How to determine the value of a book

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28 Responses to “How to determine the value of a book”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Effectively, collecting is a dutch auction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_auction

  2. Anonymous says:

    Today (1 July), POWELL’S in Portland announced they were discounting ALL of their rare books by 30-50%.

    So, valuations?

    Anybody’s guess.

    From Powell’s Twitter account today:

    Our entire inventory of rare books has been marked down 30-50%. http://bit.ly/h25y5about 6 hours ago from TweetDeck

    Apparently, web prices will be reflected tomorrow.

  3. ggm says:

    I am one of a small group of aficionados of the childrens books by John Percival Martin, the ‘uncle’ series (Quentin Blake Illus.) -If you hunt online, you will see that the prices quoted for these works is beyond all reason for an ordinary schmo. OTOH, since the print run was small, A wonderful hardback imprint, Quentin Blake full page illustrations with Dust Jacket and inner-liner, beautifully typeset, who am I to complain? we’re a small circuit of interest. Market forces seem to make this fanaticism unobtainable for me. Thank goodness for the sub-par battered ext-library stock and family hierlooms shared amongst 3 of us.

    Trying to convince publishers to re-issue is hard.

  4. Anonymous says:

    @17

    just checked amazon. no idea what you’re talking about. don’t see crazy prices highest was under 100$

  5. Piers W says:

    #17 ggm

    Me too. They turn up in the strangest places. I’ve bought copies of them for various deserving nephews nieces and other infants for prices ranging from 10p to 30 pounds. I haven’t for prices ranging from 100 to 450 pounds, the latter in a specialist childrens’ books dealer in Cecil Court.

    Random House did reissue the first two as a paperback called ‘Uncle Stories’. It was massively remaindered, and is now becoming yet another collector’s item.

    It’s a puzzle. They’re superb books for children, anarchic, totally unpatronising, with a free involving kind of fantasy which is fascinating and engaging.

    The long tail: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html doesn’t always work the way it should.

  6. jphilby says:

    @#22:

    Re ham radio: I learned to watch the dealers at hamfests. All day long the guys would be asking $300 for their boat anchors. A half-hour before closing the dealer’d walk by with $60. Sold.

    On the other hand: I wish I had the signed QSL card from Yuri Gagarin a friend showed me.

  7. Piers W says:

    #19 Anonymous

    Try ‘Uncle and Claudius the Camel’

  8. hokano says:

    Surely, you meant to write “How to determine the market value of a book”.

  9. zenbeatnik says:

    I find that the same philosophy applies to almost any used item. For example, instead of looking at what people are ASKING for their used cars on Autotrader, look instead at the ended auctions on eBay to see what people ACTUALLY PAID. I’ve used this same method for selling camera gear, computer equipment, and for pricing antique ceramics and pottery.

    Works pretty well for setting realistic expectations, and helps buffer that sense of disappointment when you get only $5 for that normal lens with the scuffed antireflective coating and the dented filter threads.

  10. ill lich says:

    I’ve seen the same thing with records: “Whaddaya mean? This is a MINT condition original!!” (holds up scuffed 80′s reissue of some classic rock LP common to any thrift store).

  11. dmoisan says:

    Also describes the phenomenon I see with ham radio operators. Almost 20 years after I first got my license, I still don’t have an HF rig (the thing a ham gets to be considered a “real ham”, whatever that is.)

    Too expensive new. The used market isn’t a lot better because people either sell their old junk, or they sell their gear thinking they’ll fund their retirement with it, or they’ll tell you, “I made my first contact with this, bla bla bla…”

    Radios and books often evoke emotional attachment from their owners. But I can’t pay 3x what I could pay for the item right away just because it was “special” to the owner, or to some bookseller.

    I’m not a collector; if I buy equipment or books it’s because I want the use of it, or pleasure in reading an old author. It doesn’t have to be minty-fresh.

  12. jfrancis says:

    When you have stored the items in your cramped, overpriced apartment for a decade or two, what have you spent on it in storage costs?

    What does a cubic foot of your usable apartment storage volume cost you per year?

  13. Neon Tooth says:

    No nothing about the book trade but as a former record store employee and somebody who still does some record dealing the same applies to records.

    Every store vinyl buyer has had this same experience with records a million times, very much true:

    I’ve noticed the same inflated thinking with comic books. When I worked at a comic book store as a teenager, people would come in with old comics that had torn or missing covers and be flabbergasted to learn that we would give them about 1/100th the amount they’d get for the same comic in near mint condition.

  14. Marshall says:

    Sometimes on Amazon used; eBay; bookfinder.com, etc. you see absurdly high prices for books that are rare, but they aren’t THAT rare. Like, maybe $75 would be a reasonable price, but you’ll see it listed for $500 or some such.

    My theory is that there are people who aren’t really trying to sell it, instead, it’s almost a fetish of showing off their rare book collection. They can’t bring people into their homes or used bookstore to drool at it behind its glass case, so they post it for sale online for huge prices. Of course, if somebody should happen to, for some reason, insist on paying that price, that’s the price they can let themselves give it up. But otherwise, it’s like an exhibitionist…

    I think there’s another model here. I occasionally need to buy rare books or exhibition catalogs as part of my work or research, and I think that there are folks who float books that would normally be $80-$100 (expensive, but reasonable) for vastly higher prices to take advantage of two particular market moments. The first being the moment when a shopping noob comes online and because they are the only person selling the book, their price is the only option, and the buyer thinks that’s the going rate. The second idea I’ve had is that they’re waiting for that same moment, and that they are just hoping that the buyer knows the book isn’t worth that much, but their immediate need forces them to pay.

    I’ve been following prices on a few items like this, hoping for a bargain, and another thing I’ve occasionally seen is where someone posts a reasonably priced rare book at a crazy price, and then the other sellers pull their listings and re-list at the ridiculous price, thinking that the market will bear the costs.

    And has anyone here had the experience of getting a decent price or even a great deal on a rare book off Amazon or Ebay or Half and had the seller (usually a professional used bookseller with lots of ratings) suddenly declare the item to be out of stock, only to re-list the item at a higher price days or weeks later? I’ve had that happen at least a half dozen times.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Having worked in a comic book shop, there is definitely a market for older comics in good condition (as opposed to very good, near mint or mint). The reason is this – these comic lovers want to a) buy the comic affordably, and b) actually read it at least once. There is a certain amount of joy in reading the original instead of a reprint. If you are a hard core collector, any comic book you shell out for in Mint/NM is never being touched by human hands.

  16. Marshall says:

    When I used to make my living on Ebay, people and their relatives were always trying to convince me that some single object that they had been dragging around for years or had just found at a garage sale was the most rare, valuable thing in the universe.

    I think there’s a lot of “lotto thinking” in how people perceive the collectibles they own. They think that someday they’re just going to lazily liquidate some assets and sit pretty. And I’ve never had a conversation with anyone about a collectible that didn’t involve them valuing whatever doodad they’re hoping to buy their vacation home with at the very top of whatever relevant price scale could be applied to it.

  17. dbrown says:

    For fun, I like to read the craigslist Collectibles listings, ground zero for hyperinflated self-delusional pricing. “Michael Jackson The Thriller Album – $75 (Brownsville) / The Condition Is About 75% / (R.I.P M.J) This Is Not A Scammed.”

  18. nanuq says:

    “And I’ve never had a conversation with anyone about a collectible that didn’t involve them valuing whatever doodad they’re hoping to buy their vacation home with at the very top of whatever relevant price scale could be applied to it.}

    Of course, the saddest conversation would usually involve the current value of the comic book collection that their mother threw away.

  19. planettom says:

    Sometimes on Amazon used; eBay; bookfinder.com, etc. you see absurdly high prices for books that are rare, but they aren’t THAT rare. Like, maybe $75 would be a reasonable price, but you’ll see it listed for $500 or some such.

    My theory is that there are people who aren’t really trying to sell it, instead, it’s almost a fetish of showing off their rare book collection. They can’t bring people into their homes or used bookstore to drool at it behind its glass case, so they post it for sale online for huge prices. Of course, if somebody should happen to, for some reason, insist on paying that price, that’s the price they can let themselves give it up. But otherwise, it’s like an exhibitionist…

  20. Anonymous says:

    I think a lot of people confuse emotional value with monetary value. Given our culture’s value system, the confusion is understandable.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I get this kind of lotto thinking all the time as a used bookseller. People bring in tattered books or the umpteenth printing of a Dickens book or random crap from their attic and wait eagerly for a shower of gold to be poured into their hands. And they get quite upset about it. Not much yelling, but a lot of incredulity. “But this book was published in 1892!” “But it’s Shakespeare!” “But it’s about American history when it was being made” (The latter is my personal favorite).

    And the problem is twofold: they think that anything old is a hidden treasure, and they think as this blog states that the high price online is its true value. We have a technical term in bookselling for people who list a book at a stupidly high price (and on Amazon, you will often see 1 copy of the book at this price, and the rest in a separate entry starting with a much lower price); we call them “crazy folk.”

  22. bujijr says:

    I have acopy of oliver twist by dickens I know it is not an original I just want to know if it is worth anything it is in great shape.

  23. locomodem says:

    Don’t assume that every buyer is a ‘price-buyer’. Do you have the cheapest computer? Wear the cheapest clothing? Eat the cheapest food? Drive the cheapest car?

  24. peterbruells says:

    @Dorothy

    ” The thrill or non-thrill (of any purchase) is in the intrinsic content of an object. Ever try to eat a wad of twenty dollar bills.”

    Well, no, but I assume it doesn’t taste very different from a 50 years old Peanuts book.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting article, but one thing really puzzles me. The articles states: “if it’s not in perfect condition, it’s worthless to a collector.”

    I’m thinking of the situation where a book is really rare and is seldom available for purchase anywhere. I would have thought that if a copy suddenly turned up on the open market but it was only in fair condition, it would still be very desirable to a collector.

    I would be prepared to pay a high price for such a book, even if it was far from perfect, because you would have the satisfaction of knowing so few other copies existed, let alone any in perfect condition.

    Am I wrong about this or am I missing something?

  26. ill lich says:

    It’s not even worth it to argue with people about their misconceptions of value. I saw a guy at the flea market last week with an absolute bottom-of-the-barrel beginners banjo in poor condition, he wanted $140, I just rolled my eyes and walked away.

    On sites like ebay or amazon.used, I get the impression that people who own storefronts figure “hey, I’ll post it at some ridiculous price, just in case someone is crazy enough to pay that”, since it costs the same to have it in the store for $5 or $500.

  27. Felix Mitchell says:

    @locomodem

    We’re talking about homogenous products at different prices, not a range of different products.

    I don’t have the cheapest car, but I got the cheapest price I could find on the car I wanted.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I went to a wonderful talk by a rare book dealer in Boston. He passed around a page from a Gutenburg(sp?) Bible around the room. It’s worth about 70 or 80 dollars, he said. Just about any other Bible is worth only waste paper. They’re very common, and people are superstitious about throwing them away so there is a flood of them.

    Really rare stuff: an obscure privately printed booklet by Poe, a postcard featuring th White Star line’s latest addition, the Titanic, some signatures, can be worth significant money. But very beautiful, illustrated, well made books are worth very little. Not much call for them, and their very quality and high original price meant they have lasted and people have treated them carefully.

    After the talk he gave a free appraisal to the audience. Some old lady would started to show him a book. “My grandfather received this in 1886..it has lovely marbled pap–”
    “Three dollars.”
    “Oh.”

    It happened over and over again.

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