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Can I Sell Damaged Textbooks? How Much Can I Get Away With?

sell damaged textbooks

It’s no secret that college is expensive. The average cost for one year of college education ranges from $26,590 for in-state students to $53,980 for students attending private schools. 

Over $1,000 of that cost goes to textbooks, and for some students, that’s way out of budget. 

Fortunately, there are ways to cut down on those costs by purchasing used textbooks at a fraction of the cost. But did you know that you might even be able to make some of your money back by selling your textbooks once you’re done with them?

The only hitch is that it’s difficult to sell damaged textbooks. Read on to find out how much damage is too much and how to prevent your textbooks from reaching the “unsellable” point.

What Does “Like New” Entail?

Some online used textbook retailers offer more money for textbooks that are in “like new” condition. So what fits the bill?

A “like new” used book can only have minor cosmetic defects. In other words, they might look a little dinged up, but the overall condition is not affected.

Most places won’t consider a book to be “like new” if there’s writing or highlighting on the pages. However, used books will likely qualify as “like new” if the spines are creased from opening, the cover or dust jacket has a few dents or scratches, or some of the pages have been dog-eared. 

That being said, your book doesn’t have to be “like new” to be sellable. It just can’t be too damaged.

When Can’t You Sell Damaged Textbooks?

If you’re hoping to sell your textbooks at the end of the semester, take a glance through this list to find out what kinds of damage you need to avoid. 

Severely Damaged Binding

While it’s alright for a textbook to look like it’s been open and read, it’s not alright if the binding is severely damaged. Books are usually bound with a combination of stitching and glue, and when those things become loose or worn, the structural integrity of the book is weakened.

Damaged binding ranks as “severe” when the front or back cover is at risk of falling off or the pages are loose.

Missing or Illegible Pages

Imagine you’re assigned pages 30-45 in your textbook and pages 40-42 are missing or impossible to read. That puts you in a bit of a pickle, right? You may have missed some crucial content!

Used textbook sellers make a promise to students that they’re delivering fully functional textbooks at a lower cost. Even if most of the content is there, it’s not fair to sell books that aren’t complete. 

Excessive Marking on Pages

Chances are, you’re going to highlight the important stuff in your textbooks and make small notes in the margins. That’s perfectly fine, as long as the pages are no more than 20% marked up. 

If you want to avoid the “excessive” category but you know your textbook is dense and you’ll need to take a lot of notes, opt for sticky notes. That way, you can demarcate important passages and make notes to yourself. Then, at the end of the semester, you can remove them all and it’s like no one was ever there!


Believe it or not, your books are the perfect food for some types of mold. Paper contains cellulose, an organic material that mold can feed on. Combine paper with the rest of the conditions that cause mold to grow, like humidity or moisture and high temperatures, and you may find yourself with a moldy book.

Mold isn’t just gross to look at. Depending on the type, it can also be a health hazard. Either way, textbook sellers aren’t going to buy your moldy textbooks!

If your textbook is damp, open it and let it air out, preferably in the sun. If mold has already sprouted, you can use a damp sponge with a detergent-and-water mixture and lightly rub away the spores, but be careful. You don’t want to clean away the mold just to find that you’ve damaged the pages with water!

Missing Components

Some textbooks come with extra components like CDs that contain extra course material. Not all professors end up using that extra material, but almost all used textbook sellers will require that you have all of those components in order to sell your book. 

Are There Any Textbooks You Can Never Sell?

There are a few kinds of books that you can almost never sell, regardless of damage. These include advanced reader copies, teacher’s editions, and textbooks that were bundled with access codes.

Advanced reader copies, or ARCs, are books that have been released in a small batch to select people before the book has been published for sale. In almost all cases, the receiver of an ARC has agreed to refrain from profiting off of it as the publisher and author have not received payment for it.

Teacher’s editions typically contain the same content as the student edition of a textbook. However, they also include additional materials that are designed to aid the teacher or professor in leading discussions and teaching the content. Some places will buy these, but there’s usually a smaller market for them.

Textbooks that were bundled with access codes are some of the most expensive textbooks and the most difficult to sell. Those bundled access codes allowed the book’s owner to log in to a program or website that corresponded with the book. Almost all of them are designed to expire about four months after they’ve first been used.

Take Care of Your Textbooks and Make Your Money Back

Selling your textbooks back to a buyer is a great way to minimize your coursework costs. The problem is that it can be pretty hard to sell damaged textbooks. Do your best to take care of your books throughout the semester!

We want to help you find the buyers who will buy your books for the highest price. Use our textbook seller’s search engine to filter out the buyers who aren’t willing to pay you what you deserve! 

About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.