Track Your Parcel

Buying to Invest - Second-Hand Books

Contents

Introduction

So far in our Buying to Invest series we have looked at potential investment opportunities in the world of comics and toys. For the third instalment in the series we're looking at books - everything from points that all beginners should consider before embarking on a collecting spree, through to the best ways to store and maintain purchases ahead of any sale. We'll look at some of the best places to source books and some of the best ways to sell them when the time comes.

Collecting vs. Investing

It is often the case that there is something of a blurred line between someone who purchases books purely for the joy of having their own collection and someone who buys books because they are looking to make a financial gain. Name a price that's high enough and any collector is likely to be receptive to offers for a first edition in their library, while it's unlikely anyone will become a book dealer – at least not a successful one – without first developing a love of literature and the written word.

If you love books then regardless of whether you end up making money, or are simply left with a beautiful collection, you won't be left disappointed in years to come. That said, if your ultimate goal is to make a profit then it is important to approach collecting in an organised and strategic manner. Buying with an eventual sale in mind will have an impact on everything from the genre of books you purchase through to the editions, the quality and the bindings. For example, if you’re buying for a personal collection and need one title to complete a series then you might be able to forgive an inscription at the front of the book. If you are buying as an investment, such a purchase is likely to be a waste of money. Keeping a buyer in mind when you are purchasing books will help provide that all important focus and ensure you're not left with a collection of books that are difficult to dispose of when the time comes.

Buying Strategy

Once you have decided to start buying books as an investment then it's time to start narrowing down the field and deciding the area or areas in which you'll specialise. There are a huge number of genres out there from children's fiction and westerns to topography and history. Think of a topic and you can be pretty sure there'll be plenty of titles written on the subject. Having a particular specialism is a good idea, even if you then branch into other areas, as it will ensure you're clued-up on everything from the names of prominent, established authors as well as up and coming writers, through to the small nuances that can make the difference between a book that is worth a few pounds and one worth many thousands of pounds.

  • First editions - If you're buying books in order to make a profit then you'll need to look towards first editions, the earliest print run that was likely made before the author received any kind of recognition for their work. These copies will be marked with a 1 or as First Edition and are more valuable simply because there were fewer made. Just be aware that it is all too easy to get caught out – for example, a second print run of a first edition may be identical, but books in this run would not be regarded as true first editions. There are guides out there that can help collectors identify whether they have an actual first edition of a book in their possession such as Bill McBride's A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions which can prove invaluable, especially to newcomers.

  • Early editions - It's important to remember that just because you have a first edition in good condition does not mean that you'll be able to take early retirement and head to the Bahamas. Early titles from an author's body of work are likely to attract the most value, mainly due to the fact that they're more likely to have had a smaller print run. More recent books published to critical acclaim are far more likely to have been published in large numbers. For example, while just a few hundred copies of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were printed back in 1997, by the time the author's fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was published in July 2000, the initial print run had been extended to one million copies.

  • Dust wrapper - Initially used in the 19th century to protect expensive books from damage, dust jackets or dust wrappers, tended to be very plain. By the early 20th century however, they began to take on a far more important marketing role, with colourful designs and pictorial jackets replacing plain, buff covers. Due to their nature and construction, dust jackets can be easily damaged and so finding first editions with an undamaged cover can be quite a task. What's more, dust jackets are often changed between editions and this is again where a dealer's knowledge will prove to be invaluable. When it comes to value, dust jackets can make or break the deal. For example, according to a report by ABE Books, a true 1975 first edition of Salem's Lot by Stephen King comes with an asking price of more than £56,000 – with 95 per cent of the value accounted for by the dust wrapper.

  • Condition - Finding books over a certain age in mint condition can be a tall order unless they have been well looked after by a collector. Condition has a huge effect when it comes to the value of a title, but it's worth saying that when buying as an investment it is always worth looking to purchase a title in the best condition you can afford. Cut out price labels, owner inscriptions, torn pages, foxing and scuff marks will only serve to pull down the value of a book.

Finding your literary gems

If you're buying to invest then one of your most important goals is to find the titles you're after at the lowest possible price. Those who pay top whack for a collectible title are far more likely to be simply happy to own the book rather than a dealer looking to make a profit. That's not to say that it's unwise to invest money in a book that is likely to hold its value over time, but that's a different form of collecting.

So where can you find books worth buying as an investment? Well, the reality is anywhere and everywhere. The internet has opened up a huge number of possibilities for collectors, from specialist sites such as ABE Books through to auction sites like eBay and the websites of individual book dealers. It is still possible to uncover a gem while hunting through dusty bookshops and antiques shops and these days a large number of charity shops also stock second-hand titles. Rare first editions can turn up at book fairs, house clearances, car boot sales, specialist auctions and knick-knack shops – it's simply a case of being able to spot them!

Restoration and Maintenance

An issue that collectors often face when the time comes to sell relates to the condition of the item being sold. It goes without saying that the better the condition of a book, the higher its value, but when it comes to children's books this can be a particular problem. It's understandable why many people feel keeping these books away from the grubby fingers that they were meant for can seem wrong, but the stark reality is that torn pages, smudges and inscriptions made in Biro can do much to devalue a children's book. As previously stated, investors should always try to get titles in the best condition they can afford.

Prevention is always going to be better than the cure and so safeguard your investment by storing it correctly. Buying a roll of clear plastic film is the place to start as this will allow you to cover fragile dust wrappers and either keep them in mint condition or protect them from sustaining further damage.

According to the National Library of Scotland, the ideal temperature for storing books is between 16°C and 19°C, but for most people with a collection of books at home this can be difficult to regulate effectively. The key thing is to avoid extremes, doing what you can to prevent large shifts in temperature and humidity. Keeping titles out of direct sunlight to prevent fading and keeping them out of contact with water or other liquids is of course essential. Remember not pack books on a shelf too tightly either as this is likely to lead to damage when you're pulling titles out. Dust regularly - it can be a source of food for mould and mildew which is not something you want to foster in your book collection! Finally, remember to take your books down and handle them regularly as this is the best way to spot potential problems before they take hold.

Repairing damage to books can be an extremely involved process and using household items to repair cuts, tears, discoloration etc. can result in you causing additional damage and reducing the value of the book further. If the potential value of the book makes it worthwhile, definitely consider employing the services of a professional repair firm. TheBookGuide has a list of bookbinders, designers, restorers, and paper conservators based all around the UK on its website.

Buying New

Many book dealers around the world make a living from being broadly knowledgeable about their product, understanding the market and buying and selling at a volume that will ensure a profit can be made from small margins. As with anything in life though, the biggest rewards come from taking the biggest chances.

Having the ability to spot a great business idea and the foresight to buy shares in a company before that same potential is widely recognised will lead to a significant return and it is exactly the same with books. Had you recognised the potential of J.K Rowling and her wizard creation Harry Potter back in the late 90s then you might well have been able to pick up one of 500 new first edition, hardback copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for a little over a tenner, complete with Joanna's signature if you were prepared to wait in line at the bookstore. Fast forward ten years and you'd have been looking at a considerable return. A father who did just that helped his son pocket almost £20,000 when the copy sold at auction in 2007. A separate copy of the book containing hand-written notes and illustrations by the author fetched £150,000 at a charity auction in London in May, 2013.

But how do you spot the next J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown or Yann Martel? If there was a clear cut answer to this question then a lot more people would be out there making a living out of buying and selling collectible books. This is where having an area of expertise and being knowledgeable about a specific genre can pay dividends. You'll need to read widely, and keep your finger on the pulse of everything from social media to annual book awards.

Parting with your investment

When you're buying books as an investment, the end goal is to sell them at a profit. But once you have done the hard work of making a good investment, looking after your purchase and waiting for the right moment to sell up, it's vital to find the correct channel.

Finding the current value of most books is a remarkably easy process these days thanks to the internet. A swift browse of marketplaces such as AbeBooks.com will often let you see how much other booksellers are asking for their version of the title, and with condition, edition and a detailed description clearly displayed it is often a fairly simple process of working out a rough value for your own copy.

Just remember that while a book might be valued at a certain figure, in reality it is only ever worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Also bear in mind that while selling through a dealer might lead to a quick sale, it might also result in you receiving less for your rare books than if you found a collector willing to purchase your copy. A dealer is running a business and will have the expectation of selling the book on at a profit – don't forget this! An auction could be preferable and result in you securing the best price for your book, but it all depends on the amount of interest on the day.

Timing is everything and it's one of the most important things to remember. The 'death effect' for example can have an immediate and substantial impact on the value of an item, increasing prices in the short-term often as a result of media attention. While it might seem a little macabre, investors need to be pragmatic and recognise good opportunities when they present themselves.

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The following resources may be useful.

Useful information -

·  Trussel.com – Clive Hamilton, who? Database of pen-names and pseudonyms.

·  Author Signature Checker - Check those “signed” copy against samples of genuine author signatures.

·  Moving.about.com - how to pack and transport a large book collection.

·  eBay Book Selling Guide - An excellent general guide to selling books on ebay.

·  eBay Book Condition Description Guide - More specific information on how to correctly describe your books in auction listings.

·  Bookriot's Beginners Guide to Identifying First Editions - How to spot those all important first editions.

·  The Sparefoot Guide to Storing Books – How to keep your valuable books in great condition

·  Caring for your books and papers – More invaluable advice on protecting your collection.

·  The Book Guide - fair locations – A handy listing of second hand book events in the UK.

·  2nd-hand-books.co.uk – Lots more useful resources.

Book databases and sellers–

·  bookfinder.com

·  bookpricescurrent.com

·  biblio.co.uk

·  amazon.co.uk

·  abebooks.co.uk

Conclusion

It is certainly possible to make a living out of buying and selling new and second-hand books and indeed, it is possible to make a killing. It's said that all luck is earned and this is certainly true when it comes to finding that illusive first edition in the back room of a dusty bookshop, or nestled among a pile of dog-eared magazines in a charity shop. You might get lucky and make the find of a lifetime, but you'll need to know what you're looking for!

Of course, you can make an intelligent purchase, buy a first edition in great condition, store it correctly and still find in years to come that the book is worth less than it was when you bought it. It is impossible to predict consumer demand with 100 per cent accuracy and again, this highlights the importance of having a genuine love of the books you are buying.

Many investors will find the experience of immersing themselves in the world of books and collecting as rewarding as making a profit on a book they have bought and sold. If you believe the thrill of the chase could be just as rewarding as the prize then perhaps investing in books is for you!

Useful Resources

The following resources may be useful.

Useful information -

·  Trussel.com – Clive Hamilton, who? Database of pen-names and pseudonyms.

·  Author Signature Checker - Check those “signed” copy against samples of genuine author signatures.

·  Moving.about.com - how to pack and transport a large book collection.

·  eBay Book Selling Guide - An excellent general guide to selling books on ebay.

·  eBay Book Condition Description Guide - More specific information on how to correctly describe your books in auction listings.

·  Bookriot's Beginners Guide to Identifying First Editions - How to spot those all important first editions.

·  The Sparefoot Guide to Storing Books – How to keep your valuable books in great condition

·  Caring for your books and papers – More invaluable advice on protecting your collection.

·  The Book Guide - fair locations – A handy listing of second hand book events in the UK.

·  2nd-hand-books.co.uk – Lots more useful resources.

Book databases and sellers–

·  bookfinder.com

·  bookpricescurrent.com

·  biblio.co.uk

·  amazon.co.uk

·  abebooks.co.uk


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