The ‘collectible’ book market on Amazon is pretty interesting. A few years ago I thought I’d get a friend of mine a copy of one of my favorite monographs by Erwin Olaf, and I was stunned to discover that it was over $1000.00 on Amazon. There appear to be a small number of gamblers who like to buy books and then list them for high prices so they can score a tidy windfall if it turns out someone wants them that badly.

I thought I’d send a friend a copy of the Tao Te Ching Le Guin translation, but I can see that the hardbacks are all being predatory-priced:

Amazon pricing

$126 for the hardcover? Yow! So I looked on ebay:

Hanging on to my signed 1st edition hardcover – unless someone wants to trade me a Bridgeport mill for it.


  1. says

    There are book resellers who just slap an outrageous price on everything, just in case an idiot wanders by. You ought to see the prices on battered, bad condition mass paperbacks which happen to be out of print. Being even remotely ethical is inimical to raking in the cash.

  2. says

    I have never bought any books on eBay. I have occasionally bough some books on Amazon, but it’s not my first choice. There are multiple websites, which offer a price comparison for used books (for example, I use, but there are many other such websites). Though these search engines I just look at whichever online store is offering the cheapest price. I have bought from alibris, AbeBooks, Biblio and some other stores. I buy books from Amazon only when they have the best price, which is usually not the case. When it comes to new books, I usually get them from BookDepository, but that’s only because they offer free shipping worldwide, and I live in such a remote corner of the world that everybody else asks me lots of money for shipping.

    The softcover vs. hardcover divide isn’t so prominent in the place where I grew up. Thus I just don’t care at all whether the book I buy is softcover or hardcover. I don’t perceive one as more valuable than the other. In Latvia deciding whether to print some book in softcover or hardcover is an aesthetic and practical choice for publishers. For example, when publishers expect that readers will be using a book often (as with textbooks), they often choose hardcover. For books that are generally read once and carried in handbags while commuting to work in public transport, publishers tend to choose softcover. I expect that if somebody did a statistical analysis on Latvian books and compared the average price of softcover vs. hardcover books, they would probably find that hardcover books are, on average, more expensive (after all, it does cost a little bit more to print them). But when I simply enter a Latvian bookstore, I don’t feel like hardcover editions were more expensive. Here first edition books aren’t perceived as more valuable either. If some edition of a book has beautiful illustrations or is otherwise particularly pretty, then it will be sold for more. But the book being simply the first edition isn’t enough to drive up the price.

    So I must admit that I don’t get people’s desire to obtain the first edition hardcover copy. If some edition has beautiful illustrations or is particularly pretty, then, yes, I’d also be willing to pay more for that. I like pretty things and that includes also pretty books (especially antique books, those tend to be super pretty). But things like first edition or hardcover, I just don’t get why these would be important criteria.

    Nowadays, for books that I intend to read only once, I also tend to prefer simply getting an e-book. The amount of books I own is already larger than the available shelf space in my room, so I’m already storing some books in cardboard boxes. E-books don’t worsen this problem, so they are pretty convenient.

  3. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#3:
    I don’t perceive one as more valuable than the other

    I grew up with lots of early-generation paperbacks that had the glue on the spine go dry and disintegrate, so the book turned into a pile of pages. Since I value books, that bothers me.

    A few years ago I decided to (slowly) collect 1st edition – autographed if possible – of the books that have been important to me. Just because they won’t fall apart and because they are still important to me.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    There are book resellers who just slap an outrageous price on everything, just in case an idiot wanders by

    It’s not quite as simple as that. The other reason is algorithmic pricing. As I understand it (and I’ll be honest – I don’t, but this is how it was explained to me) a bookseller sets up an algorithm on their website to look at what is being charged by their competitors for a given book. The idea is to find the “going rate”, so they know what to charge. Then, since they don’t want to undercut the going rate, what they do is get their algorithm to price the book at the going rate… plus a penny.

    You can guess where that ends up. They play ping-pong with the price, bidding it up and up even (ESPECIALLY) if nobody is buying any copies of it at all. I’ve written a couple of books. You can buy one from the publisher for £9.99. You can buy the exact same book via Amazon for £16.99 (I set both those prices, and you pay more from Amazon to offset their cut). Or, bafflingly, you can go buy a “Used – Like New” copy from Wordery for £22.89.

    That isn’t even as daft as it gets. A year or two ago, the “Used – Like New” price for one of my books – which I repeat are available right there on Amazon NEW for under £17 – reached over £140.

    I have emailed some of the suppliers (there’ve been several) who put these sorts of prices up, questioning why they do it. I’ve never received any kind of reply from any of them. The explanation of algorithmic price inflation came from another source entirely.