The story of an epic book-buying road trip: 2,000 miles. 20 days. 1,200 books to resell on Amazon.
My massive FBA road trip
I do a lot of FBA sourcing road trips. But this was my most ambitious one yet.
It started in Chicago. After returning from an overseas trip, I landed in the Midwest a one month gap before a family obligation – 2,000 miles away, in Seattle.
I had one month of discretionary time, a car, and a burning love for two things on this earth: 1. The open road. 2. Selling books on Amazon.
I decided to go big.
The rough plan: Three weeks of book sourcing mayhem
The plan was a massive 3 week FBA book-buying road trip through the deep rural US. West through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
I would hit thrift stores, library book sales, estate sales, church sales, and anywhere I could find tons of cheap books to sell on Amazon, and feed my rampage.
In many ways, I was setting myself up to fail. I did zero research on sources in advance. This trip involved lots of miles (and gas money) between stops. And I was traveling through some of the most desolate parts of the country, where inventory-sourcing opportunities were uncertain.
The anatomy of an FBA inventory road trip
From Chicago to Seattle. I would alternate between interstates and two-lane highways, depending on prospective sourcing opportunities and (mostly) my whims. All things being equal, I always opted for the two-lane highways.
Everything. By the end of the trip, it would work out to approximately 70% thrift stores, and everything else ran the range from school rummage sales to Craigslist ads.
I stayed in hotels approximately 2/3 of the nights, and spent tons on gas (in a car that gets 22 MPG). These two cut deeply into my profits, but were both necessary.
The gas expense is obvious. As for hotels, while I have zero problem sleeping in my car, listing sometimes hundreds of books at a time was often too cumbersome to do in public. Hotels were required most nights to get the books to Amazon and make room for more.
(When I was a week away from my Seattle, I stopped doing daily book shipments and sent them in one massive batch when I arrived).
Whenever my car wasn’t spilling over with books, I slept in it.
My daily schedule:
Wake up each day, make a list of potential sources using (primarily) Google Maps and Craigslist, hit the road, and source inventory until everything is closed. Repeat.
It begins: From Chicago to Wisconsin…
I started off with several thrift stores between Milwaukee and Madison. The evidence at these sources indicated my Amazon-seller competition was pretty heavy. But based on what books they left behind, they clearly weren’t FBA sellers, so there was still plenty of profit to be had.
I also found an incredibly awesome book dumpster (my lips are sealed) that yielded 80 books in one midnight visit. Off to a huge start.
My Wisconsin library book sale heist
Took a huge detour to a library book sale in Northern Wisconsin. Then I realized I had the wrong date and it wasn’t starting until the following day. What happened next was a case of “creating your own luck.” I went to the basement where the book sale was to be held and found the door to the book room unlocked. So I ducked in and started scanning (in the dark). I wanted to a get a feel for if there was enough profitable books to justify waiting an extra day for. It took me about 10 seconds to realize it was a total goldmine. I checked into a hotel and went back to the book the next day.
I spent six solid hours scanning books in the two huge rooms (in the dark, I hadn’t even noticed the connecting room the day before). I found so many books they opened up a side room just for me to store them while I shopped. I scanned so much, my Scanfob scanner actually died (this had only happened once before).
I came back the next day and finished off the sale. I found just under 400 books that had FBA profit, which is a library book sale record for me. I didn’t see one other Amazon seller scanning the entire two days.
Three days in to my trip, I was already at 500 books. The trip was off to a huge start.
From Wisconsin To Seattle…
This story is already getting long, so I wont go into a blow-for-blow on the rest of the trip. But here are a few notable highlights and observations from the trip…
My high-profit book finds:
Exactly 25 books (mostly textbooks) worth $99.95 and up. That’s roughly $1,500 profit (on paper, and when they sell).
One title worth (or selling for) $1,995, ranked 1.2 million (not a bad rank, despite what others will tell you). Prices can be artificially high, but according to Keepa, copies have sold for amounts in this range so I’m hopeful.
(Re)-discovering a book source I used to dislike
I learned to love one book source that I had previously believed was worthless: Antique stores.
Finding books to resell at antique stores is going to depend heavily on which one you go to (and where). But after shunning them as overpriced for many years I found some incredible profit. Most of these antique stores were in Montana, where some towns have more antique stores than restaurants. Most of the booths you’ll find in the “antique mall”-style stores (especially in rural areas) are stocked by people who don’t look up prices on Amazon.
Best antique store book find: A rare and highly collectible UFO title with an Amazon Sales Rank of 1 million, with no other copies listed. I priced it at $1,000. There may be a buyer out there at this price, and as long as I have the only copy on the internet, I’m willing to hold out for them.
Libraries were a big book source
A lot of my best book finds came 5 or 10 at a time from small town libraries, who will often have a small book cart or two.
Used bookstores were another source
Because of the general computer aversion of small town America, I found a surprising amount of profitable titles at used book stores. It is usually clear after a few minutes in any bookstore whether they price their titles based on Amazon prices, or their own formula. If you’re willing to spend bookstore prices, you can still come out with titles that have big margins when sold FBA.
A weird school rummage sale with big profits
At one school rummage sale in Idaho, I picked up 80 grade school textbooks. These books were in brand new condition, and cost 50 cents each. Most had an Amazon Sales Rank of 100,000 to 1 million. And I’m expecting huge profits.
This is just a quick thumbnail of my huge trip.
The final tally
The results: over 1,200 books (and misc. media) in 20 days, and projected profit of over $10,000.
Lessons from my FBA sourcing road trip
- There’s tons of profitable FBA inventory out there in even the most desolate parts of the country (maybe especially in the most desolate parts of the country).
- You can make almost any trip pay for itself with FBA. I was nervous about this one with the huge expenses involved, but I came away with huge profits regardless.
- When you’re in small towns, you have to look for books in the most unlikely places. For example: pawn shops. I even scored a sizeable load of profitable books from a place I stopped for coffee, that happened to have four shelves of books for sale in the back.
- It really helps to stay in motion. I averaged 60 books a day. This isn’t a lot, but the quality was a lot higher than I find at home primarily because I wasn’t going over my own leftovers. I was hitting fertile, untapped sources each day.
No matter how remote your trip, if you’re in the US and you’re focused on book sourcing, you can fund (and profit from) any trip using Fulfillment by Amazon.
Excellent piece. I enjoyed this and highlights areas that I may have ignored.
More grease to your book profit elbows.
Is that a thermal printer you are using? Could you tell us what model? Been printing on 30 up sheets and not feeling it’s cost effective.
Peter Valley says
I use a Dymo Labelwriter 400. It’s an older model, but it works great.