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Secondhand books

Things to consider when buying secondhand books

Buying and collecting second-hand books is a rewarding, cheap hobby and, let’s face it, anything that keeps books out of landfill reduces your carbon footprint and helps you maintain a greener lifestyle.

Paperbacks, hardbacks and special limited editions all end up in loved collections.

The most important thing to consider when buying a book is to buy a book that you like and it matters not one jot how old, who it is by or what it is about.

1. Condition

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a well-read used book from a charity shop, especially if it is a title you have been after for ages. However, if you are a serious collector or you want to make sure your books retain their value, always try to go for best copy you can afford. 

There is no doubt that the condition of a book is important; a tatty used book will only ever have a low monetary value and the condition becomes all important when it comes to collectible books. No collector wants a dog-eared, scruffy book with its spine falling off and it’s end papers (these are the pages that consist of a double-size sheet folded, with one half pasted against the books inside cover, and the other serving as the first free page) torn or missing.

2. What to look out for

We have already mentioned the overall condition a book and its end papers. More specifically, check out the following:

Boards and Spine – If the book is a hardback, are the boards and spine attached and in good condition? Is any lettering on the spine clear and legible?

Annotation – Look through the book, has it been annotated? Nothing is more infuriating than to pick up a nice copy of a book only to get it home and find that some previous owner has profusely annotated the text in red biro! This particularly applies to use textbooks.

Illustrations – If the book is illustrated, first look for the list of illustrations in the front of the book (if there isn’t a list ask your local bookseller to research how many there should be) and then carefully check that all the illustrations are there. Few things devalue a book more than a missing illustration.

Dust Jackets – As with a missing illustration, a missing or poor dust jacket can have a marked affect on the price of a book. Has the dust jacket been ‘price clipped’? In particular, watch out for fake dust jackets! There are an ever growing number of books appearing on the second-hand book market with fake dust jackets. You just have to take a look on eBay to see the number that are now being offered for sale.

These are just a few of the thinks that you need to look out for; if in doubt, speak to your local second-hand bookshop and ask for their advice.

3. Where to Buy

The recent past has seen an explosion in the second-hand book market with a plethora of new entrants, not least of whom are the charity shops who, understandably, have sought to cash in on this growing market. Due to their low-cost base, the charity shops are able to compete for paperback sales with the likes of Amazon and eBay. The problem they have faced when trying to sell anything other than paperback fiction is the understandable lack of knowledge of their volunteer sales force.

Another obvious option to consider is to buy online. Like so much else in our daily lives, buying online can be quick and convenient and the likes of Amazon and eBay have a huge number of used books listed for sale. However, a word of caution. A lot of the large sellers on these digital platforms use auto pricing algorithms to price track the same book being sold by their competitors. This can lead to some really bizarre pricing, as was the somewhat evidenced by case of a technical book on flies being listed for over $23 million!! Although this was an extreme case (we hope nobody bought it for that price!!) you can regularly see books that are being listed for considerably more than their true value. 

For real book lovers, nothing can beat browsing a good old fashioned bookshop, where you can see and touch that long cherished title you have been after and meet knowledgeable staff and likeminded booklovers. Buying online may be convenient but can never be regarded as an experience!

4. How Much Should I pay?

How much should you pay for that long sought after book? This has always been something of a conundrum. At the end of the day, the true value of a book is only worth what someone is actually prepared to pay for it.  Checking what other people are selling it for online can be a guide but, as previously noted, one must be wary of this as there are many mispriced books being offered for sale online. Wherever possible, try and check what a similar book in a similar condition has actually been sold for.  If you like a book and are happy to pay the asking price that’s fine but don’t be shy to make an offer, the seller can always say ‘no’.

5. Good Hunting

Get started with a particular author or category that interests you or even one particular type of binding or book illustrator.  You will soon start finding yourself lost in the world of the Bibliophile.

Let us help you buy your next secondhand book

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