A day in the life of an Amazon seller: Finding tons of cheap books to resell for big profits at garage sales
Opening day of garage sale season
Every year, in the less temperate parts of the country, when the weather starts to get warmer, Craigslist will blow up with announcements for garage sales (aka yard sales). Aka, the unofficial “opening day of garage sale season.”
This year, where I live, this kickoff of garage sale season came in late-April. And I was there.
Warning: Most Craigslist posts are lies
My garage sale research always begins on Craigslist.
An unfortunate truth about Craigslist is that every garage sale host exaggerates. What they call a collection of “hundreds” of books is often 50 books when you drive an hour to look at it. “Rummage sales” are often two elderly women with a card table of homemade quilts. And “huge” garage sales are rarely that.
My rule with Craigslist and garage sales is that I won’t cross the street for anything that doesn’t promise, in no ambiguous terms, that it will have a LOT of books. And by “a lot,” I mean specifically promises of tons of books (or other media). Or, promises types of books that are likely to be profitable (“selling my father’s art book collection”). And even with this scrutiny, I still come away with no books about 25% of the time.
When I’m out visiting garage sales, I still give myself room to freestyle and make unscheduled stops. Because you’ll always pass other sales you should pull over and give a look to. Occasionally this will lead to some big book scores.
My garage sale research
My usual garage sale search formula on Craigslist is pretty simple. I go to the “Garage Sales” page and search for “books.”
On this “opening day of garage sale season,” my search pulled up a couple dozen listings for garage sales with books. But only 5 that met my criteria.
Here were the 5 that made it onto my list:
- One stated the sale was hosted by “two professors” who were selling their unwanted books. No quantity specified, but professors are likely to have the most valuable books.
- One promised “tons” of “metaphysical” books – a high-profit category. Books like this are one of the benefits of living in a college town.
- Another promised similar books, using different language: “yoga,” “natural healing,” “meditation” and the like. (This town is such a cliche it’s hilarious).
- One promised “hundreds” of books. This is the kind of specificity I need.
- One was a little more vague, stating “…forced to move. Getting rid of our entire book collection.” A “collection” could mean anything, and this was just barely enough for me to put it on the list.
Garage sale book sourcing rampage
Let the opening day of garage sale season begin…
Garage sale #1 (books to resell: 12)
As much as it pains me to get up before 10am, I was out the door at 6:45am to hit the first sale – the “professors” unloading their unwanted books.
The first thing I noticed was another bookseller standing over the table of books, holding a PDA and barcode scanner. I caught him literally mid-conversation with one of the people holding the sale, saying “Great, I’ll come by Monday and take a look at what you have.” I could only extrapolate from this that he had just arranged to take a look at books that the host didn’t put out for the sale. Talking to garage sale hosts is a favorite tactic of mine. I ask if they have more books inside that they didn’t put out. This has led to some major scores before. I was only 10 minutes late to the sale, and this bookseller had beat me to it.
I took a shot anyway, and ran my “Do you have any more books inside” line by them. One of the “professors” said yes, but that he hadn’t gone through the books yet and wasn’t prepared to sell them . I could now safely assume these books are what was being discussed when I arrived.
Still, the other bookseller had left behind quite a few books to resell among the boxes. I bought 12 books, mostly on Oxford University Press.
Garage sale #2 (books to resell: 15)
This was the first of two sales promising tons of metaphysical books.
I arrived at the sale to a disheveled mess, with two college-aged kids rapidly organizing a garage that clearly had not been prepared for a sale. I saw several disorganized stacks of books on a coffee table, and more on the floor. After quickly scanning them all, I had a stack of 15 books, mostly on yoga. A few of them were selling for $20+, so I was prepared to pay as much as $2 each (very high for garage sale prices). I was more than happy when I asked one of the hosts to name a price for the stack, and she said “How about $4?” Don’t ask me why she named such an arbitrary number.
I gave her the cash and left.
Garage sale #3 (books to resell: 30)
This was the second sale offering books in the “new age” / “metaphysical” category.
I arrived, half expecting the bookseller from the first sale would have already been everywhere one step ahead of me, but it was clear right away this collection was not picked over. There were about 7 boxes of books, and about every third book had value (a very high percentage).
I piled up nearly 30 books on everything from beating cancer through nutrition to something about crystals. I paid 50 cents each, and was in and out in under 10 minutes (a very profitable less-than-10-minutes, I should add).
Garage sale #4 (books to resell: 0)
This was the garage sale I was unsure about, with the Craigslist post stating they were forced to move and were selling their “collection.”
I won’t even go into details, but it was completely unfruitful. There were about 8 outdated computer books, and I didn’t stay for more than 30 seconds.
Garage sale #5 (books to resell: 7)
Lastly, the sale advertising “hundreds” of books.
They weren’t lying about the “hundreds” part. Unfortunately, it was mostly fiction, and mostly old fiction.
I did find 7 books to resell, each of them among the “classics.” I paid the host $7, and went home.
The totals from one day of sourcing books at garage sales
- Books to resell: 64
- Spent: $37
- Total Amazon Sales Price (at time of listing): $880.17
- Average Amazon Sales Rank: 408,567
- Projected Amazon profit: $490
For three hours work, I’ll call l that a pretty good return on my time (and monetary) investment.
And that concludes this field report on the opening day of garage sale season.