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Monks Hill Books Blog

On the pricing of secondhand books, Part 1

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.  

This entry was posted on Friday, September 1st, 2017 at 3:21 pm and is filed under Fresh News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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