Used Books on the Internet a Buyers Guide

When it comes to buying used books online, you need to consider three things: the safety of your credit/debit card number, the price of the book and the cost of shipping and handling. Big, established merchants tend to be more trustworthy, but it’s the little guy that usually offers the best prices.

The good news is, you can now get small-vendor pricing through well-known e-stores, as several big-name retailers have established online storefronts that allow you to pay them, but buy from the little guy. The most famous is, of course, Amazon.com’s Amazon Marketplace, but don’t ignore Half.com (owned by eBay), Buy.com and Barnes and Noble’s BN.com. In fact, the latter three have flourishing used-book operations, and they charge less for shipping and handling.

Searching for the best deal

If you’re in a hurry and can’t visit each site individually, I suggest you use the AddALL.com search engine, at http://used.addall.com/. This site scours the inventory of 14 different used -book stores for the best deal on the title you want. Keep in mind that this is a search engine, not a merchant. When you want to buy a book, you are taken to the third-party vendor’s site. As a result, you may be handing over your credit/debit card number to an entity you’ve never heard of.

I haven’t had a problem buying used books this way, but if you’d rather interact with more well-known retailers, you may prefer to stick with Amazon.com, Half.com, Buy.com and BN.com. With these e-megastores, the third-party vendor never sees your private financial data, and the big-name retailer can use its considerable influence to help resolve any problems you may encounter.

Shipping & Handling

Many Internet shoppers are accustomed to paying what Amazon.com charges to pack and ship a used book within the United States: US$3.99. But that’s relatively high nowadays. BN.com charges US$3.89, Half.com, US$3.49 and Buy.com, only US$3.20. These retailers are also increasingly able to offer used books for less than Amazon Marketplace does. I’ve listed some examples below. (In each case I’ve featured second-hand books in “good” or better condition, sold by a highly rated and experienced third-party merchant. Prices are current as of December 2007.)

“The Pillars of the Earth,” by Ken Follett (Paperback, 2002)
Amazon.com: US$11.98 + $3.99 (S&H) = US$15.97
Half.com: US$11.70 + $3.49 (S&H) = US$15.19
Buy.com: US$10.57 + $3.20 = US$13.77
BN.com: US$4.92 + $3.89 = US$8.81 (Mass Market Paperback)

“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and it’s all small stuff,” by Richard Carlson (Paperback, 1997)
Amazon.com: US$15.89 + $3.99 (S&H) = US$19.88
Half.com: US$0.75 + $3.49 (S&H) = US$4.24
BN.com: US$1.99 + $3.89 (S&H) = US$5.88
Buy.com: US$3.28 + $3.20 (S&H) = US$6.48

“A Game of Thrones,” by George R.R. Martin (Paperback, 1997)
Amazon.com: US$4.84 + $3.99 (S&H) = US$8.83
BN.com: US$4.40 + $3.89 (S&H)= US$8.29
Buy.com: US$4.09 + $3.20 (S&H)= US$7.29
Half.com: US$3.15 + $3.49 (S&H) = US$6.64

“For One More Day,” by Mitch Albom (Hardcover, 2006)
Amazon.com: US$9.00 + $3.99 (S&H) = US$12.99
Half.com: US$8.85 + $3.49 (S&H) = US$12.85
Buy.com: US$11.14 + $3.20 (S&H) = US$14.34
BN.com: US$12.24 + $3.99 (S&H) = US$16.23

“Ilium,” by Dan Simmons (Mass Market Paperback)
Amazon.com: US$2.43 + $3.99 (S&H) = US$6.42
Half.com: US$1.71 + $3.49 (S&H) = US$5.20
BN.com: US$2.80 + $3.89 (S&H)= US$6.69
Buy.com: US$5.82 + $3.20 (S&H)= US$9.02