First Edition Book Values – How Much is a Book Worth?

What’s the Current Retail Value of Your Books?

determining value via online sources

How do you determine the ballpark current value of the one that’s on your desk right now?

It’s actually pretty simple to research book values online. Here’s how.

First, familiarize yourself with your book, taking careful note of copyright date, printing history (edition/printing), publisher, and other details. It’s also very important to know the condition grading terms that booksellers use, and which one applies to your book.

Then, you’ll want to visit one of the websites where booksellers list their books for sale.

AbeBooks is usually a good place to start. Just visit AbeBooks.com to search.

Or, use the form below to search AbeBooks.

Search:
Title:

Author:

The “advanced search” option on the AbeBooks.com website includes more options than the basic form provided above; there you can also fill in publisher, year published, and other detail fields.)

Look at the results very carefully. Compare your book to the details of each book listed, comparing the publisher, year published, edition, condition, and any physical description of the book.

The details are important: If your copy is a 3rd printing, or a book club edition, it won’t have the same value as a first edition; if it shows obvious wear, it won’t sell for the same price as a copy in fine condition. A hardcover book published in 1958 by Viking isn’t the same as a reprint published by Penguin in 1963.

A signed book may command a somewhat higher price; how much, if any, will depend upon whether or not the signature is in demand. Again, pay close attention to detail, comparing what you have to what is advertised for sale.

When you’ve found some books that are like yours, compare prices. The current retail value of your book is probably somewhere in that neighborhood. (Once again, keep in mind that retail value is likely much different than the amount you’ll receive when you sell the book.)

Also, remember that asking prices are not always selling prices (see below for information on how to understand and interpret the prices you find online).

a note on unrealistically high prices

When searching online, you may come across a situation where there are, say, 10 copies of a book offered by various sellers at prices ranging from $5-10, and one offered at $50, or $200. Why is one of them $50 – or even more?

Well, there could be a good reason; it could be a more desirable copy of the book. But, it could also be that the seller is unrealistic about the book’s value. Or, he may be just trying to take advantage of the notion some people have that expensive must be better. (That’s not necessarily so!) There are a number of these type of sellers out there.

Please be careful when buying books online – don’t buy the same book for several times what you should! Pay careful attention to what’s being offered, and ask plenty of questions. A good bookseller will be glad to answer your questions.

get an appraisal

Another route is to contact a local bookseller who offers appraisals. Check your local phone directory under “books, used – dealers” to find an appraiser. Or, contact a local auction house if you believe your books may be very valuable.

The Value of First Editions – Scarcity & Condition

scarcity

Not all first editions are valuable. Each book that’s published, of course, has a first edition. And that’s often the only edition.

However, for a first edition to have value, there must be a demand for it. If not, the fact that it’s a first edition doesn’t matter. Some books are published in such huge quantities that first editions are very common. Since they’re so plentiful, supply will remain high, and the prices will likely remain low.

Other books may not be plentiful at all – indeed, there may be no copies listed for sale anywhere – but if there’s no demand for it, the price will remain low.

The first editions worth most tend to be those published in small quantities – for example, an author’s first books, published before she was well-known. Another example would be a small-press or mimeo publication by a much-collected poet. In that case, the supply remains low while demand for rises.

condition

Another important factor in the value of a first edition (or any collectible book) is condition. If it has flaws, it will usually be worth significantly less than a copy in excellent (fine) condition. Book collectors tend to be fussy about such things and will pay a premium for a copy that looks like it just left the printing press.

There are (rare) exceptions. If the book is extremely scarce and high demand, even a copy in “good” condition may be in acceptable (though it will bring a much lower price). It all just depends on the book and current market conditions.

Please see our how to judge a book’s condition page to learn how to determine your book’s condition.

Only when you have a clear understanding of its condition can you go on to determine an approximate retail value.

Understanding Book Prices

So, you want to find out the value of your book. Or, maybe you want to figure out a particular used book is priced reasonably. There’s no one answer, though you can usually determine a ballpark estimate by doing a little research.

Prices of books offered online (and in brick-and-mortar shops) will vary quite a bit. So, you need to be aware of the factors that determine selling prices, and take them with a grain of salt when trying to determine the value of a book you possess (or a fair asking price for a book you’re considering buying).

Where to Sell Your Books

Got a few books to sell? There are various ways to do so.

  • eBay. It’s easy, fast, and low-cost. Prices realized vary widely.
  • Your local used-book shop, whether general or in a specialty area. (see above).
  • You may be able to find a bookseller – perhaps in a specialty area relating to your book – online. Some dealers are loath to buy books online (they like to see them in person before buying), but many are open to buying books and ephemera that way.
  • If you have many books to sell, and are adept at describing them accurately using common bookselling terminology, you can sign up as a dealer at a bookselling venue such as Abebooks.com or Alibris.com. See our article, 10 places to sell your books online.
  • Large lots of desirable books may be saleable at a local auction house.
  • If you have valuable books, you might contact Pacific Book Galleries, a specialist auction house in San Francisco.

Consider that while you may (or may not!) potentially be able to get more for a book by selling it online (on eBay or another venue), there are costs involved in doing that. It may be worth to get a few dollars less from a local bookshop right now, than to spend the time & money required to photograph it, list it on eBay, answer questions about it, & ship it.

what will a dealer pay for your book?

When you sell a book to a dealer, you won’t receive the retail price (that’s the price at which he’ll offer it) but rather a percentage of that amount. Think of yourself as a wholesaler.

Dealers usually pay about 10-30% of the retail price of the book. So, if a dealer plans on pricing your book at $40, he may offer you anywhere between $4 and $12. A few (especially large, chain used bookstores) may pay less.

If the book is very special – in the dealer’s specialty area, extremely desirable, and he knows he can sell it right away – you may be offered more. But for most books, 40-50% is way too much to invest in a book that will sit on the shelf for a while.

Realize that just because you’ve seen a book offered for a particular price somewhere doesn’t mean that another dealer would value the book in the same way – or that it’s sellable to anyone at the higher price.

Some dealers may be willing to take special books on consignment, offering you a percentage (perhaps 50-60%) of the selling price.

asking prices vs. selling prices

Keep in mind that prices listed online (and in brick-and-mortar shops) are asking prices, not selling prices. While there may be a copy of a particular book listed for $200, it may have been offered at that price without a sale for years. In the meantime, a dozen copies of the identical book (the same edition & condition) may have been sold by other dealers for just $50. So, $50 will be closer to the actual “value” of the book.

A book is only worth what someone is willing to pay.

determining asking prices

A dealer may take a number of factors into consideration when pricing books:

  • the current demand for the book amongst his customers
    (keep in mind that demand & economics vary from region to region)
  • the book’s edition & condition
  • if the book is signed or an association copy
  • how much they paid for the book
  • how much of a profit they need to make
  • if the book is in their specialty area
  • dealer’s knowledge (or lack of knowledge) about the book
  • how quickly copies of that book have sold in the past
  • how quickly they want to sell the book (see example below)
  • how many copies of the book are currently offered online or by local competitors
  • time taken to research the book (if any)
  • time taken to photograph the book (if any)
  • the dealer’s mood that day

on making a fast sale

Often the price of a book depends on how quickly the seller wants to sell the book.

For example, a hard-to-find book about 19th century maritime exploration might be reasonably priced at $1 at a garage sale (where a fast sale is desired, and where a buyer for an higher-priced book on a specialty topic may not be found). However, the same book might be reasonably priced at $75 if found in the shop of a bookseller who specializes in maritime or history books.

That bookseller may be willing to wait until a knowledgeable buyer, who collects that specialized kind of book and is willing to pay $75 comes into his shop. Or, he may not want to wait that long, so will perhaps price the book at $25 (about the cost of a new hardcover book) instead, hoping for a much faster sale.

The average person who may buy the book at the garage sale for $1 will probably not be willing to pay anywhere near $30 or $75; they may just think the book seems interesting and worth a dollar or two for a good read. (They may even be looking for books to resell on eBay, where books will typically sell for much less than they would in a specialty bookshop.)