Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Economy and Series Book Prices

I have been meaning to write this post for a while. Series book prices are the lowest I have ever seen. While some books that are rare and desirable still command high prices (this one, for instance), many others are slipping through the cracks and selling for atypically low prices.

In particular, thick blue Nancy Drew books with either one glossy illustration or all four glossy internals and intact dust jackets are selling for ridiculously low prices. I could cite quite a few instances of these books selling for $20 to $50, when they are supposed to sell for hundreds of dollars.

Here are a couple of low auction results:

Nancy Drew Hidden Staircase WS dust jacket OEPS Item #330373145796

This is a thick blue book that has a dust jacket listing to Tapping Heels. It sold for $10.99.

Nancy Drew SECRET SHADOW RANCH early formt internals dj Item #370272219711

This thick blue Nancy Drew book had the glossy internal illustrations and a dust jacket. It sold for $57.78. The same seller auctioned off a Lilac Inn with internals and dust jacket for the same price.

I could give many other examples. I dislike mentioning specific information when I have purchased something at a bargain that I will ultimately resell, but I have a similar story on something I purchased in recent months. The book was something that was very desirable, and this could be seen in the gallery photo and in the title of the auction. There was no reason for it to sell at a bargain. It was clear what it was from the description. It was a very scarce book but not quite rare. I placed a lowball bid and won the auction at a fraction of the book's value. If I wished to fully disclose the details, you would be impressed. It missed being better than the copy I have, so it will be sold. It will bring in a nice profit even if I price it at the low end of what it is worth.

I have blamed eBay recently for these atypical results, but it is actually more the economy than eBay's foolish actions. The economy is still in bad shape. The media have reported that the economy is getting better, but the results have yet to be seen for the average person. As I stated in comments to my last post, I expect sales to be very slow through the end of the year. I think sales will get better in January, and we just have to wait it out. The prices will go back up again eventually.

I admit that I am disgusted with how difficult it is to sell good books. I am not happy about the situation, but I know that it will get better at some point. The value of series books is always going up or down, depending upon supply, demand, and the economy. The 80th anniversary of Nancy Drew in the spring will hopefully generate some good media coverage and maybe that will help.

Remember the buying frenzy of the summer of 2008? Gosh, those were such great times! We could list anything for a high price, and she would buy it! For those who don't know what I mean, a certain buyer was buying approximately $20,000 worth of series books per month for around three months on eBay in the summer of 2008. She paid $50 to $100 for $5 books. She paid $500 for $100 books. She paid $1,000 or more for $300 to $500 books. She won just about all auctions she bid on because of her huge bids. Months later we learned that she had stolen several hundred thousand dollars from a bank and went to federal prison.


Jack C said...

I do remember that time frame. I was not selling books at the time, but I remember all the speculation on the various lists. "Who was that Masked Man?" comes to mind... I agree with you regarding the economy, and think it will take a good portion of the next year to turn around-

I know you have told us before, but what do you place in your search engine to find those early white dj printingz?


Jennifer White said...

I just run a Nancy Drew search in the books category and click on listings. I am pretty good at guessing the age of a book based on the outward appearance, so I can center in on likely thick books in dust jackets rather quickly.

It really is amazing how most books are now selling at very deflated prices. There are always exceptions, but most books with internals and dust jackets are now selling to resellers at a fraction of the value. It is kind of depressing, because I know that I have no chance of getting the true value of any of these books on Bonanzle. There is only a slim chance that they will sell anytime in the near future. This goes for just about everything I have that is priced above $25.00.

Most buyers probably realize that eBay is full of bargains mixed in with the high-priced stuff. With careful searching, people can find fabulous stuff for their collections at very low prices.

In fact, it is more fruitful to spend a couple of hours on eBay searching than it is to drive around to local antique shops. I have better luck finding stuff on eBay than I do in stores. I very seldom check the local stores anymore because the selection is poor and overpriced.

Jennifer White said...

I think that, at least locally, the economy is getting worse. Oklahoma City was recently said to have the fourth strongest economy in the country, due to the oil and gas industry. The economy has not been that bad here, but in the last two months, I have begun to notice a sharp downturn.

The clearance items are getting out of control at local stores. Walmart had a huge amount of Halloween stuff for 90% off. This does not normally happen.

My grocery store is having trouble selling the $4.00 Dole salad kits (the ones that come with salad dressing) before the date. They are reducing them to $0.99 on the last day, and Dole has these $1.00 coupons, so we can get them for just the $0.08 tax. Today they had an entire basket full of reduced salad kits. This was not happening a couple of months ago. The economy has worsened locally. Do not believe the media reports of everything getting better. The economy is the primary reason our books are not selling. People are watching what they spend, and expensive old books are not a necessity.

BookNook said...

You would that the money-stealing-series-book-buying-thief would have something better to spend their money on than a ton of overpriced books.

stratomiker said...

I have been selling series books since the 1960s, and this is the worst slump I've ever seen. The ONLY slump, actually. Sales have always been steady and good.

It's not for a lack of new collectors. I constantly get new buyers I never sold to before, but they are not going for the higher end books. You most probably won't get a bid at all if your minimum bid is higher than $3.99, unless it's a really hot book.

I've been featuring a lot of lesser-condition books that I've had for thirty years or more and never bothered selling. People are gobbling them up at minimum bids of $1.99 or $2.99 - bidding some of them up to $5 to $10. Which is not a big deal considering eBay and Paypal fees. But I enjoy selling books, so keep it up. Also, some of them are buying a lot of stuff, so the purchases add up.

The hype about the economy getting better is silly. When eBay 'mad money' grinds to such a halt, you know things are really bad. I can't imagine what a dismal holiday season this is going to be for retail everywhere.

Another reason for the slump is the Paypal Credit Lines. Many buyers have maxed theirs out, are making payments on it, and have to pay for books now with actual pocket money. The credit lines facilitated a lot of buying for a while, but those days are gone now that almost everybody's credit lines are all at the top.

A well-known collector passed away recently and I've been helping to get a buyer for his collection, a huge one and a world-class one. But hardly anyone is interested, even bookstores that specialize in series books and other collectors who would normally shout for such stuff. No one wants to spend the money the collection is worth because they know they won't be able to sell these books now for good prices. I'm aware of other similar situations where folks are in need of selling a good collection, but no buyers and no one willing to sell them on eBay at a percentage because of the slump.

Suddenly, fabulous series book collections have become white elephants as far as the $$$$ goes!


Jennifer White said...

It is a shame when a buyer cannot be found for a good collection. Really, if the estate can hold onto the books for a while, that might be best. I believe that our collections still have value, but we need to hold onto the books for now.

I agree that there is always an influx of new collectors. People are just not willing to pay much for books right now. It depresses me, but at the same time, I know that it will get better. I don't care how long my high-priced books set in my Bonanzle booth. They can stay there for months, if need be.

I am really glad that for most of the books in my collection that I always have tended to be cautious about what I paid. Even with my cautiousness, I still paid far more for my books than they are currently worth, but I paid far less than others have for their books.

I know it will get better, but I don't know how long it will take. Short term, I know it won't be better before January. I think it might be a little better in January when people aren't shopping for Christmas. The 80th anniversary of Nancy Drew might help in the spring, but it might be a lot longer.

Jenn Fisher said...

While I agree the economy is bad for some people--and worse than the main stream media wishes to portray it, personally, I have thought eBay prices to be down for about the last 5-7 years. I used to buy books and resell on eBay from time to time, and you could buy a 3 to 5 dollar book at a used bookstore and turn around and at least double it at eBay, the fees weren't so bad then either. You could even sell small items for a few dollars and still make a bit, now the fees eat that up.

I'm sure it's worse now, but I noticed a downward trend starting about 5-7 years ago. People just stopped paying as high of prices for things. I've often wondered if most of the main collectors got what they wanted, and no need to keep collecting as avidly, so the next wave of collectors (perhaps younger with some having less disposable income) coming through were just a bit cheaper in their bids. Then of course, the supply of items has dwindled greatly in the last couple of years--so you'd think demand would go up and bids would reflect that. And then there are the resellers who drive people away, who drive up bids in trying to purchase books to resell. I know that has turned off some people in bidding. The Larkspur Lane with movie wrapper that just sold tonight--reseller purchased it! And a ton of the vintage books selling at eBay seem to all be by the same group of resellers who buy them on eBay and then resell them.

I'm sure there are a lot of factors involved. But about 2 years ago, I stopped trying to sell that many books on eBay and haven't listed any in ages--it's been over a year I believe. The bids weren't there and the fees were getting ridiculous. I turned to selling at my website and that way the only fees I have are Pay Pal fees. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes books sit a while. But eventually a buyer comes a long. Bonanzle is a nice alternative but I wish they ran auctions too.


Jennifer White said...

You're right that there are multiple factors involved. At times I have blamed eBay, but currently I blame the economy because of my own personal observations. My opinion will likely shift again in the coming weeks.

The prices have been dropping for years, but they have gotten far worse lately, except for the rare books like the one you mentioned. Sometimes I tell myself to keep track of all of the low prices to mention here, but I never do. There are instances of people getting four to five tweed books for around $1.00 plus shipping, for instance.

I always wonder about the resellers purchasing such high-priced books. I still wonder what geowall did with that nearly $12,000 first printing of Old Clock.

Paula said...

The stock market usually starts to recover before the actual improvement in the economy is felt. That's why they are saying that things are getting better - stock market prices are starting to recover. IF you have money, this slump is a great opportunity to buy practically anything - not just series books. But that is a really big IF!

I was buying lots (for me) of ND books on ebay a few months ago, because I was thinking they were good deals that I couldn't pass up. But no matter how many deals you snatch up, you do have to stop at some point because 1) you run out of money and 2) you can't resell right now. I had to stop looking at ebay because I would want to bid on so many items! BTW, I fell off the wagon this week and bought a few inexpensive books. ;)

So anyway, I think that's what's happening - people feel they can spend a little, but when times are uncertain, it's hard to justify spending alot of money on non-necessities. And seeing the low prices on ebay gives new collectors like me the idea that the books are NOT worth that much, which makes you more careful with spending what might be too much.

I agree with you Jennifer that the 80th anniv will help ND sales. It will remind many baby boomers of their own childhood days of reading ND books and some will start to collect as I did this year. I have kept my books from the 60's all these years, and thought many times about completing my collection but didn't actually do it until this year. Once I started collecting and found how interesting it was with these particular books with all the variations, I really got into it and expanded beyond what I orginally intended. So anyway, I think the same thing will happen to more people, especially when they read about it in the news etc.

I have a question about the ND images, trademarks, and copyrights. I noticed on the Sleuth website there are many items such as mugs, mouse pads, buttons, t-shirts, etc. that have images from the books on them and an S&S trademark disclaimer. Are these items created with S&S's blessing? Do they get a portion of sales? Or how does that work? I noticed that someone last year on Etsy was selling homemade jewelery with images from ND book covers as small charms. Is it legal to copy these images and sell stuff with the images without an agreement with S&S? Anyone know?

Jenn Fisher said...

I run the Sleuth website and as we state, these are officially licensed products. We worked out a licensing deal with Simon & Schuster. Unfortunately, those selling on Etsy are violating copyright/trademarks. We also have a Cafe Press shop where we sell our licensed items. These are links to our shops where you can buy the official items:


Jenn Fisher said...


I'd like to know what happened to that Old Clock too :) Since the seller is in Beverly Hills, I wonder if it went to some celeb?


Jenn Fisher said...


You have a good point that I hadn't thought of. If newbies are seeing books sell for low amounts, and they aren't familiar with how prices used to be nor values in guides like Farah's, then they may think they're not worth that much, so won't bid very high.


Paula said...

Jenn, Thanks for the answer re: copyrights - right from the horse's mouth!

I am in that group of newbies that Jenn describes also.

I just think that Farah's Guide is way too expensive and won't buy it new. (I understand the special Anniversary edition being expensive, but why the normal guide?) It used to cost around $40 - $50 not that long ago. Wouldn't he sell a lot more books and make more money if he dropped the price? Amateurs like me would be more willing to buy it upfront. As it is, you wait to see if you are really serious about this collecting thing because the guide is so expensive. Then as you collect you become more familiar with the criteria the book contains and learn current values on your own, and the book seems even less worth the money. I would still purchase it if it was in the $40-50 range, and if it was $25, everyone who was even thinking about collecting would buy it, to see what the values of their old books are. I honestly think David Farrah would make more money providing a less expensive version that would generate volume buys, rather than going the other way and making exclusive special editions that only high-end collectors are willing to buy. In ND land, we are mostly small, first-time nostalgic buyers. The overall prices of ND books would rise also, if it was easier for new collectors to start because I think more people would get hooked on it. Anyway, that's my prespective on Farah's Guide at this time.

Another reason I'm in that newbie group is that, I've been collecting for less than a year, and I was focused on PC printings as this was the era of my childhood collection. I am now more interested in collecting the older books but I wasn't closely watching their values, which was probably low in this down year, so now my only guide is current ebay prices. In this market, I think Farah's Guide could help prop up ND book prices if it was affordably available to the amateur collector. As Jenn mentioned, if we knew how much a particular book was valued, we would be more confident in bidding higher.

Jennifer White said...

And seeing the low prices on ebay gives new collectors like me the idea that the books are NOT worth that much, which makes you more careful with spending what might be too much.

Thanks for mentioning this. Like Jenn, I had never thought of that. It is like a vicious cycle. The low prices cause the low prices to continue because the people buying the books do not realize the true scarcity and value of the books. And how can they when the prices are so low?

Also, a lot of the scarce books that we see on eBay were just bought on eBay and are the ones we just saw recently for sale. A lot of the new collectors probably don't realize how often the scarce books are recycled in listings on eBay, so they may think the books are easier to find than what they actually are. I know several people's buying IDs on eBay, so I am more aware than most people of exactly how many books up for sale on eBay were just bought on eBay.

On Farah's Guide, I don't know what the printing costs are and how much he has it marked up. I do know that the printing costs per copy are higher than for something with a high print run. I'm sure a good part of the price is for the amount of time he spent in doing the massive amount of research that went into developing the guide. He spent decades on it.

Could it be cheaper? Probably, but who knows? The cost is high enough that I agree with you that many new collectors will not purchase it. It was a hard decision for me when I bought my first Farah's Guide in 1997. I had so many books I wanted to buy, a limited amount of extra money, and buying the guide kept me from buying a few books that I wanted. It was a dilemma! I didn't regret it once I had the guide, so it was worth it for me. Nowadays, there is so much more information readily available, so it is easier for collectors to put off buying a guide.

Jennifer White said...

To better answer the question about how I find some of these books that sold too low... I type in the buying IDs of a few people and see what they bought to resell. That's where I found the books mentioned in this post.

stratomiker said...

Farah's Guide, and others like it, maintain a high exclusivity by demanding high prices, yet the authors expect them to be the 'accepted authority' in the collecting field. That just does not work. Most book stores don't use the guides because of the high price and because they are considered to be 'speculative', based only on the authors' opinions, and they do not follow accepted bibliographical standards that have been in place in the publishing industry for centuries.

I have mentioned plenty of times before my complaint of having been continually harassed by guide makers and their cronies because I do not use their listings on eBay - even about books that they do not make guides about, the theory being that all series would follow the same speculations presented in the guides. At some point I stopped using guide listings because most buyers didn't have guides and didn't understand the listing numbers. I would tell them how to get the guides and they'd complain about the prices.

The solution is less expensive guides. Most people would buy them, would thus know the systems presented within, and the possibility of becoming the accepted authorities on the books would rise. The latest anniv, edition of Farah's is $150! I happen to have the one marked '#1 copy' and signed by the man himself, having received it as a gift from a friend. It's nice, but there could easily be cheaper editions for $10 to $15.

I've done a lot of work in self-publishing and the guides could be made in smaller perfect bound editions that could be sold for under $20. They don't have to be that big; they don't have to be spiral bound, even though it does make them easier to work with.

If the authors want to be the leading experts, they need to sell less expensive copies to the masses so that their spins on the books become more well known and then the 'accepted authority'.


Jack C said...

I have to confess that I have been spending money for personal collection books recently. I have been buying more than usual because it does seem the prices are good, and it behooves me not to move while prices are down. Though I never expect to own a first printing Old Clock, I am keeping my eyes open on Ebay for first printing early Nancy Drew titles. I have scored 2 in the last month w/ dust jacket, and am pleased. I have spent more than I normally do, but feel the buy is worth it. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a shelf full of first printings someday?
In addition, I have bought almost the complete Connie Blair titles, and some later Judy Boltons in DJ. I'm going to have a good Christmas, but my family may be wondering where their gifts are...

Jennifer White said...

At some point I stopped using guide listings because most buyers didn't have guides and didn't understand the listing numbers.

I don't use the Farah's guide printing numbers unless the book meets the points for the first printing. I find that it is too much trouble to look up the printing number for the average book, and I feel that the information is not beneficial to buyers. I think that, if buyers wish, they can use the last title listed on the book and/or dust jacket to estimate the age of the book. I'm sure that some buyers would prefer that I include the printing number, but as I stated, I do not see any great benefit.

Lauren said...

"The cost is high enough that I agree with you that many new collectors will not purchase it. It was a hard decision for me when I bought my first Farah's Guide in 1997. I had so many books I wanted to buy, a limited amount of extra money, and buying the guide kept me from buying a few books that I wanted. It was a dilemma! I didn't regret it once I had the guide, so it was worth it for me."

I bought my first Farah's guide used on ebay for $75 (the new price was about $110 at the time, IIRC). It came the same day as a box of Nancy Drews with DJs that I'd just bought.

In using the guide, I discovered that I had a first printing of Velvet Mask, which I would have listed at around $35 if I hadn't had the guide. I ended up selling it as a Buy-it-now for $150 so my Farah's guide paid for itself on the first day. = )

"Remember the buying frenzy of the summer of 2008? Gosh, those were such great times! We could list anything for a high price, and she would buy it!"

I was not selling at that time, but I had an experience like that back in 2003 (I think?). Minus the felonious element anyway.

There was a buyer named pseudoacris who had zero feedbacks the first time she bought from me and inside of a month or two, she had over 600 feedbacks from all the recognizable booksellers at the time.

She initially bought my auctions and as time went on, she was just buying away from my inventory without my even listing anything. She'd just ask me what I had and send a check. I think she was buying for her grandkids and she seemed to have endless pockets.

Daniel said...

Regarding Farah's Guide, I think it's worth it, even without the price aspect of the guide (I also bought my first copy in the late '90's, probably my senior year of high school). Being able to date books, and know when the first picture cover was released, or the last dust jacketed version, etc., is great for not just the seller, but also I think the collector.

I do take the prices with a grain of salt right now, because it always is reletive to what people are willing to pay. Generally I use eBay as a price guide for values.

It is interesting to read Jennifer's comments on pricing for Bonanza, and how sometimes it can be more than eBay. Definitely something to consider.

I also started a Bonanza page, after seeing and liking Jennifer's. I had some success in the short time I had it up as well. I definitely miss aspects of eBay, but after selling on eBay for years, the fees just got rediculous. Had to take it down, since I will be out of the country for a while, but do plan to re-open it once I return. For any with questions on whether it's worth it, I would reccomend giving it a try.