How to profit from one of the biggest secrets of sourcing books to sell: A weird textbook publisher most Amazon sellers miss.
My weird Amazon book sourcing experiment (that actually worked)
The best way to make more than the next seller makes, is to do what the next seller is unwilling to do. And one thing almost no sellers are willing to do is look up books without barcodes.
Depending on what part of the country you live in (Bible belt vs anywhere else) you may see the publisher I’m about to discuss literally everywhere there are used books. Or, you may see these slightly less often, but they’re common enough that anyone sourcing books to resell never go long without seeing them. And almost every bookseller misses them (for one very specific reason I’ll share in a moment).
They are Abeka Christian grade & high school books (alternately known as “A Beka.”)
Three details about Abeka
- They are ubiquitous in the second-hand book market.
- Almost every Amazon bookseller misses them.
- Booksellers miss them for a very specific reason (which I’ll reveal in a second…)
- They have value on Amazon an exceptionally high percentage of the time.
What are Abeka books?
Abeka publishes massive catalog of Christian grade & high school books. (Don’t ask me how you make math or spelling books religious, but they figure out a way.)
They all have a distinct look that you can’t really put your finger on, but over time, you’ll know them when you see them. Nearly all have the distinct (subtly eighties-looking) “A Beka” logo on the cover.
Once you know how to spot these, you’ll (probably) start seeing them everywhere.
Why most Amazon sellers miss these
Abeka books have one distinct feature that set them apart from virtually every other book: A barcode that doesn’t scan, with an ISBN that isn’t really an ISBN.
The barcode looks a little “off.” Then you scan it, the barcode doesn’t come up in your scanning app, and you put them down and move on.
That’s what I did the first dozen times I found a Abeka book. Then I realized if I was going to keep seeing these, I had better figure them out.
So I tried to find the ISBN to key one into my FBA scanning app manually. But there was no ISBN. Turns out no Abeka books have real barcodes or ISBNs (might be a “barcodes are the mark of the beast” thing, who knows).
That means I had to go really old school: Keying the books into the Amazon Seller App by title. Then sorting through the results by edition (most Abeka books have multiple editions).
And when I did this, I started to learn something very cool about these books: They have value on Amazon a really high percentage of the time (possibly because almost all other Amazon sellers leave them behind).
Keying in books manually is the “key” to everything
This is one of the biggest advantages you can have as an Amazon seller: Knowing what books to key manually into your scanning app, and being willing to put the work into doing it.
This subject deserves its own article, but I’ll make the point succinctly here:
Learning to spot value and type in barcode-less books manually is one of the highest-paying skills you can cultivate in the context of Amazon bookselling.
My Abeka textbook experiment
Recently I found the motherload of Abeka books at a garage sale. Over a hundred Abeka books. In a giant box. Covering a wide range of years (1990s until very recent).
There was no way I was going to key =100 books into my scanning app by title.
The purpose of this Christian textbook experiment
I wanted to find out:
- Can you buy a huge stack of Abeka books, totally blind, without looking them up on Amazon, and still make money?
- Was this the elusive book type that was valuable so often, you could buy them without any scrutiny, and still come out ahead?
- Could I buy blindly and come out ahead even at $1 each?
I decided try it, with one filter: I was only going to buy books from the box published after 2000. I went through every book, took every one that applied, and bought them all.
Here was the final tally
This was a $54 risk, but I got home, looked them all up, and here were the results:
- 54 purchased
- $54 spent
- 46 had value on Amazon (an expected payout of $3+)
- $640 listing price
My risky experiment paid off.
Interpreting the numbers
There’s a pretty big thing we can draw from these numbers. Of the 54 books I bought, 46 were what I deemed profitable. Even though I was buying totally blind, a full 85% of the stack brought an expected Amazon payout of $3 and up.
Other big one is that the average listing price was $14. Not bad for buying totally blind.
What about sales rank? I didn’t have the foresight to take note of the average rank, but it wasn’t great. The average Beka book is ranked worse than 1 million, and even the good selling ones tend to hover around 600,000. I’m almost certain the average sales rank was worse than 1.2 million.
Understanding why Amazon sales rank can be deceiving
With books, there is a difference between “slow and steady sellers” vs “badly ranked.” This is another bookselling lesson here that deserves its own section: The false dichotomy of “good selling” vs “bad selling.”
While its true that average Amazon sales rank (which your scanning app should be showing) reveals a book’s true demand, there’s always a (justifiable) skepticism about books that have an average sales rank worse than 1 million. How often is this book really selling? The numbers can be difficult to interpret in that range.
There are some book categories (like advanced math) that, while they have low demand, have very enduring demand. Abeka is one of those categories. The demand might be low, but it is very steady.
Abeka books may appeal to a niche audience (Christian homeschoolers), but that audience is consistent and they’re not going anywhere. And also with Abeka books, there can be a decade between editions, so even “older” copies maintain demand on Amazon.
I have no concern about these books not selling (some already have).
- Know when to key in books manually into your scanning app.
- Low demand for a book does not equal unsteady demand.
- With Abeka, it doesn’t matter if you key them in or not: If you see them, buy them.