All About Book Buying

New Book Costs

There are four major factors that contribute to the cost of a new book. The first of these is the use of color illustrations in the book. The cost of producing a book can triple or more by adding color images. It is a little less expensive if the images are together in a group as opposed to spread throughout the book. Some of the more economical printing is done in Asia although I have seen some fine work out of Italy.

The second major factor is the size of the run. Book publishers come in all sizes from conglomerates like Random House to small family run 'Mom and Pop' shops. The bigger publishers tend to produce books in quantities of hundreds of thousands and gear their subject matter toward the main stream. Small publishers produce books in quanties as small as a few hundred. There is also a few moderately sized publishers who either specialize in History/Military or have a division that does. Most Napoleonic titles come from the latter types of publishers. Due to the economies of scale the cost per book is much higher for the smaller runs. One small publisher likes to produce his titles in "Limited Editions" of 200 to 300 copies. After a couple of years I figured out that it usually took them 5 or more years to even sell that low quantity. The term "Limited Edition" loses a little of its significance when looked at in that light. Though ultimately when they are all sold out the chance of getting a used copy is harder which drives the cost of these books up significantly.

The third factor is the cost of shipping the books. I can have a box of 20 books shipped to me from anywhere in the USA for less than $10. When I import books from the UK it can run as much as $20 per book! This makes imports quite a bit more expensive. Still the overall cost to the consumer is less buying it from a dealer than absorbing the cost of shipping yourself.

Lastly we come to the status of the book. When a large publisher has an overstock of a title they frequently 'remainder' some or all of their remaining stock to book discounters. This is how you can find a book for $5 one place and $40 somewhere else.

A couple of other factors that effect the cost are the quality of the materials used in the book and the current foreign exchange rate.

Pricing of Used Books

You can purchase used Napoleonic titles from three basic sources: dealers, used bookstores and library book sales. Which of these 3 you purchase from will probably be the most significant factor in the price you pay. Libraries sell books for next to nothing. Good luck trying to find a good book on the Napoleonic era. Mostly you will find the most common of the books that were printed from 10 to 50 years ago. Used bookstores provide the greatest variety of prices as you can find a great treasure of a book on a dusty barn shelf for a dollar or run into a savvy owner who knows the value of his stock. The problem with buying Napoleonic books from used bookstores is that it is like hunting for a needle in a haystack. A couple of years ago I took a 2 day trip scouring the back roads of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts looking for books. After the weekend was over I had visited 15 used bookstores, purchased 3 books at $65 and spent over $150 on traveling expenses. This was not a very lucrative adventure. I relate this story because once a customer had come to me to complain about the high prices of another Napoleonic dealer. His prices did seem exorbitant but how do we know he didn't fly to Europe to find those rare books? The point being that not everyone has the time and desire to hunt for their books. A dealer provides that service at a cost. I know in my case it works out to pennies an hour for the time I invest. I do it because I am as much a collector as a dealer.

When buying used books from dealers there are numerous influences on the price of the book. The most important of these are: supply vs demand, condition, and the cost the dealer paid for the book. Let's consider the simplest of these issues first.

Most dealers only carry books in good condition or better. It eliminates headaches and problems. Some will carry books that are in very bad condition (Reading copies). Most Napoleonic book buyers are a fairly discriminating lot. They usually have a good idea of what they are looking for and what they will pay for it. But, the thing they are looking for can vary quite a bit. While most of my customers prefer books that will become part of a collection there are others who are looking for books strictly for the content. This latter buyer would be happy to pay $100 for Ney's memoirs even if they didn't have covers. Generally worn or damaged books should have their prices reduced accordingly. Additionally, the books description should note any conditions that are exceptional for a book of its age; normal wear and tear of books is not usually mentioned.

Supply vs demand is a key factor in pricing. As already mentioned books are produced in varying quantities. Some books are produced in such large quantities that 15 years later they can still be found easily in used bookstores. Regardless of demand, books like this can usually be found economically if you check various dealers. The inverse case; small production, does not always mean a high price. Most of us have heard that there are more books about Napoleon than anyone else in history. If you take into account the whole Napoleonic era and all its events, characters and places you are considering a lot of books. With so many different titles the demand for any particular book is greatly reduced. Really hot Napoleonic titles are few and far between. The vast majority of my used books cost between $10 and $30 and they sit on the shelf for years waiting for the individual who is looking for that special presentation. I have noticed that if I dropped the price to $2 it still might not sell. It is just a matter of matching the right buyer to the right book. Then comes the books in high demand. This is bad for the buyer and good for the dealer. It sometimes seems like a dealer could charge any price for a particular book and still sell it. Unfortunately some dealers do. Who can really blame them. If you thought a book was worth $75 and you see it in a catalog for $300 and two months later its sold ... who's to say?

Lastly, the price the dealer pays for the book will limit the range he can charge for it. In the above example if the dealer bought that book for $200 you would see it for $300. If he had paid $75 for it you might see it for a lot less.

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