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Turn Your Old Books Into Money

Find hidden cash in unwanted books, CDs and records

Yeager - where to sell your used books

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Too many books? There are ways to declutter your bookshelves and make some money to boot.

En español | In his bookThe Library at Night, author Alberto Manguel writes: "Ultimately, the number of books always exceeds the space they are granted." If you're a lover and collector of books or music, you know the truth behind those words. If you're looking to free up some shelf space or maybe generate some extra cash, here are the best ways to part with unwanted books, CDs and records.

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Best places to sell online

If you don't mind investing some time and effort, you'll probably make the most money by selling your unwanted collections online, directly to individual buyers. There are many websites where you can sell used books, CDs and records, with varying commission or fee structures and other requirements. Some of the leading sites include:

  • Half.com. An eBay-affiliated site specializing in books and CDs, Half.com doesn't require you to pay a listing fee, but you do pay a commission out of your proceeds when you sell an item. Commissions range from 5 to 15 percent, depending on the sale amount: The higher the sale price is, the lower the commission rate is. Half.com will make payments via direct deposit into your checking account.
  • eBay.com. This is a good place for selling rare or collectible books — and even vinyl records. The eBay site fees are pretty complicated, but the basic structure is that your first 50 listings per month are free, and then you pay 30 cents per listing for any additional listings that month. The company offers a handy fee calculator. Another nice feature for people who don't want to go through much hassle is that eBay offers a selling "valet service." If you mail your stuff to the company, then it will sell the items for you. You can't sell books or CDs through this service, but this is an option if you have collectible vinyl. Based on the sale price of the item, the commission for this valet service is 20 to 40 percent.
  • Amazon.com. Amazon charges individual sellers 99 cents per item that sells, so it only makes sense to list items on which you'll make a worthwhile profit. You only can sell items that are already currently listed on Amazon, which, of course, includes tons of book titles, CDs and some vinyl — but may not include everything in the collection you're looking to unload.
  • Etsy.com. Etsy, which is an online marketplace specializing in handmade items, also is a great place to sell vintage books and records. Items must be at least 20 years old to be sold on Vintage Etsy. It costs 20 cents per listing, plus a 3.5 percent transaction fee on the sale price.
  • Discogs.com. This is the premier place online to sell CDs and records. The site charges an 8 percent fee at the time of sale. With vinyl and CDs, you usually need to grade the item's condition before selling it. The company offers help to figure out how to grade your items.

Selling to an online bookstore

There are a lot of online bookstores that offer to buy your used books. It's a rather hit-or-miss situation because online bookstores don't buy every title, and how much they're willing to pay can vary greatly, depending on the market demand. An easy way to find the online bookseller that will offer you the best price is to use a website such as BookScouter.com or BookFinder.com. Each one allows you to plug in a book's international standard book number (ISBN) and compare prices among several online booksellers. Some of the major online book resellers include:

  • Amazon Trade-In. You receive an Amazon gift card, not cash. The site accepts books, CDs and vinyl. A nice feature of Amazon Trade-In is that if your book is rejected based on its poor condition, the company will mail it back to you for free.
  • Powell's Books. You have the choice of receiving a PayPal payment or store credit.
  • Textbooks.com. This site accepts more than just textbooks. Payment via PayPal or check is required.

Selling locally: Old-school options

Particularly if you have a large collection, you might want to sell the more valuable items online to get the highest price. And then you can liquidate the remainder locally to avoid the hassle and expense of selling and shipping them one by one. Local options usually include:

  • Used-book stores. Larger used-book stores and book exchanges sometimes buy entire collections, although at best you'll probably receive only about 15 percent of the cover price, and then only on the volumes they really want. If you have any textbooks to sell, try college bookstores first: They usually pay more than other used-book stores, at least for recent editions.
  • Record/CD exchange stores. Most college towns and major metro areas have a record and CD exchange store or two. They typically look up the price of the music you're looking to unload on Discogs.com, and then pay you around 15 percent of that amount, depending on condition.
  • Yard sales. The trick to getting rid of a large collection at a yard or garage sale is to sell a group of items by the lot or to let the customer pick out a boxful or bagful for a set price.
  • Home decorators. If you have books that are attractive or impressive-looking (such as scholarly law books or leather-bound volumes) but are not of much value in terms of their content or rarity, try contacting local interior decorators, who sometimes buy showy volumes based solely on how they'll look on a client's bookshelf.

Non-cash options for getting rid of unwanted books, CDs and records

Potential profits aside, wouldn't it be nice if someone else could benefit from reading the books you've already read or enjoying the music you no longer listen to? There are plenty of easy options for putting unwanted items from your media collection in the hands of people who will really appreciate them.

  • Swapping. OK, so it may not succeed in freeing up any additional shelf space, but there are plenty of opportunities online to trade your unwanted books for other titles you'd like to read. On most book swap websites, you get a credit for every book you send to someone else, which you can then redeem with other traders for the books you really want. Usually you just have to pay postage for the books you send, not the ones you receive. Popular sites include BookMooch.com, PaperBackSwap.com or TitleTrader.com. Or you could always hold an old-fashioned swap meet with your neighbors, friends and family.
  • Regifting. In some cases, giving something you already own to someone else as a gift is considered a social faux pas. But openly regifting books and music that you've already enjoyed can be a very personal, sentimental gesture. When my mother became too infirm to continue her passion for cooking, she gave my wife and me one of the most cherished Christmas gifts we've ever received: her 1950 edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book. It's the absolute bible in her beloved kitchen and comes with meticulous handwritten notes in the margin featuring Mom's tips and documenting the special occasions on which she'd prepared various recipes for our family over a period of more than 50 years. Priceless.
  • Donating. Charitable organizations — including churches, schools and other civic groups — often accept donations of books and other media, either as part of special book drives or for resale through their affiliated thrift stores. Public libraries often accept donations of used books, usually to resell to library patrons in order to raise funds to support the library. You can even get a tax deduction for donating unwanted items to a qualified nonprofit group.
  • Repurposing or upcycling. Transforming unwanted books, CDs and records into decorative or useful items is considered by some to be sacrilege, a perversion of the item's original intent. But particularly if you have damaged items in your collection, there are countless creative ways to upcycle or repurpose them into some pretty cool stuff. A quick search on Pinterest.com will reveal a trove of project ideas for unwanted books — from hollowing out a book to create a secret storage safe for valuables to using pages as wallpaper or to make a lampshade. Old CDs can be used as conversation-starter drink coasters or made into a playful wind chime. And you can even find instructions online for heating and shaping a vinyl record to make a retro-looking decorative bowl.
  • Giving it away. If all else fails, you can always give away books, CDs and records with a free listing on Craigslist.org or Freecycle.org. And here's a really interesting way to set your unwanted books free: BookCrossing.com is a website where you label a book, leave it somewhere for a stranger and then track to see where your book goes and who reads it. It's kind of like sending a message in a bottle, which is also the title of great book by Nicholas Sparks. Although it's one I'm looking to get rid of, if anyone's interested.

Jeff Yeager is the author of Don't Throw That Away!, The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com; you can friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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