Most FBA textbook sales aren’t textbooks at all: Cashing in on textbooks that don’t look like textbooks.
In this article:
- The new definition of “textbooks”
- What textbook buyers are really buying right now (it’s not what you think)
- The 3-part checklist to spotting “textbooks in disguise”
- UK sellers: Big announcement coming. Find out more.
As textbook season just cleared its peak (note: that does not mean its over), this is a great time to cover a subject I’ve never talked about before.
Fact: The majority of textbooks are NOT textbooks. Most textbooks don’t look like textbooks. And the majority of your FBA textbooks sales will not be textbooks.
What do I mean by this paradoxical statement? Let’s get into it…
The hidden iceberg of Fulfillment by Amazon profit under the surface
How do you define “textbook”? If the answer is: “Those huge 7″ x 10″ books that are usually over 800 pages and are published by Thompson or Cengage,” you’re leaving a ton of money on the table.
Fact is, that’s only a small part of the textbook pie. And I mean that literally – there is an iceberg of opportunity (i.e. profit) you’re missing if you’re only sourcing and/or pricing your 7″ x 10″ doorstoppers as textbooks.
Yet the market forces that drive up sales – and prices – for FBA books in that format also affect so much more…
How amateurs define “textbooks”
For inexperienced Fulfillment by Amazon sellers and the general population, “textbook” is defined as two things: a format and/or a function. A giant book (format), and/or one whose only purpose is to be used in college curriculum (function).
To our detriment, this is how most Amazon FBA sellers view textbooks as well. Costly mistake.
Redefining textbooks for the pro Amazon FBA seller
For the purposes of the Amazon bookseller, we don’t care about format or function. Our definition of “textbook” should be solely as follows:
“Books whose Amazon sales and prices spike in August and January, and for which we can command outrageous FBA prices and still get sales.”
That’s all that matters. I don’t care if the book is a pictorial history of Nerf balls (there’s a liberal arts school somewhere teaching a class on this, after all), if these factors apply, I want to price that book on Amazon accordingly (read: high).
Remember, it doesn’t matter if we used a particular book when we went to school. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a book used in school. It doesn’t matter if it “makes sense” that students would purchase this book for school. None of that matters.
What does matter:
- Do Amazon sales spike at the beginning of the semester.
- Can we command higher FBA prices.
Why most textbooks aren’t really textbooks
As I type this, we are in the middle (virtually the dead center) of the Amazon textbook sales spike. If you go through your FBA book sales from the last 7 to 10 days, you will likely notice two things:
- Book sales have gone up.
- Most of your FBA book sales aren’t what you’d think of as “textbooks.”
Strangely, a lot of Amazon booksellers don’t notice this.
Textbooks aren’t about a type of book at all. They’re about market forces. These things are related, but still very different.
Fact is that most student FBA book purchases aren’t 7″ x 10″ “textbooks” right now.
What are “textbook buyers” really buying on Amazon right now?
- Annotated / critical analysis fiction.
- Academic, scholarly non-fiction.
You could fit textbooks into #2, but they remain a small part of the “textbook market.”
Why is this so important for Amazon sellers?
Before we get into how to spot “textbooks in disguise,” why is it so vital Amazon sellers understand this concept?
It’s pretty simple: So we can know what in our FBA inventory to price outrageously high right now (i.e. the textbook rush). If you’re only raising FBA prices on the 7″ x 10″ doorstoppers, that’s money being lost.
Remember our new FBA seller definition of textbook (demand spikes beginning of semester + ability to price really high). That means any books students are buying on Amazon right now that you’re not pricing aggressively as an FBA seller is money you’re throwing away.
Quick “textbook in disguise” example
As a general example: the Penguin Classics series has a huge demand among students on Amazon. These find their way into countless college syllabus’s, and FBA demand goes way up this time of year. Yet you would never think of these as “textbooks.”
Let’s say you scanned a Penguin Classics title last month when you were doing an FBA shipment, and saw this:
Amazon “best seller rank”: 450,000
Lowest FBA price: $7.50
You might just go ahead and price-match that $7.50 FBA offer and move on.
But when you consider that you’re listing this book on Amazon in July and textbook season is coming up, and are aware this is a classic “textbook in disguise,” you would be wise to get more aggressive.
Maybe the 2nd lowest FBA offer was %9.99. And the 3rd was $10.50. And the 4th was $10.99.
As an FBA seller, I wouldn’t hesitate to price above all of those, and trust I’ll get a sale in a few weeks. (In fact, I personally don’t care if its July or March, I’ll price these like that anytime, knowing I’ll get a sale – and more money – in due time).
How do we spot textbooks in disguise?
This is the part you’ve been waiting for. You just want to know the secret X-ray formula for spotting which books are affected by student-driven market forces.
You can also guess what I’m going to say next: There isn’t one.
But we can get close. Here’s the three part checklist:
- Niche nonfiction that doesn’t really have any real world application.
If you’re looking at a book and thinking, “Why the heck would somebody want a book about this” and it feels very academic, you might have a textbook in disguise.
Now this description applies to a lot of books that don’t have college demand, this is just a clue, not a steady rule.
Here’s the rule of thumb: “A book on a subject that nobody won’t care about if they weren’t forced to care by a professor.”
2. Books that have those giant white square stickers on the back.
You know the ones. These indicate a book was sold in a college bookstore. Which is a great sign.
Other cosmetic clues included “Used” stickers or other college bookstore stickers or stamps. Don’t get mad when you find these on a book – these are huge clues, and positive ones.
3. Fiction titles that have supplemental material like annotations.
That’s a clue that this is going to be a book that’s going to be purchased by students in a literature department, for example. The average Jane Austen reader is not going to want an annotated edition.
Generally speaking: Any nonfiction book that generally appears scholarly and academic.
You’ll develop an eye for this.
This is extremely important because…
…the majority of “textbooks” fit into these categories.
Most textbooks don’t look like textbooks.
Think it might be a textbook in disguise? How to confirm your suspicions
So you have a book, and your trained eye is telling you this could be a textbook in disguise. How do you know for sure?
The answer is extremely simple: Head over to Keepa or CamelCamelCamel and see what happened to its sales rank in August or January. Did sales spike to an unusual degree?
There’s your answer.
Repeat: Most textbooks don’t look like textbooks
The more you understand this, the more you’ll make.
Because the question of “is this or is this not a textbook?” is an inexact science, my advice: Err on the side of “yes.”
The big reason is that there’s another big driver of book sales people don’t think about:
Students are forced onto Amazon this time every year by the tens of millions (literally). Once there, they are much more likely to throw other books in their shopping cart, simply because they’re on Amazon already. They’re buying 20 books already, what’s another 2 or 5?
For this reason, sales of all books go up this time of year – not just textbooks, and not just “textbooks in disguise.” So when pricing right now, err on the side of “high.” A lot of it is going to sell, no matter if its used in schools or not.
I’ll repeat some useful wisdom:
“You can always go back and lower your prices later. But if you price too low, you can never go back and retrieve the money you could have sold it for.”
PS: Are you a UK seller? I have a big announcement for you. Go here and all will be revealed.
PPS: If you somehow missed it, I published my complete guide to textbook season last week.
PPPS: Have you tried to list a book and gotten an alert from Amazon, requesting you provide receipts as proof it’s legitimate? Send me the ISBN or post in comments below. Trying to separate fact from fiction as rumors swirl…
PPS: Tired of hearing about my new book, Online Book Arbitrage yet? It’s free. Claim your copy.