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Monks Hill Books Blog

On the clear difference between customer service and the quality of books sold

Posted on 04/12/17, filed under Fresh News | No Comments

In September 2017 I took a week’s holiday in the Transylvanian region of Roumania.  I was away for exactly a week.

During that week a customer ordered a book.  By the time I had returned from my holiday the customer had decided that I was not going to send the book and had put in a formal complaint to PayPal, who process card payments for me.  So the business’s email folder was full of automatically-generated emails warning of dire but unspecified consequences.

When I emailed the customer to explain why the book had not been sent, I received a curt reply asking for a refund of her money – which I did instantly.  PayPal, with an obvious sigh of relief, said it was closing its file on the matter.

I decided, being by training a lawyer, that I ought to investigate what the legal position was.  It turns out that a supplier has 28 days within which to fulfil the order, unless the supplier has a different, shorter, period in its own terms and conditions (which we do not).  So we would have been justified in sending the book in the second week and arguing with PayPal that we should not be blacklisted . . .  But that seemed a lot of hassle for a very small point.

I fully accept I may be a bit odd.  If I order a book, I would rather wait eight days and receive a well-packed book in very good condition, than receive the following morning a tatty ex-library book stuffed into an old Tesco carrier bag.

Do I really need something the next day?    Not unless I have been really stupid about missing an important birthday.  You will see time and time again on The Website That Is Intent on World Domination books described with one word (‘Good’), and then lines and lines of guff explaining how wonderful the seller’s customer service is.  So the ‘outstanding’ customer service is very far from being a Unique Selling Point.  Every seller has it, it would appear.

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.

The illustration above is the cartoon by David Kidd from the front cover of Antiquarian Book Monthly Review of September 1982.  Although the cartoon is excellently drawn, I find it rather depressing.  The book is seen as an object of reverence, and is not being judged by its literary merit or its historical significance. 

It is, however, highly significant that the book (Tolkien’s The Hobbit) was written for children.  As parents know only too well, children do not treat books as adults do.  Children spill milk and orange squash on the pages, and leave biscuit crumbs everywhere.  The book’s dustwrapper will probably be scribbled on and will soon become tatty.  So a mint copy of The Hobbit in the original dustwrapper has almost certainly never been near the person the book was actually written for – and hence its extreme scarcity.

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.