A Simple Model for Pricing Paperbacks

I am finally home after 10 days on the road. My trip was mostly devoted to burying my father, but I did find time to visit several bookstores in Massachusetts, a state lush with them. One store in Danvers was a discouragement; it had more 10,000 square feet and 100,000 books, including nearly everything you could think of. It made my 1,220 square feet seem awfully meager. But then I visited a tiny store in Arlington which was warm, inviting and full of promise. I wish I had more time to browse, but I did note that there were three people working, which I took as a very encouraging sign.

I am now sitting in my store surrounded by empty shelves and over-stuffed boxes, and the conspicuous silence of solitary work. I have to price many thousands of books, and no one can do that but me. I can farm out the sorting, the carrying, the cleaning, the sign painting, the shelf building and the logo designing; the pricing belongs to me.

I have one alluring shortcut available, however. As I recounted in my last post, I’ve recently liberated some 20,000 books from the dying embers of another store. Left on the cover of each of these books was a bright yellow price sticker. My sensibility, I admit, is offended by a sticker on the cover of a book. On the other hand, I could probably find better use for the time it would take me to remove 20,000 stickers and make 20,000 independent decisions about new prices. Instead, why don’t I just leave the stickers? Perhaps I could facilitate a happy opening by offering everything with a yellow sticker at, say, 40% off, and price my other books, mostly hand-picked by me or directly out of my collection, at more standard prices. That way I could easily track what isn’t moving just by glancing at the cover. In six months, all yellow stickers will be on notice: time to sink or swim.

On the question of pricing, I have settled on a simple model for paperbacks. For most modern editions I’ll go with half the cover price, rounding down to the next dollar. That makes a $10.95 book, five dollars. I’ll further reduce, if the condition warrants it. I am pricing most modern hardbacks with dust jackets at between $5 and $10, depending on my estimation of the demand for the title. If I err, I hope to err on the side of under pricing.

As for antiquarian titles, I have a lot to learn. I’ve been buying books all my life, and I’ve always searched for early or first editions. But collecting something is infinitely less complex than trying to measure the supply and demand of a commodity. I hope I’ll learn from my customers.

This week I was tipped off on a collection being sold. My friend’s housepainter, naturally, had the lowdown on 3,500 books that had to go. The owner is a former book dealer, who has been forced out of his house as part of a city redevelopment project. Included are fiction, history, animals, local authors, military, art, and curiously, many books on the circus. I know nothing about the circus, but who wouldn’t want, for example, a history of circus acts and performances in Indiana? Most of these books are from the mid-century and are a fascinating window into a bygone time. I don’t know who will buy these, but I expect to have the best circus collection in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Another interesting find was a dozen or so Armed Forces Editions from WWII. The Army gave away 123 million of these little paperbacks, but most of them are gone now.

Tomorrow I meet with a friend of my wife’s who is a graphic artist. He’s been working on a logo for Circle City. He emailed us three versions yesterday and we need to decide on one, the colors and several variations. I can’t get my daughter to paint our signs until we’ve made a final choice. Next week, I hope to unveil the winning design.

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