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Monks Hill Books Blog

On first editions

Posted on 04/09/17, filed under Fresh News | No Comments

Back in the 1980s I thoroughly annoyed a lot of booksellers by writing an article for the grandly-named Antiquarian Book Monthly Review – the article was entitled ‘Every Book Has a First Edition’.  Those were the days when the mere fact that a book was a first edition was enough to increase its value.  If the book was in fine condition in the original dustwrapper, the sky was the limit.

This produced some totally ludicrous results.  The first book Ian Fleming wrote was an office manual for Kemsley Newspapers.  In the early 1980s at Piccadilly Rare Books we sold a copy for £180 (over £700 in today’s money).  It had no literary merit whatever.

My article pointed out that gullible book collectors had been duped by unscrupulous booksellers into paying far more than the books were actually worth.  Graham Greene publicly disowned his first two novels, saying they were dreadful.  This only had the effect of enhancing their value.  Nobody could establish which of three different bindings was the first printing of Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes, so no-one would pay good money for any of them.  The sole criterion was scarceness, and one tiny line on the verso of the title-page.  Nothing else mattered.  As a lot of booksellers made a lot of money from first editions, I was not at all popular.

Fast-forward to last year, when a friend’s father died and I agreed to sell his library on commission.  Unfortunately among the tonne of books delivered to my small house (that’s another story!) were nine boxes of modern first editions.  Clearly I cannot put them on my website, as their sole value rests on their being first editions, and I do not deal in first editions as such.

My problem (or rather the deceased’s executors’ problem) is that all the dealers in modern first editions seem to have disappeared.  I am told that the only modern first editions which still sell are, curiously, crime novels – which none of these books are.

Would anyone like to take nine boxes of modern first editions from me?  Please.  I have listed them, if anyone is interested . . . please email me at

On the pricing of secondhand books, Part 2

Posted on 01/09/17, filed under Fresh News | No Comments

Having already dealt with books priced at £0.01, I shall now deal with books on The Website That Is Intent on World Domination and its subsidiary websites which are on sale for ridiculously high prices.  The booksellers who seek to charge these high prices are usually in the United States, and describe the books in very basic terms, such as ‘This is a pre-owned, second-hand book.  Condition : fair’, or in the case of a book priced at £7,015.01 (plus postage) ‘Used – good’.

I have thought long and hard about these high prices.  The answer might just lie in my previous field of expertise, pensions.

Imagine you were an American bank robber, and had pulled off the most amazing heist, all in used $50 notes.  You already had a villa in the Bahamas and a yacht.  What you now wanted to do was to provide for your children when you were gone.  You couldn’t invest the money in shares and bonds, or in a bank deposit, because the money could be traced back to you.  It had to be laundered some other way.

So what you do is very clever.  You buy books in very good condition at any price at all – the price doesn’t really matter – and put them for sale on That Website at enormously high prices.  As they say, the best place to hide is in plain sight.  Your children then sit and wait for thirty or forty years.  In that time the effect of compound inflation has meant that the books are now not expensive at all, but at the right price.  They start to sell.  By this time the bank heist trail has well and truly gone cold, all the cops on the case have retired, and the files are in the police archives.  Your children now have a steady income which cannot be traced back to you.

Better suggestions on a postcard, please.

On the pricing of secondhand books, Part 1

Posted on 01/09/17, filed under Fresh News | No Comments

When I go into a bookshop selling new books, I always come out horrified at the prices publishers now ask for books.  Perfect-bound paperbacks at £19.95?  Who on earth would want to buy those?  The principles of supply and demand apply to books just as they do to houses, works of art and vintage cars – and to secondhand books as well as to new books.

At the same time I am running a business, and although I treat it as something of a hobby (it keeps me active) it would be nice to cover my costs at least.  I don’t have retail premises, so I don’t have to pay rent and business rates, but I do have the costs of buying the stock and running what I hope my customers see as a high-quality website.

It is no secret that most secondhand booksellers generally use a mark-up of 100% – that is, if you buy a book for £4 you will normally sell it for £8, plus the postage, so say £11 altogether.  That is still usually around half the price asked when the book was on sale in a ‘proper’ bookshop, though I must say books go out of print much more quickly than they used to.  Sometimes they remain in print, but only in a paperback edition, which is difficult to read and will fall to bits in about ten years.

The rise of the internet, and in particular The Website That Is Intent on World Domination (TWTIIOWD), had a powerful influence on the prices of secondhand books.  You can now see at a click of a mouse what other booksellers charge, and price your books accordingly.

However, there are a number of booksellers which ask £0.01 for the book on TWTIIOWD or its subsidiaries Abebooks and The Book Depository.  The first thing to bear in mind is that the bookseller’s host site will take as its commission a substantial part (usually around 15%) of the total proceeds, including postage.  The second thing is that the Royal Mail charges a substantial amount for postage, even for franked mail.  You don’t need to be a mathematical genius to work out that the bookseller must be losing money.  So how do these booksellers survive?

Incidentally, if you should ever feel tempted to buy one of these books for £0.01 you will almost certainly find that the title page has been torn out, although the entry for the book on TWTIIOWD stated ‘all the pages are intact’.   If you complain, you are very unlikely to be refunded with the £2.90 it cost you to send the book back.  The bookseller puts the book back on the shelf, and on the website, and waits for a less fussy customer.