Education · Finance & Insurance

Flipping Textbooks for Extra Income

flipping textbooks

College is in session, and the thing on every student’s mind (and their parents’) is paying for textbooks.  Prices have spiraled out of control, with the only silver lining being that with the inflationary prices, you may be able to sell the book you bought used last semester for a profit next semester.

The inflationary prices ironically open up an opportunity.  It’s a risky one, but it’s one that anyone with a computer can try their hand at.  That opportunity is flipping textbooks.

How Do I Flip a Textbook?

The basic idea behind flipping textbooks is simple:  buy them at a lower price than you sell them for.  Getting into the game can be cheaper than  you’d expect if you know what to buy, when to buy it, and when and how to sell.

What Books Should I Buy?

The most expensive textbooks are those that are major specific.  There’s also a smaller pool of students who need them, making the initial investment expensive, and finding the right buyer a harder task.

A better idea is to stick with books that are for general electives.  Think Psychology, College Algebra, English 101, and other courses that everyone has to take in order to get their degree.  These books tend to be less expensive from the get-go, and there’s a larger pool of potential buyers on the other side.  

College textbooks are put out of use rather quickly.  There are new editions, and changes to course materials made on a regular basis.  This is the biggest factor of risk in your buy.  To mitigate that risk as much as possible, buy the newest edition of your potential textbook.  The best buys are likely to have print years less than two years old.  Otherwise, there’s a bigger risk that a new edition will be on the market when you try to sell.

If you’re struggling to figure out which textbooks to buy, find a college that has their course list searchable on their website.  Some will require that you sign in to see this, but others will require you to sign in only if you are officially registering.  When you identify a general education course that you’d like to buy for, click on the “required text” link.  On some sites there is no link, but the textbook name and ISBN are listed.  These lists can be a great source for inspiration, as you know there are professors currently favoring the text.

When Should I Buy?

Before buying, it’s a good idea to scout out the market when it’s hot.  This will give you an idea of how much you’ll potentially be able to resell for.  The market is typically at its highest during the month prior to a new semester starting into the first couple weeks of coursework.  

You don’t want to buy when books are at their highest, though.  You want to buy when the market’s slow.  For this reason, mid-semester is the best time to buy, keeping in mind that most college courses let out around the second week of December.  When no one else is shopping for books, their prices go down.  Because you’ve scouted out the hot market, you’ll know a good deal when you see one on online sites like Pearson.

When Should I Sell?

Remember that hot market?  That’s when you want to sell: between the month before classes start into the first couple of weeks of courses.  When you sell, we recommend major sites like  It gets a lot of search traffic, increasing your visibility, but doesn’t have the same insane return policy as Amazon.  On Amazon, people have been known to return their book after the semester’s over, scamming the system, and saying it wasn’t what they needed.  That leaves the seller high and dry. is safer from a textbook seller’s standpoint.  Conversely, if you’re buying, Amazon’s return policy insures you a bit better against poor product descriptions or incorrect product listings.

Risky Business

There’s potential for a great profit margin when you’re flipping textbooks.  However, there’s also serious risk involved as a new edition could come out, or the field could discover a new industry favorite text.  Start slowly with your textbook flipping, so you can build your way up once you’ve learned patterns, and have climbed the learning curve to lower your risk.