My Second Sale on Half.com: Turning Textbooks into Gold

The usual disclaimer: I work for eBay, and until recently, I was part of the product team responsible for Half.com. So I am biased. Not a little. A lot.

I have always believed that great engineers and product managers live their products and use their products. It’s the best way to get first-hand understanding of your users, and it can open your eyes to challenges that just aren’t obvious when you are looking at theoretical designs and analytical data. Being a user yourself can help give you an essential “gut feel” for your product.

Until recently, I managed the product team responsible for eBay Express, Half.com, and some features for Shopping.com. As a result, I started listing old textbooks on Half.com a few months ago, during the slow season, to get a better feel for the product. I had used Half.com extensively as a buyer, but never before as a seller.

I just got my second sale on Half.com, and I thought I’d share a few of my insights, as a user, while they are still fresh:

  • Selling on Half.com is Easy. It’s almost too easy. You just type in the ISBN number, specify the condition, and type a few notes (up to 250 characters). Half.com recommends a price to you, and you pick a price. That’s it. I’d argue it’s even easier than GoogleBase or Craigslist, because the site inherently understands books, and provides simple, contextual information while you list.
  • The mystery is when the sale will happen. Half.com has a different model than eBay. On eBay, you pay an up-front listing fee, and there is a clearly specified time your listing will be live, typically a week. On Half.com, your listing is free, and it lives forever. You only pay when it sells. But the question is, when will that be? As I’ve discovered, sales of textbooks seem to primarily happen in big “back to school” months. The book I sold today was listed several months ago. I had to think about where I had hidden it away, so I could ship it.
  • Being an eBay seller made me a better Half seller. eBay sellers are expected to pack & ship quickly. They are expected to send email, letting the buyer know that the package is on the way. eBay sellers also generally know how to use postage printing to turn around larger packages quickly. On Half.com, these things are optional, but I felt like I was giving a higher quality of service because of my experience selling on eBay.

So, here is my little money making tip for all of you within a decade of being in school. Go find your textbooks. Take 15 minutes, and list them on Half.com. Pick the recommended price from Half.com. Put them in a box, and put the box somewhere safe. Wait for the next textbook season, and you might find some welcome news in your inbox.

Just like I did today.

PS If there is anyone reading my blog who is in school, and is not buying their textbooks on Half.com, you are wasting a lot of money. Save your money. Buy your textbooks on Half.com. Parents, if you have children in college, and you are paying for their textbooks, make them buy them on Half.com.

3 thoughts on “My Second Sale on Half.com: Turning Textbooks into Gold

  1. [Disclaimer: I’ve been using Half.com for six years, and spent some time as a Half.com developer not too long ago, so I too am biased. But I was in love with the site (as both a buyer and seller) for several years before ever working for the company, so my passion predates my professional bias).]

    Another benefit of buying textbooks on Half.com is that there is more granularity in describing the condition. I used to work at the campus bookstore in college, and the new/used price was based on who we bought the books from (publisher vs re-distributor), not what condition they were actually in. So you would pay the same price for a pristine used copy as you would for a beaten-up-and-highlighted-all-over copy. The majority of the aisle cleaning we did every night was from the people who spent hours digging through the stacks of used books trying to find one of the less mangled copies.

    On Half.com, the condition of each used book is marked as Like New, Very Good, Good, Acceptable, etc, and the books are listed by price under each condition. So you not only get a better price by buying directly from other students, but also save a heck of a lot of time that you would have spent digging through stacks of used books trying to find a decent copy. [Not to mention preventing the bookstore employees from having to curse at you under their breath for your lack of manners in keeping their shelves tidy. 🙂 ]

  2. Have you tried selling on Amazon Marketplace? It’s just as easy or even easier than Half.com. As a seller I usually get a better price there because Amazon naturally attracts buyers looking for books. When they see a used book at a lower price than new, they jump on it and don’t bother to see if someone else sells the same book for lower price at Half.com.

  3. I have tried Amazon Marketplace, once. I found the experience OK, but not nearly as optimized as Half.com. I found the listing less efficient, and the communication from Amazon more confusing. Amazon sales also don’t help improve my eBay reputation & feedback.

    While Amazon might attract people looking for books, Half.com attracts students looking for Textbooks. A much more focused market, and perfect for former students who spent thousands of dollars on textbooks, and want to recoup some of that money.

    Obviously, I work for the competition, but for my personal sales, I will never go back to trying to use Amazon. Your mileage might vary.

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