Selling a book from the middle of nowhere?
September 23, 2007 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Help on how to sell a really awesome rare book my wife and I found at a library sale.

While perusing our college's library sale (all books $1 or less), we came across a book my wife had been looking for for about 10 years: Annie Allen, by Gwendolyn Brooks. This book is very, very rare -- the lowest price on Alibris is for a volume that, judging by the description, is all but falling apart with no dust jacket, and it's listed at $80. Copies with tattered dust jackets go for upward of $250.

Well, this copy is pristine. Insanely so. In spite of being at a library sale, it must have been donated since there are no library markings of any kind. Other than a couple of tiny tears to the jacket, it's perfect, and the book itself (not the dust jacket) literally shows zero indications of wear.

This brings me to the problem. We both wish we could keep the book, but selling it would be better for the time being, given our status as poor college students. We unfortunately have NO IDEA where and how to sell it and get a fair price. We listed it on ebay (you can see the auction here, not because I expect mefi to have a bunch of big spenders but so you can see the quality of the book) here. As you can see, though, we've gotten no bids, which I somewhat expected: Ebay is a terrible place for rare books, and they go for far below their value, especially if they're a niche item.

So how do I sell it? I don't have a seller account on alibris or abebooks, nor do I have a bunch of other books to sell, and I think anyone would be dubious about a seller claiming to have -- as their only book for sale -- a rarity like this.

We live about 3.5 hours from the Twin Cities, which would be the nearest place we could take it to a bookshop to sell it. Does anyone know of a good place, or is this just going to lead to us getting royally ripped off? Is there another way to do this that we're just not thinking of? Help us, o ye gods of rare bookitude!
posted by InnocentBystander to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There's a few copies that look to be the same as yours on Amazon Used. Maybe try there?
posted by nitsuj at 1:42 PM on September 23, 2007

Might want to check out Midway Book in St. Paul. They specialize in rare and out of print stuff.
posted by esch at 1:57 PM on September 23, 2007

A rare book dealer might buy it, but for a fraction of the "true value". On the other hand, a high priced item can sit on Amazon marketplace for years without selling (rare books often have rare customers as well). You could try listing it for a few months on Amazon, and then sell it to a dealer if that doesn't work out.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:58 PM on September 23, 2007

Magers & Quinn, a book dealer in Uptown Minneapolis, has a case of rare or otherwise valuable books and are known for being discerning book folk. I've sold them many signed books & got a decent price.

However, there's no way that you'll get the same price at M&Q that you would selling it by yourself. Basic economics. This site (which, to be honest, I only glanced at) may help you get started.
posted by iwhitney at 2:06 PM on September 23, 2007

On the other hand, a high priced item can sit on Amazon marketplace for years without selling (rare books often have rare customers as well).

And, by definition, you're seeing the books that haven't sold. So maybe the price isn't correct fo the market.
posted by smackfu at 2:08 PM on September 23, 2007

Perhaps try contacting the appropriate professor at the U and ask the same question, they may have a better sense of where to go for this type of thing. Having said that, googling rare book buyers brings up a few hits including this FAQ from Powelll's, as well as other hits you should probably take a gander at.
posted by edgeways at 2:54 PM on September 23, 2007

If she's been looking for the book for ten years I'd say keep it. Who knows when you'll next be in a position to buy the book, particularly as nice a copy as you seem to have? And, despite being poor students, it's not like you're actually out money for the book (well okay, $1). Unless you're near-destitute, that is, and this means food on the table or a place to live. But if things aren't quite so dire think long and hard about selling it. Money comes and goes and, even if you get $250 for it, what you spend that money on will probably be less meaningful than the book.
posted by 6550 at 2:57 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

EBay is not that bad of a place to sell rare books. Your auction presentation could be better. Since it's a first edition show that page.

Amazon is a reasonable possibility but it might take a while to sell. Not having a history of transactions there will only hurt.

Taking it to a bricks and mortar rare book seller will get you about 15-25% of the retail price. They will pay more, sometimes 50%+, if it is very rare and a field they specialize in. Selling it to someone who deals a lot with that genre makes a big difference. They can sell the book faster which allows them to give the book scout a better price.

If I were you I would relist on Amazon. Take a good look at other rare book auctions and follow their presentation a bit more closely.

Dust jacket has a huge effect on price. It's great that you have one but it doesn't look like you could rate it as 'good', certainly not 'fine'. Put it in a mylar brodart. If you get $300 or so for it, you're doing real good. I suspect $200 might be a more reasonable figure, but I haven't looked into it all that closely.

By the way, abebooks is a better guide on price than alibris.
posted by BigSky at 3:02 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You will find out its true value on eBay, either by just listing it and hoping for the best, or checking for a copy that has sold recently. A lot of the prices on Abebooks are shots in the dark from book dealers who are prepared to wait months for a desperate buyer who might pay silly money. You'll get the "going rate" on eBay.
posted by fire&wings at 3:19 PM on September 23, 2007

I would contact the Bancroft Library at Berkely and ask the rare book librarian if she or he knows of collectors interested in Gwedolyn Brooks. I believe that's were Brooks's papers are.

I might suggest talking to a preservationist and looking on the book as an investment. You will probably get the most money donating it to a rare book library, and then using it as a tax deduction.

You might not need a tax deduction for a few years, but I believe this is probably the best way to get money out of a book.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:47 PM on September 23, 2007

gesamtkunstwerk - the book is nowhere near as rare as that. If you can buy a copy for $100 on eBay then contacting a library or trying to preserve it is pointless.
posted by fire&wings at 4:13 PM on September 23, 2007

Ebay is a terrible place for rare books, and they go for far below their value

This isn't true. Ebay is a pretty decent place for rare books, actually, and they usually go for exactly their value. The exception would be if someone messes up their listing such that bidders don't see it or don't trust it.

Prices you see on ABEbooks and such are not a books "true value", they are prices that some dealers are asking... and haven't yet gotten. It may be they will sell the book tomorrow. It may be that it will sit on a shelf for 5 years until somebody needs it now and pays the price. Or it may be that it will never sell at that price.

The price you get on Ebay is much closer to the true market value, barring other factors. I suggest going that route but with a good listing.
posted by Justinian at 4:30 PM on September 23, 2007

Hey, your listing looks like it is going to sell just fine. Perhaps we should have mentioned that auctions frequently go most of their listing time with no bids and then get run up in the final couple of hours or even minutes.
posted by Justinian at 4:31 PM on September 23, 2007

Failing all else, Swann Galleries might be interested.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:10 PM on September 23, 2007

You're choosing one of the worst times in recent bookselling history to sell. This is a wonderful find. But it will only go up in value. Keep it for now. I know that isn't easy on a grad student budget but trust me, you won't be sorry. A book like this, already appreciated by your wife, will only appreciate in monetary value. Really, the best thing you could do is love this book, and keep it.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:37 PM on September 23, 2007

(713) 520-5009 heres the number of a local (houston) bookseller. Very ner.. uh, good at books. Probably better options listed here, but it's a thought
posted by Jacen at 8:06 PM on September 23, 2007

FireandWings-- I only recommend donating it for a tax receipt because rarebook libraries (if they want a volume) are extremely generous in their appraisals.

Finding a good buyer is hard. A dealer will give you less than market value because he or she will want to make a profit, even on Ebay. For anything this new you have to find a hard-core fan. Selling rare 20C books is a tough way to make a living, and turnover is low.

(I worked in a rare book library. You need to find a niche-- an academic centre, an archives-- to really get a good price on a rare book. I would focus my marketing)
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:15 PM on September 23, 2007

I have a friend who is a rare book dealer. E-mail is in the profile if you want me to connect you two.
posted by mmascolino at 8:20 PM on September 23, 2007

Personally I think you should hang onto it; I can just see this as being one of those things, years down the road, that both of you will be cursing over ever having sold. Since it's not like you spent any money on it (well, $1), you're no worse off than if you hadn't ever found the book in the first place. Unless one of you is dying for lack of a black-market kidney or something, I think you should put it away someplace safe (maybe talk to an archivist on how best to actually do that).

That said, if you do want to liquidate it right now, I think eBay is probably not a terrible venue (although your listing really should show the copyright page to prove the date). You could put it up on Amazon and ask for more, but who knows if you'll get what you ask.

If you want to sell, sell; but I think you're throwing away something that you found accidentally awfully fast.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:03 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, this copy is pristine. Insanely so.

Uh, that book is far from "pristine." Your dust jacket is torn at the top in multiple places, there's a chunk missing from the back, and it's hard to tell, but looks like it might be price-clipped on the inside front.

Based on what I'm seeing elsewhere, you're asking way too much. I'm seeing a copy listed as "VG+/Good unclipped Dj" at Bookfinder for $203.99. Again, your DJ appears both clipped and has a chunk torn out of the back, which means your book is almost certainly worth less than that one, so you really would have done great to take the $212 you got offered during your auction. If you want to sell it quickly, listing it for $150 on Amazon (which you don't have to be a reseller to do) would probably be your best bet, or drastically reducing the amount of your reserve, which seems unrealistically high.
posted by mediareport at 11:07 PM on September 23, 2007

If you need the money now, you're best bet is to re-list the book on eBay and hope that the bidders come back...

After all, you stand to make a huge profit on a book that only cost you $1.

Book dealers need to make a profit too, in order to cover their overheads, so they will only be prepared to pay a fraction of the amount they can sell it for.
posted by booksprite at 11:30 PM on September 23, 2007

There's a lot of talk here about 'market value' and 'true value'. Don't get caught up in those abstractions. Your book does not have some real 'true' price. It has a value in a specific transaction with a specific customer. The value that a brick and mortar bookstore will receive from an off the street customer will not typically be available to you. But that doesn't mean when you sell it for less that you got 'ripped off'. You aren't paying the expenses that allow him to receive that value. But an auction isn't the true price either. That's also a specific context and the price it goes for depends on who shows up and takes action in a limited span of time. Rare books have a small number of interested buyers. The price that the two sides agree upon depends a lot on negotiation and context. It's not like there a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price to ground the discussion. If you ever spend any time talking to rare book dealers you will find that they frequently reference the notion of 'finding a buyer'. In other words, waiting around until they come across someone who will pay what they want to receive. If you're not a dealer it's tough to do that. Your auction on EBay went off better than I expected considering there was no photo of the copyright page and the DJ was not accurately described. If you won't be pleased with that much money then keep the book and enjoy your find.
posted by BigSky at 3:59 AM on September 24, 2007

It's probably also worth mentioning that the dust jacket is often where most of the value of an old hardback lies. Yours is in good, but not great, shape.
posted by mediareport at 8:03 PM on September 25, 2007

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