Booksurfing

They tell me it’s the twenty-first century, so let us consider the joys of looking up book prices online.

You may be doing this for any of a number of reasons: you want to buy a copy in town but wonder if the price is fair, you may need to find a copy of a book at a reasonable price faster than a local book dealer can find it, you want to find out what something you need to get rid of is worth, you want to help out your local Book Fair manager by telling him what he should price the books you give….

(Um, my gratitude to those of you who look up every verbing book you give me, and stuff a wad of computer printout inside the cover, but please cut it out. It’s not good for the cover and it just adds paper to my life. And the gentleman who wrote the entire range of online prices in the front of every book just cost me an eraser. The note “abe prices $0.01 to $75.50” just wasn’t much of a guideline.)

Most of the wbsites used by the people around here start with a: alibris, abebooks, Amazon…I think it was a race to see who could be first alpgabetically. Then there’s via libri, which will search all the other book sites, and library catalogs as well, so if you can’t find a copy for sale you can go to Rome and read the copy there. There are others as well: if you have a computer you can look ‘em up, and if you don’t, I’ll tell you right now to wait until my next blog, when I may be discussing bunnies or paper airplanes or something else low-tech.

So let’s say you go to one of these sites, and punch in the title and author Why I Am An Illiterate by Kent Reed. Depending on whether you’ve asked the search to be sorted High to Low or Low to High, you may find a list starting with a copy for one dollar or a copy for $18,527. Your joy or despair will depend on whether you’re buying or selling.

Don’t stop there. Stick to Olympic rules, throwing out the high and low score and checking the rest. There are sellers online who simply don’t know the value of their books, and ask a dollar for everything. There seem to be a lot of sellers who have forgotten about decimal points and ask a thousand times what anybody else is asking. Look around. If fifty other booksellers have priced Mr. Reed’s opus at $10 to $15, then that’s a fair price. The person charging eighteen thousand just wants to make a year’s income with one sale, and the person charging a buck may well be charging twenty bucks for shipping and handling.

But don’t stop now, either. You can read more than numbers, cantchya? Some of those copies are going to be signed; is yours? Or, if buying, do you WANT a signed copy? If so, looking at the prices for unsigned copies is a waste of your time. Are you looking ay hardcover or paperback prices? Your copy has a different publisher than most and was published a year earlier? You may have one of the 200 copies Mr. Reed printed for friends and family and prospective publishers. If you just want a copy to read, does it matter if there’s a dustjacket? Do you have the little bookmark that was issued with the first edition? Keep looking. Just because it’s the online age and you no longer need to leaf through the pages of BPI or BAR doesn’t mean you can punch in a question and get the exact answer right away.

You’ll learn a lot that way. Booksellers sometimes slip in more information: “Mr. Reed, the third worst writer in the history of Dundee, Iowa” or “Written just before Mr. Reed changed his name to Alfred Hitchcock and began to make movies”. You may find out the place of your book in literature, history, and crime (“Written just before Mr. Reed was arrested for trimming his toenails in public, a case he took all the way to the Supreme Court”)You may even fail to find the book, and that’ll tell you something, too. Then what? Someday I’ll have to tell you all about BPI and BAR

You could become addicted, of course; some people do. Did you know that by use of some of these sites you can look up questions like .”What is the most expensive book with the word Porcupine in the title?” or “Just how many publishers have printed versions of Rudyard Kipling’s If?” The problem is that these sites show only what’s up for sale today, so the answer might change every time you look. Or maybe that’s not a problem; it may beat watching one more rerun of Extreme Makeover on cable. Just be careful or you might wind up with a copy of NUC by your bed for evening reading. (Maybe in the next blog I’ll just do bookseller acronyms. Bunnies or paper airplanes might be more fun.) 

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