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One for the books

Cooper Mountain resident finds niche buying and selling used textbooks


Buying the books

What: McKenzie Books Inc.’s Cash4Books.net, an online portal for easy reselling of used textbooks

Where: 15370 S.W. Millikan Way

Who: Jim Smith, president and chief executive officer, and staff of 17

Call: 503-488-5439

Websites: www.McKenzieBooks.com and www.Cash4Books.net

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jim McKenzie Smith, president and chief executive officer of McKenzie Books and Cash4Books.net, shows off the shelves of used books ready for resale at his company's Cedar Hills warehouse. Jim McKenzie Smith was in line at a bookstore near the Oregon State University campus several years ago when a rather mundane sight caused him to ponder his future in a new way.

“There was this line snaking around the side of the room, and textbooks were collecting on these benches,” he recalls, explaining that the Corvallis store at that point offered little or no money for used textbooks. “Students were throwing their books on the benches because they thought they were worthless. I’ve got a stack of books in my hand. I started to wonder if these books were worth some money.”

His instincts, as it turns out, were correct. It was just a matter of finding a) a way into the market, and b) a sustainable business model.

“The question was could we do this as a business,” Smith says. “We knew we couldn’t just rely on books left on benches. People would start catching on.”

By 2004, Smith and his wife, Breanne, had their concept down. The Cooper Mountain residents established McKenzie Books Inc. in a space near Hillsboro, eventually settling into a Beaverton location housing an office and warehouse at 15370 S.W. Millikan Way. The name serves as an umbrella for the online used bookseller McKenzieBooks.com as well as Cash4Books.net, a web portal that allows college students of all ages to sell — at market-driven rates — their used textbooks conveniently, quickly and with no shipping costs.

Payback portal

With 12 years of business now under his belt, 17,000 books in stock, 17 employees and $5 million in annual sales, Smith — who left his previous job as a software developer for a Portland-based trucking company — hasn’t looked back.

“It was exciting for us from day one,” Smith, 35, says of his and Breanne’s rather risky venture. “Twelve years later what differentiates us as a company is our level of service and how we’ve grown to be better, safer and faster than our competition.”

With Cash4Books.net, Smith created a system to capitalize on a market that college bookstores, which thrive on new books — some priced as high as $140 — and lose money on buybacks when professors and publishers introduce new editions, tends to avoid.

“At a certain point, bookstores, once they reach their quotas, switch to wholesale pricing or not buying (back) at all,” he says. “It was common to do that to students when a professor decides to adopt a different book.”

The website’s homepage guides customers through a simple, three-step process to sell one or multiple books: Enter the International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, into the online form, pack and ship the books free of charge through FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service and collect payment through a check or PayPal.

“You’ll receive payment in 12 days, on average,” says Smith. “Or if it’s someone local, they can come down (to the office).”

The online system determines a book’s value through a variety of data drawn from formularies Smith designed.

“If I can’t sell it, we don’t buy it,” he says. “We’re not trying to be Amazon.com. The store is a niche market. Our secret sauce is how we buy and (how) selling is easy.”

A winning idea

Cash4Books essentially caters to two demographics, the 18- to 24-year-old college student with books to sell, and what Smith and his staff call the “Jennifer Demographic.”

“It’s 35- to 55-year-old female demographic that includes frugal moms, parents of students, teachers who want a quick ‘n’ easy, hassle-free way to sell textbooks back,” says Smith, himself a father of children aged 3, 5 and 10.

The publishing of a new edition of a book doesn’t radically affect its value, Smith noted, as changes between editions are often minute, and many instructors don’t mind students using the next-to-newest edition in their courses.

“We’ve made our bad buys,” he admits. “In doing this for 10 years, we’re not able to sell everything we’ve taken in. But we win more than we lose.”




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