The textbook sales explode on Amazon twice a year. Here is everything FBA textbook sellers on needs to know about maximizing your profits.
Textbook season: The twice-annual holiday for FBA booksellers
If you’re selling textbooks on Amazon, mid-August and early January are your Christmas. Students around the country flood back to universities, and you must take action in advance to optimize your FBA book listings for the huge prices students are willing to pay for textbooks.
This is a really important post, and money is slipping through your fingers if you don’t act on this early, so let’s get into it. Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- How to really price textbooks for maximum profits (most people selling textbooks on Amazon get this wrong).
- Why I do not use repricing software with textbooks.
- Why you have to code your SKU’s uniquely for all textbooks.
- How to spot what kind of books students are buying right now (It’s way more than just textbooks).
This is some hardcore tactical advice, for Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) sellers only.
Textbook season: View from a college town
I live literally across the street from a major university. No kidding, I can see three moving trucks from my window as I write this. School is back in session everywhere.
If you’re selling textbooks on Amazon (or nearly any non-fiction books), you will see a spike in sales starting in mid-August or January 1st. By the time I woke up today (in August), I had already done $300 in sales. (To be fair, I usually wake up at noon). And it’s only going to get crazier from here.
Fundamental textbooks pricing rules (that don’t apply to other books)
You must price textbooks on Amazon in a way that you don’t price any other book. This is where I have to insist you abandon what you think you know, and surrender to what works.
My unorthodox Amazon pricing formula for textbooks is not shared by most who are selling textbooks on Amazon. Which is fine, because I make more money from textbooks than they do. My formula is vindicated by my results. Here is the truth that underlies it:
With textbooks, people will pay way, way more for FBA offers that any other category.
I’ve said it many times: Textbooks are the perfect formula for profit when sold via Fulfillment by Amazon. Here’s why:
- Urgency. Textbook purchases are usually time-sensitive, and delivery is needed on short notice by a fixed date. This is where free second-day shipping is a major selling point. And only Prime-eligible / FBA offers can provide this.
- Amazon Student program. The Amazon Student program offers six months of Amazon Prime for free, making students a disproportionately large percentage of Prime subscribers (and consequently, FBA purchases).
Start repricing just before textbook season
Millions of students are flooding Amazon starting after the first week in August, and Christmas. You must optimize your prices just before this period. Otherwise, your textbooks are probably priced too low, and you’re losing a ton of money.
So what’s the best FBA pricing formula?
Pricing is always a balance of sales rank and type of book. We have our type of book established (textbooks), so we’re going to use Amazon Sales Rank as the basis for our pricing strategy.
My Fulfillment by Amazon textbook pricing formula
In the absence of other FBA competition, here is how I price textbooks on Amazon:
Sales Rank of 1 to 30,000: Price $40 to $75 above the lowest non-FBA offer. Seriously. (I’ve had people pay over $100 more)
Sales Rank of 30,000 to 150,000: Price $35 to $50 above the lowest non-FBA offer.
Sales Rank of 150,000 to 300,000: Price $25 to $40 above lowest non-FBA offer.
Sales Rank of 300,000 to 600,000: Price $20 to $30 above lowest non-FBA offer.
Sales Rank of 600,000 to 900,000: Price $10 to $25 above.
…and if a book has an Amazon Sales Rank of worse than 1 million, use your judgement.
It goes without saying that you should abandon these rules if you are listing a textbook that has an abundance of other sellers competing for the top stop. When your FBA competition is fierce, you want to relax these pricing standards somewhat.
And to state the obvious: This is assuming you’re not pricing higher than Amazon itself. Amazon’s price is always the ceiling.
A note on the fluidity of Sales Rank
I’m very aware that Amazon Sales Rank is a fluid thing, and what’s ranked 100,000 today could be 1 million in just over a week. If you’re selling textbooks on Amazon, Sales Rank should be more of a hedging move then a formula with guaranteed, consistent results.
A textbook with an Amazon Sales Rank of 100,000 right now will probably sell more quickly than a book ranked 1 million. Probably. In the absence of a functioning crystal ball, we’re going to assume this and price based on this assumption.
Note there is a huge amount of subjectivity here. My FBA textbook pricing formula itself is somewhat fluid. This is how I’m pricing as of this moment. And sometimes there are exceptions.
For example, I might see a book with an Amazon Sales Rank of 100,000, and think it seems just a little too weird and esoteric to sell a copy every day. Maybe it probably just sold the only copy it will sell this week (or month). Then I will price conservatively based on this assessment.
How should anyone selling textbooks on Amazon define “textbook”?
(Answer: it’s way more than just typical “textbooks”).
When repricing your FBA offers before textbook season, don’t only look for books that are obviously “textbooks.” You’re looking for any type of scholarly non-fiction that would appear to be used primarily in an academic setting. You’re also looking for fiction packaged specifically for university students.
It takes somewhat of a trained eye to spot these. Its a skill that comes from pricing and processing tens of thousands of books and getting a feel for it.
For example, a regular copy of Frankenstein would seem like an unlikely title to price as a textbook. Generally you would be right. But if it was a Norton Critical Edition, with supplemental material just for college students, you could price much higher than a standard copy. Norton Critical Editions are made for students, and you can command textbook prices as an FBA seller.
Why I will not use repricing software to reprice textbooks
Repricing textbooks as an FBA seller is far too delicate and intuitive for me to trust to repricing software. There’s too much money at stake, and I haven’t found a repricing software that can handle all the granularity of my formula.
For example, let’s say there is a textbook on Amazon ranked 10,000. Lowest merchant fulfilled offer: $10. Under normal conditions, I would price this as an FBA seller at $50 or so, and see what happens. It will probably sell, if it’s textbook season.
But let’s say some bozo priced his Fulfillment by Amazon offer at $13.99. And then some other bozo came in behind him and matched his price. And then another person has their copy at $18. And let’s say yet another has a copy priced at $19.99. That’s four copies priced lower than the price I would like to set. Even if you don’t match the lowest bozo’s FBA offer, with so much competition, you still have to price lower than the price you would like, right?
I won’t. A textbook ranked 10,000 will possibly sell hundreds of copies before textbook season ends. I expect the lowball FBA sellers to sell out quickly, and I’ll be next in line.
This might not happen. But when the profit difference is literally 500% or more, I’m happy to take the risk. Again, I’m hedging my bets. And it usually pays off.
But then let’s say there is a fifth FBA textbook priced lower than I’d like. It’s priced at $45. It’s only $5 below my preferred price, so I’ll probably just match that.
Now, where is the Amazon repricing tool to which you can say: “If the SKU indicates its a textbook, and it’s rank is lower than 30,000, and there are less than 6 offers priced less than $40 below the lowest merchant-fulfilled offer, ignore all of them and price at $40 higher, unless there is an FBA offer within 10% of my desired price, then match that one.”
For now, I’m pricing my textbooks manually.
How to make repricing 1000x easier next textbook season
The answer is: Code your SKUs. If you’re selling textbooks on Amazon, every time you list a textbook, denote that it’s a textbook in the SKU. That way, when you go back and reprice, you can filter by this SKU and see all your textbooks at a glance. Much, much easier.
How do I do it? I put the word “text” at the front of every SKU. Pretty simple.
My FBA pricing formula is vindicated by its results
The first time I priced a $10 at $50, I didn’t really think it would sell. It seemed outrageously irrational for anyone to pay over 6 times more just to get that second-day shipping. But the book sold, and sold fast.
What I learned is: It doesn’t matter what I would do, or even what I think other people would do. All that matters is what works.
As I’ve been repricing my books over this textbook season, I’ve found that I have very, very few textbooks that I had in my inventory 6 months ago. Nearly all of them sold, even at my “outrageous” prices.
People will pay way, way more for your FBA offers, especially with textbooks. You just have to let them.
As soon as textbook season arrives, sound starts pouring through the hourglass. Plan ahead, and let it rain…
Mike Bathrick says
Excellent article! One quick question. Do you consider condition in your pricing of textbooks? are students as condition conscious as other buyers?
Peter Valley says
My experience has been that students are much less discerning about condition, and are primarily concerned with knowing whether or not a book has highlighting (and believe it or not, many students prefer highlighted books). So I will always mention that front and center.
Sue Ellen McGoey says
great info and advice~many thanks!
Shawn Searcy says
I agree with you whole heartedly. I am a newer Seller on Amazon, going into my 8th month and a follower of you for six months now. FBA buyers trust our Books as if they were purchasing from Amazon itself, they love the speed in which they receive the Merchandise and a one-stop place to buy them. To differentiate myself from other Sellers I Poly-Bag Books over $30 in value and inform my customers of it in the Description, this was recommended by Jordan Malik, and I am able to set higher prices from the MF Seller. Last thing, I sold a $180 TextBook last week with many Sellers cheaper than mine with using a $.04 PolyBag and FBA to distribute it… Thanks for the excellent Blog 🙂
Jennifer Gait says
When you put books in a poly bag, do you put the sticker on the book or on the bag?
Peter Valley says
I’ve never put a book in a poly bag. Shipping books in isn’t one of those things you have to overthink, in my opinion.
Thanks for your blog post. This is such incredible info to a new seller like me. How long does textbook season go on for?
Peter Valley says
There’s no “hard stop” to textbook season, as a lot of students will buy their books late. You’ll see a decline as you hit September 1st, but textbook sales should remain above average into September.
When I used a repricer (I don’t use one now) I would set a unique sku prefix for textbooks such as “TEXT” and then tell the repricing software not to reprice anything with sku “TEXT. I price all of my texbooks at at least $35 – this way the ones that don’t sell are outweighed by huge profits of the ones that do sell. I recently sold a textbook for $35 despite being on page 2 of all Prime offers of lower priced books!
Peter Valley says
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
One thing you didn’t touch on was the amount of FBA competition for a particular item. For example, I have some books ranked around 20K, but with many, many other FBA sellers (like 3-6 PAGES full); the price is low, very close to MF. Pricing $35-50 above MF may never get a sale this season. So, this being the first textbook season I’m following closely, it will be interesting to see how fast those pages of FBA actually do sell.
Alternately, there are some items of similar rank with very few FBA sellers at all (3 or 4). For these items it’s possible to price even higher than $35-50, perhaps closer to Amazon’s price.
Peter Valley says
I did try to cover that at a couple points in the article, how this strategy only works in the absence of other FBA competition, and you have to adjust somewhat to account for it when it does exist. Would love to hear stories from people who price even more than $50 above. If that works for you, let me know.
Wow, I have yet to find a textbook without FBA competition after going through at least 100 or so! Well, except for very high ranking ones. Seems like in general FBA competition is multiplying, even over the short time (2 years) I’ve been selling.
Thanks for writing this. It’s very helpful. What are some key words we can use to search our inventory and manually change our prices? I’ve come up with companion, Norton, Text, school.
Peter Valley says
That’s tough. The only words that come to mind are “edition,” and the various textbook publisher names.
Yolanda @ Extra Student Loan Money says
Great article Peter! I just wanted to add that for those who may not have used the word “textbook” in their sku, you can also search your book inventory by using the words “paperback” or “hardback.” Although it won’t specifically bring up textbooks, if you sell more than books, you can weed out everything else and only focus on books that you may need to reprice.
I wound up repricing a few textbooks, but I also repriced a few other complementary books that I have in my inventory that always sell when school is in session. 🙂
What about buying low priced textbooks to relist. I had a book sell with no other fba offers and a rank of 800,000 sell for $35 within a week of listing. The lowest merchant was $8 shipped.
Brand new to this. What is a penny book?
Peter Valley says
A book that is a penny + postage.
If a textbook has a good rank under 500,000 but the textbook has a newer edition, does it still have a good chance of selling? Is it worth buying or would you only buy the newest edition. Thanks.
Peter Valley says
Textbooks will often sell if there are 3 or 4 newer editions. With a sales rank under 500,000, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Just about to send in several textbooks. When do you consider the textbook season to be over? Do you reprice them lower once the season is over and sells slow down? – Thanks
Peter Valley says
I’ll always hold my price and wait for the sale, unless a ton of lowball FBA competition comes in and forces the price down.
Kathy Rem says
I’m a new seller. Where do you find cheap textbooks? Does it matter if they are not the newest edition?
Peter Valley says
David Meyer says
Premium content once again Peter. Bravo. My textbooks are going bonkers right now. So far today 6 book sales for a total of $336, average of $56 a book. Over the last week I have been averaging about 4 of these type of sales a day. Almost every one of these books originally was priced with MANY FBA offers below my desired price. I hope they are happy with their $10, I will happily take the sale they could have gotten for $56. Thank you FBA mega sellers! I love your stupidity!
“The truth is, this repricer probably exists. I’m just so pleasantly ignorant (and impatient) about Amazon seller software, I haven’t found it.”
It doesnt, because they cant be guaranteed to see the FBA offers. I cant begin to describe my frustration with the lack of a good repricer, and the misinformation the current ones put out there about their abysmal products as far as FBA sellers.
What about new textbooks where Amazon has the buy box?
Christina Parker Brown says
Great read. hank you for sharing!
Christopher James says
I’m glad that you sent me the link to this article. I just repriced everything. I’ll let you know how it goes.