AE Services Part 3: Current Price Estimator
By Michael Stillman
This month we look at one of the Americana Exchange's most useful tools, its current price estimator. It updates values of prices in the 1.6 million-plus AE Database (AED) of book records to their current estimated value. It helps you make sense out of old priced records, those which go back as far as 1914. This tool comes with all subscriptions to the AED, which contains over 1.6 million book records from auctions, catalogues, and bibliographies, most of which include prices.
Here is how it works. The AE price estimator takes a price from any given year and updates it to 2007 values, based on typical increases in book values since that year. For example, the average book value has increased fivefold since 1980, fifty times since 1936. So, the current price estimator will take a book that sold for $2 at auction in 1936 and provide a current estimate of around $100. If a book has sold multiple times since 1914, it will provide a current estimate for each year's price, and even average out all of those estimates for a cumulative current estimate for all sales combined.
How accurate is this? We certainly would not claim these are definitive values. The rate of increase is based on what we have seen across the broad spectrum of records within the AED. Therefore, they represent the overall trend in pricing. However, not every book has appreciated at the average rate. In general, the rarest and most historically important texts have appreciated at an above average rate. On the other hand, some fiction and poetry that was popular years ago, but has since fallen out of favor, has stagnated while the world around it rushed forward. What these numbers most clearly do is convert the price the book sold for years ago into today's book dollars. On average, that is the same as current value, but can vary for individual items.
Fortunately, most books appear in the AED multiple times, providing several looks at its value. The averaging feature is very helpful here. Also, looking at price trends based on current estimates is very useful for understanding value. If more recent sales translate to higher current estimates than older ones, this is a good sign that the book is appreciating at a higher than normal rate. It may be a better investment than a book trending in the other direction. Naturally, more recent sales are likely to provide estimates closer to current value than ones from the distant past. Nevertheless, this tool will place even those oldest records into sufficient context to be meaningful.
Obtaining pricing data is one of the most difficult challenges for sellers and buyers alike, yet it is undoubtedly the most important item of practical information each needs. Few collectors can afford to seriously overpay, while sellers don't want to undercharge or price so high they cannot sell. Many people look to online listing sites such as Abebooks for pricing information. The problem with this is that Abe values are asking prices, not selling ones. Often, someone will post a price pulled out of thin air, and then others will follow like lemmings with similar figures. Those books can stay unsold seemingly forever, all sellers locked in to the first posted, unrealistic price. In other situations, prices for similar items can be all over the place, one seller wanting $10, another $100. What is this book worth? Who knows? None of these represent actual sales, and it is not clear which, if any, prices were posted by knowledgeable sellers versus rank amateurs.