This is it: Everything Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) booksellers need to know for textbook season.
Every August and January, Amazon textbook sales explode. This is where small decisions can lead to big losses (and profits), so here’s almost everything I can think of on the subject of what FBA sellers should be doing, right now.
Textbook season is a myth, long live textbook season
Part of me regrets whatever role I had in promoting this idea of “textbook season,” because most Amazon booksellers get it totally wrong.
Here’s how most Amazon sellers look at textbook season:
“The two times a year when people buy textbooks.”
How Amazon sellers should look at textbook season:
“The two times a year when textbook sales go up.”
This is important, because there is a big misconception that selling textbooks on Amazon are a seasonal business. They are not.
Sales going up this week is not the same as textbooks not selling the rest of the year. These are very different things.
The reality is more glass-half-full: textbooks on Amazon sell all year round, and a couple times a year they sell even more.
There was a time when higher education operated on a rigid schedule – school started in August, it got out in May, and that was that.
Today, between online courses and a general diversification in academia, textbooks are selling all year round.
(For what is worth, the only uniformity in higher education is that no one is in school in mid-to-late December. Textbooks sales plummet in middle of the month, across the board.)
For all of these reasons, textbook season is real – and its a myth.
Peak days of textbook sales
Everyone wants to know: What’s the Amazon textbook season sales peak?
I just went back and looked at my last two years of Amazon sales, and it confirmed what I already knew:
The peak of textbook season is the third week in August.
So there you go. In terms of specific dates, what does that mean for Amazon sales this year?
Here’s what I expect will happen:
Expect the biggest textbook sales day to be August 22nd.
Expect the biggest textbook sales week to be August 22nd to 26th.
Note: This year is weird, because the 1st is a Monday. That means the third full week falls on the 15th, which is historically too early for sales to peak. So far I haven’t seen a big spike in sales, so I’m not expecting this week will be the peak.
What are the biggest specific days for textbook sales on Amazon?
Again, I only looked at the last two years of Amazon book sales here, but here are the patterns that emerged:
- Third Monday in August
- Third Tuesday in August
- Third Wednesday in August
This year, that means:
- August 22nd.
- August 23rd.
- August 24th.
No mobs and torches outside my house if it doesn’t play out this way for you exactly, please. I’m just reporting patterns from my recent Amazon sales history.
When does textbook season end? By September 7th, textbook sales on Amazon have mostly returned to normal.
Things FBA sellers should relax about with textbooks:
What doesn’t matter as much as with other books:
Students don’t care that much. I seriously don’t think may students use these, at all.
People purchasing used textbooks aren’t naive, and understand they’re probably not getting the CD or access code. On top of that, Amazon warns them on the product page that used textbooks are likely to not contain inserts.
Together, this means you shouldn’t get worked up about knowing if your textbooks contain all the original inserts. It just doesn’t matter that much.
Another thing students buying on Amazon don’t care that much about. Not to be mistaken for “none of them care about condition at all,” and not to be mistaken for “cut corners on your grading.”
What it does mean is: don’t get too concerned about your 19 year old customers judging your books too much. They’re only buying your book because they have to. They just don’t care that much.
What does matter: The absence of highlighting
To the extent that a student does care about condition-related issues, its probably highlighting. What students are looking for more than anything is the absence of highlighting.
That does not mean highlighting is a death sentence for your book. A lot of students won’t. Some even prefer highlighted books (someone else has done the work for them).
How can this detail make you some money right now? FBA sellers will likely get a sales boost if you mention “No highlighting or writing” in your condition description. This is an important distinction for a lot of students.
And what’s better, almost no megasellers take the time to offer specific condition notes on books (just the generic ones), so you’re likely to find Amazon buyers skipping past megaseller offers to buy yours – because you can specifically guarantee “no highlighting.”
For any textbooks you’re shipping in this week (and in the future), I suggest adding this “no highlighting” mention to the beginning of every condition description. This detail matters.
Textbook season pricing and repricing: Where the money is
The biggest thing to know is that you should be repricing your FBA textbooks every day for the next 3 weeks.
There is no greater revenue-per-hour activity that repricing. Sourcing itself doesn’t even come close.
When a book is not competitively priced (repeat: this does not mean “lowest priced”), it’s the same as that book not being for sale at all. Repricing brings these as-yet unsold books back to life.
Starting today, reprice your FBA textbooks and “scholarly non-fiction” every day.
Every. Single. Day.
Never, ever, ever surrender your textbooks to third party repricing software
I have to repeat this for newer sellers who haven’t heard my oft-repeated editorial on this.
Third party software (yes, all of it), cannot “see” most FBA offers, so you’re taking a blowtorch to your profits if you’re using third party repricing software.
I’ve repeated this so much, I won’t belabor the point. But there is literally no way to lose more money faster than using repricing software on FBA textbooks (short of creating a disposal order or dynamiting an FBA warehouse).
(I say “third party” because I have yet to adequately test Amazon’s new “automatic repricer.” I’m hearing good things, and its clear it doesn’t have as many blindspots as third party software. But I’m withholding my endorsement until I’ve fully tested it.)
Don’t do it.
How I reprice FBA textbooks during textbook season
This method is tedious, but absolutely necessary.
First, you should have all your SKUs coded to denote the textbooks. (I just put the word “text” in mine). Now you can go into your FBA Inventory page and bring up just the textbooks.
Next, I check the box to “Show ASIN/FNSKU.”
Then I click on every (text)book, and do two things:
- See competing FBA offers.
- See sales rank history in Keepa (you should have this extension installed).
Sales rank history is important because it defines how I set my price. The higher the demand, the more boldly I’ll price.
And how do we price in relation to other FBA offers?
How to price FBA textbooks
Since I’ve covered this extensively before, let’s cover this from a new angle.
First, we need to accept one fundamental: If textbook sales are going to spike, it’s pretty foolish to simply match the lowest FBA offers, since those will be first to sell.
So how many FBA offers should you price above, going into textbook season (meaning today)?
Of course, this is defined by the book’s demand. The more copies you expect to sell, the further down the page you can position your FBA offer.
In the absence of any FBA offers, how should you price FBA textbooks?
Let’s take a fantasy scenario where you’re the only FBA textbook seller in the world. So there’s no competing FBA offers. Realistically, you won’t encounter textbooks with no FBA offers very often. But if you did, here’s how I would price them…
When a book holds an average sales rank (in the off season) of:
1 to 30,000: Price $50 to $100 above the lowest non-FBA offer.
30,000 to 150,000: Price $40 to $70 above the lowest non-FBA offer.
150,000 to 300,000: Price $35 to $50 above lowest non-FBA offer.
300,000 to 600,000: Price $30 to $40 above lowest non-FBA offer.
600,000 to 900,000: Price $25 to $35 above lowest non-FBA offer.
Since we’re not likely to encounter this situation very often, the bigger question is: How many FBA offers do we price above?
What follows is how I price going into textbooks season (as in, right now). As textbook season progresses, I reprice to get more conservative (while still not caring if my textbooks don’t all sell over the next 3 weeks, because of course they won’t).
With the understanding that this is totally subjective and merely my personal guidelines, here is what I do:
When a book holds an average sales rank (in the off season) of…
1 to 30,000: Price your FBA offer as the 5th or 6th lowest.
30,000 to 300,000: Price your FBA offer as the 4th or 5th lowest.
300,000 to 600,000: Price your FBA offer as the 3rd or 4th lowest
600,000 to 900,000: Price your FBA offer as the 2nd or 3rd lowest.
You could probably get more aggressive than this. I consider this formula to be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between “risk averse” and “insanely bold.”
Remember, this is how I do it going into textbook season (again, right now). I’m still repricing daily over the next 3 weeks. After we clear the peak of Amazon textbook sales (probably the 22nd through the 26th this year), then I want to reprice to get all but my most high demand FBA textbooks somewhere in the bottom 3 or so (depending on the sales rank).
This is how I do it. It’s definitely a “delayed gratification” formula. But as I always say, I’m here for money, not “sales.”
(Even if you don’t follow my formula, don’t listen to anyone who caters to your lazy side by promoting an overly-simplistic textbook pricing formula. Or worse: anyone who espouses a “price however you want man, do your thing bro” anti-formula. Anyone who talks like that doesn’t care about your profits, they just like the cheap applause that comes from telling newer sellers what they want to hear.)
Last thing on this: Textbook pricing is a big topic, so if you’re new to these concepts, check out the article I wrote about textbook pricing last year here: “The Textbook Epiphany That’s Making Me a Bunch of Money“.
What if all your textbooks don’t sell?
They won’t. And it doesn’t matter.
Bottom line: If anywhere close to all your textbooks sell, then:
- You aren’t pricing aggressively enough.
- You don’t have enough textbooks.
Your textbook season cheat sheet
- Peak sales will probably be the 22nd through the 26th.
- Sales have mostly returned to normal by September 7th.
- Don’t get hung up on inserts.
- Reprice every day.
- Price above the lowest FBA offers going into textbook season.
- Get less insanely bold with your prices after textbook season peaks.
- It doesn’t mater if all your textbooks don’t sell (they wont’)
Let the tidal wave of sales begin…
PS: If you missed it, my new book is out (and its free).