RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS

01 July 2009

Checking book values on the web...

The first thing to remember is that most books are of low value or no value. Some books are worth less than nothing. A quick look on ABE (or in the case of newer books, Amazon) will ascertain whether the book is common or not. In the case of a book of negligible value the screen will fill with copies with prices starting at £5 or less, sometimes at £0.01. Prices less than this are not permitted. Do not (at first) put in too much information -author's surname and part of the title will do (e.g. Steinbeck /Wrath) with a few boxes ticked such as 'first edition' 'Dust Jacket' etc., Too much information entered can lead to the impression the book is rarer than it is --this is a ploy, by the way, sometimes used by canny sellers to demonstrate a book is more valuabe than it really is. Beware.

The mistake most people make when valuing books on the web is to take their price form the highest or the mid range. None of the books listed have sold and anybody who had to buy one would choose the cheapest in decent condition; only a mad person would choose to pay more than necessary. Take your price from the low end of books in comparable condition. Considerations of postage and proximity may then be taken into account and you might pay a little more to a reputable, proven dealer. If you were selling the book a dealer might give you between a third and a half of the low price, or if you were to sell the book on Ebay you might achieve half or possibly a tenth and in some cases nothing. Once in a blue moon you will get way more than this, but you will almost never achieve the highest price--nor will the seller even if he waits 150 years.



What about if the book is not on the net? You may have a prize or something so obscure that punters for it are non existent. You can leave the book as a want at ABE and be informed when one shows up but it may take years. In the case of an obviously rare and desirable book you can consult auction records in a library or consult a venerable dealer (preferably from ILAB, ABA, ABAA, PBFA or some recognised book association.) You are not obliged to sell to them and they may charge for an appraisal (usually waived if they buy the book.)

Who are these guys with absurdly high prices? Generally they have had unhappy childhoods, uncles who drank, boorish parents or have been educated at unpleasant and expensive schools. Until the internet came the truly greedy dealer could not make a living as no one would buy from them. Now it is the Wild West out there; although charging an absurd price seems like poor business as your cash flow will be a mere trickle. I am not talking about renowned dealers with fabulous stocks--their prices, although high, are seldom insane and they often have the best stuff. Any serious collector will occasionally have to buy from them and they will sometimes offer terms. It is worth keeping a shit-list of malodorous overchargers as their prices often distort the first few prices in the list--I won't name them but avoid the likes of Len's of Bournemouth, Wainwrights of Peaktown, Books of Venture, Rapturous Editions of America, Books of William Why and various bookbarns, sheds and shacks...not forgetting Attic Books of NH - in a vigorously contended field the world's most overpriced seller.

Good luck. Apart from ABE and Amazon I recommend megasearchers such as the excellent viaLibri which can also take you to world libraries for further research. Also Bookfinder and Addall are very useful. For sobering or unpredictable prices check if copies are currently being sold on Ebay. Lastly Google can sometimes uncover copies for sale on independent sites run by oddballs who have not joined the bookmalls...

22 comments:

AStanhope said...

I have seen "The Book Barn" in Maine with my own eyes.

pamh00 said...

Please note: Every book starts out as a first. This does not mean instant riches. If it is an important book, is it a true first and first printing? Sometimes very hard to prove ( case in point, 'Hunt For Red October ' ). A Book Club edition is NOT a first. Dust jacket IS VERY IMPORTANT where issued. It may be worth more than the book, too!
Condition is everything. " Good for its age " is not acceptable in most cases. Be very honest on these points. Remember, the reason why certain rare books are valuable is because they are rare.
Pam pambooks via Alibris

Maggie said...

Sometimes I don't mind the 'malodorous overchargers' as they make my reasonably priced copy look like a bargain. I am convinced that I have made more than one highly profitable sale of an obscure and dusty academic tome to a library or researcher because my price for the monograph on the mating habits of sturgeon was half that of the the other available copies.

Edwin Moore said...

Very useful advice again, thanks Nigel.

Is that bookshop Voltaire & Rousseau? And why does that young lady seem to be staring over the top of her laptop?

Maybe she is in shock because she also saw the JK Rowling clothbound edn i saw on ebay recently for a so-tempting 'Buy Now' £4999 price - I put it on watch and it's come down to about £499! 'Signed in gold' said the vendor.

nina said...

absolutely true!
thank you for the information :)

alslater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alslater said...

.. the other point of sanity (or not) is that a variety of the usual auction houses will allow you to search their back catalogues so you can get some idea of prior achieved values at auction, ditto scarcity. Which doesn't help you a whole heap if the one copy to sell in the last N years at auction was bought by some loon with more money than sense ..
Unfortunately one of the more usual (Brit) auction buying haunts near Cirencester doesn't keep all their old catalogues online, more's the pity.. off to ABPC we'd have to go :-(

Bookride said...

Maggie. I have had exactly that experience--because someone is charging an absurd price you can then appear reasonable charging a third of their price even though you have a feeling it is twice what it is worth. For the seller these 'malodorous overchargers' have their uses...
Edwin --you are right that young woman has seen something beyond her computer (some people can't!)

N

Bookride said...

ABPC = American Book Prices Current, my bible--so much more reliable than the web for rare and valuable books.
Edwin--yes that is indeed Voltaire and Rousseau (is it rhyming slang like Brahms and Liszt?!) N

Anonymous said...

More posts like this, please.

Thinking about pricing makes me start thinking about scrupulous practices. Most sellers I have come in contact with are pretty honest, but a few really bug me.

For instance whats up with modernrare in chicago? why buys their books/shtick? I almost wonder if they're not a plant for the industry, propping up prices as some of you have mentioned. Worse perhaps is the copy: nearly every item they sell is "The single most important literary event of the year" and "one of few copies of X still available online" and most certainly produced by "One of the finest X writers of the 20th century."

There is a guy here in los angeles who is out of his mind with pricing. A nice shop but I think he sold too many books to tommy lee jones and bono. i can't imagine he sells much to non-celebrities with his outrageous prices. Since we're naming names, Mystery Pier is the name (featured right now on ABE as a matter of fact). Maybe he's not greedy, but certainly taking advantage.

And there ought to be a site that monitors crooked internet dealers on ABE and the like. A seller in Santa Monica CA USA who I visit occasionally for paperbacks springs to mind: he defaces his "rare" books (clips prices on purpose, and black markers them too), marks things firsts that aren't, and generally has dirty books in poor condition that he sells as "excellent." They sell as "KULTURAs books" on ABE and I wish there was a way to warn people about them.

Edwin Moore said...

Voltaire & Rousseau is just a few hundred yards from my door, but I rarely go in - my days of rooting about in anticipation among piles of dusty books are long gone. Someone once said to me it was the only place in which you got depressed listening to baroque music.

I remember about 25 years ago asking one of the brothers if the bookshop had been named after the Blake epigram - they said no, the names just sounded right.

Collapse of then-not-so-stout Edwin!

Anonymous said...

Where to begin.

First. The dealers as a whole have not mentally adjusted to the fact that there's this tool called the internet AND there are a few reasonably intelligent people left who use multiple forums for pricing.

Second. Some dealers appear to be permanently living in 1989 or before electricity was invented.

I just bought a book at auction for $550 USD. The only comparable copy on ABE is $4500!! And the seller isn't dumb or greedy...he's just deluded.

My advice? BOYCOTT and REVOLUTION! Everyone, just offer these clowns 30-40% of their retail price and when they laugh or hang up I hope the phone rings again with another buyer asking for the same discount. They'll eventually get the message.

There is a line between "ill-informed" dealers and plain ripoffs. How about a signed "Da Vinci Code" for $3500 USD?! THAT dealer is a crook and they will simply rip-off new collectors and ruin this wonderful hobby for everyone.

DO NOT pay retail. EVER. If we all revolt the prices will come down.

Anonymous said...

as a (savvy?) collector I'm not opposed to dealers maintaining and increasing prices as it ultimately helps stabilize/increase the value of my collection.

Better than the penny sellers.

Shopping around, comparing, and buying from a source you ulimately trust is important. Many low end "dealers" are as worthless as are the overchargers.

The key is to become knowledgable in your field and build a network of sources to work with. Auction houses, dealers, private sources, etc.

Knowledge will help reduce the cost of one's collection and increase its value.

In a transparent market over- and underchargers will go away over time and are nothing I'd invest too much frustration into.

brum said...

Does anyone have anexplanation for the ridiculous prices for some books on Amazon Marketplace? Amazon are selling a book, nothing rare or desirable, a 2007 John Connolly paperback, for £5.49 with free postage yet phoenixbooks23 want £23.10 plus £2.75 shipping. There are thousands of these examples on there, some with prices in the hundreds. I can't believe they are all cases of a misplaced decimal point. Is it just sloppy work by a typist or is there something more sinister afoot?

Grant said...

I don't quite understand the point that is being made here. Many of those who take offense at the price gougers (including the original author) readily acknowledge that they take advantage of the insane price climate the gougers have created by overpricing their own books - just not as much. So it's okay to price gouge, if you only do it a little bit? Either stand behind your principles and price your books accordingly, or, uh, stop whining about it.

xyz said...

Recently someone tells me there is another exact reason for the absurde prices of some books on the web.
And it's a precise market tactical reason.
There are, in fact, some big bookseller putting some books online with an evidently absurd price although they are from ILAB LILA ALAI or something else like that.
The tactical reason is the absurd prices functioning as honey for bees, because when someone are looking for a bookseller who can buy his book, he will go to the bookseller with the higer prices than the others to propose his book. So, in that way, the bookseller will overpay that single book, but probably he will be able to buy many other books from that unguarded customer.
But fot those last books, we certainly know the bookseller will show at the customer the bottom of the ABE's list, not surely the top.
All that sound a little machiavellian, sure, but perhaps it's true.

lostjohnny said...

Found an old book called "Dr Chase's Recipes on Information for Everybody" Published in 1900. All pages are there but some are coming apart because the binding is breaking. This book has recipes and advice for everything from a cough to cancer. I find it very interesting reading how liniments were made and applied and for what reason. I am wondering if this book is worth getting fixed up and sell or are these types of book a dime a dozen?

Bookride said...

Dime a Dozen kind of book I'm afraid L-J but if it was in excellent condition might be worth a few bob but in poorish shape not one to raise a smile on a dealer's face...I might be wrong and you may find a copy at bookfinder.com or http://used.addall.com/

Anonymous said...

I have an excellent condition copy, 1884, of D.L.Moodys "To The Works". I am looking to sell it, as well as others from the 1800's. What do you think I could ask for it?

Anonymous said...

A rather modest sum-- I think he is a neglected religious writer.

Nate said...

I have "The Diana Chronicles" by Tina Brown and "Diana: Unseen Archives" by Alison Gauntlett, how much could I sell those for?

Nate said...

^ also, they are both in great condition, never used and "unseen archives" still has dust jacket.