Undercover valuable books are just what they sound like-- books that can be worth a bundle but often look like thrift store shelf filler. Here we share methods to building up a list of possible to find and lucrative to sell books.
There are hundreds of inconspicuous, even ugly, paperbacks out there that are worth hundreds of dollars each. It is rare to run across them in person, as most book collections have been scanned through for the well-known 'ugly ducklings'. But if you make your own list, if you learn to identify these books yourself, your chances markedly increase.
In general, it is simpler to manage a smaller list of books that you can identify on sight than it is to set up a scanning system and attempt to inconspicuously scan all the ISBNs of books at sales and other events. Also, many of these books don't have an ISBN, and your eyes are just faster than picking books up over and over and over again to scan barcodes.
Finding books worth buying and selling online is not always easy, but if you find a system to do it, you can make significant money without spending very much time. When you do find these books online, we have previously shared strategies for purchasing them for less than they may be currently listed. Especially if you are buying multiple copies. You can see this in our article "How to Buy Rare Books for Less and Sell Them for More".
A key guideline in finding books that are worth buying and selling online is to avoid famous expensive books. Those books are going to always command a price commensurate with their rarity and they're relatively well-renowned.
The ideal type of book is something that I've seen called an 'ugly duckling'. It is a book that may not look like anything special, but for whatever reason has demand associated with it far above what you would expect by looking at it. A classic example of this is "Rage" by Richard Bachman. There are two copies that are particularly valuable: one from 1977 and one from 1983. Both which command high prices but if you saw one on the shelf in a bookstore or any yard sale, you wouldn't likely think twice about it. It is a nondescript regular paperback book. This particular book is valuable because it deals with high school shooting, and Stephen King has made an attempt to remove it from circulation. The story itself is actually very inexpensive to find in anthology books, such as "The Bachman Books" or other books that are readily available. But these early editions of the single book are worth a lot of money and can sell for upwards of $1,000.
You might think that searching on Amazon, as Amazon is the place to sell these books, would be the best place also to locate them and identify them. But Amazon is actually quite difficult to find ugly ducklings. Amazon's pricing is extremely scattershot, and there are often sellers that are either run by bots or who take a specific pricing strategy to make it seem like they have something more than they actually have. So you will see prices that are very strange and very out of line with what it looks like, and they are not actually worth what they are listed for. Listing prices are just not an accurate indication of selling price.
Amazon also has very poor search tools when you are looking for a something like a book whose price is far above the original list price. So generally, when you search in reverse-price-order, there are sellers that simply price their books incredibly high just to show up in the search results, whether the book is worth anything near that or not. It is more a tactic to get views and impressions than it is a tactic for actually selling. It is very easy to find books that are $1,000 that are that are actually worth $5, and this kind of book doesn't help us at all. Those books do not sell for that amount of money. And Amazon, in fact, does not provide an easy way to show whether a particular item has sold and for how much.
So for sourcing or identifying books that are worth tracking down, the real measure of value is still found on good old eBay. eBay provides data on the price that items actually sold for, and it is not terribly hard to get. You can enter the books directory on eBay (you must log in to search for sold items) and in the left-hand column select items that are sold or completed, reverse sort the search results by price, and you will see extremely expensive books that have sold recently on eBay. Chances are, you are not going to track down a $10,000 book for $10 somewhere else and sell it. So, in general, you will want to set a price ceiling in the $500 to $1,000 range and reverse sort order by price high to low.
You'll also see a number of things like collections, signed copies, first edition copies and so on. These aren't exactly the easiest things to resell on Amazon. You don't just want a unique collectible item, what you want is an expensive item that is just expensive by virtue of what it is, rather than what's been done to it or a particular characteristic of one item.
So next you can add filters in the search, negative filters to remove those kinds of results from your search. For example, you might prefer not to have signed copies in there, in which case in the search box you can add "-signed" to be a negative search on your keywords. This should keep things without the word 'signed' in the title from showing up in your results. Now you can begin searching through the results and looking for possible candidates.
Again, you are not looking for things that are from the Middle Ages or things that you are unlikely to be able to locate for an inexpensive price. You are looking for nondescript, normal-looking book that you might otherwise run across in listings or in a garage sale or a library sale that might actually conceivably be there. You can begin to build up a large library of these ISBNs and be on the lookout for them. It doesn't take a lot of these books to be able to make a part-time income and have fun doing it.
Get an idea of the types of books we are looking for it might be easier to start with a price ceiling in the range of $200 and you can scroll through the results and look for things that look potentially findable and interesting it's not a perfect example but as I scroll through I see the Dune encyclopedia from 1984 by Frank Herbert it looks like the kind of book that you may run across and and has an actual value in the hundreds of dollars even the paper back seems to be relatively valuable
As you search you will find yourself discovering new avenues and new methods to identify books that are worth pursuing and that you have some chance of locating for far less than what they are worth
If you have methods that you yourself use to identify and locate valuable but inconspicuous books, share them in the comments. Also, if you have any stories of books you bought particularly cheaply and sold later for much more, share those as well.
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