Book Grading

by Craig Stark

#9, 5 January 2004

Part I: Spotting and Describing Defects

The first order of business in grading a book is to look for and identify its defects. The second is to evaluate them. The third is to place the book in a grading classification based on your observations and evaluations. With experience, this is a process which can usually be accomplished with a reasonable degree of certainty in a few moments. Once a grade classification is decided upon, however, it's important to specify to some extent what the defects are. A grade of, say, "Good" implies only the presence of one or more relatively significant defects, not the specific nature of them.

The best method of describing defects is to use established book terminology. There are two reasons for this. One, the exact nature of a defect is more likely to be accurately communicated, simply because there's at least some consensus on what the term means. Two, it's faster to say, for example, "shaken" than it is to explain that a book's stitching has loosened somewhat, causing the binding to be in a sort of fluid state.

Of course, even if established terminology is used things can and sometimes do get messy. In the first place, book terminology is by no means either exact or consistent. Take our example - shaken. Some booksellers use this term precisely (and correctly, in my opinion) to refer only to the loosened state of the stitching, which in turn produces the fluid effect mentioned above. Others may use it (incorrectly?) to mean that the hinges are split - a state that will often produce the same feeling of give in a book's binding that loosened stitching will. Since there is no universally accepted book god to issue a decree one way or the other, we simply have to make allowances for those who have more liberal interpretations and attempt to puzzle out meanings based on the context the terms appear in or our previous experience with a given seller.

Secondly, let's face it; there's a stubborn and fairly widespread resistance to using book terminology at all. Part of this may have something to do with a seller's refusal to do the homework necessary to becoming a minimally informed vendor - i.e., laziness. More charitably, sellers may choose to describe a book's condition in so-called layman's terms so as to be clear to those not familiar with more esoteric terminology. There's something to be said for this, but consider this as well: it's also largely true that those buyers who are most interested in condition are also the most likely to understand book terminology in the first place. For the clueless who are interested in condition, well, there are other, less compromising means of getting a message across. Examples: provide a link to a glossary of terms or simply define some of the more important terms in a listing template.

In summary, for reasons of both accuracy and efficiency, there's no better method of describing a book's defects than using established book terminology. Next month, in Part II of this series, we will present terminology, along with definitions and illustrations, for the most commonly encountered defects.

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