A complete guide to Acceptable condition on Amazon: When should you grade a used book Acceptable? What does Acceptable condition mean? Will it get you in trouble?
Video: Guide to Acceptable condition
What is Acceptable condition anyway?
I’m here to settle the great debate about Acceptable condition once and for all.
Acceptable condition is far and away the most confusing option when listing something for sale on Amazon. You’ll encounter other condition-related debates (“What’s the difference between Good and Very Good?” & “What does Like New condition mean?”), but understanding Acceptable condition is where Amazon sellers stand to make (or lose) the most money.
Here’s a few questions sellers often have about Acceptable condition:
- What qualifies a book for Acceptable condition?
- Will selling a book as Acceptable get me in trouble with customers?
- Will selling a book as Acceptable get me in trouble with Amazon?
- How do I know if a book should be listing as Acceptable Condition or Good Condition?
- What damage is too bad even for Acceptable condition?
- Do Amazon customers buy books in Acceptable condition?
There is a small amount of subjectivity to all these questions, but as much as possible, I’m going to set out to definitively answer all these questions and more.
What are your other book condition options?
Amazon has five condition options for any book:
- Like New
- Very Good
As you can see, Acceptable is the lowest (aka worst) condition.
Each of these as their own Amazon guidelines, but let’s focus specifically on how Amazon defines “Acceptable.”
How Amazon defines “Acceptable Condition”
Let’s start with Amazon’s official definition of Acceptable condition in regard to books:
Used – Acceptable: all pages and the cover are intact, but shrink wrap, dust covers, or boxed set case may be missing. Pages may include limited notes, highlighting, or minor water damage but the text is readable. Item may but the dust cover may be missing. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting, but the text cannot be obscured or unreadable.
This still leaves room for some ambiguity, so let’s dissect this line by line:
“All pages and the cover are intact”
What Amazon means: No missing pages. No missing cover. Any book you encounter with either of these blemishes should not be sold. Pretty straightforward.
“Shrink wrap, dust covers, or boxed set case may be missing”
What Amazon means: While the “shrink wrap” mention is weird (why would anyone list a book sealed in shrink wrap as Acceptable?), the other two are valuable. Amazon allows the sale of books without dust jackets, as well as box sets without the box. A lot of sellers are unsure about these (at least the second one), so this settles it.
“Pages may include limited notes … but the text is readable.”
What Amazon means: Writing on a certain percentage of pages is allowed, but it can’t be throughout the whole book, and can’t cover up the text.
“Pages may include highlighting…”
What Amazon means: Highlighting is permitted in used books, but you have to grade them as Acceptable.
“Pages may include… minor water damage”
What Amazon means: If a book has water damage, it has to be “minor.” Books with significant water damage shouldn’t be sold at all. (I can speak from experience here: book buyers are not forgiving when they receive a book with heavy water damage – even if you warn them in the condition notes).
“Pages may include limited notes and highlighting, but the text cannot be obscured or unreadable.”
What Amazon means: This is a redundant, almost exact duplicate of a previous line. Explained above.
What does Acceptable condition mean in plain English?
Now that we’ve hacked our way through Amazon’s definition, how exactly do we translate this in a way we can apply to our business? What’s the “for dummies” interpretation?
If you’ve read more than a couple articles on this site, you know I don’t care much for Amazon’s rules. I only care about two things: 1. Satisfying my customers, and 2. Not getting banned from Amazon. Those two things inform most of my selling practices, not following all of Amazon’s rules to the letter.
With that in mind, here’s my definition of Acceptable condition. This is the “string theory” of Acceptable Condition definitions, that resolves all uncertainty into one Unifying Theory Of Acceptable Condition:
“Acceptable condition is any book that is too damaged to qualify for other conditions, yet not so damaged that it will make your customer mad.”
The second part of this is key. Whenever I’m on the fence as to whether a book is too damaged to sell, I ask myself this question:
“If I ordered an Acceptable condition book, and got this in the mail, would I be disappointed?”
This one-question test is important because it has saved me in situations where there is ambiguity in Amazon’s condition guidelines, and I’ve probably saved myself from selling a book that would have gotten me negative feedback.
Example: Listing a textbook with tons of pen marks throughout. Amazon is not so clear about what amount of pen markings or writing is allowed. So I do the gut instinct text: If I pulled this out of a package right now, would I feel cheated as a customer? If the answer is yes, I won’t list it.
How bad does something need to be to qualify as Acceptable?
Here’s when you should definitely grade a book as Acceptable:
- Highlighting on more than 20/30 pages.
- Heavy pen marks throughout book.
- Heavy pen marks on cover.
- Heavy ( very heavy) wear.
- Serious water damage.
- Badly torn cover.
What damage is too bad to grade a book as Acceptable condition?
Often you’ll encounter a book that is just too damaged to sell at all. Here’s my list of the Top Five blemishes that disqualify a book from entering my Amazon inventory:
- Heavy water damage.
- Heavy pen markings obscuring key parts of the content.
- Heavy pen markings in more than 10% of the pages (estimate).
- Broken binding.
- Missing cover.
Heavy water damage: A small amount of water damage can be okay. But when the water damage impacts a large number of pages then it shouldn’t be sold at all. Water damage is visible by either pages sticking together, and/or a wave effect to the pages. Amazon buyers do not like this one bit (and I don’t blame them).
Heavy pen markings that obscure content: If a book has pen markings inside that actually covers up a significant amount of text, I would not sell the book. Use your own judgement about how to define “significant.”
Heavy pen markings on more than 10% of the pages: What if you have a book with lots of writing inside that doesn’t necessarily cover a lot of text, but is simply on a lot of pages? The “10%” threshold is arbitrary (again, use your judgement), but too much writing inside puts you at risk of bad feedback from the buyer.
Broken binding: If a book is literally falling apart – don’t sell it.
Missing cover: It’s best to follow this guideline strictly. No cover, don’t list it.
What books should be listed as Good and not Acceptable?
A lot of times you’ll have a book, and it’s on the line of Good and Acceptable. Here’s a list of book damage that I personally feel keeps a book safely in Good condition status:
- Missing dust jacket.
- Pen markings on only a few pages.
- Highlighting on less than 20ish pages (if its a textbook).
- Light markings on cover.
- Any general wear unless its really severe.
A note on my highlighting policy: If a book is not a textbook, I will consider it Acceptable if there is any amount of highlighting. I grade textbooks differently. With textbooks, a certain amount of highlighting is acceptable (no pun intended) and textbooks buyers aren’t deterred by it. Again, my experience has bore this out.
Is Acceptable condition better than Good?
The language Amazon uses to describe various conditions can be confusing. So to clarify: Acceptable condition is not better than Good.
Acceptable is the worst condition allowed by Amazon.
“Good condition” implies a used book with heavier-than-average wear, but is still a tier better than Acceptable.
The good news is that most Amazon customers now that Acceptable is the worse possible condition, and know to expect a very imperfect, somewhat damaged book.
Will Acceptable condition get you in trouble with Amazon?
There’s a weird paranoia among many Amazon sellers when it comes to listing books in Acceptable condition. A lot of sellers act like if they list something in Acceptable, they’re somehow “getting away with something” and Amazon might “catch them.” People don’t say it exactly like this, but its the underlying sentiment.
Just to clear this up: Amazon wouldn’t include Acceptable as an option if it was against the rules. Amazon provides Acceptable condition for a reason.
Amazon buyers can be annoying, but they’re not dumb. For the most part, they know what Acceptable means. They know they will receive a damaged book.
You’re allowed to sell significantly damaged books, as long as you’re not deceiving or making your customers angry, and disclosing the damage in your condition notes.
What are the consequences of grading a book incorrectly?
Let’s say you graded a book as Acceptable when it was so damaged that it shouldn’t have been sold at all (water damage, etc). What’s the worst that can happen?
Good news is, Amazon allows sellers to make mistakes. But making repeated mistakes can result in Amazon suspending your account.
The most likely effect of inaccurately grading a book is that the customer will leave negative feedback. If your feedback score is good, this won’t impact you much. But you should not let this happen multiple times. Too many negative feedbacks can result Amazon banning you from selling.
This is a good reason to err on the side of caution when grading. But don’t err too much or you’re leaving money on the table.
What are the consequences of listing a book as Acceptable that should be Good?
What happens if you make the opposite mistake (than the one described above): What if you list a book as Acceptable when it should be Good condition (or better)?
Obviously this is great for your customer. And something that’s great for an Amazon buyer is usually great for you as a seller. But doing this repeatedly is costly in the long term.
Good condition books will sell faster than Acceptable condition. So under-grading will cost you a certain amount of sales. And these small losses can add up over time.
What’s the solution? Err on the side of grading Acceptable in situations of serious doubt. But don’t make a habit of under-grading consistently simply to avoid some remote concerns about getting in trouble.
How to prevent against misgrading a book as Acceptable
Whether you’re concerned about grading too conservatively, or too liberally, there are two steps to insuring you only condition a book as Acceptable when it should be.
- Understand Amazon’s condition guidelines. Make sure you understand Amazon’s condition guidelines and everything we’ve covered about how they define Acceptable condition.
- Understand how the average Amazon buyer defines Acceptable condition. Since Amazon’s guidelines are a little fuzzy, get inside the head of your customer and understand what they expect.
- Take lessons from negative feedback. If you ever get a complaint from a customer about a book you mis-graded, it could be random and nothing you could have prevented (some customers leave frivolous feedback). It could also be a sign you’re conditioning books incorrectly, and should adjust your practices. Learn how to tell the difference.
How to handle fringe book condition scenarios
Let’s say you’ve come this far, and still have questions about certain exotic conditioning scenarios. Maybe you have inventory in front of you right now that doesn’t fit into any of the damage we’ve covered that qualifies a book as Acceptable, and you’re not sure what to do.
Here’s an over-arching rule to follow: When in doubt, list it as Acceptable.
Here’s a couple of random situations you might encounter, and what I would do:
Promotional copy: I’ve seen sellers list promotional copies of books (books with different artwork that say “Promotional Copy- Not For Sale) on the cover) on Amazon as Acceptable. The logic here is that they know the book is different enough that they can’t just list it like they would a “normal” copy, so they think listing it as Acceptable will buy them a pass with the customer. Don’t list a promotional copy as Acceptable, and don’t sell it at all.
Loose Leaf Textbook: These are textbooks that come unbound, as a stack of single sheets of paper. A lot of sellers won’t list these as all, or think they have to list them as Acceptable. Good news: As long as all the pages are there, there’s no reason you can’t list loose leaf textbooks as Very Good condition (how to keep them intact is a subject for another article).
Book with missing non-essential pages: What about a book that clearly has pages removed, but they are pages that don’t have any significant content (like a title page, etc)? Personally, I don’t think this qualifies a book as Acceptable condition, as long as there aren’t a lot of pages missing. Since there’s no value being deprived of the buyer, I think it’s perfectly fine to list a book like this as Good.
These are just a few exotic grading scenarios you might encounter, and how I personally handle them. There are countless others. And again: When in doubt, list a book as Acceptable condition.
Do Amazon customers buy books in Acceptable condition?
Here’s the bad news: Of books in my inventory for over a year, a hugely disproportionate percentage are in Acceptable condition.
The good news: Acceptable condition books sell better than you’d think.
No one has the hard data we all want, such as “Exactly X% of Amazon customers will purchase an Acceptable condition book when the price difference is less than $X below a competing offer in Good condition.”
What I can do is speak broadly from selling a lot of books over a lot of years that people definitely buy books in Acceptable condition, and they buy them a lot more than you’d think.
Will listing a book as Acceptable get you negative feedback?
As covered above, Amazon customers aren’t stupid. If they order an Acceptable condition book, they know generally what they’re in for.
Just don’t abuse their trust. If the book you send them is damaged to the point that it compromises its functionality (i.e. makes all or parts of the book unusable), then you’re begging for negative feedback. So don’t so that.
The list of unacceptable blemishes listed above (heavy water damage, missing cover, etc) should cover most of the situations that will get you negative feedback.
Real life example of a book that should be listed as Acceptable
This is a classic example of a book that qualifies for Acceptable condition.
It’s still intact. No writing or highlighting. Totally functional. But, it has heavy (heavy) wear.
This is the kind of book that Amazon created Acceptable condition for: a usable book with heavy cosmetic wear. Case closed.
Example of a book too bad to be listed as Acceptable
This is an example of a book that I wouldn’t sell at all. It’s too damaged to even be listed as Acceptable.
While the photos may not capture it fully, this book is heavily water damaged. It doesn’t pass my “would I be disappointed if I got this in the mail?” test.
A little water damage is okay. Heavy water damage is going to be a hard pass at any condition.
Real life example of a Good condition book that should not be listed as Acceptable
This book is missing its dust jacket. For that reason, a lot of sellers would list this book as Acceptable. And I would argue, they are wrong (I would list this in Good or Very Good condition).
Remember: Amazon’s “rules” around dust jackets are that any book missing one can be listed all the way up to Very Good. But a lot of sellers assume otherwise. This is an example of Amazon’s condition guidelines being more liberal than you’d expect.
The Top 3 Mistakes Sellers Make Grading Books As Acceptable
Mistake #1: Never listing books in Acceptable condition
Refusing to list any book in Acceptable condition due to some unfounded paranoia that you’ll get in trouble is just bad business. This policy will cost you a lot more in money than it will save you in risk.
Acceptable is a perfectly legitimate and “acceptable” condition status, and it exists for a reason. Damaged books are fine to sell, just be upfront about the damage and don’t make your customers upset.
Mistake #2: Listing books in Acceptable condition that shouldn’t be sold at all
Acceptable condition is not the dumping ground for all books that you grade in worse condition than Good. You’ll encounter manthat are so damaged they should never be sold on Amazon.
Study this list, and don’t cut corners with it.
Mistake #3: Listing books as Acceptable when they can pass for Good of Very Good
The opposite mistake of #2, some sellers grade too conservatively, and list any book that has more than light wear as Acceptable.
Remember that Acceptable will cause a book to sell slower than a book in Good condition. So grading too conservatively is a costly mistake.
Recap: What did we learn about grading books on Amazon?
- It’s perfectly fine to sell books in Acceptable condition.
- Amazon customers still buy books in Acceptable.
- Acceptable is the right move for seriously damaged or marked up books.
- Some books are too damaged to be listed in Acceptable condition.
- Amazon’s condition guidelines are ambiguous, and leave room for interpretation.
- A lot of Amazon sellers make the mistake of refusing to sell books in Acceptable, or grading books as Acceptable that should be Good.
- Lots of money to be made (and lost) if you get this wrong.
And that concludes my complete guide to demystifying Acceptable condition books for sale on Amazon.