fairly part time. Honestly it depends on so many factors it’s hard to give an accurate estimate.

      • Caleb,

        This was your answer to a question I asked in Oct. Now that I have continued to look into selling used books, I have one more question: When I look at price diffs. between MF and FBA to flip textbooks, I’d like to make 20-30%, but to do that, I usually would be behind about 15-25 books (total books in offers). I’d be fine with that if my offer would, for an in-demand textbook, eventually sell within one of these cyclical demand cycles. If you think so, I’ll probably get my feet a little and see what happens.

        Thanks for your reply,

        Dave

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