How to make a Fortune

- by Michael Stillman



A doubling of your investment in a few months is a great return, but if all you can do this with is one £30 copy, it's still only going to provide you with profits enough to buy dinner tonight, not get rich. If this were a stock, you could buy 1,000 or 10,000 or however many units you could afford, and sell them later at the market price without depressing the market. You could get rich. But, you can't buy and sell 1,000 copies of a "rare" book without turning the market upside down. To put it another way, you can't buy a thousand copies without paying too much for most of them, and you can't sell a thousand copies without selling a lot at bargain prices. Yes, you might make some "respectable returns," but you sure aren't going to make a fortune.

The article quotes London antiquarian bookseller Nigel Williams with what I believe is better advice. He believes a buyer has a greater chance of "being lucky" by buying a first edition by an unknown writer who later becomes a name. He points to the first edition of the first Harry Potter book, a run of around 500, now worth in the area of £25,000. I would agree that this is a better prospect as it is a rare first edition of something that went on to be enormously popular, truly the first of a kind. The designed limited edition, something a colleague of mine has referred to as a "manufactured rarity," is not the first of something that became great. It is a standalone item of no particular significance in the history of books.

However, even this is a real crapshoot. For every first edition Harry Potter, how many thousands of books are published that gain little or nothing, at least not for years and years? How would you know to pick Harry Potter? Can you read all of the thousands of new books to determine which ones you should buy? Even if you attempted this, what are the chances you would have come across this particular book, there being only 500 copies of it printed? It's like first having to win a lottery for the privilege to buy a lottery ticket.

Here is some advice from the most successful stock investors, that I believe equally applies to newer books. They will tell you not to try to buy a stock at its low point. Your risk is great that it will only go lower. They will tell you to wait until it has recovered perhaps 20% before making a purchase. Wait to make sure there really is some value there, even if this means giving up a little of the gain. It is well worth this sacrifice to avoid investing in a lot of losers. My guess is this advice works just as well with books. Wait until you see some signs of life for a particular book. You may pay a little more than the list price, but you'll avoid loading your shelves with thousands of unimportant books in the hopes of finding a Harry Potter for $5. Wait until it reaches $100. Yes, you will miss that first 2,000% gain (from $5 to $100), but at a value of almost $50,000 (in U.S. dollars), that is still a profit of $49,900. It's okay to leave that last $95 on the table if it saves you from buying a lot of junk.

To read this interesting article from the Telegraph's website, go to