Complete FAQ on Amazon restricting textbooks from being sold: Are textbooks a gated category? Can you sell textbooks on Amazon? Everything there is to know.
Textbooks aren’t the only books you can be restricted from selling on Amazon, but they are the most severely restricted book category.
So I’m covering everything there is to know about the current state of Amazon’s (ridiculous) textbook restrictions…
Video: Why are some textbooks gated on Amazon?
The brief history of Amazon gating textbooks
Books used to be an entirely ungated category. Then, one day, something happened.
It all started out of nowhere. One day, Amazon sent out an email to many (but not all) sellers, requesting invoices for textbooks they currently had listed for sale. The cryptic email alluded to new restrictions on selling textbooks.
Over the years that followed, Amazon followed through on their threats – restricting a large number of textbooks from being sold without going through a (usually impossible) approval process.
Which brings us to where we are today: A (relatively small) percentage of textbooks are restricted from being old by most Amazon sellers.
In this article, I’m turning over every stone on Amazon’s textbook restrictions, and answering the top 13 questions & rumors about Amazon gating and restricting textbooks.
The original “Textbook Apocalypse” email
Here is the email that started it all:
Today, there remains a lot of misinformation about exactly what books Amazon will or won’t allow you to sell. Hang around Amazon seller Facebook groups and forums, and you’ll hear statements like “I’m not allowed to sell any textbooks” (never true) to “textbooks are a gated category” (equally untrue).
What’s the real story?
14 facts about Amazon textbook restrictions
Fact #1: Textbooks are not a “gated” category.
As I’ll cover below, you need approval to sell only a very small percentage of textbooks. Most textbooks are entirely ungated.
Fact #2: Textbook publishers carried out a sting operation to target sellers
True story. This is some serious scandal, but 100% real: Textbook publishers partnered with a law firm (and Amazon?) to place fake orders with sellers, then reported their textbooks as “counterfeit.” Sellers were (and continue to be) either banned, sent a threatening letter by the law firm, or Amazon, or both.
have been carrying out sting operation to bust Amazon sellers: Creating textbook orders, then reporting the books as “counterfeit” (when they weren’t) to reduce the number of 2nd hand textbooks sold on Amazon.
What was going on? The common denominator was that every seller getting heavy textbook restrictions by Amazon had received an order from a “Mike Candy” on Wyaconda Road in Rockville, Maryland (later 13842 Outlet Drive, Ste A106, Silver Spring MD).
If you get a textbook order from anyone named “Mike Candy,” you’re in trouble.
The sting operation continues to this day.
Fact #3: Individual titles are never completely gated
If you”ve ever read a comment on a forum from any sellers that goes “<insert textbook title here> is a restricted textbook,” that’s false.
There is no such thing as a “restricted” vs “non-restricted” textbook: Restrictions are on a seller-by-seller basis. There are titles that are restricted from being sold by most sellers, other titles restricted for only a few – but no textbook is fully gated.
Fact #4: There are many different levels of textbook restrictions
No seller is “unrestricted” from selling textbooks or “restricted.” As a seller, your level of restrictions are based on metrics like how long you’ve been a seller, and you sales volume.
If you talk to 10 different sellers, you’re likely to get 10 different answers about which textbooks they can or can’t sell.
There is a gradation to restrictions, from the most severe (newer sellers or overseas sellers) to 100% unrestricted.
Fact #5: Newer sellers have the most severe textbook restrictions
If you just got an Amazon seller account, you’ll face the most severe textbook restrictions. Amazon doesn’t “trust” you yet, and its going to take you some time to earn Amazon’s good graces.
Which brings us to Fact #6….
Fact #6: Restrictions ease up over time
The longer you sell on Amazon, the less “gated” the textbook category will be. Over time, you’ll see that you’re allowed to sell some books that you couldn’t before. It gradually gets better.
Fact #7: Actually, foreign sellers have it worst of all
If you’re in the unfortunate position of being outside the US and signing up for a US seller account (to do online arbitrage), then its going to be rough. Amazon imposes some severe restrictions on the number of textbooks you can sell.
Fact #8: There are many factors that impact whether Amazon gates you
The biggest factors that contribute to a book being restricted:
- Type of book.
Fact #9: It’s easy to know if Amazon restricts you before you buy a textbook
Your scanning app should tell you. (If it doesn’t, switch to Scoutly).
If one slips through, your listing software should tell you (or Amazon, if you list directly through Seller Central).
Fact #10: The number of books you sell has the biggest impact on gating
Sales volume seems to be what separates sellers who are restricted from a lot of textbooks vs those who aren’t.
Remember, Amazon makes its decision based on how much it “trusts” you. More successful sales equals more trust.
Fact #11: A very small number of textbooks are impacted
Here is the total number of books Amazon currently classifies as “textbooks””
There’s no clear numbers on how many books are subject to restrictions. But its almost certainly under 1%.
Fact #12: You can still profit from a textbook even if you can’t sell on Amazon
If you get stuck with a textbook you can’t sell, you have some options to liquidate:
- Sell on eBay
- Sell/trade in through BookScouter.com
- Sell through a consignment service (services that list & sell your books on Amazon for you, in exchange for a cut of the sale).
Fact #13: Only the most high-demand textbooks are gated
As covered, this is all motivated by pressure from big textbook publishers for Amazon to crack down on counterfeits. T=Good news: Generally the only textbooks that are counterfeited are very new, very high-demand textbooks.
This is just the economic reality: Counterfeiters are going to put their efforts towards the bestselling, highest value books.
We’re talking about a very small sliver of the textbook pie. I’ve never heard of a textbook being heavily counterfeited that wasn’t steadily ranked in the top 30,000 (usually it’s 10,000 or better). Yes old counterfeit copies can float around and circulate, but if you’re trying to curb counterfeiting, you’re only going after the most well-ranked books.
Remember, Amazon’s official statement on gated textbooks is that it only applies to “popular textbooks.” That doesn’t include the vast majority of all textbooks.
Fact: #14: Textbook publishers are trading favors for turning sellers into snitches
That was a mouthfull. There’s two parts to this allegation:
- Textbook publishers are recruiting sellers to “snitch” on their book suppliers for selling counterfeit textbooks (even when they’re not).
- Textbook publishers are promising sellers they will be on a list of “approved” sellers (i.e. ungated) if they work with O+Z Law (the textbook publisher law firm discussed in Fact #2) to become an informant against their textbook sources (what exactly they want to know isn’t disclosed).
The entirety of this allegation is coming from a single comment from an FBA Mastery reader. So this is some pretty flimsy reporting on my part, but still interesting enough to post. Here’s the comment:
What’s most insane about this to me is that it indicates that Amazon has turned over the approval process to textbook publishers. If true, it appears that the decision of who gets ungated for restricted textbooks is in the power of the textbook publishers. Pretty scandalous “fox guarding henhouse” scenario here.
The big takeaway here is that most of the chatter you hear about textbooks requiring approval to sell on Amazon is false.
What’s true is that some textbooks require approval to sell by some sellers. But its a microscopic percentage of textbook pie.
PS: Jump in the comments (or email me privately) if you applied and got your restrictions lifted with one or more of the three textbook publishers. Did you provide Amazon textbook receipts and get approved? If yes, what kind of receipts did you provide?
I’ve been selling, at a very low volume, for nearly eight years, all FBA. Curiously, I find that I’m restricted on almost as many non-textbooks as textbooks. And, when applying to sell I get approved or disapproved on both just about equally.