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With the end of the term looming large and students wrapping up studies and looking for ways to raise cash for summer, now's the best time to get down to the issue of maximizing textbook-buyback dollars.

It's no secret that many factors affect the value offered by a bookstore or buyer for any given textbook. Answers to these common questions are taken into account when the establishing buyback value:
  • Is there a new edition of the textbook available or coming soon?
  • Is the book needed because it is being used next term?
  • Does the bookstore or buyer already have enough copies and needs no more?
  • What condition is the book in?
  • Is it complete with supplements like CDs?
With the exception of the last two, answers to these questions are in the hands of publishers, bookstores and buyers, and professors. So other than keeping books in good condition and with any extras, what can students do to get the most money back? Well, it turns out that the answers are:
  1. Educate themselves about the various selling venues (the campus bookstore, online, peer to peer).
  2. Time their selling based on the new data we've gathered and published about buyback cycles and values.

You can read our full findings and even download the raw data here, but we'll give you the condensed version now.

We looked at the 2010 spring buyback period (the five weeks in April and May when most students sell books) and compiled data about 20 indicator ISBNs each time they were searched and an offering price retrieved from online buyers. The results show that timing is of the essence when it comes to maximizing buyback price. Some notable findings:

  • Search volume and average price were opposed: as supply (students selling books) rose, the price offered by buyback companies dropped.
  • The weeks of May 2-8 and 9-15, the peak of the buyback season, saw huge search volume, and at the same time, the lowest average prices.
  • Search volume skyrocketed an average of 300% between April 25-May 1 and May 2-8. During this time, there was an almost universal drop in average prices.
  • The first weeks of buyback have a more consistent price range for each book. Within the peak of buyback, the range becomes extreme, sometimes differing $50+ on the same day.
  • Many more $0 (no-value or not-buying) prices appear during peak as buyers obtain the most stock for the lowest prices.

Conclusion: Ultimately, students can aim for consistent prices early, gamble with the wide range (and lower average price) at peak time, or hold out for the highest (but few available) prices after the rush.

Tips:
  1. Know what your deal means: online buyback quotes can be good for one day or 30 days, and you must read the details to make sure you know what data you are looking at and what “real” value it has.
  2. Understand that many sites requires you to ship the book within a certain number of days after the quote is generated.
  3. Ask the bookstore if the book will be used for the next semester, if they tell you no or they don’t know, then you are most likely getting a wholesale or Internet price. Wholesale books will go back to a central distribution center and are then sold to another school. Internet retail prices are purchased for resale over the internet.  Both are a lower value than a retail book that will stay on your campus and be used the next semester.

To learn more, read the full results of our study.

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