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Monks Hill Books Blog

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.  

On book club books

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

Anyone who spends any time in secondhand bookshops (or as they now tend to be called, charity shops) will be familiar with the GP logo on the spine of a book – or if the book is older, the BCA or even the PBS logo.  These all denote books offered for sale by book clubs.

A book club was intended for real book enthusiasts.  You were usually enticed in by the offer of free books, or books at drastically reduced prices, bearing in mind that in those days the Net Book Agreement still held, and all books would be the same price wherever you bought them.  The only problem with the book club was that you then had to buy a certain number of the books on their catalogue every year.

When I was selling books in the 1980s, booksellers were a little sniffy about book club books.  Up till then, the book clubs had tended to produce their own editions of best-selling books, printed on thinner paper and with inferior (or no) illustrations, and bound in boards rather than cloth.  Naturally they fetched less than the ‘trade’ edition if a copy turned up in a secondhand bookshop.

The growth of remainder shops in the 1980s changed all that.  Publishers found that they could sell off the last (say) 1,000 copies of a title to a remainder merchant, who in turn would sell them on to booksellers.  Because the books were no longer in print, they were no longer subject to the Net Book Agreement, and booksellers could charge what they liked. 

The book clubs realised what was happening, and changed their approach.  They now arranged with the publishers to ‘pre-remainder’ the books, agreeing to take perhaps 1,500 or 2,000 copies of the title.  The publishers were happy, as the economies of scale meant that each copy cost a little less to produce.  But in order for the publisher to make those savings, the book club books had to be practically identical to the ‘trade’ edition – printed on the same presses, and bound in identical bindings.

So we ended up with book club books where the only differences were the logo on the spine and dustwrapper and a few words changed on the title page.  I have even seen book club books where the only evidence that the book is different is the logo on the dustwrapper.  The book underneath turns out to be the Weidenfeld & Nicolson or Hutchinson ‘trade’ edition.   

So at Monks Hill Books we are not sniffy about book club books.  If they are effectively remainders, we will treat them the same as if they were the normal ‘trade’ edition.  And, of course, charge the same price.