Please Help Me Speak Used Bookstore-ese
July 7, 2022 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Took some hardback fiction to a local used bookstore yesterday (arguably the best one in my mid-size town) and was told they weren't interested in "library copies" or "book club copies." Is my FLUBS (Friendly Local Used Bookstore) weird, or is it just me as usual?

That's fine, I realize their margins must be tight. Books were not marked with pencil or highlighter in any way.


1. What's the issue? Seems like they could easily give me two or three bucks for these recent 500 page novels they could sell for 10 or 15.
2. What is, in fact, a "book club" copy?
3. How do I know what not to bring in to avoid wasting mutual time in the future?
4. Is there anywhere I can, in fact, sell library and book club copies? Or even donate? (Almost all of my book purchases these days are via Amazon's used book market, fwiw.) During and after COVID, last I checked my local library system is not interested in used books from any source any longer. Salvation Army I guess, if at least just to get rid of them?

Thanks in advance!
posted by cidrab to Shopping (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think some used bookstores get finicky in order to be able to keep prices up (within a used bookstore sense of things) and to not get flooded with donations. My good local one is very particular about condition, as well as preferring to not take library copies unless it was a rare or particularly sought-after book. I actually rarely take books to them anymore. Considering they still have stacks of books around that they're busy processing, they clearly aren't missing mine. Books I want to get rid of go to friends or to some of the local little free libraries.

Book club copies are popular books that have hit a moment (I think Oprah's book club is still big, Reese Witherspoon has one, etc) and are insanely popular and get editions released with a list of questions at the back for book clubs, supplemental interviews with the author, and stuff like that. I think your bookstore probably refuses them because otherwise they'd have fifty of them on the shelves that everybody has read already and probably will never sell.
posted by PussKillian at 8:02 AM on July 7, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Sadly, I don't know of many used bookstores that don't operate similar to this.

My town library has a Friends Of The Library group who accepts donations of used books/DVDs/puzzles/etc. and then operates a bookstore. Most of their proceeds are donated to the library.

They are a little picky (e.g., no VHS tapes), but will also watch out for titles you want. I believe that they have someone experienced who skims off truly good stuff, with the rest being offered for sale. We always bought tons of gently-used kids books there, and then donated many of our own when the kids were grown.

So maybe ask your local library's circulation desk if there is a local Friends group, and also what they do with deaccessioned titles.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:10 AM on July 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

How do I know what not to bring in to avoid wasting mutual time in the future?

This seems like a question best asked on the spot, as I'm sure they'd be able to tell you their specific needs.

Is there anywhere I can, in fact, sell library and book club copies? Or even donate?

Aside from a "friends of the library" org that does fundraising book sales (and may be just as picky with what they accept), your best bet may honestly be a Little Free Library sort of thing. You could try listing them yourself on Amazon, but I wouldn't expect anything to move quickly. Under the buy box and share links there's a button labeled "Have one to sell? [Sell on Amazon]." Look up an ISBN, click the button, and start being a seller! You, too, could make $1.99 per copy, after shipping!
posted by fedward at 8:20 AM on July 7, 2022 [5 favorites]

Is there a Half Price Books near you? I'm not sure about used library copies (I see a lot of those at thrift stores and on resale sites like eBay/AbeBooks) but I imagine they'd buy book club editions.
posted by jabes at 8:28 AM on July 7, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: A book club edition is an edition produced specifically for a book club, like Oprah or the Book of the Month. Some research indicates that these are usually of lower quality, and often sized differently (which can affect display). More importantly, if they're being distributed via a book club, or sent directly to a library, they sometimes won't have a bar code, and I suspect that might be a big part of the problem if the store uses a barcode scanner at the POS - they have no way to either enter it into inventory or ring it up at purchase. It's probably best to ask them how to recognize what they accept, but framing it in terms of "I spend my actual money at your biggest competitor and then dump the stuff off on you when I no longer need it" probably isn't ideal.

I do know that old library books do tend to be a big source of used books on Amazon Marketplace. I've gotten several where the book still has the Dewey Decimal System sticker on the spine, and one or two where the card pocket is still on the inside cover. My childhood library holds a sale every year for books they're removing from the collection, and they're priced by the bag - you buy a reusable tote bag (or bags) at the door, and then you're charged $5/bag or something like that. Since Amazon Marketplace privileges sellers selling for lower prices, this is an easy way to get a large inventory for little money, which allows you to then sell cheaply on Amazon while still being profitable.

Also, yes, your local used bookstore probably is weird, and that's why people like it. :) Maybe just not weird about this particular issue.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2022 [6 favorites]

A books-to-prisoners donation program in your area might be interested in your gently used books.
posted by esker at 8:53 AM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would not label this bookstore weird, just picky. Good!

1. They know what they can sell, and they're basing their buying on that experience. I'm cool with that, as I've walked the aisles of far too many used book stores full of the picked-over dreck nobody wants anymore. Nowadays especially, this means shelves and shelves of Harry Potter.

2. One way I've noticed, to identify books acquired from clubs, is the page edges opposite the spine aren't uniform. (Observed in books my father received from the Science Fiction Book Club.)

4. Just to get rid of them, thrift stores like Goodwill accept anything; unlike a recycle bin, where individual pages are okay, but the bindings of books make them unacceptable.
posted by Rash at 9:14 AM on July 7, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I used to own & run a secondhand bookstore.

Bookclub editions are editions of books produced for bookclubs. They are made to a lesser standard, and with less a quality paper the bindings also aren't always as good they are basically made to be lighter so cheaper to post. You can usually tell a bookclub edition just by picking it up, they will weight less than a normal book of the same size. They will also usually lack barcodes and not have a RRP written on them. They are not worth the same money as a "normal" as they cannot be sold for the same price. Think of them like a cheap chinese knock off of a handbag. Looks the same, does the same thing, but you're not going to get the same resale price for it.

Old library books are also special editions of books done for libraries. And are pretty much the opposite of Bookclub editions, they are built to a much higher standard to enable them to withstand heavy wear and tear. Think of these as the rental car of the the book world. You don't want to buy one of these second hand as it's not been taken care of, will have stamps, marks, signs of repairs and other damage to the book.

None of these things matter if you are simply wanting a cheap book to read, and this is also why most of the books you buy on Amazon marketplace are old library books or old bookclub books, bookstores don't want them. By the sound of it, it sounds like your store is leaning more towards a collectors market, which makes sense in a world with Amazon in. In which case you they want publishers editions, with no marks, stamps, immaculate dust jackets and as near to first printing first edition as possible.

An other thing to remember is your box of assorted Mass Market books of no particular value is probably the 10th they've seen that week, if a big store might be the 10th they've seen that day. They've probably got copies of most of those books taking up space in storage out the back in publisher edition in better condition or even already on the shelves and Second hand bookstores don't like to have too many copies of the same book, variety is better then you are more likely to have the book someone is looking for in stock. If that common book sells they can easily get again from the box someone brings in tomorrow, you just turned up on a day they didn't need those books.

It's not personal, they are running a business. One thing I learned owning a second hand bookshop is every person vastly overestimates what their books are worth and how rare their books are. Sorry.
posted by wwax at 9:20 AM on July 7, 2022 [30 favorites]

Best answer: The internet kind of destroyed the old used-book market.

Places like Amazon (and, to a lesser degree, eBay, Alibris, etc.) have created an environment where sellers make their profits on shipping costs and prices for the books themselves race to the bottom. These sellers' job is to make as many copies of as many ISBNs available as possible.

Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar bookstores have limited shelf space and often have to pay retail leases in prime areas--their job is to find books that people actually want to buy. A lot of people are snooty about ex-library books, and if a book has a book club edition, it is already well into the downward part of the typical popularity graph. Think about what was on the NYT bestseller list a year or two ago--do you want to buy a used copy of Where the Crawdads Sing or Educated? Neither does anybody else.

(Not to internet-stalk you, but, based on your profile, your local public library is once again accepting donations.)

Public libraries which are big enough (or have sufficiently active friends groups) to have a bookstore/book sales will often take almost anything. This is because the items get triaged--trained library staff pull out anything that might get added to the collection (brand-new copies of popular titles, plus local history and other research kinds of things, a very small fraction of donations), sold in a bookstore (generally new-ish stuff in Good condition or better, a small fraction), sold at a friends sale (older stuff that someone might buy for fifty cents or a dollar, maybe a third or half of donations), or sent to Better World Books (the rest of it, including most ex-library copies), where, if it doesn't sell, it gets recycled.
posted by box at 9:23 AM on July 7, 2022 [8 favorites]

Also, I've noticed a number of stores won't take hardback (except of, like, art books) once a book's been issued in paperback. (Especially fiction.)
posted by praemunire at 9:30 AM on July 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I worked at a Half-Price Books. As I recall, we didn't take book club editions because we did literally price books at half the original cover price, and book club editions didn't have an original cover price, so we couldn't do anything with those but send them straight to the clearance rack. If anyone has worked at HPB more recently, please correct me--I haven't worked there in more than a decade, but that's what I remember. Library editions were likewise tricky--they didn't have a retail cover price, and a lot of times we got books that had not in fact been removed from circulation, but were books the person had never bothered to return. (I went through quite a process once trying to get a library book returned to the Armed Services Lending Library or something like that?? It was A Thing)

A book club copy generally does not have a price listed on the inside flap (book club copies are almost always hardback) and they're generally somewhat smaller than standard hardbacks. A truly friendly local bookstore should be willing to sort your books for you and show you what's what.

If you need the money, you can probably sell these on Amazon or eBay (though it's a kindness to say "book club copy"). Otherwise, if you have a local hospital, home for older adults, Little Free Library, or thrift store, they may take them as donations.
posted by epj at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

Libraries get better binding, IIRC, and book club version gets CHEAP binding, kinda like back during CD days Columbia House CDs are the ones nobody really wants to buy even though it's the same music. They aren't retail, so it's hard to price them for retail purposes.
posted by kschang at 10:29 AM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What everyone else said and I will add that many if not most used bookstores will not pay cash for fiction unless it's in really, really high demand. Source: I was the fiction manager at a large used bookstore for six years. We paid cash for hardback fiction only if it was

1) on the current bestseller list and we didn't already have any
2) in incredibly high demand, as in, we knew we could sell it and we didn't already have any. This was sort of done author by author and book by book - I might, for example, have paid cash for a hardcover copy of Carrie or The Shining in very good condition but I wouldn't give you a dime for Duma Key
3) some classic literature that we didn't already have. Moby Dick in good condition? Maaaaybe. Definitely if it's a fancy illustrated edition in perfect shape.

The thing is, fiction comes in by the box every day and the vast majority of it is not worth anything as soon as it's more than six months old. We had hardcover fiction on bargain carts outside the store; $2 for regular and $1 for bookclubs (although now I hear it's $3 each regardless.) We did give trade credit for fiction though, which as a voracious fiction reader myself always suited me fine.

What did we pay cash for? Current or classic nonfiction. Art books, gardening books, science books - no pop science from the 90s though, please - philosophy books, religious books.

Clearly all used bookstores are not the same but there are a lot of similarities out there. I suspect that your local has very similar rules and I hope this is helpful!
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:52 PM on July 7, 2022 [10 favorites]

A books-to-prisoners donation program in your area might be interested in your gently used books.

AFAIK, prison regulations often require that only new books be mailed directly from the vendor, to ensure they never pass into your hands before the prisoner receives them. (I believe the rationale is to ensure that you don't use them to import contraband into the prison.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:02 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

AFAIK, prison regulations often require that only new books be mailed directly from the vendor

Yep, this can be especially true for hardcover books (the BTP groups I know rarely can accept hardcovers because so few prisons allow them) but it is worth checking with your local BTP group who will have an idea of what is useful.

It's a little more of a hassle but ebay (which previously sold books as and I think still has some infrastructure that supports ISBN lookup and etc) can be a place to sell used books sometimes, especially if you batch them well like "Five books by AUTHOR" or "Six westerns"

You'll see most online book sellers will mark library books as "ex libris" to indicate that they came from libraries. Other people have explained the issues but yes they're often books with a lot of wear and often erratic markings so dismissing them out of hand is fairly bookstore-normal.
posted by jessamyn at 1:14 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Surprised no one has mentioned BookMooch! [Previously previously previously]

"BookMooch is a community for exchanging used books. BookMooch lets you give away books you no longer need in exchange for books you really want."

I have been a member for a very long time and have given away 24 books and received 19 so far (still have some points =).
posted by acridrabbit at 3:37 PM on July 7, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Hi! I was a professional book buyer for over a decade, although that was now over a decade ago. The trick to selling used books is keeping the junk out and taking advantage of your real estate.

Hardcover fiction is one of the easiest ways to fail at this. It tends to turn over more slowly, and economies of scale in printing mean that in the last 30 years or so far more copies of most books are printed than sold. So you have to be choosier about hardcover fiction period.

That’s part of the reason, among others, why any used bookstore worth their salt will mostly avoid ex-library books and book club editions, particularly in hardback (“cloth”). They simply aren’t worth enough on the resale market to take up valuable shelf space. That’s part of why they’re so cheap on Amazon!

kevinbelt’s answer about a book club edition is most likely not what they’re being picky about, unless they actually are weird snobs. Having an endorsement on the cover is generally not a big deal. In the trade though, since long before Oprah came on the scene there have been book clubs where you’d subscribe to receive a book of a certain type every month, or more commonly, pick a dozen or so books from a list and then be obligated to buy three more at full price later (remember BMG/Columbia House for CDs?). Various versions of this still exist although their popularity is waning. These ‘book club editions’ were historically sized a little differently, not labeled for resale (no price or UPC code), and might have different or nonexistent back and front matter than the retail version. They aren’t generally considered to have much of any resale value. (Remainders and ‘hurts’ are a couple other interesting categories if you’re curious).

What's the issue? Seems like they could easily give me two or three bucks for these recent 500 page novels they could sell for 10 or 15
For book club editions or library discards no, it just doesn’t make sense for them. That’s money they could spend on something easier to sell that would take up less space. Even for a pristine copy that I knew I could sell, I would have someone go make sure we didn’t already have 5 copies in overstock. And if we did, I wouldn’t have bought it. Even at the high volume shops I worked in I could count on two hands the number of hardback fiction titles I would buy a sixth copy of, secondhand, barring very unusual circumstances.

Also keep in mind that booksellers *also* have access to Amazon and can quickly check what the market looks like for a particular used book. Since you bought them on Amazon, why not resell them there?

One other thing is that if you have a bunch of genre fiction in a series, there are folks who will buy a complete series as a lot on eBay, and they tend to discriminate a little less since they just want to have the whole series.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:33 PM on July 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Very helpful! Thank you! I think I'll see if my local library will take some, and then give the rest to a Goodwill or thrift store.
posted by cidrab at 5:38 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

If my local Little Free Library is full I drop mine off in a Better World Books bin. They resell them.
posted by metasarah at 7:23 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

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