Sunday 18 January 2015

The Betsy Thoughtless Stockmarket

The first book by Eliza Haywood that I purchased was the Pandora edition of Betsy Thoughtless (1986). I bought it on 9 December 1991 for $10. I don't know how many copies of Betsy Thoughtless I have bought since then, but it would be a lot, and all of them would have cost me more than $10. Some of them, a lot more than $10. So, although my copy of Betsy Thoughtless has great sentimental value to me, I have always considered it to be the least valuable of the lot. But no more!

Last Wednesday I was doing a search on AddAll and discovered that an extremely reliable bookseller who is offering a copy for $458 (USD364.37). My battered old copy of Betsy Thoughtless is doubling in value every four years! Unfortunately, when I look again this morning, it is clear that there has been a market correction. Sensible investors who had multiple copies have clearly been selling into this rising market and the price has fallen back to $149 (USD119.12). Those of you who have invested heavily in copies of the Pandora edition of Betsy Thoughtless can follow the value of your investment on Biblio here or ABE here.

It is always pleasing to find an extremely reliable bookseller, and so I wanted to know more about the vendor, who is called "ExtremelyReliable"—an extremely helpful choice of name, since it makes it extremely easy to remember. I pretty quickly found a page on the Zubal books site titled Never Buy Books From ... BOOKJACKERS which includes ExtremelyReliable in a list of forty bookjackers.

A bookjacker is someone who takes a genuine online listing for a book, then re-post the listing at an inflated price somewhere else. They might take a listing from Amazon, and post it on, or from, and put it on Amazon, or eBay, or somewhere else. If a reader is foolish enough to buy from the bookjacker, the bookjacker buys the book from the original seller, providing them with the address of the actual reader. The bookjacker never sees or handles the book, but they collect their margin. Bookjacker work on a vast scale and make a lot of money from people who don't shop around, and don't suspect the practice. If you don't want to pay this tax on laziness or ignorance, don't buy from bookjacker! (Zubal explains how to avoid them.)

(Of course, a more polite form of bookjacking is as old as bookselling. Dealers buy from each other. They do it all the time, and there is a well-established, standard 10% discount offered by dealers to each another. Dealers who do not offer this discount (like—apparently—the Berkelouws), are considered arseholes by the rest of the trade. Specialist dealers obtain their stock almost exclusively in this way. At almost every book fair, dealers trawl each other's stock for any bargain (an oversight in pricing) or for stock in their specialist area: sometimes a special time is set aside before a fair opens to the public, to make sure that dealers get all the bargains. They then inflate their prices to cover their costs. This is one of the reasons specialist dealers charge more: they have to do so to cover the cost of obtaining stock. A book may change hands among dealers, many times, before a collector gets a chance to purchase it, each dealer collecting their margin like the bookjackers. The internet did not changed this method in any essential way: the specialist dealer now buys from a larger number of general dealers—whether amateur or professional—but they are still making money out of a buyer's laziness or ignorance, or by profiting from restrictive trade practices.)

Returning to the Pandora edition of Betsy Thoughtless (1986): bookjacking is only half of the explanation for the ExtremelyReliable price of USD364.37. The other half is dealers—huge ones, with a vast amounts of stock (some of them charities)—who use software to price their books. The prices are regularly updated. The software uses an algorithm to match a book to online listings (via an ISBN), establish the existing market price for that book, then undercut it by a small margin, so that their copy is neither a bargain, nor the most expensive copy online.

Bring these two dealers together and this is what happens: McDealer offers a book at $100, bookjacker relists it at $110, McDealer relists it at $105, bookjacker relists it at $115, McDealer relists it at $110, bookjacker relists it at $125, McDealer relists it at $120, and so on. This is why the price of the Pandora edition of Betsy Thoughtless wanders up and down, all on its own.

Zubal links to a very entertaining page on Amazon’s $23,698,655.93 book about flies. I went looking and found a book for USD759 billion, on Religious Plurality in Africa. (The vendor is not on Zubal's list.)

If looking for insanely-priced books is your idea of a good time, this is how you do it: go to the Amazon, Advanced Search page for books here, enter the publication date as After 1450, and Sort Results by Price: High to Low. For some reason this search doesn't work when I add Haywood as an author, but this search for Eliza Haywood on ABE (paperbacks, 1915–2015, sans print-on-demand) will help you track the value of your thirty-year old paperbacks. (Today's winner is the 1997 Oxford University Press edition of Betsy Thoughtless—another book I have! Winning again!)

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