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The Most Profitable Book Categories on Amazon

| 33 Comments

Alternative title: “Lessons learned from scanning every single book in a college library.”

An age-old question among Amazon booksellers is “Which category is the most profitable?”  Or in more practical terms, when the starter gun goes off at your local library’s preview sale, to which section should you run first to begin scanning?  I wanted to see if data could come to the rescue and help us solve this conundrum.

The Experiment:  To answer questions about a library sale, why not go straight to the source?  The idea is straightforward – simply scan every single book at a local library and then run home to analyze the results.  However, scanning more than 100,000 titles at one time doesn’t fit my criteria for an enjoyable day (or more likely, an entire week).  Fortunately, I happen to know the director at a college library and she was able to provide me with a spreadsheet of every single ISBN in their catalogue.  From there, I simply ran those ISBNs through Amazon’s API to find the current market values.  As a bonus, each book was already categorized with the Library of Congress Classification System, which means we could easily find the values for each book category.  It was a win-win scenario: I provided the director with a valuation of their entire collection that they could use for insurance purposes, and I was able to use the data to write this blog article!

Here’s a 30,000 foot view of the data:

# of books in the library’s collection: 148,000

% of books that were fiction: <1% (that’s not a typo – and yes, you should be salivating at the percentage of non-fiction books that college libraries keep in stock!)

A few comments regarding the analysis:  Many books on Amazon are listed for insanely high prices, which are typically the result of a repricer gone haywire, as shown here:

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To combat those ridiculous prices, I cut out all results in which the lowest used price was higher than $500.  It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps to avoid severely skewed data.  Additionally, I removed any category with fewer than 100 titles to ensure that our sample sizes were a bit more significant.  It’s not a perfectly organized experiment, but as they say in layman’s terms, it’s “good enough for government work”!

The Results:  Without further adieu, let’s showcase the Top 10 General Categories, in terms of the highest average used price:screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-4-36-02-pmCategories that failed to make the list include Science, Geography, Education, Naval Science, Medicine, Social Sciences, and History of the Americas.

Overall, these categories are quite broad, so I went one category down in the classification system to hone in on these Top 10 Sub-Categories, again in terms of highest average used price:screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-4-38-22-pmAs mathletically inclined individuals would be quick to point out, averages can be misleading.  We can instead ask the question, “Which categories have the highest likelihood of finding a book where the cheapest used offer is at least $20.00?”  Here are those results:

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-4-36-54-pmAs you can see, many of these categories are identical between the two experiments.  If this data from a single academic library is an accurate representation of most book categories, it should serve as a decent starting point for planning your course of action at your next big library sale.  If you happen to be attending a sale in the Denver area, look for me in the Music section!

Happy hunting,

-Caleb

P.S.  I realize that every library’s collection will vary quite a bit, depending on geography and on who assembled the collection in the first place.  Your mileage may vary.  Do you agree or disagree with the categories as listed here?  Comment below to continue the conversation!

P.P.S.  Textbooks aren’t a category in the Library of Congress Classification System.  Thus, there’s no mention of them in this post.  Until just now, that is.

P.P.P.S.  A few people have pointed out that Math (and other science categories) would likely be higher on the list.  I would agree with that as a general rule, especially with technical books in fields that don’t get outdated quickly.  Math is a sub-category within the Library of Congress system, and it rolls up under Science, which was 11th place in terms of highest average price.  Could this data be misleading?  Certainly.  Although that’s not my intent at all with this post.  A single library’s data can be misleading – if anyone has larger datasets that they’d like to be put up for consideration, I’d be happy to take another run at this analysis!

 

 

33 Comments

  1. Good work my friend. As someone who sources almost exclusively online I was very interested. I was a little surprised music was number one but shouldn’t have been. I do insanely well on music books but thought it was a fluke or small sample size.

    Thank you for this most excellent article

  2. Thank YOU for sharing this info Caleb. I am new to book flipping and this will certainly help me.

    Jeff

  3. I think you should have worked in sales rank. Music/fine arts do ‘show ‘ high prices but ‘showing ‘ is not enough.

  4. Nice work! It certainly provides an insight into what to look for, and, based on my personal experience: makes sense, music books, politics & military are my first target when sourcing (if they’re sorted off course).

    About technology, yes they’re good as long as the topic they talk about is still valid, e.g. buying a book of Windows 98 is not quite a good deal (it depends).

    Again, nice work and keep up!

  5. The Data Master strikes again! Killer work man????????… Going to keep these categories in mind as I’m sourcing. Thanks for combing through those numbers for us Caleb????????????

  6. What a Gold Nugget! Thank you Caleb for this great info. I’ll not only be the first one in line at the next Library Sale, I’ll be humming a tune while I’m waiting.

    Most Sincerely,
    Cheryl

  7. Great work, Caleb.

  8. Thanks Caleb!! Great info and stats!!

  9. I’ll be going to a library sale 20-23 Oct 2016. This blog is very timely for me!!! Thanks a lot Caleb!!!

  10. Thank you for the insightful insight. 🙂 Just what i needed because i was at lost. Thank you for the post.

  11. Another helpful blog post, thank you Caleb! And great timing too; I have some big library sales coming up. Thank you.

  12. Hello, thanks for a very informative blog. I thought I would pass on a word of warning to other new potential FBA sellers. I spent a huge amount of time over the last few days setting up new listings and getting everything ready on Amazon. When I got to the point of creating a shipping plan, I got this message:

    Your shipment plan cannot be created at this time
    We are restricting shipments from new-to-FBA sellers to ensure we have the capacity necessary to receive and store inventory and to ship products to customers quickly. If you have not completed your first shipment to Amazon before October 10, 2016, we encourage you to start shipping to Amazon after December 19, 2016. If the situation changes before December 19, 2016, we will notify you by e-mail. We encourage you to continue selling on Amazon and fulfilling orders directly to customers. We apologize for any inconvenience.

    So basically, if you are planning on starting a new FBA store on Amazon right now, don’t waste your time. December 19 will really be too late for Christmas shipments. This does not give me a good feeling about starting an FBA store.

    • Jennifer,

      The same thing happened to me. I was one day shy of submitting my shipment, if I have known about the deadline, I would have submitted my listing earlier. I’m going to continue to source for more books and be ready when Amazon lift the restriction.

      Thanks,
      Eugene

    • It’s just more proof that Amazon’s warehouses are stuffed to the rafters. They’ll open it back up for FBA in a few months and you can hit it hard in January. It’s a bummer but you can build up a good stock of inventory from now until December 19 and be ready to go in a few weeks!

  13. This is very interesting as I am thinking about attending an estate sale of a music professor. There is going to be hundreds of music books.

  14. Did you take into account sales rankings? What good are >$20 books if they’re not selling? In this case, should people just pay up for long term storage fees?
    Thanks.

    • I only analyzed books that had a rank on Amazon, but I didn’t look at average ranks by category. That would have been a helpful piece of info, but I was more interested in the overall prices of books per category.

  15. This was so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share. I love how you approached your study. I just subscribed to your newsletter and look forward to learning more from you. 🙂

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