Textbook Pricing Strategies – Fall Edition

It’s that time of the year – Textbook Season!  And unlike Christmas or Shark Week, Textbook Season comes around not once, but twice.  For the next 4-5 weeks, you can expect to see higher than normal sales for your educational books.  For us as booksellers, this is the equivalent to the Q4 surge that Retail Arbitrage sellers experience.

In honor of this spectacular time of the year, I’m going to share a handful of useful tips and tricks to help you navigate this fall textbook season like a champ!  But first, let’s take a step back to look at the basic pricing philosophies.

Pricing Philosophies:  

From a pricing perspective, there are two major schools of thought:

1 — price low to move inventory as fast as possible

2 — price high to maximize profits

There are trade-offs with either philosophy.  Pricing low may help you extract profits quickly which you can use to buy more inventory, but you may wind up leaving money on the table by letting go of your books too quickly.  Pricing high may help you maximize your profits, but you run the risk of the market prices dropping before you can sell your items.  Personally, I prefer a hybrid model in an attempt to balance turn rates with profits.  I monitor my textbooks throughout the textbook season, looking for quick wins as well as opportunities to increase my prices.  If the sales rank is great – well under 100k – it indicates sustained demand for a title.  I will take a closer look at the other prime offers and then decide whether to drop my price to the current market price in an attempt to generate a quick sale, or potentially raise my price and wait for the market price to rise up to me.  If the sales rank indicates weaker demand for a textbook, I will look to price those items more aggressively in an attempt to move them.

Before you price (or reprice) your textbooks, commit to your own pricing philosophy.  During the next 4-5 weeks, it can be easy to let fear or greed motivate you, rather than sticking to a more disciplined approach.

When to reprice:  

Ah yes, the million dollar question.  When exactly is the peak of textbook season?  Let’s take a look at my inventory turn rates from the 2015 fall textbook season to see what we can learn.  As a general rule, I typically sell between 2.0 – 2.5% of my inventory in any given week.  Here’s how the increased demand played out during last fall’s textbook rush:

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As you can see, there is a strong surge of sales lasting for about 5-6 weeks, with a peak during the 4th week of August.  We are currently half-way through the third week of August, so the best is still yet to come!  If you only have time to reprice your textbooks once during the fall season, the best use of your time would be to reprice near the end of the third week to set up your inventory as best as you can to move your books during the peak of the busy season.

How to reprice:  Whether or not you use a repricing software in your day-to-day operations, it is better to put human eyes on your textbooks when making pricing decisions.  Fortunately, there are a few tools available within Seller Central to help speed up the repricing process.  For starters, go to the Manage Inventory page, and click on the “Preferences” box in the upper right hand corner:

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From there, you’ll see a screen that looks like this:

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You’ll want to make sure the Sales Rank box is checked, along with the Buy Box Price.  For books, the Buy Box Price will be Amazon’s offer, so you can ensure your price isn’t too close (or higher) than Amazon’s.  As you scroll further down the page, you’ll come across this section:

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Be sure to change the second box to read “Listings with the same fulfillment method”, as this will show the lowest Prime price instead of the MF prices (assuming you’re an FBA seller).  You can also set it up to only show listings from sellers who have books in the same condition as yours.  When you’re done, you’ll see data like this:

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You’ll see your price compared to the lowest prime price, along with the sales rank.  This isn’t all the data you’ll need to make wise pricing decisions, but it’s a helpful tool to spot check your textbooks.

Some final textbook pricing tips:  

Before you head off to start repricing your textbooks, here are a few tips and pearls to aid you in the process:

  • Be patient – if you are refreshing the page every 15 minutes and attempting to keep your items as current as possible, you’ll quickly drive yourself crazy.  There are mega-sellers with algorithmic repricing software that can update every few minutes.  You will be hard-pressed to beat them at their own game.  Choose a price that fits into your pricing philosophy, and let the market dynamics ultimately prevail.
  • Reprice your multiples – on the Manage Inventory page, Amazon will let you sort your offers by quantity.  If you have 20 copies of a particular textbook, you’ll want to pay closer attention to those to make sure you can move as many of them as possible during the textbook frenzy.
  • Don’t let your ego rule you – we all like to be right.  But when it comes to a portfolio of books (or stocks, for that matter), there will inevitably be some losers among the lot.  Forget what you paid for a book – if the market prices have dropped considerably, you may have to cut your losses and run.  The market doesn’t care if you earn a profit or not.  You can either wait for the spring semester and hope for the best, or sell now and extract as much money as possible to invest in more books down the road.
  • Price higher for current editions – Amazon will usually tell you if a particular ISBN is the current edition.  If it is, price it a bit higher than you normally would.  Older editions often sell well for several semesters, but in general you can expect their prices to trend downward as new editions are introduced.  Try to avoid holding textbooks for multiple seasons, unless they are the current edition.  But if you miss the “sweet spot” for the fall semester, the spring semester will be here before you know it!

So there you have it.  Here’s to your best textbook season yet!

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