Buying to Invest - Second Hand Books

Whether you’re just beginning to sell second hand books or you’re an avid collector, we look at the best ways to source, store, maintain and sell second hand books as investment pieces. Here’s a full guide to get your book selling business off the ground:


Collecting vs. Investing

If you’re collecting and investing in books, you probably have a true passion for literature. But if you’re looking to turn a profit from your passion, then it’s really important to be organised and strategic.

Buying with a sale in mind will have an impact on everything from the genre of books you purchase through to the editions, the quality and the bindings. So make sure you don’t get caught up in buying that one title to complete a series if it won’t increase the overall value of your investment, just because it satisfies your personal collection.

It’s also a good idea to keep a buyer in mind when you are investing in books, so you can easily sell second hand books and keep focus on your end goal.


Woman reading book


Buying Strategy

Once you decide to buy books as an investment, a good place to start is by choosing the area or areas you want to specialise in.

There are lots of genres out there but having a particular specialism is a good idea, even if you then branch into other areas later on. Trying not to do too much will ensure you're clued-up on everything from names of established authors to coming writers, through to what makes a book worth a few pounds compared to thousands of pounds.

Here’s what you should be looking for:

  • First editions - You’ll find most profit in the earliest print run that was likely made before the author received any kind of recognition for their work. These copies will be marked with a 1 or as First Edition and are more valuable simply because there were fewer made. It is easy to get caught out here as a second print run of a first edition may be identical. There are guides out there that can help collectors identify whether you have an actual first edition of a book. Bill McBride'sA Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions could come in very handy if you’re new to the business.
  • Early editions - Early titles from an author's body of work are likely to attract the most value because they're more likely to have had a smaller print run. More recent books published to critical acclaim have probably been published in large numbers, lowering their value. For example, while just a few hundred copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were printed back in 1997, by the time the fourth book in the series was published in 2000, the initial print run had been extended to one million copies.
  • Dust wrapper - Dust jackets are easily damaged, so finding first editions with an undamaged cover could turn you a very high profit. As dust jackets are often changed between editions, your knowledge as a dealer will be invaluable. According to a report by ABE Books, a true 1975 first edition of Salem's Lot by Stephen King comes with an asking price of more than £56,000, with 95 per cent of the value due to the dust wrapper. So when it comes to value, dust jackets can make or break the deal.
  • Condition - Condition has a huge effect when it comes to the value of a title. So when buying as an investment, it’s always worth buying the best condition you can afford. This will help your returns when it comes to selling second hand books. Cut out price labels, owner inscriptions, torn pages, foxing and scuff marks will all pull down the overall value.


Man browsing books in bookshop


Finding Literary Gems - Where to Buy Second Hand Books

If you're buying to invest then one of your most important goals is to find the titles you want at the lowest price. If you can invest money in a book that will hold its value over time, you are still likely to make a good sale, but that's a different form of collecting.

So where can you find books worth buying as an investment? Well, the reality is anywhere and everywhere!

From specialist sites such as AbeBooks, auction sites like eBay and websites for individual book dealers. You can also uncover a gem hunting through dusty book shops, antiques shops and charity shops, but shopping online is much easier if you’re after something specific.

Rare first editions can turn up anywhere - it's just a case of being able to spot them!

Check out the Useful Resources at the bottom of this page.


Restoration and Maintenance


When it comes to maintenance, prevention is always going to be better than the cure. So safeguard your investment by storing it correctly. Here’s a few things you can do:

  1. Wrap your books - Buying a roll of clear plastic film is the place to start as this will allow you to cover fragile dust wrappers and either keep them in mint condition or protect them from sustaining damage.
  2. Regulate temperature - According to the National Library of Scotland, the ideal temperature for storing books is between 16°C and 19°C. But for most book collectors at home, this can be difficult to maintain. The key thing is to avoid extremes like large shifts in temperature and high humidity as well as keeping titles out of direct sunlight to prevent fading.
  3. Pack light - Remember not to pack books on a shelf too tightly, as this could lead to damage when you're pulling titles out.
  4. Use your books - Remember to take your books down and handle them regularly as this is the best way to spot potential problems before they take hold. And it’s also a great way to avoid books getting too dusty.


Repairing damaged books can be a really difficult process. Using household items to repair cuts, tears and discoloration could end up causing more damage, possibly reducing the value of the book further!

If the potential value of the book makes it worthwhile, definitely consider using a professional repair firm. TheBookGuide has a list of bookbinders, designers, restorers, and paper conservators based all around the UK.


Man binding book


Buying New Books

To make a living as a book dealer, knowing your products, understanding the market and buying and selling at a good volume are all important. But the biggest rewards sometimes come from taking the biggest chances.

Having the ability to spot a great book and the foresight to invest in it before its potential is widely recognised, will lead to a significant return.

A father who invested in one of the 500 first edition hardback copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for a little over a tenner, helped his son pocket almost £20,000 when the copy sold at auction in 2007. A separate copy of the book containing hand-written notes and illustrations by the author fetched £150,000 at a charity auction in London in May, 2013.

But how do you spot the next J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown or Yann Martel?

There is no clear cut answer to this question. This is where having an area of expertise and being knowledgeable about a specific genre can pay dividends. You'll need to read widely, and keep your finger on the pulse of everything from social media to annual book awards.


Man buying books


Selling Second Hand Books - Parting with Your Investment

Once you’ve done the hard work of making a good investment, looking after your purchase and waiting for the right moment to sell up, it's vital to find the correct channel.

Find Your Book’s Value

You can easily find the current value of most books by browsing marketplaces such as eBay and AbeBooks will often let you see how much other booksellers are asking for their version of the title, and with condition, edition and a detailed description clearly displayed. This should help you work out a rough value for your own copy.

Know Who to Sell To

Bear in mind that while selling through a dealer might lead to a quick sale, it might also result in you receiving less for your rare books than if you found a collector willing to purchase your copy. A dealer is running a business and will have the expectation of selling the book on at a profit whereas a personal collector will be more emotionally invested.

An auction could fetch you the best price for your book but it all depends on the amount of interest on the day.

Time it Well

Timing is everything and it's one of the most important things to remember.

The 'death effect' for example can have an immediate and substantial impact on the value of an item, increasing prices in the short-term as a result of media attention. As an investor, you should try to be pragmatic and recognise a good opportunity when it presents itself.

Use Reliable Shipping

After investing in and maintaining the quality of a book, you want to be sure the courier service you choose won't damage the item in transit.

Parcel2Go works with the UK’s most trusted couriers, such as Royal Mail, DPD and Yodel Direct among many others. As well as offering collection services and signed-for delivery to over 180 countries worldwide. Get a free quote to compare your options and rest safe in the knowledge that we offer free tracking on all shipments.


Woman packing books in box


Useful Resources

Find out more information on selling second hand books as an investor:

· - Clive Hamilton, who? Database of pen-names and pseudonyms.

·  Author Signature Checker - Check those “signed” copy against samples of genuine author signatures.

· - How to pack and transport a large book collection.

·  eBay Book Selling Guide - An excellent general guide to selling books on ebay.

·  eBay Book Condition Description Guide - More specific information on how to correctly describe your books in auction listings.

·  Bookriot's Beginners Guide to Identifying First Editions - How to spot those all important first editions.

·  The Sparefoot Guide to Storing Books - How to keep your valuable books in great condition.

·  Caring for your books and papers - More invaluable advice on protecting your collection.

· – Lots more useful resources.


Book Databases and Sellers:







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