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Technically, a book is OOP when its publisher declares it "out of print" and stops supplying it to wholesalers and bookstores. This can happen a few years after publication if sales have dropped off substantially. If sales remain healthy for a nonfiction book, the publisher may declare it "out of print" and print a second edition. This cuts the value of used copies, except of course in cases where the first edition is collectible.

If Amazon isn't selling new copies of a title, that's a good indication that it's OOP. Perhaps you could find a few examples of in-print books that aren't sold by Amazon, but these would likely be titles with virtually no demand - and probably dead weight for your inventory.

For our purposes, any scarce book is a potential winner, and whether or not it's technically OOP is beside the point.

Setting your price for out-of-print books is often an art, not a science. The correct price is whatever the buyer is willing to pay, so long as you both believe the deal is fair. Pricing your copy above retail is your only smart option when the title is in demand and copies are scarce.

When you find a scarce book and the retail price isn't apparent, go directly to a meta search website to see what other sellers are asking. Let's say, for example, 6 copies are listed on BookFinder, priced from $50 to $75. In this case, your rule of thumb may be to price the book at $100 to $150 on Amazon.

Ex-Library Books

Selling books that have been discarded from a public library can bring nice prices if they're scarce enough or you can sell at a big discount off the retail price. Although these are typically graded in no better than "good" condition if they still have library markings, that does not mean the book isn't valuable. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Per Amazon Marketplace guidelines, an ex-library book cannot be assigned a higher grade than "Good." However, in the broader bookselling marketplace, an ex-library book is typically assigned a lower grade - e.g., reading copy.] In a few categories, buyers often expect to receive an ex-library copy, like Large Print books, business directories, and encyclopedias. Many of these are expensive, specialized books where it's difficult for the buyer to get a discounted price - or perhaps the book is just plain hard to find.

For a common book, library markings definitely call for a big price reduction and a condition downgrade. You'd want to indicate "Good" condition, perhaps even if the book is like new except for the library marks. And certainly, you'll want to go out of your way to call attention to the flaw. On Marketplace, for example, you might want to add a prominent disclaimer in your seller's comments such as: EX-LIBRARY COPY IN VERY GOOD CONDITION EXCEPT FOR THE USUAL LIBRARY MARKINGS.

However, you usually can't sell a fiction collectible First Edition that has library markings. These totally invalidate the book as a collectible. But of course this is a totally different buyer than someone who's trying to get a deal on a specialized nonfiction book.

For common books, you've got to make it worthwhile for the customer to buy your ex-library copy. Merely offering a dollar or two of savings isn't going to cut the mustard. And, these penny-pinchers tend to be the customers who don't read "seller's comments" and have no qualms about zapping you with nasty feedback.

Signed Books

One matter of endless debate among online booksellers is how much value a signature might add to the value of a book. A good rule of thumb is, if there is good demand for the book and it commands a high price without the signature, the signed edition can be worth considerably more. But if there is not much demand for the book and it's a poor seller, the author's signature might add no value.

Unfortunately, Amazon is not a good venue for selling signed books or other collectibles. There's no effective way of drawing attention to your listing. And besides, selling a collectible book requires at least a photograph and lengthy description, which aren't practical at Amazon following the demise of zShops.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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