On Buying Secondhand Books (Some Things to Know)

If you follow my blog quite regularly,you must know by now that I buy just as many new books as secondhand ones.In fact buying secondhand books,in fine condition,with a limited budget can be a very peculiar experience.Below are listed some things you need to know if you want to indulge in the secondhand market.(I hope I’ll be able to convince you through this post).

At present,I have 17 second-hand books.15 of them are Folios and the two others are respectively in a Franklin Library edition and a Heritage Press edition.Here they are:

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Secondhand Market.
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The books on the secondhand market,especially on eBay,are relatively cheaper than those sold by the retailer.When you tear open the shrinkwrap of a new book,its value instantly depreciates by,say,20%.Afterwards the value of the book will depend on whether or not you’ve read it,and if it is has any scuffs.This is why secondhand books,even when they look almost as new,are cheaper.

Condition.
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Booksellers have a standard benchmark according to which they list the conditions of their books.Fine:the defects are unseen,if there is any.Near Fine:the defects are very slight.Very Good:the book has some noticeable defects and looks read.Good:very average,looks read,but is complete.Fair: looks a bit battered and some pages might even be missing. However note that nothing is like a still-sealed book.I have some Fine books which look just as new,while I have some others which have some shelfwear.But this depends on the seller’s listings.Some are so eager to sell their books,that they tend to cast a blind eye on these defects which make their books go from Fine to Near Fine.Note also that if a book is perfect but has a battered slipcase,its price won’t be as high as it could have been.Yes,slipcases matter for some people,but if they don’t for you,you can look for Fine books with Good/V.Good slipcases if you want to buy them on the cheap.

Finding Out-of-Print Books.

My copy of 100 Years of Solitude.It's just as new! Had it still been on the Folio site,it's price would have been around £38!
My copy of 100 Years of Solitude.It’s just as new! Had it still been on the Folio site,it’s price would have been around £38!

This is particularly relevant to Folio books.The Folio Society prints a certain number of copies of a book that will last for 4 or 5 years.When the stock is eventually exhausted,the book will not be reprinted,for it must give way to another book belonging to another collection.It’s pretty similar to clothes,if you think about it.Thus if it happens that you want your favourite book in Folio edition,but the latter has gone out of print,you can still go to the secondhand market.I got Possession,Labyrinths,One Hundred Years of Solitude and Things Fall Apart thanks to eBay and AbeBooks!!

Bargains!
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I think the first and foremost reason why the secondhand market is so popular is the number of bargains you can make there.Very often the sellers are profit-motivated,and sell their books only some pounds cheaper than retail price.Sometimes,they can even sell the books at a considerably dearer price.However it may happen that you will stumble upon sellers who need to get rid of their books because they are moving out,have no interest in reading since the books belonged to a deceased relative,or simply need some cash.To attract potential customers,these people set their ‘as new’ books at a very appealing price – sometimes the price can be more than a half of the retail price.I got Things Fall New Apart and All Quiet on the Western Front,brand new and still sealed,for less than £20 each! Recently I got a mint copy of The Name of the Rose at £20 when the retail is at £44! Since they are pretty rare,looking for such bargains is like going treasure-hunting.

Old Books
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Also available on the secondhand market are old books,printed around 1945,that have some shelfwear due to old age.However their pages are still white and have no dog ears.Just because of their bruised slipcases and slightly shelfworn covers,these books are sold at somewhat affordable prices.I’m fan of such books,as I always think owning something way older than your parents is pretty cool.Also they happen to be illustrated and clothbound,and thus are only one of their kinds.I own a Heritage Press copy of Brothers Karamazov which is even older than my grandmother.It is taller than your average book,consists of white and glossy pages,and comprises many illustrations! I also have Hamlet and Macbeth,both published in the 1950s.They are in great condition for their age and price – together they cost me less than £20.

Location
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On the English site of eBay,Folio books are common while books in Franklin Library or Heritage Press editions are pretty much scarce,and thus,more expensive.On the American site,it’s the contrary.Why is that so? Because the Folio Society is an English company whereas Franklin Library and Heritage Press,both of which are now defunct,were American.So if you want to buy some used Folio books,don’t forget to go ebay.co.uk,and not ebay.com .

AbeBooks or Ebay?
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Before I went to university in England,I used to only check listings on AbeBooks,not because shipping was cheaper,but rather because I was not much acquainted with eBay.I got some great books there – like my lovely-looking One Hundred Years of Solitude – but I must say that I now prefer eBay.There are far more books on eBay than on AbeBooks,and the prices are cheaper.Then sellers on eBay are very prompt in responding to your queries; bad ratings might deter potential customers from buying from them,so they tend to do everything to make your experience of buying with them a smooth one.On the other hand,sellers on AbeBooks can take up to 3 days before sending you a response.
There is also Ardis which boasts itself to be the main secondhand retailer of Folio books.I bought some books there and I’m pretty happy with them.

Live faraway but want free shipping?
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If you want to buy a used book,but don’t want to pay exorbitant shipping,go to Charing Cross’s page on AbeBooks.Their books are only a little more expensive,but that’s totally understandable given that they offer you free shipping.Sadly,they don’t have a wide variety of books… (They have Proust,Ulysses,Possession,Lord of the Rings,and Don Quixote though,so they are still worth a look.)

The Story behind a Used Book
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Well,it doesn’t happen with all books,but I purchased two whose past stories I’ve learned about through the seller.My copy of Waiting for Godot belonged to someone who unfortunately got Alzheimer.His son has deemed it practical to sell the book now,as his father will never read it again.And then,my sealed copy of All Quiet on the Western Front.The seller bought it for his grandfather,but the latter couldn’t even open it as he died shortly afterwards.Sometimes you can also have a nice chatter with the sellers.One got married in my country and said how amazing it is (really?),and another shared my passion for book collecting.I had such experiences on eBay,not on AbeBooks.

If you’ve made it this far,thanks for reading,and I hope you’ve learned one thing or two.If you’re interested in buying a secondhand book on eBay,I can lead you to very great offers,if you want.

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13 thoughts on “On Buying Secondhand Books (Some Things to Know)”

  1. its just like buying a new car or a second hand one. the value of the new car drops by a huge amount the minute you drive if off the forecourt.
    I’ve never thought of buying books from e-bay but that could be a good option for ones by lesser known authors in translation that I am having trouble tracking down. thanks for that tip.
    Ardis I have not heard of – where are they?

  2. I think almost half of my book collection is Used Books. Sometimes, though, if you don’t look carefully you get some really nasty and gross books. I have a lot of used books with all sorts of crud and stains in them that I didn’t notice when buying them.

    I don’t mind a bent corner or a little wear, I don’t even mind written or scribbled notes, but actual physical junk on the pages is gross!

    1. I only secondhands when the book is in Folio edition or in another special edition.I go for titles which are either out-of-print or too expensive in my opinion on the Folio Society website.

      I also make sure that the book is in Fine condition,because I like my books clean and near perfect.

      So I can understand your disgust at books with physical junk on them.As a matter of fact,last year I read an article about how traces of sperm were found on some library books……..

  3. Slipcases! What luxury! We rarely have books with slipcases here in the Philippines! And when there are any available, they cost thousands of pesos! (Well, 1000 Philippine pesos is only about only 25 USD, sadly)
    Thanks for this article, I never knew how books lost their value. So glad I read this!

  4. Oh, I usually buy books on Amazon! Used and new. Of course the most expensive item is not the book but the shipping to another country. I’ve had great experience so far though.

    1. Sure.If you’re buying used paperbacks,then maybe it’s maybe better to buy on Amazon.
      But as far as used special fine conditions are concerned,it’s better to check on eBay or Abebooks.But I doubt you’re interested in them!

      By the way,do you know a book called The Golem? It is a book,which is set in Prague.In fact The Golem itself is part of the Czech or Austrian folklore; people used to tell his tale a long time ago…

      Well,I won the book in fine Folio condition for £10!! 🙂

      1. Ah! Now I get the difference. I have heard about Abebooks actually, but I use Amazon for ordering most things that need to be ordered from abroad, so I stick with it even for books. I need lots of professional books and lots of obscure books for my study, not just classics, so I’m also quite limited in my choice. I do however prefer paperbacks, I admit, they’re lighter for me to handle, and of course the price is an issue too… I may start a hardback collection perhaps at a later point in my life…

      2. Oh, now you got me busted because I supposed I’m not too typically Czech… I’m not sure if it’s a shame or not. I have Czech national characteristics, but I have adopted a lot of British features too (because I obviously love the culture) and I’m not into observing customs and local colour. So, thinking as hard as I do, I can’t come up with anything! 😮 I would blog about it, if it were about what…

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