How To Sell Books:
The process of consigning your books to auction begins with either a phone call to Tom Gullotta (1-86O-9O8-8O67) or by sending him an e-mail. Tom will discuss your books with you and assist you in determining whether it is a wise decision for your books to go to auction. We know that you have many questions about the value of your books and have prepared the following primer on bookselling to assist you in your decision making process.
A Primer on Bookselling
Swamped with Books?
For several years CFA Book Auctions have been helping collectors wishing to downsize their collection and estate trustees wishing to properly dispense a book collection. For purposes of convenience (admittedly ours) we haveve limited this service to the New England states with a rare foray into New York State and New Jersey.
CFA Book Auctions is prepared to do the following to assist the bibliophile in downsizing or the trustee in selling a client's library. We will examine your collection and provide you with a realistic estimate of the value of your collection at auction. (Note: This is not an appraisal for IRS purposes.) If your collection is determined to meet certain sale criteria, we will auction it for you, or we can arrange for the charitable donation of the library. Among these options there are a multitude of variations that can also be discussed. This experience has taught us several lessons that we intend to share with you as you decide what to do with your collection. If after reading this material you would like to discuss this matter further, then please call Tom Gullotta at 1-86O-9O8-8O67 or send him an e-mail.
Q: When do people call CFA Book Auctions for help?
A: People call when:
Their collection has outgrown the library, the living room, the attic, and finding a pathway to the bedroom now entails climbing through an outside window into bed they share with -- you guessed it -- books.
They are not current with book values and are in the midst of settling an estate for a loved one.
They are downsizing and moving to a new location.
The offer they have received for their book collection just does not sound right.
Q: How do I absolutely positively maximize my profit from the sale of a book collection?
A: Sell them yourself. The only way to assure yourself that you are getting exactly what you want for your books is by setting your own prices and dealing directly with potential buyers. There are large data bases to advertise used books for sale on the Internet, including abebooks.com and amazon.com. They will offer your books worldwide, in return for a 15 - 25% commission on each sale plus (in some cases) monthly advertising costs. Gathering packing supplies, shipping the books, and handling any returns will be up to you. With this approach, some volumes will sell immediately, and others may never sell. Between these two extremes, once you have written ads for and competitively priced approximately 3,000 volumes, if the material is interesting and in good condition, you can expect to sell 1 to 2 books a day on the various used book sites.
Q: I don not have the time or the patience for that approach. What are my other options?
A: First, recognize that if someone else now becomes involved, your profit may decline. On the other hand, if the sale of your books is handled well, the overall dollars realized may be much higher. Certainly, you will realize a return on your collection much sooner. Your options are: 1) garage sale, 2) book dealer sale, 3) uncatalogued auction sale, 4) catalogued auction sale and 5) charitable donation.
Option 1 - Garage or tag sale.
The garage or tag sale entails you or someone else pricing the volumes in the collection, then putting them out on tables, advertising the sale, and having the public purchase them. We have seen this approach work to the ownerâ€s benefit when the books are newer (from 1960 to the present date), and seller's expectations are modest. You can reasonably expect to sell some books between $1 and $5 each with this approach. It is likely that 50% or more of the collection will go unsold. You must then develop a plan to donate or dispose of the remainder.
Incidentally, some books will likely never sell. These include school textbooks, book club volumes, encyclopedias, worn paperbacks (unless from the 1950s or earlier and in decent condition), and National Geographic Magazines, and any books which are moldy, badly stained, marked up or in generally poor condition. So, do yourself a favor and get rid of these before the sale.
Option 2 - The bookshop.
The bookshop owner is becoming an increasingly endangered species. Certainly, if your community is fortunate enough to still have an open used bookshop, then invite the owner to view the collection. Do not be shocked if the book dealer expresses an interest in only a few of the higher end or more unusual volumes. The dealer hopes these few higher end volumes will sell quickly thus enabling her or him to recoup their investment.
Every used bookshop has their own method of arriving at an offer for a collection of books, but in general you can expect their overall offer to be 10 - 30% of what they expect to realize when selling the books. The higher end of that range tends to apply if the dealer is "cherry-picking" (taking only the books he is most interested in and leaving you to dispose of the rest), the lower end is more common if he's making a simple offer to clear everything out. Unfair, you say! Consider this. Our experience is that even in the best of collections one third of the collection is not sellable. On several occasions, we have dealt with collections in which more than 95% of the books were unsellable. The dealer in her or his offer tries to estimate how quickly they can recover their investment, while keeping the store's rent paid and the lights and heat on. In today’s economy very few bookstore owners can wait more than a year before recouping their initial outlay. Another factor to consider when a book dealer wishes to purchase or an auction house agrees to accept for consignment small number of books from a large collection is what will happen to the remainder. The removal of 5% of a collection by a skilled professional may well drop the overall value of the other 95% to next to nothing.
Option 3 - Uncatalogued auction.
The uncatalogued auction is also known as the a “pick” auction. This is the model we use at CFA Book Auction. The way this works is that a collection of books determined to be resellable is removed to the auction location and unpacked onto tables. The auction house advertises the book auction as a “pick” or uncatalogued auction using their mailing list, an antiques and auction-oriented newsprint vehicle like the “Newtown Bee” and other appropriate advertising venues in print and on the Internet. On the day of the auction and prior to admitting the public, the auctioneer, who should be a bibliophile at heart, reviews the stock and selects some higher priced volumes to be bid on separately or in small lots.
At least two hours before the sale, the sale room is opened and the books are available for inspection by the public. Potential purchasers can assemble a group of similar books (typically up to ten) to form a lot. The potential bidder understands that (s)he must bid on this lot. The usual starting bid is $10. Uncatalogued auctions attract collectors, flea market dealers, bookstore owners, and Internet book dealers. Books purchased at an uncatalogued auction are bought as is, and all sales are final. At the end of the sale, any unsold books which have not been selected and sold in lots are auctioned to the highest bidder by the table.
Uncatalogued auctions are labor intensive for relatively small returns to the auction house, and for that reason few book auctioneers hold this type of sale any longer. This is regrettable, because in our opinion, the overwhelming number of books in most collections are most effectively sold in this type of sale. The auctioneer's commission for an uncatalogued auction is generally 25% to 50% of the gross receipts. The precentage depends on the quality of the books in the consignment.
Option 4 - Catalogued Auction.
The next option is the catalogued auction. Catalogued books auctions include volumes of higher assumed value due to factors such as the title, author, edition, condition, scarcity, and established demand. These titles are researched with past performance at auction taken into account. The auction house assigns an estimated selling range (low to high) and the books are described in a catalogue that is distributed to potential bidders. The successful bidder may return the book after purchase to the auction house if it is not as represented in the auction catalogue. While the auction house takes a gamble on the books at an uncatalogued auction (since most books in these sales are of modest value), in a catalogue auction the auction house has a much clearer idea of the expected income to be realized. From the standpoint of labor, it is also much easier to transport and display at auction 200 to 300 volumes than it is to transport and display 3,000 to 5,000 volumes.
The auctioneer's commission for a catalogued book sale usually starts at 10%- 25%, it may decrease for items of unusually high value or through seller/auctioneer negotiation on particularly valuable items or collections.
Option 5 - Charitable Donation.
The final option for the seller is the charitable donation. Since the proceeds from CFA Book Auctions all go towards a non-profit organization, we are familiar with the mechanics of charitable donations and can advise you of some.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: About book values, I've spent thousands of dollars at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other bookshops since 1960 on new books that I am told are worth only a fraction of what I paid for them.
A: Unfortunately, this may be true. In some cases, the first printing of the first edition of a modern novel or art book with its dust jacket in fine (nearly new) condition will sell for more than a later printing without these characteristics. But every book has a first edition, and a far more important question is does this book have a buyer? A book is worth only as much as a someone is willing to pay for it, and many excellent books for a variety of reasons have little to no resale value. Further, you need to recognize that you purchased your books at retail and not wholesale prices. Just as with cars and furniture, on the secondary market the best you can expect in most cases is a fraction of that original retail price.
Q: But wait, I have been told that the Longfellow and Whittier poetry I bought in a used bookstore in the 1950s is worth less than I paid for it, too!
A: With the advent of the Internet many businesses and especially the secondhand book business changed dramatically. With a few exceptions, most books published since 1960 are readily available at prices far below their initial listed price. Other books, including those by the authors listed above have in many cases declined in value as interest in the author has declined and the number of available used copies has risen to outstrip the demand. That said, there are exceptions to this general observation. For example, a book like To Kill a Mockingbird which had relatively small first printing can sell for thousands of dollars if in its original dust jacket and pristine condition, as might the first edition of the British publication of Rowling's first Harry Potter adventure.
Q: Ok, I might concede your last point, but in checking prices on the Internet at used book sites I find that the book I own is listed for sale at $1,000, at $10, and at several other prices in between. What gives?
A: A variety of factors might be involved including condition (bumped corners, cover wear, interior highlighting, book club edition, etc.), whether the less expensive book has its dust jacket (in some cases, mostly 20th Century fiction, a clean dust jacket can increase a "collectable" book's value by a factor of 10). Also, is the higher priced volume signed by the author or illustrator, and is that person Ernest Hemingway or Maurice Sendak? The list goes on and in these times must include the possibility that an inexperienced book dealer simply pulled his asking price for this volume out of a hat. In fact, more often than not this is the case. Especially when selling over the Internet, over time other book dealers with the same item choose to offer the same volume in the same or better condition at a lower price.
Q: How do I then determine the "true" value of a book?
A: If you have some items you feel are truly valuable and are willing to invest the money, you can purchase prior sales records from the auction houses that specialize in books on CD for about $750. These records are the best indication of what a group of people in a competitive environment (the auction) were willing to pay for truly valuable books. A word of caution, as you research your book remember that condition, dust jacket for modern books, and some signatures can be very important. The state of the economy is important as well. Collectibles like valuable books, art work, stamps, antique furniture and the like tend to increase in value during good times and decline in value in difficult economic times. If you are passionately interested in the subject areas represented in your collection, you probably have a pretty good idea of the actual desirability and likely practical selling price for your books. But if you are settling an estate or just want to sell "those books from the barn," you will probably best be served with some professional advice, which CFA Book Auctions stands ready to provide.
Q: You used the word “resellable” in the description of uncatalogued auctions. What does that term mean?
A: In terms of monetary value and marketability, books fall into general categories and it often takes experience and practical knowledge gathered over a lifetime to spot the differences. Surprisingly, age in and of itself is not often a major factor -- literally millions of books were produced worldwide in the 1700s, and probably hundreds of millions just in America in the 1800s, and for most the survival rate compared to the demand for them is actually quite high . The most desirable, “collectable” books are rather scarce. First editions of Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Origin of the Species, some finely illustrated books, important works in history and science and the like make up this category. There is a known, well-documented market of buyers and a good history of prior sales records for books of this type. The number of books in the "collectable" category is quite small. The next category is what we will call “resellable.” These are books that while not necessarily rare or particularly expensive, are attractive in appearance, may have unique qualities (limited edition, beautifully illustrated, etc.), or may be the works of respected, but more obscure authors in subject areas where there is continuing interest. In general, one rule of thumb is "more specific, the better." A book called "The History of Italian Art," although large and beautifully illustrated, may be dud in commercial terms, while a much smaller book on "Religious Imagery in Italian Textile Work between 1780 - 1830" is likely to be far more “resellable.” "Resellable" books do not always command top dollar but a bookseller buying for resale knows that there is a good probability that appropriately priced they will sell, and thus will be eager to buy them. The last category is “disposable” books. These include book club editions, encyclopedias, most 19th century and virtually all 20th century textbooks at any grade level, most paperbacks, and most bibles. These are the books that often find their way into boxes labeled “free for the taking."
Q: You listed several options and then suggested that variations on those options existed. Can you give me an idea of what that might mean?
A: As an example, we recently worked with a family with a very large collection. We identified several potentially quite valuable volumes that we arranged to send to New England Book Auctions to be properly researched and sold in one of their cataloged auctions as described above. Next, we identified that part of the library that should be sold at one of our own uncatalogued auction sales, and lastly helped to remove those books that could be donated or sold at a garage sale. Yes, you read that correctly. CFA Book Auctions works with other auction houses to help our clients maximize the sale potential for their collections at all levels. For more information on how we partner with New England Book Auctions and others, please contact us.
Q: I am an Internet book dealer who started my business several years ago and am no longer interested in continuing with the business. The retail value of my inventory is $5,000 and I would like to sell them at auction and realize at least $3,000. Is that possible?
A: The answer simply is - Who knows? If you purchased your books at garage sales, flea markets, and estate sales and paid a few dollars per book, we would guess (and it is a guess) that you would be LUCKY to gross $300 at an auction. Why so little? Here are some of the reasons:
If they were highly desirable books, you would have sold them by now. Left over stock is just that left over stock.
There may be many copies of your books on the internet meaning the value of your inventory is declining with each passing day.
The individuals who attend book auctions are mostly buying for resale and are very knowledgeable of current book values. These dealers are interested in books that are fresh to the market and are less interested in recycled inventory.
Auctions are outlets where wholesale prices prevail. Rarely does one ever realize a retail price on a lot. Think of it this way -- when was the last time you went to an auction thinking: I can’t wait to spend every cent I have. Rather your thought was: I can’t wait to see what bargains I can find tonight!
Lastly and this addresses the remark that opened this response, it requires two individuals both wanting the same item to have an auction. If only one person or no one is interested in your consignment then it will sell for little or nothing. On the other hand, if two or more people MUST have your books then you may realize more than the retail value of those books.
Q: I have had my books appraised for several thousand dollars. Should I expect that at auction?
A: Our experience and that of colleagues in this business are that appraisal values are generally not realized at auction. The reason for this is that the appraiser is using the retail price of the item to determine insurance replacement value rather than the wholesale market price. That said, anything can happen at an auction when two or more people want an item.
Q: I have been told that with the slow improvement in the national economy auction book prices are improving. Is that true?
A: For the very best in art, books, and furniture the great recession had little or no impact on sale prices. For the low to mid end of the market, prices literally fell off the table and have made a excruciatingly slow recovery. For most dealers business remains 40% to 60% off their peak years from 2005 to 2008. This not only is due to the slow economic recovery but to the growth of the E book. Correspondingly, what dealers are willing to pay for less then perfect books that they believe can be resold has decreased.
Q: What is the most expensive book you have handled to date?
A: The most expensive book CFA Book Auction has handled for a consignor was an 18th century travel guide. It sold for over $50,000.
CFA BOOK AUCTIONS