The Empirical Bookman

by Jaime Frontero

#105 15 October 2007

A Response: To set a Book in Stone ...

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I received an interesting query to one of my columns from a reader, forwarded by our editor. I thought it deserved a considered response.


Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2007 11:16:56 -0500

Subject: The Hunt: A Gentle Art Expressed

Hi Craig,

I just read the above article by Jaime Frontero. I thought it had some good creative ideas of ways to get books. I began thinking of my own creative ways to get books when it occurred to me that I have no idea what I am looking for when it comes to the books over $500 that are mentioned in the article. Up to this point I have been selling non fiction mainly on Amazon. I sell a lot of textbooks and high level science stuff for upwards of $300 but have never seen a $1000 book or a $500 book for that matter. So ... where do I start? Are there any good books you can recommend? I found a few books on Do any of these look good? I spent last night looking through the highest priced books on eBay, and it seems to me that 90% of them are either first edition, signed by someone famous or both. Is this a good place to start?

Thanks so much!



In this very specialized area of bookselling, there may be no better piece of advice than to let other people - in this case those from whom you get your books to resell - do your work for you.

There are really only three kinds of people who will have these high-end scientific books: dealers, collectors, and scientists - or those who planned to be scientists at some point in their lives. You'll get no deals from dealers. Collectors, by definition, aren't ready to sell them to you - and when they are ready to sell, they'll probably sell them themselves. That leaves scientists.

When I was young, I took a break from bookselling to study physics. During my years in college I couldn't quite shake the book-thing I have in me, and I wound up putting together a nice little collection of first edition (and first Thus) books by Einstein, Heisenberg, Hoyle, and other luminaries in the field. I was not alone in this pursuit. I found that most students in most of the hard sciences wanted books that were germinal in their field because in the sciences (as in theology, interestingly enough) all knowledge is carefully and painstakingly built on the shoulders of those who went before. And quite a few of these students had enough of the collector in them that they searched out older and more valuable editions of those books. So the books are out there - and they can therefore be gotten. What percentage of physics students completed their studies and became working physicists? What percentage of geologists? Or mathematicians?

I submit that the number of working scientists, when compared to the number of those who graduated in such subjects (plus those who dropped out), is roughly similar to the number of professional athletes compared to those kids who wanted to grow up quarterbacking for the Raiders. That is to say, small.

And after awhile, they come to realize that they really don't want those books anymore.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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