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Grading Books
The First Step
to Successful Internet Selling

by Thomas Lee

#107, 5 November 2007

For both collectors and sellers of collector-quality books grading is serious business. It's probably the most difficult task confronting those who are new to the book collecting world. The answer to the question of "Why do we bother to grade books?" is more complex than at first appears. Everyone knows that the grade of a book is linked directly to the book's value. But now, in the age of the Internet, it is also linked to the ability to sell a book. The importance is such that in our 20th Century First Edition Fiction: A Price and Identification Guide we dedicate 8 pages to a discussion of how book grading is done.

When I started in the bookselling business 25 years ago, things in this area were much simpler. For the most part, buyers were able to pick up a book, look it over, and decide for themselves whether or not the condition was such that it was good enough to be added to their collection. The terms that we now use to grade books - such as fine, very good, etc. - had already been defined by AB Bookman in 1975, but these were seldom needed when a buyer could actually see a book before purchasing it. Some of the larger dealers did mail out lists of books for sale that included grades in the descriptions, but this was more of the exception than the rule.

Today we live in a virtual world of eBay auctions, Amazon Marketplace, AbeBooks, and various other online venues - a world in which it is no longer possible to examine books before purchasing. This process introduces risk to the buyer. In order to compensate for this risk, buyers tend to want to pay less for books when their condition is questionable or not buy them at all. Even if sellers offer money-back guarantees, who wants to go through the hassle of returning a book and fighting to get your money back? The goal of an Internet seller should be to do whatever it takes to minimize this risk to the buyer, and this is why grading is now so much more important than it was 25 years ago. Does the grade affect the price of a book? Definitely yes. But it also plays directly into the salability of a book. A dealer who knows how to correctly grade a book will most likely do well. One who does not will not last long. Grading is that important.

In a BookThinker article last month Craig Stark talked about his experience selling a book in unusually fine condition on eBay. It was a very positive experience for him, and if you look at his eBay listing you will see that he did just about everything right. He described the book accurately and fully, including the grade of the book. He provided high quality photos, which helps potential buyers come as close to holding the book as is possible. And he demonstrated to potential bidders that he knew what he was doing vis--vis selling high quality books. For the rest of us, that is the challenge if we also want to be successful Internet sellers.

Next month I'll begin discussing how to grade a book.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Item numbers for BookThink's eBay Heritage Press auctions are 200154742295 and 200160343418. Also, for the lowest price online, purchase Thomas Lee's 20th Century First Edition Fiction: A Price and Identification Guide here.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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