The Art of Buying Books on Amazon.com

If you’re anything like me, your budget is maxed out with silly things like gas and insurance, with only a handful of random extra dollars for fun things like wine and books. But then again, if you’re anything like me, you will still spend money on books.

What always gets me, though, is the insane difference between spending $5 and spending $8. My brain goes from “what a fantastic, wonderfully low price!” to “well I guess I’ll starve and walk to work,” so quickly you would think I was actually in the financial position to starve (the joke here is that I still live with my parents, and they like me too much to let me starve).  

But what is a girl to do when she sees a book that she’s dying to read? Not to be cheap but…when it’s more than $15, a girl tries to find a way to save a buck. It was in the name of this cause that it dawned on me: buy the book used on Amazon. 

I did this with textbooks for school because those suckers were $100+ each. But it also works out quite well for normal, for-fun books, like Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, which I got for $7.99

Now I know some people (myself included) can be  pretty picky about the look of their books. Collecting certain releases, with covers that all match and coordinate is a small passion of many a book-lover. However, for me at least, there are some books I don’t mind having mismatched, and sometimes I like the look of haphazard. It allows each book to shout it’s own personality from the shelves.

If you are someone who likes all of your books to match, this book-buying strategy is not for you.

What I love about buying used on Amazon.com:
 – The condition ratings
 – The fact that most books come from smaller bookstores throughout the world that simply sell through Amazon.
 – Ease of use

The Condition Ratings

Buying books online has one huge downside: the distinct lack of the bookstore experience. You don’t get to touch and smell all the books before purchasing the ones that speak to you the most.

However, if you’re okay with losing the bit where you are physically surrounded by books (and their smell), you can rest assured that what you’re looking at online, and what the seller is telling you you’ll get, is rarely misleading.

Amazon uses condition ratings that, in my experience, have been fairly accurate. Ratings range from Acceptable to Like New, with the in-betweens being Good and Very Good. 

I’ve never dared wander into the Acceptable realm, but Good and Very Good have often come up as almost Like New. There is also room to comment on the condition, warning the buyer of any damage before the purchase is made, so you know pretty much exactly what to expect.

All in all, sellers have been good at accurately rating the books, realizing that something like a bent cover automatically drops it a whole rating status.

Supporting Smaller Stores

Without doing actual math, I would say that roughly half the used books I’ve gotten from Amazon have been from an independent seller or bookstore simply using Amazon as the marketplace. 

As someone who lives in an area with nearly no local bookstores, I love that nabbing a book using an online giant like Amazon can also support a smaller business. 

Ease of Use

The most obvious benefit of buying on Amazon is the fact that you can sit in your pajamas while watching a movie and buy the book that inspired the film (this is exactly what I did with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society). It’s easy to browse, it’s easy to buy, and it’s exciting to get mail. Win, win, win!

And again, I have very few, to no, local bookstores. Online is just easier than driving hours to find any sort of bookshop.


With all of the glamorous benefits, there were bound to be some downsides. Inevitably, they are as follows:

The cons of buying books on Amazon.com:
 – You never actually know
 – Sometimes they’re far away (and not Prime)
 – Sometimes they aren’t available

You Never Actually Know

Despite the usually accurate condition-rating system, there are the few trip-ups where someone just wasn’t exactly sure where the book sat on the damage spectrum.
 
My copy of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South was a Used-Very Good, but came with a little more damage than I had expected. Still not terrible, but definitely a former library book. 

Sometimes They’re Far Away (And Not Prime)

If you need a book STAT, ordering used from Amazon is not your thing. Used books come from all over the world (though I think Amazon tries to only show/offer things that are shipping from your country), making it totally possible that your book takes a week or more to get to you.

It’s also rare that used books are included in the Prime two-day shipping, meaning you also have to pay for shipping, though it’s always been fairly low for me (under $4).

If you’re ordering used, you’re gonna have to be a little patient.

Sometimes They Aren’t Available

I believe this is a rare occurrence, but I have run into instances where the book I’m looking for is just not available used. But again, ease of use lets you know if you’re searching in vain for your must-have title. 

In this case, you can obviously always buy new.


So now that you trust the Amazon used-book buying process a little more, go nuts! Fill your shelves!

And happy reading!

© Elaine Marie Blog 2018

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