How to Buy Secondhand Books

In the age of the Internet, eBooks, and Kindles, it’s easy to forget the pleasures found in paging through a well-worn, dusty old tome. Good, old-fashioned books haven’t changed much since Gutenberg invented the printing press, and it would be difficult to improve on them. There’s something tangible about holding a real book in your hands with which electronic media can’t compete. These are just some of the reasons why we feel it’s important to know how to buy secondhand books.

When you’re holding a real book in your hands, it’s that much more exciting when the words on the page start to disappear and images form in your mind, causing you to lose yourself in the story. Having a good used copy of a book only magnifies this feeling.

Like a friendly older dog who comes into your life after having previous owners, there’s something more comfortable about reading a book with a spine already cracked at the most exciting chapter and the pages already dog-eared. Moreover, if you’re into collecting rare books, the sense of owning something few others have access to also excites.

This is all before mentioning the happy effects buying second-hand books can have on keeping cash in your wallet (especially if you want to buy textbooks for school)! So, what’s the best approach to take when you want to buy secondhand books? Just keep these things in mind.

  • Find Used Bookstores
  • Buy Used Textbooks
  • Contact Rare Book Dealers
  • Do Your Shopping Online
  • Finding Used Bookstores

Although large chain bookstores seem to have driven most mom-and-pop bookstores out of business in the past few decades, independent used book dealers are actually enjoying a bit of a resurgence. The recent economic downturn made Middle America tighten its purse strings, and suddenly that splashy new hardcover from Borders or Barnes & Noble feels to many like an unaffordable luxury.

According to the Census Bureau, independent, used bookstores were doing as well January 2009 as they were January 2008, something that could not be said for their larger competition. For example, Borders recently had one of the company’s worst quarters in recent memory. If you’ve been thinking about ditching the big chains and want to buy secondhand books instead, you’re not alone.

Smaller stores that focus on used books can afford to adapt to changing market realities quicker than their Titanic-sized chain competitors. What this means for you is that there’s a good chance a cozy used bookshop is thriving somewhere in your town. Look for them close to colleges or other schools, or use a Google search.

Buying Used Textbooks


Sometimes, buying used textbooks is necessary. School is expensive enough without paying more than you need to for textbooks. While there’s a certain joy to cracking open a brand-new textbook, and being the first to lay your yellow highlighter on virgin pages, new school textbooks can be prohibitively expensive.

Most every college bookstore will offer used copies of their textbooks on the shelves right next to the new ones. Usually these copies will have some sort of brightly colored tape or sticker a long the spine indicating their used status. Buying these will give you a significant price discount.

However, if a new edition of the book has come out that year the bookstore won’t have any used copies to offer. If this is the situation you’re in you’ll want to check used bookstores, although often they do no carry textbooks. If you’re unable to find a used textbook store, check the classifieds of your school paper. You’re bound to find an enterprising fellow student selling their older editions.

Visiting Rare Book Dealers

If your interest in wanting to buy secondhand books goes beyond wanting to save money on your romance novel addiction or wanting to keep from blowing your ramen noodle budget on school books, then you’re probably a more serious collector.

Chances are, your favorite used bookstore also has a section of rare or antiquarian books. Antique books, first editions, or autographed books all make fine collector’s pieces or even gifts for that special someone.

To make sure you’re getting the best deal and that the items you’re purchasing are sold to you in an ethical manner, stick to rare book dealers that are members of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America, or ABAA. Members of the ABAA must abide by a code of ethics and must meet specific qualifications proving they are knowledgeable and financially stable.

Shopping Online

All of these tips are great, but if there’s no local bookstores in your area, or if they’re otherwise not accessible to you, then they’re of no help. Luckily, there’s the Internet. Shopping online has been commonplace for at least a decade or so. If you’re looking for secondhand books, the Internet has countless options from which to choose.

  • Major chains: The best-known major bookseller is, and it exists only on the Internet. Other brick-and-mortar chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble also operate online, and all three provide links to used copies of books on each book’s product page
  • Independent book dealers: If you’re looking to avoid forking money over to mega-corporations, not to worry. There are countless independent book dealers with a strong online presence as well. Websites such as or provide searchable databases of books sold by a wide array of independent booksellers from which you can shop, knowing that your money is helping a small business to thrive.
  • ABAA Online: The Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America also maintains an online database of its members.. If you’re looking for a specific book, you can search by title, author, or keyword. Alternately, you can browse their selection of featured rare books, documents, and manuscripts. Every dealer listed is a member of the ABAA and ascribes to their code of ethics, so you’ll know when you buy books on this website you’re getting your money’s worth.

Buying secondhand books, in this disposable, electronic age, is not only a great way to save money but also to connect with history. Whether you’re reading the pages of an inexpensive sci-fi paperback or lovingly preserving antique 17th century manuscripts, shopping for secondhand books is the kind of adventure you can’t find with shiny new bestsellers.