Littera Scripta

Pricing Out of Print Books

Pricing books is mostly a matter of research and experience. There's no easy formula, or rule of thumb. It's one of the reasons dealers specialize. No one can know the entire market. But if you're good, and you're thorough, and you listen to your customers and other dealers, you can learn a specialty area in detail.

You will have to decide for yourself what price range you want to slot yourself and your business into. If you want to price high, go ahead... but you'd better know your stuff. If you want to price low, do so. But do it knowing that you are pricing low, and not because you don't know any better. Books don't have a "right" price. Nothing is cast in stone. Prices move up and down depending on supply and demand. Authors die, movies are made, schools curriculums resurrect forgotten books, writers go out of fashion, come back into fashion etc. A book is worth what a buyer is willing to pay, and a seller is willing to accept. The more you know, the closer you'll get to the sweet spot - where the books sells in a reasonable time for a good price. And allowing you to go on buying books - not to mention groceries.

The first, and most obvious thing to check is that the book really is out of print. If the particular edition of the title that you are selling is still available new, then you just have a used book. Most commonly, these are sold at half the original full retail price. Thus if the price on the jacket is $29.95, many sellers will price the book at $15.00 (assuming VG to Fine condition). However, much bestselling fiction is printed in huge print runs that will flood the used market fairly quickly. This will tend to drive the price down.

To see if the book is in print, check the following sites: Books
Canada -
Britain - AmazonUK

Once you've determined that the book is out-of-print, check the multi-dealer databases and online auctions to see how common the book is. If there are hundreds of copies of the specific edition that you have, and all prices are low, most of the time you can stop there. In many cases it won't be worth your time to catalogue the book if it's that common and that low priced.

If there are few copies, or most are relatively high-priced, then you need to get to work and do some research. Do NOT price better books strictly from the net. You need to understand what you are selling and why it's uncommon or expensive. If you neglect the research, you are going to make some seriously embarrassing errors.

For this you will need reference books, not just price guides, but auction records, and bibliographies as well. In the beginning you may find it too expensive to buy them, and can visit the library - if you have a good one in your area. In the long run though, if you are serious, you should be constantly upgrading your research library. The books will not seem so expensive after they've taught you something.

If you are unable to find a particular title, start looking at other books by the same author. Generally the first book by an author will be the most valuable, and the later books will be the least valuable (it's a very general rule though, and there ARE exceptions). Also check the illustrator. Some illustrators are highly collectible (Tasha Tudor, Willy Pogany, Arthur Rackham, etc.). Check both author and illustrator by doing a general search of the net. The more pages you find devoted to them, the stronger the market is likely to be. My current favorite search engine is Google.

Certain publishers are more valuable, particularly some of the fine presses. But even regular trade publishers will tell you something. For example, an art book published by Abrams is much more likely to have substantial value than one published by Bison, which are almost always reprints.

For truly rare books, it can be instructive to check the holdings of major libraries. The catalogues of the best libraries in the world at your fingertips on the internet. Some starting points:

The Library of Congress

National Library of Canada

The British Library

If you sell on ABE, you can check the wants to see how many people are looking for the book. Go to your members menu and then go "Browse our books-wanted list" . Make sure to select N/A from the Added/Altered box.

On eBay you can check closing prices for about 30 days in the past. Doesn't seem like much, but eBay has a lot of listings. It's amazing how often titles will show up.

For a look at how prices are moving within specific genres, I've discovered It's an auction search engine, but it keeps records of the average selling price of all the categories. It'll give you a graph of prices over the past year with percentage changes. Quite interesting to browse. You'll need to register first to access that feature, but it is free.

The internet is modifying prices, there's no denying that. But try to look at the book in your hand and get a gut feeling for pricing - just because someone has $10.00 on the book does NOT mean you have to price your book there. That $10.00 book may not even be available anymore, it may sell tomorrow, it may be from a seller who is unpopular with buyers, or it may be incorrectly identified. It may also be just plain stupid. If you think it should be priced at $100.00 instead, then do it. Try not to be a sheep.


Book Buying
Reference Works
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Copyright © 2000 by Deanna Ramsay