Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2005 Issue

Book Marketing Mysteries: Meditations on Book Values and Pricing

Verne

Titles described in Jules Verne: A Collector's Biography of First Editions in English increase in value.


by Renée Magriel Roberts

Pricing books to sell on the Internet remains one of the real mysteries of this business -- a heady mixture of magic and a sort of subjective science. To price effectively, you really need to know what kind of business you have and what kind of business you want to have (a moving target, I admit). You may find many of these meditations contradictory or illusory, because the basis for book valuation is perhaps better described by the Pythia at Delphi.

If you have a physical store (especially those with comfortable leather chairs, long wooden tables, and a kind of hushed atmosphere, staffed by intelligent sales people), then many of these thoughts may not apply. Sales made in person are generally in the absence of Internet competition and therefore prices can not only be higher, but books can be sold which may otherwise have no value on the Web.

A broad search should give you a reasonable price range for used books in very good or better condition.
If I'm looking at a very good, used book that happens to be in short supply, I'll check two major markets: Amazon and ABE. I may choose to sell the book in both or one of these sites, or in another one of the sites on which we sell. If the book is in fine condition, I choose a price on the high side of the spectrum. Condition is truly a driving factor in value.

Good stuff sells and increases in value.
By "good stuff", I mean truly rare and interesting books. Because they do increase in value, their prices should be re-visited on a regular basis to make upward adjustments. For example: Lawrence Beesley, The Loss of the S. S. Titanic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1912. First Edition. $600.00 in new full-leather binding.

Don't be afraid to just stick your neck out.
Sometimes there are no comparables. For example: Jules Verne, (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers) Veinte mil leguas de viaje submarine. Madrid: Tomás Bey y Compañia, 1869. Complete with all full-size engravings. $20,000. Arguably the first edition of this work in book form, preceding the French first edition.

The value of a book is what an informed customer is willing to pay for it and what you are willing to sell it for, not what you think it is worth in the abstract.
We are not a bargaining culture, but bargaining is fast becoming the name of the game. If you are already selling a book for 8-20% commission on one of the commercial sites, you have some room for negotiation and many buyers know this. There are millions of listings, and then there are a smaller number of sales. Do you want to get your price, or pay your bills this month?

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> <i>Manhattan Gay Scene Guide 1969, Summer Edition,</i> Mattachine Book Service. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Harvey Milk, 2 autograph letters signed, to Pat Mormon, during US Navy service, 1954. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Oscar Wilde, <i>“The secret of life is in Art,”</i> autograph quotation dated and signed, 1882. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Daniel Abraham, original art for <i>Stonewall Romances,</i> pen, ink & gouache, 1979. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Antonio Lopez, 9 men’s fashion studies, graphite, 1974. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Susie Gaynes & Amy E. Bartell, <i>March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights,</i> 1987. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> <i>Paris is Burning,</i> photo offset poster by Anne Dutlinger, signed by film director Jennie Livingston, 1991. $400 to $600.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> Toyen, pen & ink illustration from <i>Marquis de Sade: Justina cili prokletí ctnosti,</i> 1932. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 13:</b> David Wojnarowicz, <i>Untitled (Genet with Dog),</i> mixed media collage. $8,000 to $12,000.

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