I wrote about buying books in bulk sometime ago and had a comment on it.  I’m not used to getting comments on articles so I don’t come back and check in order to answer questions.  Louis G (who is an author on this blog) eventually emailed me his question and this article is to try and answer it.

Buying up bulk is always a sensitive subject and is not confined to deceased estates as people often over estimate the amount their books are worth.  I have had to turn down books because the owner wanted secondhand shop prices for them despite telling me she understood I needed to make a living; now I’m not quite sure how I could pay her secondhand shop prices and still make a living.  In cases like these I don’t feel it appropriate to give a detailed run down of how we need to price our books to make a profit.  Actually, I don’t feel it appropriate to share this with many people outside the business even though it happens on blogs such as The Bookshop Blog.  While pricing pre-loved books for selling isn’t as precise a science as say pricing cushion covers bought brand new from the wholesalers you still need to be aware of how much you need to be setting the price in order to make a profit.  There is a whole other post to be written on another way of looking at pricing books and that’s not for me to write.

You can only be gentle and careful with your words, with your phrasing in order to cause the least offence possible.  I always start off by telling people it is such an honour to be invited to look at the collection.  Now, I know how that sounds but it is sincere and people can generally spot sincerety.  I genuinely consider it an honour to be invited to look at someone’s collection of books with the view to buying them.  Even if I don’t end up buying them I thank them for the honour of being asked to look at them.  If you’re in it just for the money and don’t have a love of the books then it doesn’t matter how sincerely you say things like this they will spot it and will not be happy.

There is another dimension with deceased estates as the people calling me in are in distress and I try to deal with that distress a bit; I’m not a counsellor but I have lost my own father and my step-father and so I call on the memory of those emotions when dealing with the family so as to be sensitive to their loss.  I do spend a bit of time listening to them while I look at the books.  I always apologise for looking at books over people’s shoulders when I talk to them and tell them I’m addicted to books and then make a bit of an effort to look at the person; always a challenge but I do try.  I just feel that paying them a bit of attention and acknowledging their loss helps to ease the pain when I can’t offer them the amount of money they feel the collection is worth.  If it isn’t worth a lot I do tell them that but I say it gently and carefully as I try to be aware of their emotions at this time of loss.

The age of the books may not necessarily be an issue as some older books can be worth quite a bit.  If I can refer you to some children’s books you’ll get some idea of what I’m saying.  If you do a search on www.abebooks.com for Beebo by Phillipe Fix you’ll see there are not many copies available for sale and that the prices are fairly high; I’ve seen some of these on sale for $400 and if I found some in an estate I would be very happy to make a decent offer for them as even in very bad condition I’ve managed to achieve prices of $50 for one of these books.  You could also do a search on the same website for Bottersnikes and Gumbles; the 1986 reprint of all four books in the one volume can achieve incredible prices on eBay, I’ve managed to sell one for $149.  It’s all a matter of knowing your prices and this is something you can only learn by doing lots of research and making lots of mistakes selling.

What I’m saying is that there are two issues here: sensitivity to the people you’re buying from and knowing your prices.  It’s hard to achieve both of them without stuffing up somewhere along the line so make sure you learn from your mistakes.  If you’re in America you might be able to watch a programme Louis directed me to.  It’s called American Pickers and he tells me it’s a good way to learn what not to do in these situations.  I’m not able to see it but he tells me it’s about antiques agents who knock on doors of country farmhouses and attempt to buy their good stuff for as little as possible.

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