Monday, December 30, 2013

The Collapse of Series Book Prices

I have written about the decline in series book prices several times in the last five years.  I was able to locate a couple of key blog posts.

On November 22, 2009, I wrote about the economy causing series book prices to be low in "The Economy and Series Book Prices."  The economy is still a big factor right now.

The following passage is from July 26, 2009 in the post "Follow-Up to Low Prices to First Printings on eBay."
eBay is no longer a good venue for selling high value books unless the seller starts the opening bid at what the books are truly worth. Second, the seller must know what he or she has or the books will not attain their true values. Third, eBay is now the best place on the internet for purchasing valuable books to resell either on eBay or on other venues. Frank also observed that the prices would be even lower if the resellers were not bidding against each other. This is true.

For the three auctions that I mentioned, the second highest bidder was also a reseller in at least two of the three cases. The final bid prices of the books were driven by resellers and not by people who actually wanted them. The books would be selling for next to nothing except that the resellers are buying nearly everything good on eBay and are bidding against each other.
I added emphasis to the final sentence.  Finally, most of the people buying to resell have backed off, and this has happened only in the last few months.  As a result, most series book prices have now collapsed.
It's been difficult to sell series books in recent months.  The government shutdown in October caused internet commerce to slow to a crawl.  Sellers on websites such as eBay and Amazon reported that their sales were extremely low in October.  Since most all sellers have had much trouble moving their inventory, they have had to cut back on making purchases.  Since much less buying to resell is occurring right now, nothing remains to prop up the prices.

This is great for buyers, because the prices are lower than ever.  This is also problematic for new buyers of series books, because they have no idea what the historic values of scarce books are.  They may let some books slip by because they may think the current low prices are high prices.

The last Connie Blair title, The Mystery of the Ruby Queens, sold for only $13.63 on eBay in November, and the book had a dust jacket.  I could see where some new collectors who are used to finding books for $5.00 in local stores might have thought that $13.63 was too high, not realizing that Ruby Queens is normally a $75 to $100 book.

Likewise, a Cherry Ames #27, Ski Nurse Mystery, sold for only $36.54.  That price might seem high to new collectors, but that book is typically a $100 book. It used to be a $250 book.

Prices for the entire Judy Bolton series have fallen sharply.  Buyers can now obtain most any title in the series from #1-38 in a vintage hardcover edition for $35 or less.  If a buyer is careful, most titles can be had for less than $25, even with dust jackets.

The Judy Bolton reprints are the biggest reason why the Judy Bolton prices have fallen.  The Cherry Ames books have also been reprinted.  Many series books have entered the public domain in the last few years, including The Mystery of the Ruby Queens.  The prices have decreased for all books in the public domain because those books are now available in print-on-demand books or as free electronic texts.

The series with prices that have not collapsed are Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators.  Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys prices are rather low, overall, but they have not completely collapsed.  The prices for the Three Investigators books remain strong.

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys enjoy greater name recognition than the lesser-known series books.  The Her Interactive games are helping to keep the Nancy Drew name alive.

The Three Investigators series has a large crossover appeal; after all, Alfred Hitchcock's name is attached to the books.  At least one person continues to bid aggressively on Three Investigators books in order to buy to resell, so that person is keeping the prices high.

Most importantly, the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Three Investigators books have not entered the public domain.  When those series begin to enter the public domain in the not-so-distant future, their values will also decrease.

The huge drop in prices is a big concern to those of us who have been collecting for years.  I have always been cautious about what I spend on series books and have always tended to get good deals.  Unfortunately, I paid more for most of my good deals than what the books are currently worth.  I have books up for sale right now that I know have absolutely no chance of selling, because my prices are three to four times the current value.  I am going to leave most of those books priced the same and hope that values climb in the coming months.


Homeschool Mom said...

When we began homeschooling about 9 years ago, we began collecting the Landmark histories. They were consistently priced rather high. We have noted over the last couple of years, their prices have dropped dramatically. I don't think it is because homeschooling itself is diminishing in number; any ideas?

Jennifer White said...

My first guess would be the economy. Prices have been lower across the board since late 2008 and have not recovered since that time. If we ever come out of this economic slump, then prices would improve.

It is good, though, that books needed for homeschooling such as the Landmark books have been lower in price. I also doubt that homeschooling has decreased in popularity. If anything, homeschooling would be expected to increase with all of the news stories about school violence and bullying.