Campus Books releases a treasure trove of Buy Back data. Now, what it means.


Today is a big day: Campus Books released a cache of data from our Spring buy back period last year. This is big for a number of reasons. First, as one of the biggest price aggregators out there, we have a lot of data, and we’re sharing it with you. Second, this data can be a valuable tool for retailers and deal-seekers alike. It’s common (but often overlooked) sense when you compare it to any other investment: you wouldn’t purchase an investment looking only at purchase cost. You’d also plan for the best resale value.

The full amount of data and some notable results are available for download, so I won’t go into them here. However, the results have some important implications that go beyond just the data points.

First and foremost, students need to be vigilant about selling books in the same way they seek savings when looking to buy. The sentiment is often, “end-of-semester, get me to summer already,” but students can really benefit from doing some final homework.

Secondly, while this data only looks at online buyback prices, on campus prices must be considered as well. On campus works similar to online in that the textbook buyer on campus will pay a premium for books until a desired number is purchased, students selling after that may get a significant lower amount for their books. On campus, obviously, we don’t have that data, but we expect the same types of trends to follow.

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. Beware, many sites requires you to ship the book withing a number of days after the quote is generated.

The data showed that the highest prices were offered once the rush was over. In some cases, holding the book until the start of the next semester may be worth the risk.  At that point in time the demand for the book will be much higher while the supply will start to decrease. While you might not get cash from a buyback site you can possible sell the book on a marketplace and earn even more.

However, the data showed that opposite is also true: If you don’t need your book for finals you may want to consider selling it back early; if you plan to sell it back on campus do so on the first day. You may not get the highest price, but the data shows that the highest average price is during that period. It’s the safest bet, for sure.

Finally, one thought on pricing and buying strategy: Ask the bookstore if the book will be used for the next semester, if they tell you “no” then you are most likely getting a wholesale or internet price. Wholesale books will go back to a central distribution center and then sold to another school. Internet retail prices are purchased for resale over the internet.  Both are a lower value buyback than a retail book that will stay on your campus and be used the next semester.

Take a look at the data, especially industry friends. Let me know what you think, and what kinds of other insight and trends you gather from it.

Comment (1)

  1. John Kelm

    Jeff, the trends you’ve indicated certainly reflect the practices of the average wholesaler in how their buying guide is priced. During peak buyback periods (usually the first two weeks of December and May), wholesalers routinely adjust prices downward on mid to lower quality titles (those which are already in great supply in their warehouses and/or in the marketplace) and will drop out of the market altogether on marginal titles, prompting buyers to call for special pricing on those with “no value”. It’s also another way wholesalers protect themselves if they have contracted to pay their client bookstores a hefty buyback commission. Out of necessity, they tend to remain competitive on top-rated titles (high demand, new editions), however. The other months of the year, they must remain competitive with other wholesalers and online buyers. Those “non buyback” months are also when they can afford to indicate strong guide prices for marketing purposes. In addition, during a given buyback, the strength of the bookstore’s “half-price” list will tend to mask any weaknesses in a wholesaler’s buying guide.The relationship between the bookstore’s “half price” list and the wholesaler’s buying guide will reverse itself somewhat at the beginning of the next term, which is also reflected in your findings. At that time the bookstore’s premium list will be significantly weaker or non existant but the wholesaler’s guide will be stronger on the mid range to “bottom-feeding” titles. Overall, the best strategy for “gaming” the buyback, would be to sell only “half-price” titles at the beginning of the buyback and monitor the progress of adoption processing with the hope that others will appear on the list as the buyback progresses. Sell all other titles online to the highest buyer(s) even any titles the buyers at the bookstore may have turned down. Old editions are usually turned down at the bookstore but can have value online.For a shot at the highest prices possible – selling direct to other students online or privately may possibly pay off but this alternative requires timing and some luck.It has been awhile since I ran a textbook wholesale operation, but I would imagine pricing a wholesale buying guide is quite a challenge these days. The market is extremely volatile and “old rules” don’t necessarily apply. I know that at least one wholesaler has stopped producing a “cover bound” physical guide and has begun producing electronic updates every two weeks rather than monthly or every six weeks.


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