Online Book Arbitrage Software Battle
In 2015 (4 years ago), I started hearing about “online book arbitrage,” the practice of mining Amazon for cheap merchant fulfilled books that could be resold via FBA (back on Amazon) at a profit.
I’m a big fan of sourcing books for all the well-known reasons (high profit margins, still far more inventory available, etc), so I continued sourcing books offline while keeping my eye on the “online book arbitrage” world. I wondered if Amazon would - infamously - instill some restrictions, thusly making the practice of online book arbitrage just another “here-today-gone-tomorrow” fad. Alternately, could it be something sustainable?
Four years later, online book arbitrage still works well for many folks. Like other forms of online arbitrage (toys, clothes), it ain’t going nowhere. Sure it’s gotten harder than it was 4 years ago, but that’s where using the right software can help.
The problem is, most software is utter crap. But two providers that kept appearing on my radar were Zen Arbitrage by Peter Valley; and eFlip by Caleb Roth. Those are NOT affiliate links...I'll explain below.
So I wrote this article to settle “which is best”: Zen Arbitrage or eFlip
I wanted to do the first major review of online book arbitrage tools that meets two criteria:
- An in-depth analysis not focused on one small feature or "hype"
- No affiliate links (I was unable to find a single review of eFlip nor Zen where the reviewer wasn’t paid to promote one or the other).
So here it is: Just the facts, with absolutely no financial incentive for me to tell you my opinion. I'll say it another way: No money exchanged hands, and the links in this article are not affiliate links. If you buy either solution, I receive nothing.
Why am I not using any affiliate links in this article?
If you Google a term like “eflip vs. zen arbitrage”, you’ll see 1.) There is an affiliate link for one or the other, thus it’s clear there is compensation involved, and 2.) Some of the Zen Arbitrage & eFlip reviews are written willy-nilly an/or just basically repeat what each software founder’s marketing jargon claims.
So let’s get into it.
First, the one-sentence concept behind online book arbitrage
“Buying merchant fulfilled books on Amazon and reselling back on Amazon at a much higher FBA price.”
If you need a visual, below are two screen captures of a texbook on Amazon. Note how the merchant-fulfilled folks’(those ‘shipping to the customer themselves’) prices - in the first image - are markedly lower than the Amazon FBA (Shipped from Amazon’s warehouse) prices, shown in the 2nd image. Click on each to enlarge them:
The above image shows the merchant-fulfilled price for a texbook in 'Good' condition. Below shows the exact same book and condition, but sold by a 3rd party seller using Amazon FBA.
Now, why would a buyer pay the markedly higher price ($241+) instead of the far lower price ($64)?
Answer: Amazon Prime. Many buyers want their products shipped to them in 1-2 days and don’t want to wait for the (say) 10 days via a merchant-fulfilled’s standard shipping method.
Therein lies the arbitrage opportunity. If you can find the right books on Amazon at a far cheaper price - fulfilled by another 3rd party merchant like yourself, and buy the book, and then sell it via Amazon FBA at a much higher price, you can pocket the difference.
The problem is 1.) hunting and pecking through millions of books on Amazon is incredibly painstaking and infinitely ineffecient; and b.) finding reliable software to help you can be extraordinarily expensive or, as we’ll discover here, highly unethical.
Does online book arbitrage work?
There’s a hint of “push button money”-type hype around online book arbitrage, which always gives me pause. Not to mention I personally know Amazon sellers who have lost a significant amount of money with it.
Yet there’s enough credible success stories going around (Peter Valley posted screenshots of one of his students doing $87,000 in a month) that it’s clear this system works for those with the right knowledge, persistence, and tools.
But I want to be clear: You’re not going to ‘get rich’ doing any form of online arbitrage. My longtime readers know I never write about unsustainable or over-hyped tools or systems. So before I continue, realize that neither tool we’re covering here creates - or claims to create - “push button” money. And, please,. test before you invest. If you buy either software tool, buy your flippable book invenotry in small increments at first. (Don't go "whole hog" and spend thousands of dollars on books until you're sure the system works for you and is profitable).
Online Book Arbitrage Software: A Mini-History
While many experts - including me - spoke about doing manual (or semi-automatic) searches using existing tools to conduct online book arbitrage, Peter alley created the first software (Zen Arbitrage), and wrote the book on it: Online Book Arbitrage.
And at least two competitors - that I know of - soon hit the market modeling themselves (well, outright copying) Zen Arbitrage. In fact, you can read a very intriguing story about a way-overpriced, unethical competitor here).
The other was a former student of Peter Valley’s and one of the original Zen Arbitrage customers who made a near-duplicate of Zen Arbitrage called “eFlip.”
Rather than get into copycat accusations leveled against eFlip, I’m going to focus solely on what matters to you, the Amazon seller:
- Which tool is the best at finding flippable books?
- Which tool offers the best training (this is inarguably as important as the tool’s effectiveness, as I’ll explain later) ?
And most importantly,
- Which tool can make you the most money?
How do both tools facilitate online book arbitrage?
Zen Arbitrage and eFlip both provide Amazon data in a searchable format, allowing you to identify cheap books you can resell FBA for a profit. Both have free trials, and both are priced at $79/month.
And - I’m actually surprised by this - that’s where both similarities end. Trust me, I looked hard.
Zen Arbitrage Advantages
Zen Arbitrage has quite a few big features, which are totally absent from eFlip. Here are my top 4:
- Zen arbitrage immediately shows FBA prices for all books: This is critical because you'll be analyzing hundreds of books at once and you want a 'quick visual' of one of your most important data points - the FBA price (remember our goal is to find books with large jumps in price from merchant-fulfill to FBA.) So, for every result in Zen Arbitrage, you see the lowest price FBA offer. This makes the process for identifying profit as simple as comparing the non-FBA price to the FBA price. That’s all you have to do to find profitable books. Now, eFlip does offer a scaled-down version they call “Outliers,” but it’s on a separate page from their main books database, and is contained within a small subset of their full database. Zen Arbitrage immediately shows FBA offers for 100% of their 20+ million tracked books.
Let me repeat that:
Zen Arbitrage immediately shows FBA offers for 100% of their 20+ million tracked books.
2. Shipping fees included in prices: The prices in Zen Arbitrage instantly show you shipping costs of the book you are purchasing from the 3rd party merchant. With eFlip, you have to click over to Amazon to view shipping costs, which adds an extra step. I know, ‘big deal’ right? It saves you a click, but it also saves you money. When you combine this with Zen Arbitrage showing FBA offers (which eFlip does not for most books), it makes finding profit as simple as comparing the price in the merchant fulfilled column with the price in the FBA column and comparing the two. In short: I didn’t have to agonize over flipping back and forth between my Zen Arbitrage window and the Amazon page.
3. ISBN Marketplace: This one took me some time to get my head around, but once I had my “a ha” moment it was clear this was a profit monster (and time saver). The Zen Arbitrage “Marketplace” feature is book arbitrage buying and selling platform that does two things:
a.) It lets you sell “leads” of books you find in the Zen Arbitrage database for sale to other members. You’re not selling the actual book, you are letting another member know that “Hey, I researched this ISBN already for you, it’s profitable!”. But the other Zen Arbitrage member has to pay you to tell them what the ISBN is and pay you direct via Paypal. When the member pays, Zen Arbitrage reveals the ISBN to the buyer (and the buyer can proceed to buy it on Amazon.) So it’s a way for you to monetize your searches without actually buying books!
b.) It lets you skip past searching and purchase these “leads” - ISBN access - from other members for a fraction of their expected net profit (the Marketplace calculates all Amazon fees and shows you an estimated net profit before you buy).
This way of making money is a really significant advantage Zen has over eFlip
4. Database size: This is my favorite feature of Zen. Simply put, eFlip doesn’t show many books, and it was clear to me in all my searches that Zen Arbitrage shows a lot more books in the search results. My “gut check” searches show eFlip has as little as 10% of Zen’s results for a random search.
With far more access to profitable books than eFlip, this may be the biggest Zen Arbitrage advantage of all.
I found only one advantage with eFlip.
Multiple product categories: eFlip offers other categories outside of books, such as vinyl and CDs. Books are still the focus, but if you want to diversify outside of books, this is a an option Zen Arbitrage does not offer. My opinion: Vinyl tends to be very niche and something more suitable for eBay (as buyers are looking for close-up images showing condition), and the CD market - when you are buying from a 3rd party merchant to flip on Amazon FBA - is saturated with product and very slim (or no) profit margins. Also, access to Vinyl, CD, and DVD categories means you'll be charged extra accordingly (above eFlip's $79/month charge for access to its main book arbitrage tool).
Synopsis: Zen Arbitrage offers four significant features that directly translate to more profit potential, with eFlip offering one.
Training & Support
Zen Arbitrage Advantages:
Text Message Support: Zen Arbitrage claims to offer text message support from Peter Valley directly, and when I started my trial, I did get an email with a phone number. I was a little skeptical, but I fired off a text and - albeit 3 hours later - I got a response. I can’t prove it was actually him, but it’s an interesting perk if you have a time sensitive question.
Just to test this again, I recently signed up for a trial of Zen using my programmer’s name, email, and credit card, and sure enough:
Live webinars: Zen Arbitrage offers live monthly trainings with Peter Valley where he teaches some aspect of the business and answers questions at no additional charge.. Zen Arbitrage has several years of webinar recordings, so it’s almost like getting a huge book flipping training course. For me, this in-person training is worth 10x the subscription price.
Training Program: Peter Valley put his 10+ years of book flipping experience into 60+ videos in his training program. They are segmented between “newbie” videos and more advanced training. Videos appeared to be current and regularly updated. Here's why this training is critical:
Earlier in this article I said the training was equally important as the tool itself. And here’s why: From what I can tell, the top earning folks using Zen Arbitrage are the ones who totally immerse themselves in the Zen-provided training. My gut tells me - based on my own experience providing my own, unrelated software - that a considerable amount of users just want to ‘plug it in and watch it work’. And that’s just not the case. The training is free, use it.
Pick Peter’s Brain: When I signed up, I got an email offering an “ISBN concierge” service, where you can email Peter Valley any book you’re thinking about buying and he’ll do some “back of the napkin” analysis, pointing out why it might be a good buy or a bad buy. (Another Zen user confirmed to me he (Peter) still provides this.)
Documentation Database: Zen Arbitrage has a HUGE searchable knowledge base (over 60 articles) for people who don’t want to sit through videos (like me), and shortcut to quick answers.
Built-In Chat: In the corner of Zen Arbitrage is a chat box to email support and ask questions. There was no one live and online when I checked, but it’s a nice touch that lets you fire off support questions without leaving the tool.
In terms of support, there were no advantages eFlip offered over Zen Arbitrage that I could determine. (To be fair, eFlip did answer my support question several hours after I sent it).
eFlip had about 1/3 the videos by comparison, mostly aimed at a beginner audience, as well as email support.
Synopsis: Zen Arbitrage’s variety of support channels tells me “Peter Valley gives a damn” about his software and his customers. eFlip felt comparatively like a ghost town.
More Zen Arbitrage Advantages
Keepa charts (HUGE!): I don’t know how he pulled this off, but Zen Arbitrage displays Keepa graphs in the search results. (You’ll remember a few months ago that Keepa stopped showing sales rank history for free. Not anymore) But in Zen, when you hover over any price or sales rank value, it brings up a box displaying the six-month historical price or sales rank graph from Keepa. Very useful. Screen shot:
Sales and profit tracking tool: This won’t replace more robust tools like Inventory Lab, but Zen Arbitrage has a simple, built-in inventory & sales tracking tool. When you buy a book, you can add it to your Sales Tracking page where it crunches numbers and displays profits (and automatically subtracts all Amazon fees). This isn’t a spreadsheet (though you can export it as such ). Rather, it’s a full web-based profit tracking tool ideal for users who want to track profits closely. Screen shot:
Beginner’s View: Zen Arbitrage has a cool toggle switch that lets you switch between a “Streamlined” view for beginners, reducing the data on the screen to the bare minimum; and “Enhanced” view - adding four additional columns of data, like trade-in values. I like this because beginning users can get overwhelmed, and it makes the ‘display’ simple for them.
Restricted book check: Textbook restrictions hit the bookselling world hard over the last two years, and Zen Arbitrage’s built-in restriction indicator is not quite as elegant as Check Permission (shameless plug of my own software), but it does let you know if you’re allowed to sell a specific book.
Automated scan of 30 other sites: Zen Arbitrage scans over 30 other bookselling sites - without clicking. Just hover over the Bookfinder.com icon and a popup window appears showing the lowest price copy on the Internet across 30 other bookselling sites. There are still pockets of opportunity in snapping up books not on Amazon. Screen shot:
Live data: I personally don’t think this is a big deal to most sellers, but some heavy duty arbitrage folks want it: live data. When you look up books on Zen Arbitrage, it “grabs” the pricing data live from Amazon. With eFlip, they claim a 2 hour latency
Zen Arbitrage has many key features eFlip lacks, which directly/indirectly translate to more profit potential.
Zen Arbitrage is the winner here.
Zen Arbitrage has at least 8 significant features that eFlip does not. And although I tried (hard), I couldn’t identify a single feature eFlip had that Zen Arbitrage did not. (You’ll remember years ago that eFlip’s initial release was an almost mirror-copy of Zen).
Thus: While eFlip started as a clone of Zen Arbitrage, it seems it has not progressed, while Zen has been adding tons of features over the years to remain light years ahead of eFlip.
For serious sellers who want to make the most money, Zen Arbitrage is, in my opinion, the far better choice.
If you’re still squeamish about jumping into any book arbitrage software, Peter Valley has a free ebook that explains exactly how to do Zen Arbitrage manually, without using any paid tools: www.onlinebookarbitrage.com/ebook (That’s also not an affiliate link. I don’t get any compensation nor credit by referring you to that free resource).