Making Money From Selling Old Books

July 8, 2011 | 3 Comments More

There are millions of books published, and hundreds of new ones everyday but most become valueless within a very short time of printing – autobiographies of celebrities, the latest Dan Brown, the newest diet fad.

You’ll never make a great deal of money from trying to resell those. But amongst the dross may well be gold and I’ll show you how to spot them.

Selling these old books is a good way to make a second or perhaps first income.

If you can find the unusual, sought-after or rare book that fetches a reasonable price there’s a profit to be made.

My first good sale was a book called Corsica, bought for 99p in a charity shop and sold for £30. So how to find the ones with a good mark-up?

So many people think that because a book is old it must be valuable.

Not so… you see, in the early days of mass production of books there were limited titles available, so classics and popular authors were printed time and again in different editions and by different publishers.

What seems like a first edition may well not be the original first publication of that title. It becomes very hard to tell. 

The biggest giveaway is to check for a list of ‘reprinted’ dates on an early page (this may seem obvious but I’m often offered books which can be eliminated at a glance by people thinking they have a treasure in their hands).  

The later the edition the less value a title holds.

There are some quick and easy steps you can take to check the value of any book you come across.

To see whether there is any value to a book I use initially as the sales rank feature is helpful in establishing the market.

Sales Rank is really a best sellers list.  A good selling book gets a very low Sale Rank number – for example ‘The Dukan Diet’ is currently number 5 which means it should fly off the shelf.

But even if it has a sales rank over 2 million in my view, it should still be able to fetch at least £10.  So it’s a book worth keeping (but also check there isn’t a newer edition available, which would affect the price).

Sales Rank is a rough tool however and just another way to try and value your book. 

So my next search is on, where it is possible to compare very specifically the author, publisher and date of publication.

Once done it’s then the fine-tuning for its value comes by looking at condition. No jacket usually devalues massively, for example.

Also do check inside carefully for flaws, dedications and annotating as all of these devalue a book,  but also look for signatures. They may not add to the price you can ask but can make your book seem more attractive in a competitive market.

Another excellent site for antiquarian and collectable books is which gives plenty of opportunity for filtering your search. I may also look on

The challenge comes when a book is not offered on any of these.

If I am still struggling I will try some of the several American sites:, which has an advanced search option,, and

One of those sites should enable you to get a clear picture on any titles value. 

But finally it is also worth checking on e-bay under ‘completed listings’ as you can see not only the price – if sold – but also how many people were bidding.

Knowing a book is in demand certainly makes life easier.

My very last resort is a google search to see if there is any reference to the title which might aid my selling price.

If the book is not on any of these it doesn’t mean it is valuable, unfortunately.

It only has a value if someone wants it and without a bench-mark this is hard to discern.

If you think it might be really rare then try an auction house such as Dominic Winter ( who specializes in books and therefore more likely to help than some of the major London auction houses.

Normally though you can find a copy of an identical book and see what it sold for.

Although finding the same title does not mean you can take the price asked by another seller as the market value.

Especially on Amazon there are a few American sellers who seem to set sky-high prices (I have even come across books valued at over $100 which can still be bought new at shop prices!)

Hence the need for rigorous research, which may be helped by taking a look at what else the seller has to offer. is more trustworthy for valuing as it is clear which book sellers are professionals and therefore likely to be realistic in their pricing.

So now you know how to value a book – what sort of titles should you look for?

Well first forget the old-looking Dickens, lovely though it may seem. You should ignore the fiction generally, it is in non-fiction that treasures are more likely to be found. 

For example travel books can be a good source, quite a number are only printed once and therefore sought after. I have just sold my step-father’s paperback copy of ‘Somewhere down the Crazy River’ by Paul Boote and Jeremy Wade for £100, it combines travel and angling – another niche worth looking for. 

Certain cookery books are highly valued for the same reason, one print run. I sell books for my local Oxfam shop and this helps me identify high value books for myself – I had just listed a cookery book for them at £30 by Claire MacDonald (no, I hadn’t heard of her either!) and a few days later spotted the identical book for £2.59 at another charity shop!

Chefs you have heard of and who bring out book after book are not going to net you money, restaurant specials might.

But it is a gamble as new sellers come in and massively under-cut despite a good sales rank – ‘The Leaves From the Walnut Tree’ (a restaurant’s cookbook) was selling at £40 but two months down the line is £15. And sadly my first big sale, ‘Corsica’, is now only worth 1p.

Times and demand changes but it is very easy to find ways to make money from selling old books.

So to get started take yourself down to an auction or charity shop, make a note of which books you think may be worth something and check them out.

See how many you might have bought ‘blind’, and wasted money on. And always be prepared to be surprised!

It only takes one or two good books a week to really start making you money.

If you have any questions or comments please leave them below and we’ll try and help in any way we can.

Good luck with your book selling…


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