The top 5 clues a textbooks is fake: Every step for avoiding counterfeit textbooks – a guide for Amazon sellers.
Video: Top 5 ways to spot a counterfeit book
What’s the story with counterfeit textbooks?
One of the most prevalent fears that Amazon booksellers face is accidentally selling a counterfeit textbook. Horror stories abound of sellers listing a textbook for sale, getting caught up in textbook publisher sting operations, and suffering serious consequences when they are reported to Amazon.
In the best case scenario, you can get your Amazon account health dinged and temporarily lose the Buy Box (among other things). Worse case, your seller account gets suspended.
While I think the fear in the Amazon selling world over fake textbooks is exaggerated, it’s still smart to tilt the odds in your favor by knowing what to look out for.
The Top 5 signs a textbook is counterfeit
What follows are the most common clues a textbook is take. There are many other forgery signs, but they are less common than these five. The clues that follow are going to be the giveaway for the most majority of counterfeit textbooks you’ll encounter as an Amazon seller.
#1 Sign a Textbook is Counterfeit: It’s a high-demand textbook sold (suspiciously) cheap
This is the top clue a book is a fake, but this only applies to books sourced online (i.e. “online book arbitrage“). If you’re only sourcing offline, skip to #2 – this won’t apply to you. If you are sourcing books online, there is a near-100% chance you will encounter counterfeits, and you’ll want to remember this.
When you encounter a high-demand textbook on any bookselling site (either eBay, via BookFinder.com, Abe Books, etc) where the following four factors apply, it’s probably fake:
- High-demand textbook
- In new condition
- Priced significantly below Amazon prices
- With multiple quantities available
If you see a book that meets these criteria, you’re probably looking at a counterfeit.
The reasons should be obvious: Counterfeiters flood middlemen sellers with cheap, new-condition forgeries of the most popular textbooks. Their job is to sell a lot of them quickly. These middlemen have probably all been banned from Amazon, since Amazon polices their platform far more than sites like Abe Books or eBay. So they price below Amazon prices, to entice buyers over from Amazon (where most people would prefer to buy their books) and liquidate their ill-gotten inventory quickly.
(Counterfeits can be found on Amazon as well. But Amazon is so ruthless about banning sellers for bad behavior, these sellers are likely weeded out quickly).
In my experience, if any of these four factors do not apply, the book is likely not counterfeit. For example, it’s not uncommon for a seller on a non-Amazon site to sell a textbook for well below Amazon prices. But they are likely to be used, or not in quantities greater than one. Or, it’s totally possible for someone to be selling multiple copies of a textbook, but they aren’t likely to be in New condition, or high-demand textbooks.So one or two of these factors does not indicate a counterfeit.
But all four factors at once? Major red flag.
#2 Sign a Textbook is Counterfeit: Low-resolution or blurry cover art
Fake textbooks often have poor quality cover art. Remember that some textbook publishers are literally billion dollar companies, and they aren’t skimping on production quality. So if you find a textbook that has fuzzy art on the cover, distorted images, pixelated fonts or graphics, or otherwise doesn’t look right – that’s a major sign the book is a forgery.
#3 Sign a Textbook is Counterfeit: Distorted UPC barcode.
The first thing I look at if I’m suspicious a book is legit is the barcode. A low-quality counterfeit can be quickly revealed by looking at the definition of the barcode image. A real barcode will never have any distortion to it. A counterfeit will often have a slightly fuzzy appearance. If you see a barcode like this, you don’t have to wonder – the book is a counterfeit.
#4 Sign a Textbook is Counterfeit: Low-quality paper
Take a look at the interior pages:
- Does the paper lack the gloss of a normal, high-quality textbook?
- Is the paper so thin you can see through it?
These clues almost always indicate a book is fake.
#5 Sign a Textbook is Counterfeit: Narrower width than dimensions reported on Amazon
Take a look at the dimensions of a textbook in the “Product Details” portion of a book’s product page on Amazon. It will list the thickness of a book (in inches). You can compare this to the book you have, and if there’s a difference – the book is a fake.
Because of the thin, low-quality paper issue covered in #4, the spine will often be significantly narrower than a real copy. You can rely on the dimensions provided on Amazon to be accurate, so this is a near-perfect clue as to a book’s legitimacy.
More signs a book is a forgery
We just covered the top five most common signs of counterfeits. You really don’t need to look any further than that list, since most counterfeits are likely to have one clue from the Top 5. But for good measure, here’s a long list of other imperfections seen in counterfeits:
Other dimensions vary: I covered the thickness of a book, but differences in the height and width of a book (from the dimensions listed on Amazon) are a major clue.
Thicker than normal paper: Thinner paper is the biggest giveaway, but sometimes forged books are made with thicker paper.
Colors vary from original: Pull up an image of the book on Amazon and compare the color of the cover. A fake textbook can sometimes have a slightly different shade.
Blurry / weird interior photos: The quality of the photos in a counterfeit textbook can be very poor quality – either blurry, pixelated, or black and white (when they should be color).
Off-center printing: Big textbook publishers don’t make sloppy printing mistakes like off-center printing. If you notice text on interior pages is not properly centered, that’s a big clue a textbook is counterfeit.
Low-quality binding: A sloppy binding job (messy or strange-colored glue, for example) can mean a book is fake.
No copyright symbol: This is the funniest one to me, but fake textbooks will often leave off the copyright symbol. I doubt this is out of respect for the law. Maybe superstition? Or an inside joke?
List of 10 most counterfeited textbooks
This isn’t a statistically-confirmed list – just the textbooks you hear about with the most counterfeits in circulation.
How to use this list:
Sourcing online? Anytime you see sellers with multiple copies of any of these in New condition being sold for suspiciously cheap, assume they are counterfeits.
Sourcing everywhere else? If you see copies of these, put them under extra scrutiny.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
Principles of Anatomy and Physiology
Essentials Of Economics
Art Of Public Speaking
Principles Of Biochemisty
Mass Media Law
Clues your textbook is not fake
If you have any concerns a book might be counterfeit, here’s a couple of major clues that it’s not – and you can safely sell it with no issues.
A book is in low demand
Counterfeiters generally only reproduce books that are highly sought after by students. If you’re a counterfeiter, and you can choose among any book in the world to reproduce – naturally you’re going to only choose books that sell a lot of copies. It’s just good (criminal) business sense.
If you’re uncertain about a book, all you need to know that it’s not a fake is it’s Amazon Sales Rank. If the rank is poor, it’s almost definitely not a fake.
The only exceptions would be an older counterfeit that is no longer in demand, that ended up in the second hand market. If you have concerns, you can pull up the sales history in a tool like Keepa. If it spent an extended period of time (like at least several years) in high demand, you can’t rule out that it may be an older counterfeit.
A book is not a textbook
Theoretically any book can be counterfeited. But the only fake books that are highly circulated (based on my personal experience, and what you hear from other sellers) are textbooks. If you’re a counterfeiter, it’s simply where the money is.
Any book from the last 30 years that’s not a textbook is unlikely to be a counterfeit.
Don’t let counterfeit-paranoia scare you from selling textbooks. But use this basic checklist to protect yourself, just in case.