28 Buyers Waiting

by Craig Stark

#38, 7 March 2005

Party in Her Mouth, Brewskies in the Fridge

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Some things in this business make absolutely no sense to me. Take, for example, a book that's behaving irrationally in the marketplace. By "irrationally," I mean that it's performing far better than it seemingly has any right to. I monitor things like this as much as possible because, if I can figure out what's going on - shine a light on underlying forces that are driving prices - it helps me spot other books that stand a good chance of behaving the same way.

Mostly, eventually, I'm able to figure things out, but occasionally a book comes along that defies my best efforts. I've been monitoring just such a book for some months now, watching it rise meteorically to prominence. The last time I looked there were 28 buyers waiting for it on Amazon Marketplace. 28! A copy sold on eBay a few weeks ago for $127.50, and there's another copy up, as I write this, that already has multiple bids and will no doubt end up in 3-figures as well. A recent global search on the Internet turned up no other copies - I take that back. I did find one copy on the German Amazon site at the, uh, perhaps ambitious price of $316.88.

First, let me tell you something about this woefully unimpressive book. It's a 224-page trade paperback cookbook issued in early 2000 by a mid-range publisher who specializes in food and other health-related titles. Tens of thousands of them have been printed, and its Amazon ranking fluctuates between 300,000 and 400,000. The publisher in question doesn't exhibit a pattern for producing books with strong resale value. A recent survey revealed that the great majority of its titles are available used on Amazon Marketplace for a dollar or two, sometimes pennies. Moreover, my mystery title isn't a specialty cookbook, something that might appeal to, say, advanced chefs. I wish it were. That would at least help explain the phenomenon. But no, it's an unremarkable collection of everyday recipes targeted at amateur cooks (you and me, in other words) who are too busy to spend long hours in the kitchen preparing complex meals. In short, it's the very type of book that quietly takes its place alongside similar, humble books on bookstore shelves everywhere. Not so long ago you could buy them at WalMart for $11.31 plus tax.

Intrigued? Let me tell you something about the author. "Perky" is the first word that springs to my lips. If you've seen The Mary Tyler Moore Show much, you might recall the now celebrated scene in Lou Grant's office when Mary Richards interviews for the position of associate producer. At some point in the conversation Lou looks at Mary, grins devilishly, and says, "You know, you've got spunk." Mary replies, "Well, thank you." There's a pregnant pause, the Cheshire smile still menacingly frozen on Grant's face, whereupon he snarls, "I hate spunk." When reminded of this line years later, Ed Asner confessed to having second thoughts about it: "No one could hate spunk, not even a curmudgeon. I should have said, 'You know what? You're pretty goddam perky. I hate perky!'"

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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