The mysteries of the photo book market

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by David H. Bebbington, Feb 14, 2007.

  1. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    This morning, I suddenly felt the need for a copy of "Cowboy Kate and Other Stories" by Sam Haskins. I found the possibilities offered by Amazon were many and various, ranging from a first edition with "repaired covers, repaired internally, stained" for the trifling sum of £349.75 (and another described as "very good" [meaning "a bit tatty?"] for the same price) through to "Cowboy Kate and Other Stories: Directors Cut" apparently newly published this year for £23.75 in hardcover. After deep deliberation for at least 0.462 seconds, I chose the latter option.

    Two questions remain in my mnd:
    1) Who the heck wants a tatty first edition anyway, let alone for £350?
    2) Are there possibly areas of the second-hand book trade where people really don't know what's going on and simply pluck fantasy prices out of the air?

    Any thoughts, from photo book collectors or others?

    Regards,

    David
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 14, 2007
  2. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    David, 20 seconds on ebay should convince you that both your alternatives are correct.

    1) No idea, but they seem to be out there. Just like the buyers of $500 brass lenses without glass.
    2) See 1).
     
  3. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    Lord only knows how used photo books are priced. I have started to "thin the herd" by auctioning off some of my photo books on that big auction site. I just concluded an auction where some books that were highly regarded by members of this site were sold for the amazing sum of USD 1.76.

    I think that Ole has the answer.
     
  4. laverdure

    laverdure Member

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    Well, I am an antiquarian book dealer, so-

    yeah, we pluck prices out of the air sometimes, just to see if someone will pay them. Rare books are valued essentially by what people will pay for them- serious dealers often refer to auction records to price their stuff- but sometimes even that doesn't help so we just throw out a number more optimistic or pessimistic depending on how flush we feel, or lucky. It's a field where it's very difficult to accurately assess either supply or demand.

    As for why buy these things, for one they have resale value, so if you buy smart it can be an investment. For two, book collectors are usually even more sentimental than film users.

    Hope that helps.
     
  5. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    Photo books are usually published in small editions that quickly go out of print and become "rare" rather quickly. I buy a lot of photo books but I'm not doing it as an investment. It's kind of amazing to see what some of the books in my collection are selling for right now.

    And, no, I wouldn't consider paying collector's prices even for a perfect copy of a first edition. I'd go for the current edition of "Cowboy Kate...", just like you did.
     
  6. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Thansk for comments, everybody. Oddly enough, on the same day I received a copy of "Leica: The First 60 Years", as far as I am aware a first edition, in as-new condition for £4.95. I back-checked this and found copies in used condition being offered for as much as £48.

    Purely theoretically, given warehouse space (which I do not have), it would seem that photo books could be a sounder investment than cameras. I still have memories of finding David Bailey's book "Goodbye Baby And Amen" remaindered in Brighton UK for £3.99. I bought one, if I had been able to buy a lot, I would have made about £60 a copy!
     
  7. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Sorry if I am going on, but this question of book prices fascinates me. I was shopping for the new (2004) edition of Denis Laney's "Leica Collectors' Guide." I found a copy through Amazon allegedly in "as new" condition for £18. There were numerous other copies (24 in all) including several new ones at the recommended price of £60, but with one seller asking £130.30 for a used copy. Apart from anything else, these different prices were all in the same list, allowing anyone to make an immediate comparison, so the chances of catching a punter and making him/her pay £30 to £70 over the odds must be zero! The internet must be making life hard for greedy booksellers!
     
  8. laverdure

    laverdure Member

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    David,

    Usually how this happens is that most every time a new bookseller lists a book they'll list it for a little less than the ones that came before. This happens enough times, over enough years, with few enough of the books actually selling, what you get is an apparently ridiculous (very commonly so) range of prices. It's not that the high listers are necessarily trying to rip anyone off (though often enough on amazon they are) but rather that they haven't had the time to update all the prices on their thousands of listings, which they originally priced to the best of their ability. As I said before, supply and demand are very difficult to gauge in this business, but at least for some uncommon books, the internet is helping to sort out a true market value.

    Also there is the fact that online booksellers generally upload their databases to multiple venues, all of which they can't have checked recently in pricing their books. Prices between different venues often vary significantly, if only because the amount of research and data entry required to keep abreast of it all is ridiculous. When you consider how much time a used bookseller already puts into each individual book compared to his return, it's no wonder why most serious sellers seem eccentric. They'd have to be, because none of them are getting rich.

    By the way, Amazon sellers tend to be either too big to care or too amateur to know which edition of a book they're selling, or how to rate its condition. Which is among other things another cause of apparent price discrepancy.
     
  9. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    laverdure - Your response leads to the question, how does one rate the condition of a book? Shutterbug used to have a grading scale that a photographer could use to describe the condition of a used camera. Is there anything similar for books?
     
  10. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    If there is such a scale, I am sure it would include such gradings as "very good" (meaning "pretty lousy") and "fair" (meaning "revolting"). Books, particularly rare ones, do of course get sold in a condition in which a camera would land in the garbage. And let's not forget my all-time favorite "slightly foxed" - I used to think this referred to books themselves, I now realise it refers to the seller, who is "slightly foxed" (or perplexed) as to how to come up with the right euphemism to make a nasty-looking stained book sound attractive.

    Regards,

    David
     
  11. laverdure

    laverdure Member

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    Yes, there is such a system. Briefly it goes

    as new/ fine/ very good/ good/ fair/ poor

    With very good (VG) being about what you would hope to expect from a decent used book. Just plain good however does mean exactly "pretty lousy." Also, it's expected that the seller should say exactly why it merits any low rating. This system has existed more or less for two hundred years, since before the internet rare books were sold via catalog and still had to be described. Unfortunately, as in camera grading, one persons fine is another's ebay special, so seller reputation still counts for a lot. Often after the rating of a book you'll see a slash followed by a second rating; the second rating is for the dustjacket. This is all standard practice, and if you take a look at some of the more professional online venues like ABEbooks.com, you'll see it in much more common use. The more expensive the book, the more information you should expect.

    foxing: rust colored mottling on paper caused by certain paper impurities combined with poor storage conditions. Etymology unknown, but possibly having something to do with the fact that foxes are orange. First documented use in 1848. You wouldn't toss out a fixed-lens Barnack just because it had a little rust on it, would you?
     
  12. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    Just briefly getting back to your post - a proper analysis would reveil that the author has very cleverly constructed the title with three important words. "Leica", "Collectors" and "Guide". It will clearly appeal to shrewd invester who knows that Leica cameras seem to be expensive and often hold value over time. This book will show how to obtain a bargain sure to make their retirement financially secure. The fact that the book is now old (and tatty) adds to the appeal because it may be out of print and become increasingly rare, and they may obtain the advantage over other collectors.

    I fear that my treasured "Essential Lomography" and "Insiders Reference to Tamron" will not have the same appeal.
     
  13. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    Although I have accumulated a large library of photography books, the fact is that after the initial purchase I seldom refer to most of them again regularly. (There are many exceptions such as the real classics: Weston's "Daybooks," Strand's "Time in New England," etc.)
    Since being retired and having a somewhat "soft" bank account I no longer run out to buy whatever I might want at the moment, but check them out of the local library, and if they don't have them I ask for them to get them for me on Inter Library Loan (ILL).
    Most of the time I just read these and send them back, but occassionally they'll get me a book that I want to have in my library, then I'll start to look for it on Amazon, ebay, and the other usual sources (for example, Dr. Paul Wolff's "My First 10 Years with a Leica" in English).
    It's got to be one hell of a used book for me to pay more the $100 for it!