How to source used books from charity shops’ culled section

By Sharon Fussell, September 11, 2013

Recently I was reflecting upon how we have changed the way we buy second-hand book stock.

At one time I would visit several shops every week spending time going through shelves in charity shops, purchasing several hundred books per week.

Although I still do buy in bulk from charity shops, it’s usually via agreement with a small selection of charity shops that allow me to go through their unwanted books on a weekly cycle.

The discarded books are usually ones that do not meet the criteria for sale by the shop – e.g religious books, culled books, books they have not sold from their shop shelves and books in such a bad condition that nobody would desire them.

It can be quite a dirty job – my hands are filthy at the end of going through box after box, taking out likely candidates for my own use.

It works well for the shop as it means they get two bites of the cherry so to speak. We agree a price for each book I take from the recycling boxes/bags. Usually it’s four or five times the price they will receive from the recycling company. Any books I don’t take go to the recycling company and the shop get a payment from them.

Now, whilst a great many – in fact the vast majority – of the books that are set to go to the recyclers are in bad condition: old, and generally not fit for human consumption. But I do manage on average to take around 40/60 books from each shop at any one time.

I am quite strict as to what we take from the boxes: my criteria is usually that condition has to be tip-top and I focus on non-fiction – the more niche the better.

I have become more selective over time, adapting to online book selling changes.

When I first started selling books online it was perfectly possible to make a respectable profit on low-value books.

Now I feel it’s hardly worthwhile the effort in selling low-value books – not even using FBA.

So I concentrate on niche non-fiction books only, because they tend to fetch a more generous profit margin.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t any profit on low-value books, especially using FBA, but I chose not to chase the dime but go for the dollar.

I know in past ezines I have discussed purchasing books in bulk from charity shops through negotiations with shop managers.

Unfortunately, some charity shops will turn down your request to purchase from shelves or from back store rooms. However, some will allow you to wade through their ‘culled’ books.

Culled books are moved from the shelves after a selling period has elapsed. They are boxed/bagged up to be recycled through agreements with recycling firms, who call at an agreed time and purchase these books at a regular basis.

In most cases, the amount these recycling firms pay for the books is usually a few pennies, perhaps as much as £2 per sack-full or box of books.

The shops are happy as they not only receive a sum of money from me, but also receive money from the recyclers for the residue books left after our delving.

One manager told us they receive more from me for the relatively few books we take – in fact often double – than they receive from the recyclers for the hundreds they take.

Thus, mangers will often spread the word to other shops within the chain and we are asked to visit other shops that want our service.

So, don’t be afraid to ask mangers about ‘culled’ books. Often they will say they are collected by a recycling company.

However, once you explain that you will pay 25p for each book you select – thereby the shops get a ‘double bite of the cherry’ so to speak, as they make money from you and the recycling firm.

Once they consider this prospect, they may allow you on a regular basis to go through culled books.

It presents a win-win situation for you and the shop – you because you can often pick up quite high-valued books for what is very little money and the shop as they make a nice little earner to go towards their weekly shop targets.


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