Unveiling the textbook access code hack: How to (sometimes) double the value of your textbooks by removing and selling access codes separately
Video: The textbook access code trick, step-by-step
This is one of those weird profit-boosting tricks I figured out several years ago, but have always been afraid to share publicly.
I’ll admit, its painful for me to make this trick public. But as they say, when you love something, set it free…
And I love this textbook profit-boosting trick.
The basis of the textbook access code hack
This trick is predicated on buying textbooks online, removing the access cards, separating the two, then selling them separately for a big profit.
Yes, this works. Yes, you can do this without getting in trouble. And yes, you can do this without deceiving or cheating anyone.
You’re about to learn how textbooks with access codes are worth less than the sum of their parts…
Understanding why selling textbook access codes works
To understand this why this trick works, you must understand a few things:
- Many used textbooks contain “Access Codes” giving the buyer various textbook bonus content.
- Buyers are told by Amazon to not expect access codes when they buy a used textbook, and very (very) few buyers care about or expect access code to be included with a used textbook.
- Many textbook access codes have separate Amazon product pages, and can be sold individually.
- Many textbook access codes have steady demand and high value.
These facts add up to create one powerful trick:
You can remove access codes from used textbooks and list them separately, dramatically increasing the value of your textbook.
The textbook access code hack: step-by-step
Let’s say you have a textbook. You planned to resell it. But you want to try this trick. Let’s go through the process of separating and reselling access codes, step-by-step.
Step One: Find the access code
Step one: Does your used textbook have an unused access card?
Most of the time, you’ll find the access cards aren’t opened or used.
If you have an unused access code, continue.
Step Two: Find the Amazon product page for the access code
Every textbook publisher has their own name they give access codes. “My Stat Lab,” “Connect,” “Student Access Kit,” etc. Search by that phrase and the textbook title on Amazon. Or better: many if not most access codes also have their own individual ISBN. If yours does, search by that.
A lot of textbook access codes aren’t going to have standalone product pages. A lot of them will. And you will often be surprised at both how valuable these are, and how strong their Amazon sales rank can be.
What if there’s no product page on Amazon? Should you create one? All I can say is, I’ve never done this. I use the presence of a product page as a confirmation of an access code’s demand. If there is no page for it, I take that as a sign there isn’t a strong demand on Amazon. Though if I were being honest, mostly this is just a function of laziness, and I wouldn’t dissuade you from creating a product page for a textbook access code.
Step Three: List it for sale
Step three: List both the book and the access code for sale separately
Here’s an example I just pulled from Amazon, with a textbook and it’s access card side-by-side:
You can see the book with the access code is selling on Amazon for $111. And the access code alone is selling for nearly $85. Does this mean if we separate the book from the access code, we’re increase our total listing price(s) from $111 to almost $200?
Yes and no. This is where things get a little murky and some discretion is called for. (I’m going to get into the ethical considerations more towards the end of this article).
Where do you list a textbook with no access code?
When faced with multiple page options, where do you list your textbook?
This is the dilemma.
One one hand, in the image above you can clearly see the product title for the book listing says “with Etext” at the end (a reference to the access code). I never want to promote shady selling practices and anything that deprives a customer of value.
On the other hand, the details of the product title have to be balanced with the what we covered before: that buyers are simply not expecting access codes with used books, and Amazon even warns them not to expect access cards at checkout.
Consider that most (at least most recent) textbooks with access codes have two product pages: a page for the book with the access code, and a page for the book without it.
Multiple product pages: Textbook publisher scam
Realistically, this is just a shady marketing trick by textbook publishers to dissuade booksellers from selling used copies. Sellers see the product page lists an “Access Code,” they don’t dig any deeper, and think they can’t sell the book on Amazon. Remember, anything textbook publishers can do do dissuade the sale of used copies, they will do.
This is a big trick for them: assigning two different ISBNs to a book. One for the book + access code, and one for the standalone book. Again, the trick they’re pulling here is to dissuade booksellers from listing used copies of the book on Amazon, since a lot of used copies won’t have the access code.
Often when you go to list a textbook, you’ll find the ISBN brings up a page for the “book + access” code bundle. A lot of Amazon booksellers assume at this point they can’t sell the book without the access code, and write the book off as a loss (or sell it somewhere else). That’s exactly what textbook publishers want.
However, most such textbooks have a second, separate Amazon product page for the standalone book (minus access card). Often the value is less, and the demand is lower. But this is much more a function of the “book + access card” page showing up higher in the Amazon search results than it is many people actually wanting the access code.
In other words, the page for the “book + access card” are most often the “main” page for the textbook, and show up first in the Amazon search results.
The “multiple product pages” dilemma: how I handle it
So those are your options. What do I do?
Most wouldn’t agree with this, but access code or not, I’ll list the book on whatever Amazon page gets me the most money for the book. You can follow my lead or not, but all I can say is that I’ve never gotten negative feedback for this.
Profit analysis: What if you want to opt for the conservative option?
Let’s say you’re not willing to do what I do, and you want to list your textbook under the product page for the standalone book. In the example above, how different is the value?
Here’s the side by side comparison:
The page at the top is for the standalone book (w/no access code), and the one below is for the book + the access card.
You can see the merchant fulfilled Amazon value for the standalone edition is approximately $38 less.
Running the numbers on your profits
Let’s do the math on our options. So you’re out sourcing, and you find a copy of this textbook with the access code included. Here are your options:
- Leave the access code in the textbook, list under the book + access code page. Sales price: $132.
- Separate the access code and the textbook. List book under standalone book page, and access code under its product page. $95 + $85 = $180.
- Separate the access code and the textbook. List book under book + access code page, and access code under its product page. $133 + $85 = $218.
What just happened?
By separating the access card from the textbook, using the most conservative of the two options, we increased our selling value by $48.
This took almost no effort. It’s 100% compliant with Amazon’s policies. And we increased our gross by over $40.
And if you went with option #3: The value jumps by over $85.
Do people buy textbook access codes on Amazon?
It’s true that the demand for the access code is always going to be significantly less than for the textbook itself.
In the book we’re using as an example, the Amazon sales rank for the book with the access code is approximately 12,000.
The rank for the access card alone is this:
Not a huge difference, and the access card alone is still selling several times a day.
Realistically, there won’t be much demand for the access codes outside of the the most recent or perhaps two most recent editions of a textbook.
The book we’ve been using as an example so far is the 10th edition. Let’s look at the access code for the 9th edition:
Still very much a product with active demand.
Here’s the 8th edition:
Still not terrible, and for minimal extra effort.
Also keep in mind this Amazon sales rank of 2-ish million is for a textbook that is almost 8 years old, and this is just for the access card. 2 million is actually surprisingly good.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking…
Is selling textbook access codes ethical?
Aren’t you depriving the book buyer of an access card just to carve out some extra profit?
I don’t think so, for these reasons (which I’ll recap):
- Common-sense textbook buyers do not (and should not) expect access code to come with used textbooks.
- If an access code was important to a buyer, they would purchase a new copy.
- Amazon warns buyers at checkout to not expect access codes or CDs.
- Setting all this aside, few students care about access codes anyway.
Not only is there no obligation as a seller to provide an insert or access code, there is no expectation from the buyer.
If you still find yourself in the middle of an ethical debate about selling textbook access codes, you can play it really safe and list the book for sale under the product page for the version that does not promise an access code (not all textbooks have two product pages, mind you).
I personally see no issue here, but use your discretion.
The textbook access code hack makes unprofitable books profitable
Let’s create a hypothetical textbook we find out sourcing. Let’s say it has an average Amazon sales rank of 500,000 and an FBA value of $15. You’re going to pay $2 for this book. It’s really heavy and fees are big, so you’re not really excited about this one. Your net profit only comes to $2.50. Not really worth your time.
But let’s say the book has access code inside, unused. You look it up on Amazon, and it has an average rank of 1.7 million. Not amazing, but not terrible. Let’s say the access code has a merchant fulfilled value of $12. Because the access code is so light, selling it FBA you still get a $6 Amazon payout.
Selling the textbook access code caused your net profit to more than triple (to $8.50). And suddenly this unremarkable book became one worth selling on Amazon.
- Always look for unused access codes in your textbooks.
- When appropriate, sell textbook access codes on Amazon separately.
The best money is free money.