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How to Sell Books on Half.com

Half.com, Media Mail, Sell Books, Selling Tips

Have you been wondering how to sell your books online? As a companion site to eBay, Half.com is a forum where books, music, and movies are advertised for sale – new and used. Functioning like an online market, it does not employ the auction format of its bigger sibling eBay but rather uses an even simpler process. This article will show you how to sell books on Half.com and provide some tips for optimizing your experience.

How Half.com Works – The Basics

If you have a User ID and a password for eBay, then you will use the same login information at Half.com. You will have to sign up as a new user if you don’t already have an established profile. This registration process is easy and free. You’ll need a credit card or debit card (to verify your identity) and a bank account so that your proceeds can be deposited.

Unlike eBay, where you can sell virtually anything, Half.com is a forum for mass-produced media items. You can only list items that already “exist,” so to speak, in large quantities – like books, CDs, DVDs, and video games. In the case of books, Half.com uses the unique ISBN assigned to a particular edition of a book and maintains a web page for that book. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Commercial books all have these (usually) ten digit numbers, often printed near the bar code. Sometimes they are prefaced with the letters ISBN.

On each book’s special page, Half.com maintains a list of all the copies of that book for sale by different people in different conditions. Ranging from “Brand New” to “Acceptable,” these categories are important for helping shoppers determine just how used of a book they may want and how prices vary accordingly. Half.com employs specific definitions for each of the condition categories, so it’s important to look over all your books before listing them to determine what kind of shape they’re truly in.

Listing an Item

The easiest way to list a book is usually by typing in the ISBN in the search field. This will bring up the unique page for that edition of the book and show you all the items currently for sale. You’ll see how many copies of the book are for sale in each condition category and what the current prices look like. If you want to add your book to the market, there is a “Sell Yours Now” link that directs you to a data collection page. You simply input the condition of your book, any special notes, and your listing price. To assist you, Half.com will show you the range of currently posted prices are, what the last sold item went for, and a few other useful details. After you submit the information, your book is listed almost immediately on the web page for that edition of the book. You do not pay anything to list an item, and you won’t even need a picture because (for most books) they already have a stock photo of the cover.

Unlike eBay auctions, there are no time limits. You can list a book at a particular price and it will stay there until it is sold. Meanwhile, you retain the right to change the list price at any time. When someone wants to buy your particular book at the price you specified, they click on it, put in it their shopping cart, and eventually check out. The buyer pays Half.com directly (NOT you) with a credit card. Half.com then sends you an email with the buyer’s shipping information and a packing slip to print. It’s essential that you check your email regularly because this serves as the exclusive notification that you’ve made a sale. Be sure emails from Half.com do not end up in a spam filter, or else the whole process will be foiled.

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After you pack up the book and include the packing slip, just take the package to the post office and ask them to send it via Media Mail, a special postal category that allows cheap mailing of books. You are not required to use UPS or FedEx for book sales on Half.com unless you choose to do so, and most sellers do not. It’s up to you whether to buy any shipping insurance from your friendly postal worker. I don’t recommend insurance unless you’re selling a book over $50 in value, but that is just my personal preference based on anecdotal cost-benefit analysis. After you’ve shipped the book, log in to your Half.com account and mark the order as shipped, which sends the buyer an email to advise them their book is on the way.

How Sellers Get Paid

To determine how much money you will actually get from Half.com for the sale, there is a simple formula:

Money You Will Receive =
List Price of Book + Shipping Cost Calculated by Half.com – Half.com Commission

I will provide an example of a sale I completed a few months ago. I listed a used legal research textbook for $29.00. Half.com determined that my shipping costs would be about $2.33. Half.com took a commission of $4.35 on the sale, meaning that the amount I actually received was $26.98 because 29.00 + 2.33 – 4.35 = 26.98. Remember that Half.com determines how much they will give you for shipping, regardless of how much you actually spend at the post office. There are too many variables, including the envelope you choose. In my experience, the shipping allowances have been quite close to my actual shipping costs, so they’ll give you what they think is standard. The commission works out to 15% of the list price for items under $50, and the percentage goes down for more expensive books.

Sometimes, it actually happens that you’ll get more money than your list price, particularly when the book is cheap. Consider this example of a $6.00 book. Half.com’s commission on the item was only $0.90, but they still allowed me $1.94 of shipping costs that they appended to the buyer’s price. So, when Half.com paid me for the book, I actually received $7.04. The formula was 6.00 + 1.94 – 0.90 = 7.04.

Half.com will pay your bank account by direct deposit shortly after each cycle. Rather than sending lots of little deposits, they’ll collect everything for a period of time and then credit you all at once. The 1st – 15th of a month is one period, and the remainder of the month is the second period. Most banks will show the funds in your checking account within a week of the cycle’s close. All payment records are very easy to navigate.

What About Feedback?

Feedback on Half.com and eBay are linked because the User IDs are the same. If you’re not familiar with the system, it’s actually quite simple. Each users collects points for positive comments made by those with whom they transact business on either website. If you sell a book on Half.com, most buyers will give you positive feedback after it’s received, provided it’s on time and in reasonable condition. When someone gives you positive feedback, you should return the favor and give them the same.

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Be careful that you don’t give positive feedback too early if you’ve sold a book, just in case there is a problem. I recommend waiting until the buyer gives you positive feedback first. You’ll know the person received the book, and you can thank them accordingly. If the buyer does not give you positive feedback after a short time, I advise waiting for about a month after you shipped the book. Since the buyer would probably have contacted you through Half.com to say there was an issue before 30 days had passed, you should be safe to leave positive feedback.

Feedback is important because it speaks to your credibility. A high feedback score means lots of other people have successfully transacted with you, and it may make people more inclined to buy from you because you appear trustworthy. Don’t worry about being a new seller, though. Even if your feedback score is set at 0 to indicate you’re a newbie, people will still purchase from you. After all, everyone remembers being new.

If you do experience a problem, there are ways to credit refunds and receive assistance from Half.com in dealing with disputes. There is an excellent help section which can guide the user. Truth be told, I have sold nearly 60 items in the last few years, and I only experienced one problem with a buyer claiming she did not receive a book. I issued her a refund, and all I really lost was the book (which I wanted to get rid of anyway). Because problems are rare, I don’t recommend buying insurance unless the item was of significant value. My lost book was only a paperback worth $10 or so, but you wouldn’t want to lose, say, a medical textbook worth $80. You’ll have to decide as a seller how much risk you can handle.

Half.com Selling Tips

Now that you understand the system, let me provide a few tips that will help you manage your experience and maximize your profit.

1. If you expect to list a lot of books, buy padded envelopes in bulk. Because you only receive a limited allowance from Half.com for shipping, it will benefit you to keep your envelope costs low. Buying them one at a time, especially while at the post office, can be pricey.

2. Typically, USPS media mail will be the cheapest shipping option, and technically, it’s what you are obligated to use (unless you’ve agreed to offer people expedited shipping). However, there are some occasions when regular first class mail can be cheaper than media mail – usually if the book is very light. If you’re selling a lightweight book, ask the postal worker if first class is any cheaper.

3. To sell your books more quickly, try to beat the lowest prices you see listed on the page. Don’t fuss too much about losing some small change. For example, sometimes dropping a list price by a dollar or two will put you atop the crowd and help the book sell rapidly. If you’re not one of the cheapest listings for a book, it may sit there for months and never get sold. Would you rather have $19 now, or the mere possibility of $22 in three months?

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4. Don’t bother selling outdated versions of textbooks. Although it does not cost anything to list a book, chances are that no one wants a 1996 version of a sociology textbook that’s been replaced by newer editions.

5. Pay attention to buyers’ names and shipping addresses. I once listed two books by the same author (Malcolm Gladwell to be exact), and it turns out that the same man bought both books from me. I was able to consolidate the books into one envelope and save a little on my shipping.

6. Half.com allows you to temporarily suspend sales on your items so that you can go on vacation and not worry about your inventory. You don’t want to be a bad seller who neglects emails for a week, so take advantage of this easy-to-use feature.

7. In addition to selecting the right condition category for your book, consider giving some personalized details in the comments section of the listing. I’ve said things like “received as a gift and never read” or “a few underlines in the first chapter but nowhere else.” As long as your assertions are true, they instill some confidence in the buyer. When you are very specific about what, if anything, is wrong with the book, the buyer may be more likely to select your item because you were very up-front about the flaws. You’re also more likely to get feedback stating things like “book was exactly described.” That is precisely the kind of endorsement you want as a Half.com seller.

8. Textbooks are especially hot sellers in August and September when most college students are returning to school and looking to beat campus bookstore prices. January is another great month for textbook sales because of the semester change. But don’t think your textbooks won’t sell at other times. Colleges and universities operate on all kinds of schedules.

Final Thoughts

Since I began selling books on Half.com, I’ve earned over $800 – a nice chunk of change. The amount of time involved in managing the administrative details like buying padded envelopes and running to the post office is minimal, especially if you build these things into your daily routine. I still keep many books after I’ve read them, but once I realized that I’ve been holding onto a book I may never reference again, I think it makes sense to sell. A few extra dollars in your pocket is better than a few extra pounds of dust-collecting paperbacks on a bookshelf. Books are great items to start selling because nearly everyone has them lying around. If you become comfortable on Half.com, you can branch out to sell CDs, DVDs, and even video games. Once you know how to made Half.com work for you, it’s easy, fun, and profitable.

[This guide is based on my experience and should not be your exclusive source of information. For all official guidelines and information, refer to Half.com.]