The most valuable book types for Amazon sellers to look for – books that hold their value and sell for the biggest profits.
Video: What books are most profitable?
What book categories have $15+ value on Amazon a disproportionate amount of the time? That’s what this article is about.
This is not one of those cheap intern-written articles where they just list the 10 “bestselling” book categories or state the obvious (“textbooks can be worth a lot of money!!!”). This article is the product of having personally scanned over a million books over the last 15 years.
My intent is to be very specific and not include the generic book categories that often get covered (there’s probably only one category here that you’ll see on every list like this – “Textbooks.”)
Secret: Look for book categories that have disproportionate value
The key detail in these book categories is that they have value a disproportionate amount of the time.
This is distinct from book categories that simply have a large number of profitable titles. So what’s the difference?
Take an extreme example: romance novels. Romance novels might represent 30% of all books in print (I have no idea what the real number is, but it’s a lot). Over a billion romance novels have been sold.
So it might be true that there are more used romance novels that can be sold for a profit on Amazon than any other book category (I doubt that’s true, but again, just a hypothetical).
But the percentage of romance novels that are worth money is lower than probably any book category. (That’s why romance topped my “most worthless book categories” list.) You’ll almost never find profitable romance novels.
While some of these book categories are small, they have the most bang-for-your-buck when book sourcing. This list represents book categories that cause my heart rate to spike. To make this list, it had to pass this test:
“Do I get excited when I see a book in this category?”
These are the books that should get any bookseller excited.
The two steps to find profitable books
One hill I will die on: If you rely solely on your scanning app to find profitable books, you won’t last as an Amazon seller. You’re out of business before you started.
Book sourcing has two parts:
- Pre-scanning: filtering your options before picking up a book to scan (because you rarely have time to scan everything).
- Scanning: After honing in on that 1% of books that might have value, using your scanning app to confirm.
You can’t say one step is more important than the other, since both are required.
(Sidenote: I do believe there is a level of Jedi bookseller who can profit without ever looking at a scanning app, if they were in an environment where the books were 50 cents or less. Just a theory, but I think it’s possible. Would be a fun reality show.)
This list is a list of books you should scan 100% of the time, that should get any bookseller excited, and that can be resold profitably a disproportionate percentage of time.
Top 12 most profitable book categories
In no order whatsoever:
University Press books
I take it back: There is a slight order to this list. I’m starting with my personal favorite.
Every time I see a book where the publisher is “University of _____ Press,” I salivate. These are worth money a huge percentage of the time.
If you’re not familiar with university presses, you might not be aware how big of a category this is. There’s a strong likelihood you’ve sold a ton of these and didn’t even know it. Hundreds of colleges have a publishing arm that usually focus on super-niche subjects – books that would probably never get picked up by a larger publisher.
Here’s an example of a university press title I shipped in recently, an anthropological study of a small town in Wisconsin, on Memphis University Press:
The key attributes of most university press titles are:
- Medium-to-poor sales rank
- High value
- Niche subject matter
- (usually) Non-fiction
This is a hugely profitable book category that most Amazon sellers don’t even recognize as its own category.
Recent editions of fiction classics + fiction compilations
I’m putting two subcategories into one here, because generally speaking, fiction has below-average profitability. But within the broad fiction category, these are two subcategories that tend to have value on Amazon.
Recent editions of the classics: The general canon of classic literature spans hundreds of titles. And anytime I see an edition that I can aesthetically gauge was published in the last 7-ish years, I get excited. Recent editions of classic fiction titles tend to have value.
And you don’t see fiction titles republished frequently each year the way you see with categories like travel books. There might be a new edition ever 5 years, so the latest edition might not even be that recent, but it still holds its value.
Fiction compilations: Compilations usually send me running, but not with fiction. When I see a book compiling the works of a well known author, I see money. One of the rare fiction subcategories that tend to have value.
New condition books
Its absolutely insane how much money Amazon sellers leave on the table because they consider any book they find in a second hand environment to be “used.” The gap in value between a Used copy and a New copy of any title can be huge.
There’s some statistic that only 10% of books are read past the first chapter, which probably means 85% of books are never read at all. While its not normal for a book to survive a journey to a second hand environment without getting some wear, a ton of books land at book sources still in New condition.
Remember: New condition is a function of cosmetics, not the number of previous owners.
When sourcing, train yourself to take note of any book in New condition. Then start paying attention to the “New” column on your scanning app. MAJOR money here.
Books on fringe religions
Its probably not fair to call any religion “fringe,” since its perfectly normal and not fringe at all to the people who adhere to them. So when I say “fringe religions,” I’m referring to books on religions outside of the Top 5 (Christianity Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, & Hinduism). These represent 98% of all people who identify with any religion.
If you see a book about any religion that is not on that list – scan it immediately. A good rule of thumb is: If you haven’t heard of a religion, then scan it. I’m talking about Huna, Druidry, Wicca, and so on.
Note: That is not to say religion isn’t a good category overall. I still consider it one of my favorite broader categories, and there’s lots of money even among Christian titles. But the small religions are by far the most profitable subcategories.
Niche business books
Business is a good category overall, but when you learn to spot valuable niche business titles, things get really interesting.
The rule of thumb here is: if you don’t understand it, scan it.
A mass-appeal business book would be something like “Home Flipping For Dummies.” This still might have value, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
A niche business book would be “Algorithmic High Frequency Trading: A Qualitative Methodology.” I wouldn’t even get to the 2nd word of that title before my scanner came out.
Alternative health books
By now you’re probably noticing a pattern: The niche/fringe/weird books are where the money is. This is another example.
Some examples of valuable niches in the health category include hypnotherapy, raw food diets, healing through crystals or magnets, etc. Anything where you saw “my health insurance plan would definitely not cover this” is probably a safe bet.
Again, the more fringe better. I still remember a book I sold for $25 about curing disease by swimming with dolphins.You can’t get too niche in this category.
Another subcategory of fiction that deserves its own entry.
Poetry books are weird, but tend to hold their value more than most books. If I were to rank this list, I would probably put Poetry books at #11 (I’ll get to #12 in a second). They have some major downsides, but are definitely worth your time.
One key attribute of poetry books is that the Amazon Sales Rank is usually very poor. It’s pretty rare to find one with an average rank better than 1 million. So be prepared for that.
On the upside, poetry books tend to be light and small – usually under 150 pages and often under 100 pages. So you’re getting a break on Amazon FBA fees, leaving you with higher profit margins.
Overall, a slow-selling but profitable category that deserves any bookseller’s attention.
Large print books
If I ranked these in order, large print books would probably be #12. But they’re still on the list, so look for these.
Simply put, these are books for people who have issues with their vision. They are printed in smaller runs, so they tend to have value a disproportionate amount of the time.
Like poetry, demand-wise they can be slower to sell. But worth it for the often bigger-than-average payout.
Large print books are identifiable either by a hardcover library-binding style layout, or some artwork denoting it as “large print.” You’ll learn to spot these over time. I will scan every large print book I see, always.
Anything super weird
In a sense, this the #1 book category of all, while not being a definable category.
In fact, this is the #1 principle of bookselling, period.
“Scan anything that looks weird.”
With books, the money is in the weird. The niche. The wacky. The fanatical. The books on subjects only read by a few hundred people on earth. (And if those few hundred people happened to qualify for institutionalization in an insane asylum, all the better ($$$)).
Weird and niche means 1. lower print runs / lower supply. 2. An “irrationally passionate” audience. That’s the best possible recipe for a profitable book.
Their weirder the book, the higher than chance it has value. There is no such thing as “too weird.”
Books without barcodes
This is a different category than the others I’m covering here in one key way: Books without barcodes aren’t more profitable in and of themselves, but they tend to be more profitable because most other Amazon sellers skip them.
These have to be handled selectively, because if you don’t know how to size up a book for signs of value based on other factors (namely subject matter), this is probably going to be a losing category for you. Books without barcodes are often simply just old, which is a contrary value indicator (i.e. bad).
For this reason, I would not recommend newer sellers start looking up every book without a barcode manually (or using an app feature than visually scans for the ISBN).
But if you know how to filter out books that are obviously unprofitable, then you’re left with a dense selection of titles no other Amazon seller has touched. Most sellers are simply too lazy to bother with any book that doesn’t have a barcode.
I almost didn’t want to include textbooks in my last of most profitable book categories simply because it’s so obvious. But its obvious for a reason: There’s a lot of profit in textbooks.
If they look like they were published in the last 15 years – scan them. That’s all you need to know.
Self-published or micro-press books
I’m bundling both of these together under one banner: Books by publishers that are probably run by 1 to 5 people.
I absolutely salivate when I see a book with an aggressively bad or cheesy layout. That usually means the book was either self published, or published by a publisher too small to have an art department. That means money. (I’ve self published books, and have found it impossible for my books to not look aggressively cheesy).
The same principles apply to every book category we’re covering here: You’re not picking up a book and embarking on a 25-point analysis to determine the subject matter and publisher of every book before scanning. You should learn to assess in a millisecond if a book is published by a small press (with reasonable accuracy). Again, the big giveaway is “less than professional” cover art.
And even though fiction isn’t making too many appearances on this list, micro-press fiction is the best fiction of all, and tends to be more valuable than large-publisher fiction (but lower demand of course).
I’m already a broken record, but remember the formula: Small press runs / low supply + small devoted audience = profitable book.
Why you should learn to spot value – without your scanning app
Amazon sellers who know what books to focus on (books on this list) and what books to avoid will enjoy a huge advantage over other booksellers. More efficiency = more profits.
It’s like the having the exact same job as the guy at the next cubicle, but making 3x more for the same work.
PS: Any profitable book category you would have included here? Drop a comment below.