Selling at Alibris: why it’s pointless

One suspects that most people who flop selling at Alibris didn’t do their homework, or had unrealistic expectations. I can give you a better reason why.

The whole thing is geared to make money only for them.  You are far, far better off just taking the books to your used bookstore for credit, or to your library, or just recycling them.  Seriously.  Unless they are rare, that is.

Alibris has two tiers of sellers.  For the one, you pay $20 to get started, so you are already in the hole.  For the other, you pay a monthly fee, so you are already in the hole on a monthly basis.  Let’s walk through selling a typical hardback book in Fine condition.

Your shipping costs are:  $2.80 for media mail, $1.50 for the bubble mailer, net $4.30.  You will get paid $4.00 for shipping.  So far you are down ($0.30).  Okay, but you should take that into account with your pricing, right? Go ahead. You will also pay Alibris $2.25 (cleverly split up in the description of their pricing scheme so you won’t add the $1.00 and $1.25 together) for the privilege, plus $0.50 as a commission, net loss there ($2.75).  So your total costs are ($3.05). This accounts for every factor here except the price tag you put on the book.

There are 100 of the same book in Good condition listed for $1.00, and some in Very Good and Fine.  If you sell for that you will lose ($2.05).  Suppose it’s in Fine condition and you say, well, I have to get $3.05 for it.  If it sells for that, you break even, but Alibris gets its $2.75. You can’t win.  Price it higher than that, and you wasted your time listing it–no one’s going to pay more for it.  Price it lower and you may well sell it, losing money.  The one constant with every such transaction is that Alibris makes money and you can not.

Notice we didn’t even discuss the actual cost of the book.  It is, you know, an item of merchandise that once had a cost? Clearly, you will never get back a fraction of that; this is accepted.  However, the above model considers the book to have zero cost value. Assign it some form of basic cost of goods sold, even a pittance of 10% of original price, and you’re even further in the toilet.

Okay, but some books are surely worth more? Yes.  A few.  A very few.  For that same reason, they won’t sell very often.  Plus, the higher the price, the pickier the buyer, for which I don’t blame them.  There is a good chance of a return, which puts you in the hole, or a nasty comment that damages your seller rating.  You could miss some flaw on the book when describing it, though you tried your best. If the book has that much value, why not put it on eBay and really see how much you can get for it?

Their seller service is friendly and responsive enough. Well they should be, considering that you’re handing them pure profit and doing all the work. If you come over to my house and perform work at a net cost to you, from which only I profit, I promise you, I’ll treat you very courteously.

The other two major competitors are Amazon and Abebooks. Why not them? Not only is there less money to be made at Amazon, they themselves will directly undercut you. They’ll give people free shipping and charge them $3.99.  You will only get $3.99 shipping reimbursement plus a minimum price of $0.01 for the book. You can’t win. Abebooks has a monthly fee, I think $20, which it would take a lot of books sold to cover.

The model is useless. You can’t make any money. You donate your labor to a for-profit entity.

I’m just going to start taking them to Adventures Underground for store credit, a box at a time. I’ve shut down my operation at Alibris.  Two hundred thirty books, all described with careful honesty and listed with great pains taken to assure a representative image and the right edition, probably forty hours of effort, all for nothing but profit for Alibris.

Live and learn.


6 thoughts on “Selling at Alibris: why it’s pointless”

  1. You are so right. I’ve sold some higher-end books for a slight profit, but the dollar books are a total loser. In fact, I ended up PAYING for the privilege of selling them. No more.


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