If you source textbooks to resell, note that there are counterfeits out there. Not enough to scare you into avoid the business entirely, but enough to keep your eyes peeled.
It's appealing for the unscrupulous to commit the crime of duplicating a textbook (please don't do this, it's obviously illegal):
- Copying has become cheaper and easier than ever before
- Textbook prices, even in used condition, can still be lucrative on Amazon and other sites. The tempation to make an illegal copy of a book that costs the maker $50 (or dramatically less if they're printed in bulk) is high when the price on Amazon is $250+
- You can easily find a body of unwitting, eager Amazon resellers who would gladly - but unwittingly - buy book at a far cheaper price from the counterfeiter on (say) eBay or Abebooks, where it's easy for those criminals to post and sell their counterfeit inventory. And those resellers would gladly buy multiple copies from them
- As soon as the counterfeit copies are shipped and go through the cycle of being sold on other sites, it becomes difficult for the reseller to find out who exactly sold him/her the counterfeit book, and almost impossible to nail the perpetrator.
In 2016 I made a video on how to spot counterfeit textbooks on Amazon. That black market has become a little more sophisticated and aggressive since then.
I recently received an email from a reader (Fred) whose Amazon seller account got put on hold for 30+ days because a used book he was selling for $10 (!) was reported by the buyer (to Amazon) as counterfeit.
Fred buys books in bulk from liquidators and - like most sellers, including myself - didn't think of checking them because "on the surface", each one looked legit as he listed them.
Here's a copy of his email. In short:
- All of Fred's inventory is FBM (Fulfilled by Merchant) so after the $10 book was flagged, he was able to go through his 8,000 book inventory himself to look for counterfeits
- He found "dozens more" counterfeit books (all different ones) in his inventory
- Now there are other tell-tale signs to look for in identifying counterfeit books (I go over them later in this post)
- Amazon themselves may be an unwitting (?) culprit themselves because it's possible that when Amazon discards counterfeit books, they end up in their gayords of books that they then sell to businesses (like Liquidation.com and hundreds more.) Those liquidating companies don't inspect their bulk buys closely before they sell that inventory to resellers
- He got his seller account restored, but not without a lot of stress of course
Just to test my theory, I bought about 200 used books in an auction from Liquidation.com. Liquidation.com clearly listed the auction as "Amazon Liquidation", meaning Liquidation.com purchased the inventory from Amazon. (I don't recommend sourcing from Liquidation.com as the margins can be pretty thin.) Below is an example e of a bulk used book auction on Liquidation.com. Note the "sourced_from_amazon_liquidations" indication (green arrow). You can click on the image to enlarge it.
Here's what I discovered with my Liquidations.com purchase:
- Many of the books in my lot had Amazon FBA barcode labels on them and/or Amazon Rental barcode labels. This was to be expected
- The books were at Liquidation.com's Nevada location near me (North Las Vegas), so I didn't have to pay for shipping the lot to me. Shipping ("freight") would have markedly reduced the already-thin profit margin.
- When I received the lot, I specifically looked for signs of counterfeit copies and I couldn't see any
- Liquidation.com allows the buyer to inspect the entire lot before pickup to ensure the lot is as advertised. So even though it's not convenient nor efficient to do so, I had the opportunity to reject the lot if I discovered it contained counterfeit books
- I only bought one lot of books. I surmise Amazon sellers who frequently buy gaylords/multiple lots of books are encountering counterfeit copies here and there
- My lot contained books that were new reprints of public domain books where the inside pages looked like they were photocopied, but it's not illegal to reprint public domain works since they are not copyrighted
Now let's take a look of some signs of counterfeit books (thanks to Fred who provided images of his counterfeit inventory to me).
1.) "Blotchy" glue jobs on the inner part of the binding. This is where the printer glues all the pages to the binding. A professional printing job's gluing is neat and linear. But in these photos of a counterfeit book, you'll see lumps of glue and a sloppy glue job:
2.) Photocopied cover and inside. This might seem obvious but note that the fraudulent book had some color to it (even though the colors are markedly different from the authentic book.) The use of a little color in the copy is probably used to "throw off" the unwitting reseller:
3.) Wrong book dimensions and/or wrong # of pages. This is a little inconvenient to check. Many books on Amazon include the dimensions provided by the publisher. You can find the dimensions under the "Product Details" section. Here's an example. A counterfeiter will not bother ensuring their produced copies have the same height, width and depth. If you measure the counterfeit book itself, you'll see dramatic differences in almost all cases.
Additonally, counterfeit books can have a total # of pages that differ significantly from what's indicated in the Amazon page (also in the "Product Details" section of a listing).
So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are some tips:
- Inspect your inventory before you buy. This is of course difficult if you're buying in bulk. But if the seller of the bulk books will not allow you to inspect the lot before you hand over your payment, take your business elsewhere.
- Instead of bulk buying, consider hiring someone (as a contractor, not an employee) to scout for books for you locally. They'll likely encounter far less counterfeits and you can refer them to this very blog post on how to identify fakes. BookToTheFuture's Nathan Holmquist has an excellent free guide on exactly how to do this. I used the guide it myself a couple years ago when I hired a local high school student to find books for me.
- If Amazon suspends your account or gives you a warning, comply with them politely and with the spirit of remedying "your mistake." ChannelAdvisor has a free guide to help you. They have additional advice here.
- Add new sales channels. Fred created an eBay account on eBay and Shopify. A popular service that duplicates your Amazon inventory on eBay is Joelister (I've used them before). And there is software that will take your Amazon listings and duplicate them onto your own Shopify store. Bytestand is an official Shopify app that will let you duplicate your Amazon products onto your own Shopify store (I haven't used this service). Why add new sales channels? In case your Amazon account is temporarily or perrmanently suspended, you'll have your books listed on other sites. Although your sales will likely be far less than what they were on Amazon, at least you have an immediate alternative solution to sell your inventory.
Do you have any stories of sourcing counterfeit books? Post them below.