What Are Your Books Worth?

While in the real estate market it’s all about “Location, Location, Location,” in the book market it’s all about “Condition, Condition, Condition.” The cleaner your books are, the more value they have. It’s difficult to sell books that are dirty, have odors (smoky, musty, etc.), have water damage, are missing their dust jackets, have extensive markings inside, or have heavy wear/tears. (There are some exceptions for textbooks – read below.)


Textbooks, in general, are revised every 1 to 4 years, so if you don’t have textbooks that are from this year, last year or the last few years, they probably aren’t worth anything, unfortunately.  So sorry about that because we are sure you paid a lot for them. As always, there are exceptions: In subject areas such as some math and science genres, and other certain specialized topics, textbooks hold their value longer.

  • Supplemental materials used in classes can sometimes maintain their value– many times these are smaller paperbacks or small hardcovers and cover some type of specialized topic within a class subject.
  • Textbooks covering subjects in which information changes quickly, such as computers, medicine/nursing, history, business, and sociology, tend to get revised a lot.
  • We can buy textbooks that are highlighted/underlined and may have some damage as long as they are still useable. Students sometimes will settle for “acceptable” books if they can save a few bucks.  Smelly books and excessively dirty books are more difficult to sell and so we generally don’t buy them.
  • Please keep any supplemental materials, such as computer disks and unused online codes, with the books. Some disks are necessary to even use the textbook.
  • The advice we give many students is that if you’re thinking you may want to keep a book for reference later in your career, sell it now to use the funds for living expenses and then repurchase the book in a couple of years for a few pennies or a few dollars after the market for that book is gone. The exception would be a rare technical book that may be difficult to find later when you want it on the job. You may want to keep that.


OK, so this is a really complicated area, on which many books HAVE been written. But here’s the short and sweet version:

  • Just because a book is old, doesn’t mean it has value on the marketplace. It may have very sentimental value to you, but unless it is in demand in some way out there in the world, it may be very hard to sell. People hate to hear this, so we’re sorry to have to say it. We really, really love books, so we understand how disheartening and frustrating this can be. Sometimes I hold a book from 1890 and imagine how many people have held this book before me and am just awed as I turn the pages and enter the 19th century, and I know that’s a book that demands someone who will love it in a caring, respectful way.  Unfortunately, some of these books are very hard to sell unless they are in demand in some way because of their specific edition or scarcity.
  • Condition is key for old and collectible books. Collectors want to buy books that are as close to their original form as possible – clean and with light wear only. And if a book originally came with a dust jacket, it needs to have the dust jacket. Sometimes people have “clipped” the price from the corner of the dust jacket when giving it as a gift. An “unclipped” dust jacket is worth more than one that has been price-clipped. … Condition, however, is sacrificed somewhat for extremely rare books.
  • There are many Internet sites on which you can research collectible books to see if there is a market for them and what they are going for. Examples include Amazon.com[hyperlink], Abebooks.com[hyperlink] and Alibris.com[hyperlink]. Keep in mind that the prices listed there for collectible books vary widely and are many times arbitrary. Some sellers just try out a price and see if it will sell, so just because someone has set the price for a book at $200 doesn’t mean that’s what it’s worth and what it will sell for eventually. That listing may have been up there for three years and not have moved. Sometimes it’s good to check out Ebay.com[hyperlink]because you can do an advanced search on completed sales to see what a book actually has sold for.


For these titles, the more recent the publication date, the more likely they still have at least some value.

  • In general, popular nonfiction holds its value longer than fiction. Publishers print so many copies of contemporary fiction/literature that it drives the prices down quickly in the used marketplace.  Plus, once a novel moves off everyone’s “must read” list as new titles come out, sales take a dive. There are exceptions to this, of course, for exceptionally popular titles and classics.
  • People often use nonfiction books for reference, hold on to them longer, and refer back to them – directing fewer of them onto the “used” marketplace and keeping the prices higher. The information in them often stays valid for several years – until, of course, a revised or second edition comes out.


These books maintain their value longer, sometimes even for decades, depending on the subject and the number of copies available on the marketplace. People still look for how to repair an engine on a ‘60s muscle car, search for oil, obtain the perfect light effects in their watercolors, build an adobe house, raise livestock, play the piano, solve the ultimate math problem, etc.  Some things don’t change too much.


In general, hardback fiction only sells well on the used market if its publication is recent (within a few months), but can sell in the collectible market for a much longer period for First Editions, Limited Printings and Signed Copies of certain authors/titles. Trade paperbacks (these are the softcovers that are about 5 x 8 inches but may be bigger or a little smaller) of the same titles can maintain their value for just a few months as well, or a few years if the book is successful or becomes a classic. Mass market paperbacks (the smallest softcovers) generally do not maintain their value as they are typically reserved for extremely popular authors with large printing runs and are sold for much lower prices in new condition straight from the publisher.

  • In general, if you’re done reading a regular, non-collectible novel and don’t want to keep it, sell it right away if you want to get any money back from it. Or give it to a friend or donate it to a thrift store so more people can read it. Pass it on!