The absurd state of the weird fiction (and non-) rare book market and sky high prices of doom!   9 comments

I don’t have time to really go off on this topic right now, but I feel the need

to vent about some of the nonsense I see going on in the rare and antiquarian

book markets and especially as it pertains to Horror, SF, and Fantasy titles.

Basically I’ve been collecting books since around 1983 when I first got seriously

into H. P. Lovecraft and other related authors, maybe even 1982 as far as buying

my first books and Arkham House, etc.  I attended my first rare book show

at a place in Albertson, L.I., around 1983 and I noticed that already a lot

of book dealers there were charging some pretty exorbitant prices for things

like Dagon and Other Macabre Tales by HPL (Arkham House), a mint copy

was around $70 or so at the time which was a bit out of my price range

at that time, given I was in junior high school–ok so I wasn’t the typical

weird fiction book collector at the time. and wasn’t filthy rich either.

I also noticed some pretty absurd high prices at various of the first conventions I

attended starting with the dealer’s room at the 1982 World Fantasy Convention in

New Haven, CT where I met Stephen King and a few other luminaries.  The dealer’s room

was chock full of great dealers and books but egads even then some of the

pricing was just over the top.

 

Flashing forward to 2012 and the past ten or so years and with the

trend of buying/selling rare books and other collectibles online,

coupled with the economy turning total crap, and the rise in the

disappearing bookstores and other brick-and-mortar sources for

rare books and even just general used books and music, we now have

a serious problem, and conditions which are clearly helping give rise

to the worst kind of dishonest price inflation, dishonest dealers,

highballing/gold-mining of prices on books and items which

are listed on sites like ABE and Ebay at sometimes 100x what

the actual book is worth, and unprofessional dealers who ship

books without Brodart covers and stuff like that although granted

some online dealers are not pros and don’t pretend to be, so I’m

not even including them.

I think for now, all I need to do is give one disgusting and egregious

example of the type of horrid offense I’m talking about.  This example

would be this current listing on Amazon.com from a private sub-dealer

who is asking almost $1000 for the 2011 Hippocampus Press edition

of the newly revised and expanded Lovecraft biography I Am Providence: The Life

and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES) [Hardcover] by S. T.  Joshi, a small

press limited edition that retailed for $100 the set last year upon

publication, and I believe the title sold fast and the hardcover edition is

now sold out with a paperback cheaper edition on the way soon.  Now,

the copy being offered on Amazon is NOT signed by S. T. or anybody else,

it’s just the book as released in 2011.  In no universe should a book that

came out a year ago and is limited edition but not deluxe per se either,

be selling a year later for $1000 no matter how scarce it might seem to be.

Now, today, August 8th 2012, I check the Amazon page for this title again

and it mysteriously appears that the nearly $1000 listings and dealers are now

deleted, but with five or so other dealers asking almost $500 in some

cases, for a copy of this weighty tome.  The price is STILL ridiculous

and the book came out last year so how could it possibly be

commanding such absurd prices?   I also checked ABE today

and suddenly there are ZERO copies offered for sale there,

but there were a few recently and they weren’t going cheap, either.

I happen to know Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press, the

publisher, and he did release this book as a true limited edition

but it wasn’t a signed/numbered/slipcased super deluxe

edition to begin with, in which case, if the retail price was

orig. $500, we might at least have some idea of why the dealers

would be charging this much for such a book, but it wasn’t

so I’m assuming they’re assuming the demand is THAT high

for a limited copy run (it IS limited in that sense, granted) but

I hate to tell them that the demand for a Lovecraft in-depth

biography is not the same as the demand for his fiction!!

And certainly not at $1000 the copy for a recent title that’s

not a true deluxe ltd. signed edition type affair.  Here’s the

Amazon link to the page for this title:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0982429673/ref=dp_olp_used?ie=UTF8&condition=used

This type of thing is basically called abject piracy/hucksterism and this dealer

is clearly playing games, or is just trying to sucker the rich and uninitiated,

either or both, especially when it was up there from some joker at $1000!

This is the kind of thing that is ruining the rare book trade and

it’s a direct result, I believe, of the rise in the preference of dealing

books online and due to the shrinking real-world book market.

Although on the other hand I’ve seen alleged real-world dealers

like L. W. Curry highballing prices on things like this before,

but they usually have the decency to wait until the title is

considered an actual rare or antiquarian book (say 20-50 years or more)

before they start jacking up the prices to ludicrous levels,

and trust me they will eventually do that!

But this latter is just appalling and I hope none of you folks

are dumb enough to fall for such nonsense, but I figure

the dealer’s screwing himself since nobody I know (and I know

most of the people of any note in the Lovecraft field in

particular) would ever fall for such a shameless ruse

and nobody would have the $1000 to blow on one book

that simply isn’t worth the bucks the dealer’s (huckster)

is asking!    This is all sheer madness.

Next post I hope to go into even more detail on

some of the silliness I’ve seen going on in this market

the past several years in particular, I’m just getting warmed up!

Next time I might even mention the absurd offering currently

on Baumann Rare Books web site of the complete Stephen

King Donald M. Grant Dark Tower/Gunslinger trade edition

(not signed numbered slipcased! which were issued for all of those

titles since 1982) collection signed by author/artist and with

a price tag of nearly $25,000 being asked.  Is King’s signature

valuable and relatively rare?  Yes.  Are these books really

worth $25,000?  No.   Not when there were other more deluxe

editions of those titles issued that would actually warrant

such a price.  And mainly with this latter set it’s only

because it includes The Dark Tower The Gunslinger Book #1

but there’s no telling if it’s even first edition/first printing,

or one would at least hope that it is but no guarantees.

In any case I would have expected this set to be expensive,

but I think it’s obvious the dealer’s highballing the pricing

beyond any rational market value, and also considering

demand for King has waned in recent years, and also

considering the dreadful and abysmal state of the world

economy and the fact that a lot of these high-end items

are simply not selling or commanding the values they

once did at auction, for example.  And I’ve been told this

is the state of things by several established and reputable

venerable book dealers over the past decade and even

more recently, and also that things like Arkham House

books are not commanding the prices they once did,

that demand is WAY DOWN, and that auctions

of these items are in many cases not selling or

or taking price hits to sell pieces.  So who is

gonna fork over their $25,000 to Baumann

Rare Books for this sumptuous Stephen King

collection?  Nobody, that’s who.  Unless

Donald Trump turns out to be a King collector

and forks over some petty cash for it, I think

it’s fair to say this collection will sit there for

years or decades, like most of the absurdly

priced nonsense on the pages of dealers

like L. W. Curry (who is not currying favor

with book collectors of more, er, modest

means!) who are clearly billionaires

who can afford to sit on absurdly overpriced

rare stock for decades and not care if they

sell the stock.   And this is just the tip

of the rancid iceberg as far as what’s wrong

in this field lately (or even years ago) and  I’ll

finish Part I here today and continue next

week when I have more time to rant.

Scott

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9 responses to “The absurd state of the weird fiction (and non-) rare book market and sky high prices of doom!

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  1. I truly can’t figure out the rare book market anymore. Books that I think should be worth something apparently aren’t while others that I don’t think should be worth anything apparently are! Makes no sense. The industry would greatly benefit from a comprehensive price guide that covered all types of genres but, beyond the simple enormity of the task, I doubt if most dealers would accept it.

  2. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to a lot of the market nowadays,
    does there? But the thing is, it seems to me if one of S.T. Joshi’s more recent books
    can command such outrageous prices (even if fabricated), why isn’t a copy of say,
    his Decline of the West pbk. OR hardcover dating from the 1990s, commanding even
    HIGHER prices? That dichotomy doesn’t make any sense whatsoever since both
    books are out of print for sure and scarce, especially if you tried to get it from most
    local bookstores if you even can find one, depending on where one lives. There’s
    definitely a need for a good comprehensive price guide in our field(s) and the sooner
    it’s done, even a basic one, the better, because I don’t relish another 20 years of
    the Internet market running rampant over all reality in terms of book valuation vs.
    actual market demand and allowing unscrupulous dealers to put books worth
    around $100 up online for upwards of $1000 just because they can, or they figure
    the books are out of print or scarce or both, so they must be worth that much.
    It does not work like that and the book market never worked like that years ago,
    although as we’ve discussed, a lot of times dealers at conventions and rare book
    trade shows may hike up prices a tad depending on the item, and also to help
    defray their travel/convention table costs or show costs, which can be considerable,
    but I would resent paying 10x what a book is worth just to help defray their expenses!!
    Like the nutter who was asking $750 for the 1st Frank Herbert novel hc last year
    at a L.I. rare book show when it’s obvious the book is really worth about $70-125
    at best without author’s signature or inscription, and he wasn’t selling a signed
    copy. But without any kind of guideline even that’s my own rough estimate
    derived from checking online dealers on ABE and Amazon, etc. as far as more
    “reasonably” priced copies of the same book and only the more mint condition
    to good copies, not even library or beat-up or Book Club copies.
    Someone from McFarland has released an Arkham House collector’s guide book,
    which may be fantastic but I don’t know if it includes a more updated price guide
    than Sheldon Jaffrey’s 1980s Horrors and Unpleasantries or not, and even if it
    does, the curious thing is that the Arkham House market seems to almost
    self-regulate in terms of pricing: you know if you want a copy of a fine to NM
    The Outsider and Others, let’s say, what you’re going to probably have to pay
    for it by now. But still it would be nice to have a guide since if you go on some
    of these dealers’ absurd sites you might be asked to shell out $20,000 instead
    of the average of roughly $2000-3000 that most dealers would charge. And
    then there’s the nutter asking nearly $27,000 or so for a Hannes Bok “presentation copy”
    of that book on ABE Books right now, Hell, it might be a unique copy,
    and it’s a rare and valuable book, but let’s not get ridiculous! It’s overpriced
    and it will NEVER sell privately: if I’m wrong, I’d be very surprised. If there
    were some millionaire out there who needed THAT copy THAT badly,
    I reckon the copy would already have sold a long time ago, and those listings
    tend to just sit there for years and years! It’s total nonsense. Then again,
    most of us are not collecting/buying at that level anyway, but it would be
    nice to have a decent price guide for dealers/collectors similar to Overstreet
    for comics etc., and so people won’t get totally ripped off by some of these
    jerks.

  3. The other side of the problem is that you see a book that you own that
    you might want to sell, let’s say it’s The King In Yellow 1895 Neely edition,
    a book which I own in Good condition and which is allegedly going in some
    cases for upwards of $700 for a mint copy on ABE Books right now. If you
    or I try to sell our copies we’ll be lucky to get $80 for it, probably, but meanwhile
    other dealers on ABE can feel free to post their copies at the highest most
    absurd price (and $750 is rather absurd for that particular book) for copies
    which may or may not even be NF to Mint, but I still seriously doubt, considering
    today’s market and economy, that either A. we’d ever get near the prices they’re
    asking and B. that they’re selling those copies, the highballed ones in particular,
    at all or even very often, since you do have a choice of copies/dealers esp.
    on ABE or Amazon to choose from, so who’s going to opt to buy the $750
    copy when they have some other cheaper options? The whole situation is
    absurd and outrageous and I don’t feel comfortable even supporting it or
    encouraging it. One one hand the Internet has expanded the world book
    market so anybody can access all manner of stores and dealers they might
    not have previously had access to, which is a good thing, but on the other hand
    it raises all the other negative issues of E-commerce like the above that
    seriously undercut the positives for many collectors. Plus the dealers are
    usually forced to pay online fees and commissions to sell their books
    which makes it not even that much cheaper to only sell online, raising
    the spectre of “overhead” issues even if one does away with their brick-and-mortar
    shop that they might’ve once operated. Which I’m sure is also encouraging
    this highball pricing from another angle, as well as all the other reasons!
    And then there’s the issue of having to buy books online and not being
    able to really inspect the piece before purchase, something comics
    collectors in particular know is a real nightmare,and something they’d
    usually rather avoid at all costs and for good reason. And I would imagine
    it would be the same for most rare book collectors, especially when one
    is shelling out $3000 for a rare Arkham House book or whatever, do you
    really want to take a chance and just buy it “blind” online? It’s really not
    the greatest way to buy high-ticket items, books or collectibles of any kind.
    These are just some of the downsides of an exclusively online market.

  4. You don’t seem to like the concept of a free market. A free market polices itself. If a bookdealer consistently overprices his stock, no one will buy his wares and he or she will go out of business. Is L.W. Currey going out of business? Is that shop on Long Island going out of business? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but if they do, well, there you go. That means they were consistently asking too much, and they met a just end. If they thrive, then bless them as successful models of the American dream. Do you really think a business can thrive on “just trying to sucker the rich and uninitiated”? Give that a try and tell me how it goes. You demand some objective valuation guide for books. Who decides and how is that enforced? If I ask $25,000 for my copy of “The Outsider and Others”, and your book says it’s worth $3,000, should I go to jail? Do you understand how the value of anything is assessed? The value of anything is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it. Period. You can print a book that cites a fair value of “The Outsider and Others” at $3,000, but if I can sell it for $25,000 then the book is dead wrong. And if you tell me I can’t ask whatever price I damn choose for something I own, then you are dead wrong. We’re not talking about essential merchandise here, this isn’t a case of profiteers selling bottled water at $50 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina. These are fantasy/science-fiction books. You can find the contents of almost any one for a pittance on half.com. You don’t need “The Outsider and Others” to READ “The Outsider and Others”. It’s a luxury item. You don’t have to pay my price, but you damn well can’t tell me that I can’t ask it.

    • Dear B. Campbell,

      I do indeed understand our fabulous free market economy, and how it works,
      given I took tons of general economics coursework in high school right through my B.F.A.
      degree and I didn’t necessarily have to take more, no gun to my head to do so.
      Anyway, hold on a second: nobody’s saying that anybody can’t ask whatever they want for any given item,
      luxury or otherwise, but what I was bitching about was how outrageous the prices
      on a lot of things are these days, and let’s face, people like L. W. Curry
      are primarily pirates, have always been pirates, and will always be pirates. Maybe
      Curry, who I’ve met once at a rare book show, is a gentleman pirate but still
      basically a buccaneer in the field as far as I’m concerned. Of course, there
      are far worse ones out there than him. Lately, I notice, his
      web site offers perhaps a FEW items that amazingly, aren’t totally overpriced, to my mind,
      but so precious few. And for myself, I’m not anybody with the spending cash
      at hand to blow $25,000 (or even close) on any of that stuff no matter WHAT
      it is. But if you want to ask $30,000 for your Outsider and Others, that’s
      dandy with me! I don’t mind. I’m just not, as a savvy book buyer and collector
      and scholar, not going to do business with you and in any case, it’s irrelevant
      since there are 50000 other dealers that I could likely get a decent copy
      from at maybe $3,000 or $5,000, even. Even the dreaded Curry, for example.

      But of course dealers and private sellers and collectors are able to ask whatever
      they want for things, I do realize that this is the nature of a free market
      economy. But saying a price guide of some kind (and we’ve had a few stabs at this
      over the years, at least, whether or not they were great, I’m not gonna attempt
      to opine on) would be a joke is totally ridiculous. The Overstreet Price Guide
      for comics is indeed just a guideline but at least it gives especially neophyte
      collectors a chance at getting at least some idea of what they might expect
      to pay or sell things for. Obviously, there’s nothing ever set in stone and
      we don’t want it to be set in stone. I never stated that I would like it to be,
      anyway. You seem to have some issues with basic logic, sir, and have your own
      private agenda, or so my Spidey-Sense is telling me. My ultimate point was
      just that I get pissed off when I see assholes on Amazon trying to sell something
      like Morton Feldman books on his music that were $50 at list price only
      four years ago, as one example, for upwards of $1300 for no good reason.
      So what if the goddamned book is OOP? The copy is NOT WORTH NEARLY A QUARTER
      OF THE ASKING PRICE. But hey, if you feel like wasting $3000 on it, go ahead,
      be my guest! That’s really all I was trying to get across.

      I would never pay L. W. Curry $400,000 for some H.P.L. manuscripts under any
      circumstances, at any time, unless A. I were super, absurdly wealthy and didn’t give
      a damn and B. I had a damned good reason to purchase such a thing, or bid upon it.
      So most of this is a moot point, since who the heck has that kind of money to blow
      on such things? But hey, if you do, go for it! I don’t give a toss either way.
      But I’m not paying some absurdly inflated price for a basic Arkham House book
      when I know that it’s overpriced. All I’m saying.

      Cheers,
      Scott

  5. Thanks for your response. You are making contradictory statements. On one hand you say “nobody’s saying that anybody can’t ask whatever they want for any given item”, but then you accuse certain dealers of being pirates. To call someone a pirate certainly suggests you believe they should NOT be able to ask whatever price they want. My own “private agenda” is not so private. I frequently sell books online. I buy them as cheap as possible and charge as much as I think the market will bear. I do a lot of research on my items (which is how I stumbled across your interesting site). I do well. I’m not raiding ships or even knocking on doors; people seek out my wares, and they pay my asking price or they do not. I deliver a product that, while it may be pricey at the time of purchase, will never lose value and more often than not will increase in value over time. I am not a pirate. I am not an asshole. I’m a good businessman.

  6. I’m quite sure you’re not a pirate, but I’m talking more about dealers and people who put up items
    that are so outrageously beyond the pale of pricing that it’s not even in the realm of what that item
    or book might reasonably be expected to be worth. And I’ve seen some ridiculous stuff going on
    the past 10 years in particular with all that. Obviously I’m not expecting say, a good intact with dj
    copy of The Outsider and Others to be $500, but neither am I expecting to pay $20,000 for it,
    especially if it’s just the basic copy and not anything absurdly rare/signed/special copy, etc.
    Of course you’re going to buy stuff and turn around and sell and try to get top dollar for it
    if you can, that’s the nature of the biz and economy. But I’ve also been going to Cons and all that
    for years, and many of the dealers try, I think, at least in my experience, to keep a certain credo
    going about pricing fairness in general, and will often work with you to strike deals, etc. and not
    hard-pressure you into paying some absurdly outrageously inflated price for a particular item.
    But of course nobody is going to just “give” away an item like Marginalia or the 1st edition of
    The King In Yellow, etc.!!! Indeed not. And like I say, wouldn’t you agree with me that those
    kooks charging $2000 for this book on Morton Feldman on Amazon that was only $50 list
    a few years ago (and not even a hardcover or signed by anybody) are pushing it a bit!?
    I sure as hell am not going to fork over $2000 for a book that is a common edition no matter
    how small/academic press or limited-audience release. This is more the type of thing I’m
    talking about than anything else. But of course, they have the right to list that book for
    any price they like!! I’m not saying they don’t. I just don’t like those particular trends
    because it’s giving the book biz a bad name in some cases, and giving buyers and some sellers
    a totally inflated and false sense of what things should generally be going for. There’s also
    a bit more room for dishonesty and mis-advertising of items online only insofar as
    one cannot necessarily go and hold the item or book in one’s hand before purchase,
    but that in my experience, is the least of the overall issues with online sales.

  7. Interesting discussion, gentlemen, though I can see I’m joining it rather late. I’m a retired reference librarian with a home library of over seven thousand books, some at least of which have considerable antiquarian value. The question of what a book (or, for that matter, a painting—or an athlete’s or entertainer’s signature on a contract) is worth seems to me irresolvable in any ultimate sense. If you’ve ever studied value theory, you’ll know what I mean. When I was younger and attending antiquarian book fairs, usually more to admire than to buy, I’d often run into the late Richard Landon, then Director of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (later, I was lucky enough to have a class with him). Though knowledgeable and adept at collection-building, he professed to have no better idea what a genuinely antiquarian book was intrinsically worth than I did. Too many variables, some immeasurable even in principle, mediated dealer-collector exchanges for the final price to represent more than a shrewd estimate of what was likely to keep all involved parties happy.

    I’ve been collecting science fiction authors since the early 1960s, and L.W. Currey has become something of a pet peeve of mine. When ABEBooks arrived on the scene about a decade and a half ago, it became all too easy for a dealer with the right combination of knowledge and resources to vacuum up titles cheaply, warehouse them, and then advertise them for sale at exorbitant prices in the very market he’d helped to deplete. It’s a process that repays a patient dealer well while placing better copies and titles beyond the reach of the majority of casual collectors, who might otherwise have had an opportunity to acquire the same material at the same bargain prices the dealer got. The dealer’s gain is quite literally the collectors’ loss, his middle-man intervention coming directly at their expense.

    In the pre-ABE era, such a dealer might have maintained he was performing a useful service, by tracking down and stocking books that most people would have had difficulty finding themselves. Clearly, this has not been a tenable argument for some time. L.W. Currey’s prices consistently rank at or near the top of the ABE list for almost any science fiction classic you can name, for books (judging by the few I’ve bought from him) in no better condition than those available from other dealers, his catalogue’s glowing claims on their behalf notwithstanding. Though Mr. Currey is hardly alone in over-valuing his wares, he does it regularly enough to encourage other dealers to follow suit, thus inflating prices for everyone. When adding ABE asking prices (and their dates) to titles in my home library catalogue I generally cite the highest one—unless it’s Mr. Currey’s. This I discount as a distortion, an unreliable guide to value, and take the next highest price.

    • Dear Mark,

      Will double back the next day or two and try to reply in
      more detail, I was busy moving and such the past month
      and haven’t been active much on here. Finally, a voice of
      reason! I’m glad to get your comment and hear from you,
      and you certainly sound qualified to do so, given your own
      background and specialty in books and all. Most of the time
      I get nothing but criticism of my point of view on here,
      since I put this blog up, not that I’ve had tons, but still,
      and it was nice to hear someone finally back me up on Curry
      and a lot of the more questionable pricing and market trends
      and practices (and in some cases, outright scams) going on
      of late. On the other hand, like I keep telling people, I
      enjoy the Internet, Amazon, ABE, etc., for essentially opening
      up the world to all of us as a gigantic book mart (and for all
      sorts of other things), but it’s a major double-edged sword,
      that’s to put it mildly, as we’re finding out over the past
      10 or more years, as you say. Anyway, back soon to comment
      further, but Happy Holidays and New Year’s, and talk soon
      and glad as heck to hear from you! In my case, I’m not even
      a major collector any longer, and don’t have the room at home,
      at any rate, living in a smallish apt. as I do, to store
      thousands of books, anyway. But what bothers me is the principle
      of the thing: like I can imagine being some college music major
      at some LI community college these days, getting into modern
      classical or whatever, let’s say, studying composition, and
      then learning that the book on Morton Feldman that he wanted
      to buy from 2006 is going for $1200 on Amazon, for no apparent
      reason. I mean…yeah this is what libraries are for,
      and all that, or e-books (if it’s even available as an e-book,
      which chances are, it won’t be if it’s something small press,
      academic, or otherwise obscure), but that’s still not the point.
      In that type of case, for a book that just came out in 2006
      and listed for $80 tops, it’s HIGHWAY ROBBERY. It’s one thing
      if it’s Dark Carnival by Bradbury in mint condition and signed
      by Bradbury!! I mean, granted.

      Cheers,
      Scott

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