Let's talk about Amazon book conditions!
The first product I ever sold on Amazon was a book. The 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.
I had no clue about Amazon's book condition guidelines at the time, and I just chose “used-very good.” Luckily, that was the right call.
Selling books on Amazon through retail arbitrage, online arbitrage, estate sales, or just from books you find around your house is a fantastic opportunity to earn some cash, but you need to be careful. If you list an item incorrectly, you could lose your Amazon selling privileges permanently.
You don't need to rely on luck like I did! I'm going to show you everything you need to know about Amazon's book condition descriptions in this brief, but complete, article.
I'll also answer some very specific, real world questions that can make listing your books much easier. Alright, here's everything about book condition amazon sellers need to know.
What Are Amazon Book Condition Guidelines?
Amazon provides us with general condition guidelines for listing any product in their marketplace. In this article, we are focused only on conditions as they relate to books (hardback, collectible, and paperback). I suggest you bookmark this page from Amazon themselves that breaks down their different condition descriptions in more detail.
I'll break them down in my own words here, though, because Amazon's guidelines still leave a lot of questions.
Remember, Amazon wants their customers to be satisfied with their purchase. So, rule of thumb, ask yourself, “Would I be satisfied if I bought this book in the condition I'm listing it in, and it looked like this when I got it?” If the answer is yes, you're probably on the right track.
However, read these guidelines anyway! Also, read my closing thoughts afterwards to clear up any gaps.
This one is straightforward. Is the product in the same condition as it would be if purchased directly from the original manufacturer (or publisher)?
- Book is in its original protective wrapping. This is rarely the case, but some books are wrapped in protective film.
- In original dust cover / dust jacket. If applicable. This is typically reserved for hardcover books but not always.
- Spine clear of any damages.
- No signs of wear.
- No damage to pages.
- No “dog-eared” pages.
- No highlights, doodles, underlines, or markups of any kind.
- No smudges.
- No dust.
- No manufactural misprints (Even though that isn't your fault)
I want to add "has that new book smell," but I held off including that.
The problem with new is that people underestimate exactly HOW new something needs to be. Often, items that should be listed as “Used–Like New” are instead listed as New.
Fortunately, with books, there aren't as many pieces that signal signs of an item being used. Except for things like the massive book bundle in the image below, books are one of the easiest things to list on Amazon.
What is the “original manufacturer's warranty?”
If you read Amazon's explanation of New condition, you'll notice the mention of the “original manufacturer's warranty.” This is not something that you need to concern yourself with for books. Amazon sellers handle their own refunds, and there are no warranties or guarantees that are transferred from the publisher to the seller when an item is resold. Don't lose sleep over this verbiage on warranty details. It's a non-issue.
If something isn't new, we have 4 levels of Used condition to choose from.
Used Like New books should appear brand new with the most minor discrepancies. List a book as used like new instead of new if it is missing something extremely minor like the protective wrapping that was part of the original packaging but is an otherwise well cared for item.
A used-like new book would be something like a book at Barnes and Noble that had been handled by shoppers briefly, with no signs of wear or damage.
Used – Very Good
Used very good items aren't going to fool anyone as brand new. They should have limited signs of use and be free from significant wear. If an item has one or two minor but noticeable imperfections or damages, consider used very good. The books should still be free from markups or overt damages and may have been read and handled once before.
Used good books will be fairly worn. If a book has markings inside of it, list it no higher than good. These will look like decent library books. The dust covers or boxed set cases may be missing on used-good listings.
Used -Acceptable is where we list any book that shows significant signs of wear-and-tear. These will look like the lower end library books. Acceptable condition books may miss things like CDs or bonus online material access, or they may have expired activation codes inside.
It's critical that you make a note of these sorts of things in the listing comments (more on that shortly).
Don't confuse “acceptable” with terrible condition. We can't sell products that are in poor condition on Amazon. Period.
The following conditions are things that are never acceptable in books listed on Amazon.
- Inauthentic books or copies
- Books with missing pages
- Books with redacted information (crossing out major portions of text, for example)
- Books with mold, water damage, or any severe staining or corrosion
Listing Collectible Books on Amazon
Last but not least, we have the collectible book niche on Amazon. Don't think of “collectible” as a condition but as a category such as paperback or hardback.
Inside collectible book listings, we have only used options. There is no “Collectible – New” option, but there is “Collectible–Like New.”
The same 5 used categories that apply for hardcover and paperback books also apply to collectible books.
- Collectible–Like New
- Collectible–Very Good
- Collectible – Acceptable
Examples of items potentially considered as “collectible” include…
- Books signed by the author
- Not yet published books
- No longer published copy
- Original copy or proof
- Tied to some event of general historical significance
The same grading criteria we used for other books apply to collectibles. Keep in mind, this is not a chill demographic. People who are buying collectible items might inspect your books, literally, with a microscope. Be extra careful with listing these on Amazon.
Amazon Listing Comments for Books
When you list an item in a condition other than new, you have the option to add comments to it. They look like this to the buyer when they're viewing offers on a product detail page on Amazon…
This is a great opportunity for you to better describe your item's condition, so that buyers know what they're getting.
Be careful though. If you don't understand book condition guidelines, you might out yourself in the comments like this person did.
Don't be like that Amazon seller. Confessing will not save you!
How to Inspect a Book's Condition- Rules for Inspecting
Now that you know the different book condition descriptions we can use, let's talk about how we can inspect our books properly
Rule #1 Be Thorough But Efficient
Making money selling books on Amazon at scale requires selling a lot of books. We don't want to list books incorrectly and get in trouble, but we also don't have time to meticulously over-analyze each book.
So, strike a balance between not inspecting and reading every word 🙂
Paralysis by analysis will sink your book flipping business.
Now, spend EXTRA time analyzing the books you will list as new. This is where you run the real risk of getting negative reviews.
Quickly but thoroughly inspect the core parts of the books you list as new.
- Dust jacket/Cover
Don't spend tons of time debating between acceptable and good ratings. Pick a condition, add condition notes if necessary, and move on.
Rule #2 Don't Be Greedy
Don't get in the habit of over-listing products. If a book has highlight marks on page 100, and you don't think anyone will notice, don't list it as new and roll the dice.
This doesn't mean that you should never list a book as new if you can't track its roots back to the manufacturer or guarantee with ABSOLUTE certainty it hasn't been skimmed through. Use your best judgement, and don't get greedy.
Under-grading your books can actually be a nice way to build 5 star reviews by exceeding customer expectations. This can be valuable to new sellers struggling to get their first few 5 star reviews.
You don't need to radically lean toward the side of caution on every book, but use common sense and keep your account safe from being suspended.
Rule #3 Don't Damage the Books Yourself
There's no way to prove this, but I'd estimate most of the complaints made about a book's condition result from damage made during prep or shipment rather than being genuinely listed incorrectly.
- If you're skimming through pages, make sure your hands are clean. Wearing gloves isn't a ridiculous thing to do to avoid leaving smudges.
- Be careful with how you package your items on shipments. Ensure that they are packaged with heavier items on the bottom and lighter ones on top. Choose the right size boxes (not too big or too small), and use a healthy amount of package material.
- Be careful with returns. When a product has been returned, it needs a complete reinspection and will most likely need a new listing condition.
As far as Amazon damaging books and you getting in trouble for it, that I can't help you with 🙂
Book Condition FAQ
Let's do some rapid fire, frequently asked questions to wrap this up as completely as possible.
Should I Clean Books Before Listing Them on Amazon?
Sometimes. It's important that we understand the implications of doing this.
First, a book in new condition doesn't need to be cleaned. The only thing that it might require is a price tag removed. I've written at length about removing price stickers here. If a book requires cleaning beyond removing a tag, you need to be very hesitant to list it as new.
You don't want to overdo it with cleaning materials like goo gone, alcohol, or tools that might damage items like heat guns and blow dryers though, if you don't need to.
How Do I Add Condition Notes to My Book Listings?
We spoke about condition notes for books that are listed in used condition. Adding these is very easy.
Note: If the listing is as new, you will not have the condition notes options available.
When listing your item, you will be able to add notes. You will need to have "Advanced View" turned on, but otherwise, it's impossible to miss, so I won't go deeper than that.
If you didn't add the condition note and want to after the fact, you will do so via "Manage Inventory" and editing the listing.
You will find the condition note field on the "Offer" tab. You'll need to ensure that you have "Advanced View" enabled, or you won't see it.
If you're using a listing or inventory management software, how you do this will be slightly different, but in most cases, just as easy.
Should I Use a 3rd party Listing Management Software to List My Books?
They aren't mandatory, but I'd suggest looking into them. There are many benefits. I've written about the big name Amazon FBA inventory management softwares here, but there are also some that aren't on that list that are great fits for book selling like AccelerList.
Does Book Condition Really Matter?
Listen, I've tried to keep it real with you in this article so far, so I won't stop now. Some sellers who have done very well with books for many years (example here) will say that the condition doesn't really matter as much as some will make it seem. As long as you aren't over-grading items (especially used as brand new), you will usually be fine.
Those are their words, not mine.
My opinion falls somewhere in between. Be safe, but don't spend too much time over-analyzing. Under-grade instead of over-grade if you have any doubts. Never over-grade an item, but don't over-analyze either.
The risk lies on your shoulders, though. If you're willing to speed up your condition grading process and accept the occasional (and inevitable) negative review, more power to you.