Sunday, April 29, 2012

Parts of a Book Part 1: The Outside

A book dealer needs to understand not only the ways in which the contents of a book influences its price, but also how the role of a book's physical state affects its value.  We must be able to accurately judge and describe the books we sell and in order to do this we must have a familiarity with the lingo regarding the parts of the book and a basic understanding how books are put together.

This is a rather large topic, so I will divide it into three parts: this first one dedicated to the surface of the book--the covers and edges.  The second will focus on the internal divisions of a book and the final segment will detail how books are created.

Starting on the left-hand picture, the inside of the front cover, we see a single sheet of paper, the endsheet, often decorative and of heavier stock than the rest of the book.  One half of the endsheet is glued to the cover forming the pastedown, the other half is the flyleaf, which is intentionally left blank.  At this point, we can also see the book's edges.  The long edge that runs down the page is called the fore edge, and the bottom is called the tail and the top is called the head.  The edges are sometimes gilded or colored, a process where they are coated in a material like gold which serves not only to beautify the book but also to protect its pages.

Turning to the right-hand picture, we see the outside of the book.  This leatherbound book is traditional in its structure and not all books will have the same elements.  The most important parts here are the covers, which protect the front and back of the book, and the spine, which protects the book's bindings.  Connecting the covers to the spine is a narrow flexible area called the hinge (or the joint) which allows the cover to open.  At the top, where the binding meets the head, there is sometimes a protective piece of cloth called the headband.  Along the spine there are sometimes ridges called raised bands, which used to have a function in covering the cords that bound a book together but today are decorative.

As we examine a book for purchase or sale, we need to be fluent in these terms so that we can give a good description of the text.  In particular we need to see that the spine is straight and uncreased or warped, and that the edges are not worn.

Next Post: The internal parts of a book.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Selling other stuff #2: Silver Coins and Bullion

In the ongoing hunt for books, you will inevitably come across other, non-book materials that might be worth your while to pick up.  Some of these are quite obvious overlaps, such as CDs, DVDs, comics and posters, but one you might not think of is silver.  I have found silver for sale in antique shops, flea markets and even, on one occasion, a pet groomers/trading card shop.  If you have a good, rough estimate on the current value of silver, you can sometimes pick up good deals that are excellent long term investments.

The primary advantages to purchasing silver are the fact that it has over the decades slowly increased in price.  It is thus safe and easily traded most anywhere.  The second is that it can be purchased in small dollar values that fit any budget.

There are two types of silver easily available: bullion and coins.  Bullion is the term for privately produced silver rounds (they look like coins but can't be called them for legal purposes) and bars.  Coins are produced by governments and include both fancy, large ones produced by modern mints and the smaller dimes, quarters, 1/2 and 1 dollars minted before 1965, when the US coinage still operated on a precious metal basis.  These are some of the easiest since they are universally recognized and have a set, easily compared weight (so a quarter has 2.5 times as much silver as a dime and a dollar has 4 times the silver of the quarter).

So, how to know what a fair price is?  Start off by checking the "spot price" for silver, either in your newspaper or on a site like CNN Money.  This will give you the price of a Troy Ounce, or $1.40 face value of pre-1965 coinage.  I have constructed a spreadsheet on OpenOffice Calc (you can use the same formulas in Microsoft Excel) where I can put in the bullion price (cell C4) and it automatically tells me the spot prices for various other values as well as what they would cost with markups of 10%, 20%, 30% and 50%.  Smart sellers always have a markup, so don't expect to get spot price most of the time.
Click for larger image
I have included the needed formulas for reproducing the spreadsheet on your home computer in red.  Column A is simply written in, as have cells B4 and B5.  The leftmost formula [ =(B5/4) ] is to calculate 25% of $1.00's face value of coinage.  Other cells would divide B5 by other rations (such as B5/10 for B9 which is $0.10 face value).  In Column C, C4 is written in as it's the bullion price, the remainder of the column is based upon a calculation [ =(C4*B5) ] this is a simple one to convert, for the next row it would be =C4*B6, and the next one =C4*B7.  The remainder of the chart helps you estimate the current markup.  The only alteration is that in Row 3 it reads =SUM(C3/10;C3) and in Row 2 its =SUM(C2/10;C2).  For other columns the alteration is in the divisor.  So for 20% the formula is =SUM(C4/5;C4) and for 30% its =SUM(C4/3;C4) [NOTE: Yes I know it's really 33%, I am rounding] and for 50% its =SUM(C4/2;C4).

If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Identifying First Edition Used Books

When I started this business, one of the few things I "knew" was that first edition books were the most valuable.  So, I looked through piles of books around my house to find the first editions for sale... to my surprise I soon realized that it is sometimes a challenge to identify a first edition, much less sell it.

The art of identifying first editions is a relatively complicated one, in part due to variations between publishers.  Alibris publishes a full guide to the issue as does Bookseller World and you might consider picking up a copy of A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride, but here are some hints to get you started:
  • Start by looking at the dust jacket or wherever the price is normally located.  If there isn't a price tag, chances are it's a Book Club Edition and is probably worthless.  The dust jacket may even be labeled "Book Club Edition"
  • Go to the Copyright page.  Look for the words "First Edition" or "First Printing" or look for a string of numbers for instance these from my copy of Attila the Hun by John Man:
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
If the number "1" is the first in the sequence, it's a first edition.  If not, even if it says "First Edition 3 5 7....", then it's not a first edition.  Some publishers use letters instead and "A" replaces "1."  The one exception is Random House, which does write "First Edition 3 5 7...." for its first edition.  Confused yet? 
  • When the numbers are missing, editions are labeled as such.  However, if the copyright says something like "First Penguin Edition 2009" and then below the title the word "2010," it is not the first edition.  Basically, if there are ANY dates later than the first edition date on the page, it's not a first.
  • As the book rises in rarity, be more wary of fake dust jackets.  This issue is handled well on, and I suggest you take a look there before buying a 1st edition Great Gatsby or Color Purple, but for the moment it pays to double check dust jacket information with the copyright page for rarer books.
Happy Hunting!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 23: World Book Day (Dia Mundial Del Libro)

Happy World Book Day 2010!

This "holiday" is recognized by UNESCO as "World Book and Copyright Day," but let's face it... celebrating copyright is pretty boring (not to mention a far more complicated issue than can be represented in a holiday), while books are one of humanity's finest collective creations.

While this holiday is not well known in the US, it is more popular in Europe, especially in the Catalan Countries where it grew out of the festival of St. Jordi (or "George" as he is better known in English).  In Spain, it is also the date of the awarding of the annual Cervantes Prize [Spanish] by the King of Spain; it is the most prestigious prize in the Spanish language.

I first encountered the festival in 2004, I spent a semester living in Spain and I had the great pleasure of being in Catalonia on April 23rd.  I was charmed by the basic thrust of the holiday: people give each other a book or a flower.  This is not just between parents and children or spouses, but between all sorts of people who respect each other: friends, teachers and students, colleagues, etc.

The day is also relevant in the wider book world as the birthdays of: Miguel Cervantes (author of Don Quixote), William Shakespeare (the Bard of the English Language) and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (early historian and chronicler of Latin America). UNESCO notes that "23 April is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Maurice Druon, K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mej√≠a Vallejo."

UNESCO has declared the official theme of this year's festival as: "Translation" (you can read their formal statement here).

Today I hope to enjoy books by writing one and writing about others.  I've been stalled in my writing process for several weeks now and, after a few days off, am jumping back into it.  Do you celebrate World Book Day?  If so, what do you plan to do?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Link: Book Blogs

I am pleased to announce a new addition to the link list: Book Blogs.  Based on the Ning platform, Book Blogs is a social network dedicated to people who write and write about books.  I signed up, as I have for a number of similar sites to promote this blog, not expecting much to come out of it.  To my pleasant surprise, I've found that the good folks on Book Blogs are very welcoming: they've sent me messages, visited this blog and invited me to stop by theirs.  While the blogs tend to be more about writing and reviewing books, rather than selling used ones, if you're interested in books this is a central hub worth looking at.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


One of the elements of the modern publishing industry that book dealers frequently come into contact with is the ISBN, which is short for the "International Standard Book Number", a series of either 10 or 13 digits that serves as a unique identifier of a book anywhere in the 160+ countries that use the system (which includes every English-speaking country in the world and even relatively isolated places like North Korea, Kosovo, Iran and Zimbabwe).

The system was first created as the SBN ("Standard Book Number") for W.H. Smith company (the largest book retailer in Britain) in 1967 in order to computerize their warehouses.  The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international body that creates trade standards, picked up on the idea and by 1970 it became adopted by the ISO in general.  Traditional ISBNs have 10 digits, but the new "Bookland EAN" 13 digit system was adopted in 2007.  The extra three numbers allow the ISBN system to be integrated into the UPC barcode system.

One can learn a bit about a book by looking at an ISBN, which are usually found both near the barcodes on the backs of recent books and on the page at the beginning of the book which has the publication information.  Sometimes they are found on the dustjackets of older books.  Each ISBN is divided up into 4 (for ISBN-10) or 5 (for ISBN-13) parts:

Example #1 is from a copy of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, a good read if you haven't already, and examples #2 and #3 are from a small Buffalo-based literary journal called Living Forge.  Like many recent books, Living Forge v. II (2005) had both ISBN-10 and ISBN-13.  The parts are:
  1. EAN: In an ISBN-13 the first three digits (the EAN) indicates the industry, "978" is the number for books.
  2. Group:  The next two numbers are the 'group,' which signifies the part of the world where the book originates.  If the first number is a "0" or a "1," it comes from an English-speaking area, "2" for French, "3" for German, "4" for Japanese, "5" for Russian, and "7" from China.  The group also informs the reader what country the book is from with the second (or more in some cases) numbers.  Canadian ISBNs are issued with both  English and French codes.
  3. Publisher:  Publishers buy large groupings of ISBNs simultaneously and obtain their own numbers at that time.
  4. Title:  Pretty self explanatory
  5. Check Digit: This is a computerized check built into the system to protect against error through a mathematical calculation (more on this complicated calculation here)
ISBNs are distributed differently in each country.  For instance, the Canadians handle it through Archives and Libraries Canada and give out ISBNs for free to Canadian publishers.  The US and UK, however, have privatized this function.  In the US this is done by a private company called R.R. Bowker which charges as much as $125 for a single number.  In Britain a company called Nielsen distributes them and in Australia Thorpe-Bowker.  I personally admire the Canadian system which evens the playing field and promotes small and individual publishing and it angers me that a private company benefits from what is essentially a public monopoly.  It is possible to publish without an ISBN, but they are required for admission into libraries and sales at large book stores.

Important Points: For the purposes of our book dealing, the possession of an ISBN-10 signifies that our book was published after 1967 (and probably 1970 for American books) and an ISBN-13 means it was published in the 2000s.  This is a quick reference for those seeking to sell textbooks... an ISBN-13 is a good sign that the book is recent enough to warrant further investigation.  Outside of textbooks, ISBNs are handy tools for looking books up in databases, as they encoded not only the name but also publisher and edition and therefore are a more accurate search tool.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Selling Other Stuff #1: DVDs and CDs

It's inevitable: you will encounter DVDs and CDs at good prices and you will think about selling them.  While I don't usually go out of my way to find these materials, I do pick them up when I get a chance.  Here are a few rules of thumb:
  1. Don't pay more than $1.00 for a DVD (+$0.50 for each extra DVD in a box set), $0.50 for a CD
  2. Aim to get $2-$2.50 online
  3. Always check the playing surface.  If it's scratched, don't buy it
  4. The box is less important but pretty boxes do sell better (as you need to include it in your description)
  5. I always clean my DVDs with rubbing alcohol (clean in straight lines away from the center, never clean in a circular pattern) and test them in my DVD player.  Then I can say "All DVDs are cleaned and tested before sale."
  6. If you've never heard of the film, there's a good chance no-one else has either, hesitate before you buy it.
DVDs and, to a lesser extent, CDs can be a nice supplemental income, though you probably won't get rich off of them, just a few extra bucks.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Tourism in Upstate New York

For bookloving readers who live in Central New  York, there was an interesting post up in the Fine Books Blog entitled "Literary... Rochester?"where the authors discuss the Literary Tourist's recommendation of Rochester, NY for book tourism because of the
...rare book collections at the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Eastman House, and the Strong Museum; plus two literary landmarks; and six (!) used bookstores. (Also, Yesterday's Muse in Webster, NY, is just east of town.)

Here in Syracuse, NY where I live we don't rate so highly but there is an ongoing free exhibition at the Rare Book Archives of Syracuse University (top floor of the Bird Library) entitled The Power and the Piety highlighting selections of books form their collection around the threshold of the invention of printing.  They have beautiful illuminated manuscripts, an early copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, a page from a Gutenberg Bible and many other pieces up.  The exhibition lasts until June 22nd.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Selling Textbooks and

There is much talk on the internet and on college campuses about the trade in textbooks,  even Obama mentions it on occasion.  I have to agree with him that it's largely a big scam which, in the end, truly profits only the textbook companies.  I had an archaeology professor who once told me that with all of his royalty checks for a specialist textbook he had authored a few years before, he could afford a six pack of beer.  He did note that it could probably be really good beer.

That aside, you will undoubtedly come across not just formal "textbooks" in your travels, but all sorts of books that are taught in classes and, therefore, bought by online textbook firms.  These are the big players:, Powell's Books, Chegg, etc.  However, I never go directly to these websites.  Instead, I always start with Bookscouter, where you put in the ISBN and they automatically search 44 different companies and give you comparative prices.

There are a number of distinct advantages to dealing in textbooks:
  1. Guaranteed Profit:  If they offer you a price and you accept it, you know you'll make a profit.  These are guaranteed sales.
  2. Prepaid Shipping:  The legit companies offer shipping, all you need to do is print off the label and slap it to a box (more on strategically shipping).
  3. They're usually books you can't sell elsewhere: They are softcovers, recently written, etc.  This means you're not drawing from your carefully selected stock of beautiful old books.
There are, of course, disadvantages as well:
  1. Prices Change:  Most of these websites are seriously sneaky and are constantly changing their prices.  Hence, don't sit on the books, buy them and sell them that night in order to lock in the price.  The exception is which guarantees their prices for a month.
  2. Minimum Orders:  Every one of these sites has a minimum price or number of books (usually price), below which they will not buy your books.  They don't want to ship your single copy of The Merry Wives of Windsor across the country as it cuts into their profit margin.  These minimums are different for each site and you should make note of them.
  3. General Sleaze:  The textbook companies are bottom-of-the-barrel parasites.  I don't feel particularly good about working with them.
So, how do I work this?  I generally try to get a number of these books simultaneously, sending ISBNs to a partner via textmessaging who tells me which to buy.  Then I come home and try to cobble together the best deal.  Soon, I will be posting a guide to the spreadsheet I use to help me with these calculations.  Alternatively, I look on Craigslist for people selling single textbooks that are above the minimum, I have made $30 in profit on a single book in this way before.

Make sure you check the ISBN of any book you buy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One Month!

I am pleased to say that this blog has now been in existence for a month!

One complication of this tremendous longevity that previous posts are not easily visible on the right-hand sidebar, so I have created an organized subpage of posts relating to information useful to new book sellers.

If you look to the right you will see a line that reads "Getting Started? First Time Here? Begin here"  If you click on the link, you'll come to a page of links organized by theme.

Happy Book Hunting!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Basic Accounting: Creating a Spreadsheet of your Stock

Click image for full-size view
As you begin to accumulate enough books that you don't remember all of them, the prices you paid for them, etc, it becomes necessary to keep an accurate list of your stock and pertinent details.  For this problem, I have used a simple spreadsheet program such as OpenOffice Calculator, which is a free, open-sourced software that I recommend.  Many readers may be more familiar with the very similar Excel Program from the Microsoft Office Suite.  My instructions here work for either program.

I have 17 columns of information for each book, some of which are filled out upon acquisition and some upon sale.


Description of the Book

Column A and B (Book Name and Author, respectively) are straightforward and filled out at acquisition--I prefer to put author last name first and put works like "The" and "A" after the rest of the title.

Column C is status, which is a shorthand for me to know what position this book is in.  Is use the letter codes: "A" for Acquired (a book which has been purchased but not put into an online sales program), "AC" for Academic (books which I hope to sell to textbook companies and have not put online), "P" for Posted (e.g. on the Amazon Marketplace), "E" for Ebay (and not Amazon, my usual default), and "S" for Sold.

Column D is the ISBN, which is filled out at acquisition; for books before 1966 I write "Predates ISBN" and for those after 1966 for which I cannot find an ISBN I write "Unknown ISBN."

After these four columns, I typically switch to Columns O, P and Q which are "Type," "Condition" and "Description," respectively.  For "Type" I use letter codes: "HC" = Hardcover, "SC" = Softcover, "TB" = Textbook, "MM" = Mass Market Paperback, "OT" = Other.  Condition Codes are pretty well established (I went over them here), but for reference are "N" = New, "LN" = Like New, "VG" = Very Good, "G" = Good, "A" = Acceptable, and "P" = Fair.  The final section, "Description" is a one to two sentence thumbnail of the book's physical condition.  Here is an example:

"Straight and tight spine. Slight wearing on spine jacket. Name on inside cover"

Descriptions are used in all of your postings and having this here helps you save time.

Calculating Your Minimum Price

Column E is the weight, in ounces, as measured by my kitchen scale.

"E Ship" (Column F) and "E Fee" (Column G) are for "Estimated Shipping" and "Estimated Fees."  This is a rough number that I put in so that I can estimate my minimum price (column M)-which is the lowest price I could charge for the book and still make a profit.  Estimated Shipping is based upon the weight plus a few ounces for shipping material compared to the USPS Media Mail Rates (don't forget to add $0.75 for tracking).  Estimated Fees is based upon the Amazon Estimated Fees and Pricing; as Amazon tends to be the most expensive site I use, I base my minimum prices upon it.

Column H, "Cost," is pretty straightforward: how did I pay for the book?

With Column A - H completed, I am able to calculate Column M (Minimum Price) and begin posting the book online.  Column M actually contains a formula which reads (for the first row):
The $3.99 is the automatic shipping rate Amazon adds to all books.  As rows F-H are written in negatives, this will typically produce a negative result.  You need to mentally delete the negative signs in Row M which will give you an estimate of the lowest price you can post this book on Amazon and still break even.

With all of the previous columns filled, you have all of the information needed to post the book online and begin selling.


After the Sale

Columns I - K are filled out after the sale.  Column I is for the actual internet fees for sale and J is for the actual shipping costs.  Like F and G, they are written in negative numbers.  Finally, Column K is for the sale price of the book.  With this data inputted, you should be able to calculate your profit in Column L.  Here is a formula you can put in that will do it automatically for you:
The only remaining column, N "Site," is for you to note on what website you sold the book as a reference.  Don't forget to change column C, Status.


Uses and Other Info

This spreadsheet allows you to keep track of how many books you have pending and how many you've sold (you might find it convenient to add a column for the date sold as well), where you've sold them and what your profits have been.  This can be done automatically for you by putting a little formula into line L2:
These formulas have also been used in lines F2, G2, H2, I2, J2, and K2 to produce ongoing totals of your expenses and profits.

Best of luck!