How to identify counterfeit textbooks: spotting and avoiding fake books (that can get you banned from Amazon)
How serious is the threat of selling a counterfeit textbooks?
I’ve sold many thousands of textbooks. To my knowledge, I have both never sold a counterfeit, nor ever been accused of selling one (by Amazon or an Amazon buyer).
The threat of counterfeit textbooks, in my opinion, is dramatically overblown. There are things in an Amazon business that are worth worrying about, and things that are a distraction. And counterfeits have never felt like a serious threat to my Amazon business.
I’m not saying counterfeit textbooks don’t exist (I’ve seen them). And I’m not saying there aren’t stories of sellers getting kicked off Amazon for (accidentally) selling counterfeit textbooks. It happens.
Counterfeit textbooks can destroy an Amazon business
While the threat may be overblown, accidentally selling a counterfeit textbook can get you kicked off Amazon.
So on that positive note, let’s get into how to identify a counterfeit textbook…
How to identify a counterfeit textbook: Top 5 clues
Counterfeit Textbook Clue #1: A high-demand textbook sold suspiciously cheap
If you see a book on an non-Amazon site (like eBay) that is priced way below the price on Amazon, you may be looking at a counterfeit textbook.
If you’re sourcing books online, this is a big red flag to look for. Counterfeiters love bootlegging the most popular textbooks, then unloading them for cheap(ish) prices on off-Amazon sites like Alibris, eBay, AbeBooks, and more.
I would advise you to scrutinize any listing closely, but fact is no seller is going to admit their book is counterfeit. So if it seems too good to be true, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is (underpriced textbooks do happen). But you’re taking your chances.
Counterfeit Textbook Clue #2: Thin, low-quality paper.
Big red flag: Paper that is so thin you can see text on one side of the page through the other side of the page.
Counterfeit Textbook Clue #3: Book is thinner than its stated dimensions
Often because the paper is so thin and low quality, the book itself will be significantly thinner. If you have concerns, you can look at the dimensions provided on Amazon (in the “product details” section) and see if the spine width differs dramatically from the textbook you have.
Counterfeit Textbook Clue #4: Poor quality or distorted cover art
Art that looks slightly distorted, pixelated, or just “off.”
Major textbook publishers will never publish a book with fuzzy or weird cover art. They have whole art departments who make sure this doesn’t happen.
Counterfeit Textbook Clue #5: Fuzzy barcode.
The first place I’d look when determining if a textbook is counterfeit is the barcode. If the barcode is distorted or fuzzy – it’s a fake. 100% of the time.
Textbook counterfeiters only reproduce high-demand titles
Because counterfeiters only bootleg expensive, high-demand textbooks; anything that’s not high demand is not likely to be fake.
If you’re not holding a textbook ranked in the top 10,000, it’s probably not counterfeit.
That’s not to say that old counterfeit textbooks won’t stay in circulation, but the bulk of the business in counterfeits is the latest hot new high demand textbooks. They print a bunch of them, sell them quickly, and move on. Those are the textbooks most likely to end up in your Amazon inventory (and be flagged by Amazon).
Endnote: Video on how to identify counterfeit textbooks
I did a webinar for Zen Arbitrage members not too long ago where I spent a few minutes on this subject. Here’s an excerpt:
Endnote #2: Another video on spotting counterfeit textbooks
Jordan Malik has a cool video showing a lot of what I’m talking about: He shows a counterfeit textbook he found, and some of the clues it was fake:
I little off topic, are textbook sales WAY WAY down for anyone else? I don’t understand it. It’s August 18th and I have no textbook sales yet today. HOW ON EARTH? Sales are down 30% from last August and I have 3-4 times more textbooks than last year. Yes, I have raised my prices dramatically, but still think there should be some more sales in an inventory of 2,200-2,500 textbooks (3,200 books in all)
Peter–please weigh in, I really want to hear what you’ve been experiencing.
Peter Valley says
Actually I have an article about the only two reasons books don’t sell very soon. Hint: Low demand or pricing. Usually the second one.
I have been doing steady sales, but my sales are down about 50% since last year. I wonder if it’s due to the change in fee structure. Prices have gone up a bit across the board, and it looks like the increased price may be a tipping point for some students in choosing between a used or a new book.
Larry Sparks says
Maybe be a little early to panic but I dropped my prices 10% to see what would happen One sale so far. Early days yet.
Ben, I will bring prices down. I think there are a lot of offers for textbooks this year than there were last year. Many sellers haven’t reduced prices. Again, your textbooks could be older editions, especially for science and law textbooks. Rarely will students buy an older edition at a price close to a newer edition’s. If it’s an older edition, never compare your price to existing offers, compare it to the price of the newer edition and come way down. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. I have total inventory of 1,600(about 45% textbooks) and since July 9 I have always sold an average of 8 books everyday (about 5 textbooks) with an ASP of $24.65. As Peter indicated, let’s expect sales to pick up from today
Thanks for the reply…
My theory is that rentals have gone way, way, up and that the Sales Rank includes each time that books rents. I have one textbook with a rank of 1000–so that book should be selling a copy every 5 minutes right? I check the prices every few hours and nothing moves. NOTHING MOVES. I’m still #3 same as I was yesterday and the day before. BUT, the book is renting for very cheap (I think $25.00 and the FBA’ers are asking around $150-$225). So I think that’s why the ranking is not telling the full picture and that even though you can price something right it just won’t sell. Can’t tell you how many books I have where I am the SOLE FBA offer with a decent rank of 200-300k and the darn thing just sits there. Am I price gauging you ask? You bet I am! But that’s what FBA textbooks season is all about isn’t it? BTW, I don’t think $99.99 for that book that sells new for $199.99 is that high, do you?
Thanks for listening
Apparently, high-priced textbooks are not the only ones to watch out for. I recently got hit with an “Inauthentic” complaint because I sold a $12 book that turned out to be a copy job. I haven’t figured out why anyone would want to do that, certainly not for profit. With all the strange covers I’ve seen it never occurred to me that it might be a fake. Now my account is shown as “at risk”. Even worse, the customer has emails blocked, so I can’t even apologize.
Be very careful what you sell.
I’m not eligible for the Buy box on used books anymore. New books get Buy box, but I’m unable to list some of them in New condition.
Anyone else have the same issue?
@ Peter: Any news on your “Zen for everything” software? Your upcoming announcement says just books. Is that something separate?
Peter Valley says
Yes, that’s separate. Stay tuned for lots of big announcements over the next 3 months.
Juan Calle says
I got flagged for a counterfeit textbook too, and what I noticed is that the textbook was in super-high demand (Sales Rank consistently under 1000) and that like the DSM V in the video, it was easy to counterfeit since the interior was only in black & white. (I’m sure there are color counterfeits too).
Dave Gieber says
I am confused. In the end note 2 video, Malik has a counterfeit book that is thicker than the original. But clue #3 states a counterfeit book will be thinner than the original. Can you comment on the discrepancy? Thanks!
Peter Valley says
Same point: Dimensions will be inconsistent.
Thanks Peter. I’ve been selling books less than other products, but still nice read. Not sure if this might help to ppl selling their PL products like me, but I’ve been identifying counterfeit with this tool: bindwise.com. Btw, it’s pretty affordable.
Jewel Guzzardi says
Can you explain this? A book shows an ISBN-13: 978-0-324-58999-3
What’s the difference between these 2 isbn#’s for same book?
Also, can you sell an instructor’s copy of a textbook?
Thanks so much.
Tim G says
Amazon will be ramping up on counterfeit crackdowns next year. I too was kicked off for a fake book in the sting. Still trying to appeal. If I can’t get reinstated by textbook season I’m afraid I’ll be done.