How does Half Price Books determine the trade in value of books/cds/dvds?
April 25, 2007 9:27 PM   Subscribe

How does Half Price Books determine the trade in value of books/cds/dvds?

I took a box of books to Half Price Books the other day, and they offered my $5 for the lot after looking them over for only a minute or so. How did they come up with that figure? Do they look up the isbn of every book on or ABE and offer 1/4 the going rate? Or is there some other formula that's super secret and mysterious, a closely guarded secret among the longhaired hippie guys that populate the behind-the-counter area of my local HPB?

Also, is there any way I, a mere mortal, could access whatever secret formula they use and thus determine what I'm likely to be offered for my box of books before I make the arduous quest to the store?
posted by snowleopard to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What makes you think they have an actual formula?
posted by MadamM at 9:35 PM on April 25, 2007

I don't know the *exact* way they figure out the offer but I do know that the location I frequent does check against their current inventory and if they have a bunch of copies of something already there they offer you less.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:36 PM on April 25, 2007

I think they have an ability to eyeball stuff and immediately tell what will sell and what won't. I think they offer you about half of what they will price the stuff that will sell.
posted by jayder at 9:43 PM on April 25, 2007

I concur with jayder. I used to work at Left Bank Books and the assessment went something like this

- which of these books will sell?
- how much will they sell for?
- offer half of that.
- offer some token for the rest of the books or refuse them entirely.
posted by jessamyn at 9:51 PM on April 25, 2007

When I worked at a used record store, our method was to determine first whether we needed a CD at all (too many? would never ever sell in a million years?) and then we had a basic rule of pricing thumb, depending on the original retail price of the item, with a possible bump for something unusually popular or new.

Then we'd offer half of the resale price in cash, or 60% in store credit.

We were actually more generous than a lot of other stores in town, but also more picky about what we'd buy.
posted by padraigin at 10:19 PM on April 25, 2007

A friend of mine used to work at HPB. He told me that for the majority of customers, unless you have books that are really worth something, the amount offered is "just enough to not be totally insulting." They then take the bulk of your books to the dumpster and put the decent ones on the shelves.
posted by sanko at 11:46 PM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think they have various methods for determining average prices for books that will sell for more than a dollar or two. Bookfinder and Abebooks are the public versions of those methods, but I have a feeling they use an internal database that monitors these things. So they get your book, and if it's something they think they can sell, they scan it or enter the author, title, publisher and year, and get back an average buy/sell price.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:02 AM on April 26, 2007

Having gotten rid of a bunch of books (I mean a lot - I think it ended up over 25 brown paper grocery bags full) at Half Price, one thing I noticed that maximized the amount of money I got was how many books I brought in.

If I only brought in one bag, I got much more per book than if I brought in three bags. It took forever to get rid of the books that way, but I just made it part of my lunch time ritual, and every few times I'd go, I'd use the money to buy a good lunch somewhere.

So it seems like they also go by how many books you bring into them, which might be partially the token amount that Jessamyn mentioned.
posted by ugf at 5:02 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I worked at Half-Price Books for a year. HPB only hires full-time employees, and one reason I think is that by spending 40 hours a week in the store, employees get a good idea of what sells and what doesn't, and for how much. After a few weeks of training, I got pretty of good at just eyeballing a batch of books and breaking it down: "This will sell for $5, this will go for $7, these paperbacks will go for $1 each" and so on. Of course we could only offer sellers a fraction of what we sold them for, so we would only offer $1 for the $5 book, maybe $1.50 for the $7 book and $1 for 8 paperbacks. Also, there was a lot (a lot) that we didn't sell and either donated, recycled, or threw away. I saw enough Stephen King paperbacks to last a lifetime, so a dog-eared Cujo from the 1980's would not go on the shelf, it would get tossed.

Or in other words, what Jessamyn said.
posted by Kronoss at 7:17 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I worked at a similar-but-not-HPB chain, here's how the system went: first, we'd evaluate the items for condition, and set aside anything really awful (lower than Good, if you're using a standard rating scale). Then, we'd compare the remaining items to the existing inventory. If we already had something on the floor for six bucks, the second copy would be priced at five. Then (and only a subset of employees were considered qualified for this part) we'd price the other stuff with a goal of moving it out the door within a couple weeks or less (quick turnaround was a priority). Then we'd total up, and offer the customer half of the total in cash or 2/3 in credit.

I skipped the step where employees would set aside things for their personal collections, and the step where they'd offer ludicrous sweetheart deals to their friends and drug connections and cute girls and so forth. These omissions may partially explain why this particular store eventually went out of business.
posted by box at 7:42 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

They then take the bulk of your books to the dumpster

A HPB employee/friend told me the same thing. Jerks.
posted by popechunk at 7:48 AM on April 26, 2007

They then take the bulk of your books to the dumpster

Which is the reason that HPB is a great place to dumpster dive.
posted by richrad at 8:14 AM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Where do you propose they PUT those books that end up in the dumpster? I used to work there and we flat out didn't have the room for 200 Danielle Steele hardcovers and 25 years' worth of model train magazines. Libraries won't take a lot of the stuff and some books (computer manuals, old travel guides) you can't even give away. However, it is true that you will maximize your return if you don't bring all your books in at once. If you can, take batches to different stores.
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 10:42 AM on April 26, 2007

Dress nicer next time. "Just enough not to be insulting" is a person-dependent variable.

...And it'd be nice to see them recycle the books instead of dumpstering them.

And, no, the universe dosen't need any more Stephen King paperbacks.
posted by Orb2069 at 10:47 AM on April 26, 2007

The last time I tried to sell stuff at Half Price Books, they offered me an insulting figure, so I took my books home with me.

My books weren't bad --- they included good things like a hardcover first edition of Pynchon's Mason & Dixon --- but their offer was laughable, just a few bucks for quite a bit of stuff.

I don't blame them for offering very little on books --- I think there's a glut of good used books.
posted by jayder at 12:39 PM on April 26, 2007

My philosophy is, any amount they give me is better than what I'll make putting them in MY dumpster. Of course, I don't have one really close, so rising gas prices may make even that amount unappealing.

I like ugf's small-quantity idea.
posted by lhauser at 5:12 PM on April 26, 2007

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