Belfast Books Blog
Those of you who know us know we’ve a history of taking principled stands - from discontinuing a relationship with a charity whose staff exploited women and children, to stopping serving hot drinks in takeaway cups when we discovered that they’re not terribly recyclable. These were decisions we took within hours of becoming aware of the situations above.
Today, the Directors of Belfast Books met and decided that due to Northern Ireland bank issued notes not being readily accepted as payment in most of GB, effective immediately Belfast Books will no longer accept Bank of England notes for payment at our York Road store in Belfast.
And yes, we are both aware and prepared to upset unwary customers and potentially lose sales until this matter is resolved. Hopefully, you’ll support us and either pay in coins, NI issued notes or by card.
By way of background for the uninitiated, we’d always known that despite saying ‘sterling’ on the notes and lots of people wrongly relying on that fact in stand offs at tills all over GB, the NI bank issued notes weren’t legal tender outside of Northern Ireland. However, until very recently, we weren’t aware that Bank of England notes weren’t legal tender in Northern Ireland. The Royal Mint coins are, and we will continue to accept those.
Find it hard to believe that Bank of England banknotes aren’t legal tender in Northern Ireland? So did we until one of our long standing supporters, Robert J.E. Simpson pointed this out in a tweet.
Those of us from Northern Ireland who travel regularly to the major cities in England and Wales have probably all had a parsimonious barista or a bemused falafel vendor say something like, “We don’t accept Euros mate/babe” or “We don’t take Monopoly money”. Our own Mr Books reports that many a time over the last 30 years of travelling to London, he has had that sinking feeling in his stomach when he realised he’d only got Northern. Ireland issued bank notes on him.
We would encourage other Northern Ireland businesses large and small to follow suit and refuse to take Bank of a England banknotes until major U.K. retail businesses agree to accept NI notes in their GB stores.
“We know you guys are a bit bonkers, so how far are you going to take this?”
We’re going to take it as far as we can, and are looking to put together a team to lobby major U.K. retailers to issue instructions so that all their staff are able to identify and accept NI bank issued notes in payment. And if we can find a falafel vendor who’ll take NI issued banknotes, then that’s a bonus. It would certainly make business sense for a small retailer in GB to bite the bullet, put their hand up and start accepting NI issued notes. We’ll maybe make a list of where NI notes are accepted, and update it regularly.
If you want to get involved for just this project, join the new mailing list here.
Our own Strategem trained lobbyist Mr Books (certificate available on request) will be leading the charge campaign until someone with sufficient gravitas comes along to take the torch. If needs be, we’ll consider taking this down a legal route to force change.
If you’ve a personal story to tell, please use the hashtag #banknoteban on Twitter or give your experience or comments good or bad on or Facebook page.
"The Troubles by N.R. Marchand, a review.
The Troubles novel is a treacherous thing. For many authors – especially those unfamiliar with Northern Ireland’s complex social, political, and historical terrain – it is difficult to navigate, and chances are that nobody will thank you for doing it. Regrettably, this is the case with N.R. Marchand’s The Troubles (Olympia Publishers, 2018).
Throughout much of the Troubles, Irish and Northern Irish authors simply avoided the topic altogether. For both local writers and readers, suffering and loss were often too near. It was left mostly to British and American thriller writers to explore the conflict. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these thrillers are often laughable for the Northern Irish reader. Sometimes referred to as Troubles trash, some academics even suggest that the deluge of inaccurate representations may be, in part, responsible for the closemindedness that maintains sectarian division, and hinders the peace process. Whatever their repercussions, these thrillers spoke about the trauma of violence too glibly and didactically for Northern Irish readers. There were no simple, believable solutions and, in any case, what more could they learn about a conflict that coloured their everyday lives for thirty years? A market flooded with these crass and reductive representations deterred authors from adding their own opinions to the literary “freakshow” that was the Troubles novel. There are, of course, notable exceptions to this and, since the conflict’s end (although it seems a little optimistic to say “resolution”), a vibrant and talented cohort of authors has stepped up to address Northern Ireland’s chequered history and problematic present.
This isn’t a rant about the advantages that charity bookshops in Belfast enjoy over Belfast Books, but an opinion on whether the charity bookshops in Belfast are ‘real’ bookshops, and whether they are maximising their sales and philanthropic potential.
I can’t comment on charity bookshops outside Belfast, and will leave it to the U.K. and Irish book buying and bookselling communities to see if there are similar issues where you are.
This blog post is also not a polemic on whether the State should be providing the services that the overarching charity provides. It should. End of.
Now that the passive aggressive stuff is out of the way, let’s move onto why charity bookshops in Belfast aren’t ‘real’ bookshops, and what they can do better.
There are many reasons, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll use the following headings:-
1. Charity Bookshop Staff
2. The Glass Cabinet
3. Poor Product and Price Knowledge
4. Business Model
5. Failure to Engage With Local Bookseller Ecosystem
6. Paucity of Outreach to Local Community
7. Those Bloody Stickers Over the ISBNs
8. Discount Free Zone
Charity Bookshop Staff
As a bookshop owner myself, anytime I hear bookshop staff talk in a high fallutin’ way about pompous, ethereal and artistic things more suited to University Challenge than conversation, it puts me right off. I want all customers to be met at their level and want knowledgable staff who can hand sell books, not stand passively at a till looking emo.
It also seems that charity bookshops in Belfast will take literally ANYONE as a volunteer, as is evidenced by their constant call for volunteers, which up until the time of writing this blog post, the ads for which have never mentioned any bookselling experience being required. This constant trawl for volunteers is odd given the overarching charity already have a huge pool of volunteers, with the volunteers assisting a part or full time paid employee who draws a decent salary.
If you are weird enough to volunteer at Belfast Books, no one gets paid - we’re all the same. If you want to run the place or try new ideas, you’ll be listened to. There’s are no head office decreed procedures to follow if you volunteer at Belfast Books. If you are good at doing memes, crack on and do that at ours. Good with YouTube? Work away. We use the highest level of skills of our volunteers if that’s what they want. However, if a lawyer is just looking for some time away from the stress of their day job, then shelve some books. A vet who likes the beep of a scanner? Come on down. A nurse who wants to tackle our Classics like one of our Twitter followers did? You’re all welcome and deeply appreciated. You can join our volunteer mailing list here.
The Glass Cabinet
Contrary to what seems to be charity shop best practice, putting dusty old books in a glass cabinet doesn’t make them more valuable. It just makes them less likely to sell, and more likely to make non-fusty dusty books fusty by putting them together with fusty, dusty books.
Also, there isn’t much of a local market for signed copies of most books, and certainly not at £100. Especially when an unsigned copy is £5 on Amazon. And the reason you know that it’s £5 is the £5 used copy on Amazon or Ebay hasn’t sold, even at £5. Otherwise, there’d be no price to see. Get that?
Imagine having a business where you have two books of a trilogy, but are never able to spend money to complete the troika, and have to wait until you get the missing one donated to complete the set? Bonkers. Complete bonkers. Infuriating, shortsighted and counterintuitive.
There are a lot of book scouts out there who trawl charity shops for underpriced books from all over the island of Ireland, buy them, then offer the books for sale to us. We buy a lot, some we don’t. We don’t much care where the book came from if it’s been acquired legally, and what price the book scout paid for them. We mostly care about the condition, the buy price for us, potential sale price and what we believe are the chances of selling the book fast.
Failure to Engage With Local Bookseller Ecosystem
Also, imagine a world where you don’t help other booksellers at all because you’ve got your arm over your homework? We couldn’t live like that. We’ve bought books from and donated books to The Book Reserve which despite receiving massive amounts of funding from the Department of Justice, is now closed. A bookstore upstairs on the Lisburn Road was never going to break any Delph guys, and was always a folly. I told their guy that at the beginning and advised him to get the Belfast Telegraph for the jobs section, as the Book Reserve as a going concern was unsustainable in that location.
We’ve also put many tens of thousands of books into Oxfam Ireland over the last 3 years and a bit (this post was written before the recent revelations about Oxfam, and we have suspended our Oxfam donations) We’ve also highlighted a book on our Twitter that War or Want bookshop in Botanic had -and it sold for £16. We’ve also bought books at Oxfam and War on Want on Botanic, and asked to be kept informed about certain other types of books. The calls never came. That’s on top of us donating books to Cancer Research and putting out many calls on social media for charities to take donated books as well as supplying the library at Hydebank.
Here’s a wake up call to the two charity bookshops on Botanic - you are not our competitors, and we are not yours. Unless you sell equine endoscopy books worth £150 to Germany or books on calculus to Italy? Or we secretly have a shop in south Belfast that we don’t know about.
Belfast Books are international sellers, who started the #BuyLocalSellGlobal hashtag. The world’s a BIG place. Get out of your silo and engage with us, and others in the used book market locally. Sell to us, buy from us. Talk with us. Support each other. We’ll buy books you can’t sell locally and sell them globally.
Those Bloody Stickers Over the ISBNs
We need to scan the books in to get the price and sales data. So, just stop it. Now. We know you’re deliberately doing that for those reasons.
Paucity of Outreach to Local Community
When was he last time you heard of a charity bookshop up Botanic way running anything remotely literature or literacy related for a disadvantaged local community such as Donegall Pass or The Markets?
Please give something back to local communities, as you’ve been gifted quite an advantage over commercial booksellers, both used and new.
Discount Free Zone
There’s a book by a used bookseller titled ‘What Can You Do That For’. It’ll come as no surprise that the bookseller in question was a commercial, not a charity bookseller.
It’s common knowledge that here at Belfast Books, we’re #cheaperthanthatsouthamericanriver. In short, that means when you pick a book at ours, no matter what price is on it, we scan it in at point of sale, and if it’s cheaper for the same grade on Amazon Marketplace, we limbo under that flaming bar and go cheaper again. We never go higher in price, even if the book has risen in price since we originally priced it. Used books are like locally landed fish - the price can change by the day.
Contrast that with every charity bookshop in Belfast where in many years of buying well over a thousand books, I’ve NEVER been offered a penny off.
Before you all jump on the Twitter outrage bus, and chastise me for daring to want to ‘steal’ money from a charity; discounts for retailers off retail price is how retailing works. And the charity is no stranger to discount itself, as it applies for and accepts discounts and exemptions from the state in the form of Corporation Tax benefits, rates exemptions and from private individuals including donations and Gift Aid.
I would then come back and ask whether the charity shops that pulp the books you donate to them lose any sleep over the potential sale price against the pulp paper price? Or whether the charity you donate to sell those books at a small penny pittance to internet book behemoth World of Books? Do they tell you that that’s what might happen to your books before you donate them? Did they ask you whether you want your books to go to pulp or go for literally pennies to World of Books? No, I didn’t think so. You gave them in the expectation that they’d be sold for at least a £1 or so each. If you don’t believe me, ask World of Books on Twitter or elsewhere how much they pay charities for books. Not how much they’ve PAID charities for books as that will be a larger number, but how much they PAY charities for books - i.e. what is their rate for purchasing books. Some charities are effectively short-changing those that they help, as well as their donors by using those two methods of dealing with books they can’t or won’t display.
A much more efficient way is to let local booksellers like ourselves make an offer for some or all of the books before they sell them for small change to World of Books. I make that point to the charity shop sector in general, and not just the charity sector in Belfast.
Of course you’ll be saying, but...but you’re going to be buying books for a pittance and selling them for more!! That’s outrageous profiteering!!! I then reply, “What, like World of Books do?” At that point, you take a fake call and get back on the outrage bus - destination unknown, but heading home via Self Righteous Street.
For me, some Belfast charity bookshops are at best very poor retailers, far from innovative, dull, introspective and not ‘bookshops’, with all that entails. At this stage of their development they’re merely places that I go to scout used books from, and the fact that they are fitted out with bookshelves and cash you at the till when you silently bring your chosen purchases to the front of the shop is as close to a real bookshop as they get.
Harsh? Probably. On the button? Maybe. A permanent state? Hopefully not, and our friends in the charity used book sector in Belfast will take this on board and improve their offering by examining whether the things I’ve identified are real or imagined. And the next time the sales figures from the charity bookshops come in, call the manager and regional manager in and have them present to the Charity’s board using our headings. There’ll be some redenners that day!
I think you’ll find that if you address the small number of systemic issues I’ve identified, your profits will increase.
And me, I’ll forever be remembered as the Mary Portas of used bookshops...and get a nomination for an OBE...or the offer of a book deal or a TV show...all or either of which I’ll gladly accept.
The title comes from a question posed in our last blog post about Belfast denizens’ folie à plusieurs addiction to buying books and other items from Amazon, despite this impacting negatively on local independent booksellers and retailers, and possibly facilitating a diminution in worker’s rights at Amazon warehouses.
Have we really reached such a somniferous state of co-dependence that our first thought is, “Amcorp will have it, and it’ll be cheaper than buying it locally” or “I can’t be bothered looking locally, as I’m so pressured for time, so I’ll just get it delivered from Amcorp or TreeBay” (if they deliver to N.I. at all or are looking an extortionate shipping price).
Have we seriously thought where all this Amcorping may lead us? To a retail wilderness, and a dystopian and wholly avoidable death, that’s where.
We’re already heading in the direction of a local retail wasteland, as our city centre and inner city retail grimly testify.
But let’s say you didn’t get the unicorn ballon locally...
Your Bezos Balloon arrives from Amcorp after a trip to Tomb St to get it from the Royal Mail Sorting Office, as apparently, there was no one in to sign for it, despite you being at home all day waiting in for the parcel to arrive. You pick up a £90 fine (or £45 if paid within 14 days) for parking illegally. Disappointingly, there isn’t a ground of appeal that states that the queue of like minded Bezosian money savers was longer than you thought it would be, and thus you have no case to answer.
You then head to your very local party shop to get your Bezosian Balloon filled with helium.
Your first rage is when you notice they have the very same balloon - and it’s cheaper.
Your second burn comes when the shop owner impolitely and publicly suggests that you take the balloon to where you bought it from to get it filled.
Customers in the shop laugh at your obvious discomfort, and you shake with self righteous rage, get straight onto Bakebook and TripeService to share what you view as a horrendous and humiliating experience.
However, by and large, commenters agree with the shop owner that you’d a brass neck to expect him to fill someone else’s dirigible.
You’re running out of time, and we’re 90 mins from the start of the party where the Bezosian Balloon was to be the visual centrepiece at.
After getting short shrift from a fast food joint that ordinarily has a thing for filling balloons, you admit defeat, and reserve and pay £19.99 at a national catalogue store for a helium canister to inflate Bezos’s Balloon.
As you didn’t fill the ballon the recommended two hours before the event to maximise the rigidity of your Bezos Balloon, it sorely disappoints, and your social media feeds are replete with flaccid foil images, mostly reflecting your tear streaked face.
If this weren’t bad enough, your Bakebook Live feed goes viral due to barbed comments from your OH’s ex that your listless, floppy Bezos Balloon reminds her a lot of your current OH in the bedroom department. The video rapidly becomes a meme and self actuates as a GIF.
Belfast Live ring you at your lowest point, and a recording of you swearing like a docker cross bred with a builder trend worldwide.
You delete, unfriend and soft block every mofo at that party, every commenter, and all who liked and shared. You retreat into a self-imposed, semi-agoraphobic exile.
As there’s a lot of helium left in the helium canister, you decide to chance your arm and take it back to the catalogue shop for a refund. Only, the attentive shop assistant notices that the valve seal has been broken: so you’re sent on your way, not knowing that your name and photograph are now on a UK & Ireland wide list of assorted fraudsters, panhandlers and reprobates.
You then have another brainwave, and decide to list the canister on E-tree as new. Unfortunately, all you get are offers under a pound, a short course in txt spk, various levels of unwelcome sexual propositioning, and an unmet desire to think of a collective noun for tyre kickers.
After your unsuccessful attempts to cash out, the helium canister sits unused and unwanted in your utility room. Until one night with drink taken, and with none of your remaining dozen broken followers fave-ing your attention seeking subtweets, you decide to ride the Bantmobile, and use the helium canister you originally bought to inflate your Bezos Balloon, and do that squeaky voice thing.
As you become hypoxic in the 0.22 seconds it takes to fatally overpressure your lungs, your life flashes by you, and ends at the frame where you could have shopped locally, but didn’t.
*Tales of the Unexpected theme music plays*
Our book buyers survey is in, and in the bit where we asked you what you would like us to do, you’ve suggested we change some things, and if we do that, you might come visit us more often. You’ve collectively suggested that as a volunteer led bookshop, we open on Thursday night and Sunday...oh, and that we somehow we find the funds to open a coffee shop on the first floor.
Er...no. Just no.
“Why not you ask?”
“Because you’re in love with someone else.” we say.
Whether you accept it or not, this Valentine’s Day it’s clear that Belfast is totally and hopelessly besotted with Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, and love him more than it loves its independent booksellers, and probably by extension, other small local retailers.
Despite us being much cooler than him, more inventive than him, cheaper than him, more available than him (he doesn’t follow ANYONE back on Twitter), you lot seem to be in a stuporific unrequited love bitch relationship with him.
“That’s a bit harsh John.”
Not from where we’re sitting. Let me give you a real world example of what happens when Greater Belfast slavishly buys it’s books from Amazon.
In the last number of months you guys have managed to close a social economy bookshop and cafe on the Lisburn Road (in non-ghetto North Belfast, South Belfast) because you didn’t support it. Did you know that? At least partly because you guys loved Jeff Bezos more, a social economy bookshop and coffee shop closed. A meeting place and bookish venue of the highest quality was lost. A bookshop and cafe that if my information was correct got over £500,000 of money from the Department of Justice and other funders now sits empty.
Your love for Jeff Bezos’s Amazon knows no bounds, and you seem totally oblivious to what he gets up to when you’re not around.
Take a wee break from your telling off to read this story...
Am I really to believe that you don’t care about the working conditions and health of these non unionised workers, and can just blank them out? If so, please don’t read on any further, and just head back to Omelas.
“But John, where else would I get a unicorn balloon at half three in the morning?”
Um... ordering it is not the same as ‘getting’ it. You can see one and feel one and ‘get’ one from any of the loads of party shops throughout the city. Small retailers who don’t have hedge funds and billions of dollars worth of backing, but who have something Bezos and Amazon will never have - they contribute to the economy, lifeblood and social well-being of this piece of land we share.
Take us for example. Over the last few weeks we’ve held a charity to account whose workers harmed women and children. We’ve also helped a number of intoxicated people get safely home, ordered taxis for pensioners, helped a local woman navigate the social housing points maze, are wrestling with a landlord over a lease for a farmers market and donated loads of books to a local social enterprise. Oh, and we’re designing a community magazine and are frequently told that the free tea and chat at ours is the only act of kindness local vulnerable people have experienced in a lifetime. As well as that we’ve also acted as ambassadors for Belfast, directing tourists to various parts of the city. I’m certain other shopkeepers throughout the city are similarly contributing to the greater good of the city and the communities around them. Is Jeff Bezos making such a difference in where you live? Is he planning breakfast clubs and running ballet classes and trying to get a stage school opened in north Belfast? We are.
“Ok John, my original messianic rage at being criticised for my choices has abated, and I’m suitable chastened. How can I help?”
Well, we need money to keep the doors open and we need more money to grow.
We can get money from a number of sources.
Equity (where you buy in to acquire a share of the bookshop). I wouldn’t recommend that as there’s no return on investment coming this side of never.
Loan us some money to invest in some areas we’ve wanted to get into, but because of lack of funds we haven’t been able to. Not as crazy as it sounds as thus far, that’s exactly what we’ve done over the last 3 odd years. You may also not get your money back, as we’ve no expectation of getting our investment or loans back.
Donations of money. As some of you did when our shutter got damaged by a hurricane, you can help straight away by gifting money to us by PayPal. Here’s the link...
We’ll set up a crowdfunder later for bigger projects. If anyone has experience of doing that successfully, get in touch.
Donations of books.
Good quality non fictions books, but that’s not enough of itself to keep the doors open. Trust me, we’ve tried paying our phone and broadband bill with a copy of ‘Lost Lives’. That didn’t end well, but thankfully the restraining order is due to expire soon.
Buy stuff from us at the shop, as we’re always cheaper than Amazon Marketplace.
Volunteer at or on the bookshop. Here’s the mailing list to sign up for that.
Got YouTube presenting or video skills? We’ve a special list for that here...
Also, give your high level skills to help us improve things like our website, accounting procedures, stock control and branding. If you’re a creative writing tutor, give your time for free so we can run a course. Or offer to host a book club. Do something. Make a difference. As the Book Reserve and Thinking Cup found out to their cost, the choice is stark...it’s either
And no, we didn’t get the end of this post wrong. It really is ‘#buylocal or #byelocal.
Book Review of Brian Hughes 'Defying the I.R.A? Intimidation, coercion and communities during the Irish Revolution' Liverpool University Press
Hughes, B. (2016). ‘Defying the I.R.A? Intimidation, coercion and communities during the Irish Revolution’. Liverpool. Liverpool University Press. Available at http://amzn.to/2fVkeqS
Defying the I.R.A’ sets out to examine the relationship between the I.R.A and the civilian population during the Irish war of independence. The majority of historical accounts of this time have tended to focus solely on the belligerents. An effect of this has been to place unnecessary distance between the experiences of readers who have lived through our most recent ‘troubles’ and those of our grandparents.
In this aim, Brian Hughes book succeeds well – the focus here is primarily on the day to day lived experience of ordinary people in extraordinary times. The chapter ‘Collecting the Rates’ for example illustrates this skilfully by describing the difficulties presented in maintaining civil order at a time when both the state and the I.R.A collected rates as well as running parallel (if diametrically opposed) judicial systems of tribunals, magistrates etc.
The book owes a significant debt both to the work of Stathis Kallyvas as well as Peter Hart in providing some of the historiographical framework. Kallyvas has written of the logic of violence in a civil war context; Hughes further contextualises this by describing the near impossibility of civilians striving for neutrality during this period. This is particularly relevant when he writes of the experience of Unionists or Loyalists during this time. Any position shy of active or tacit support for the I.R.A could be (and often was) taken as suggestive of collaboration. Hughes writes well of the burden placed on members of the RIC or former members of British armed forces who were placed in impossible positions of isolation or hostility even in areas where I.R.A violence was perceived to be at a low level. All too familiar to a modern reader will be the notion that whilst political violence leaves an enormous toll in terms of death and injury; this is dwarfed by the legacy of lives thwarted, blighted or destroyed. And this legacy continues long after the violence has come to its official ‘end’.
The work of Peter Hart (particularly his controversial 1998 book ‘The I.R.A and its enemies’) receives a good deal of coverage here and this is particularly instructive when reconsidering incidents like the Dunmanway killings. Hart was criticised at the time for his suggestion that the killings had no military context but rather represented a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Protestants in the Bandon area of Co. Cork. Hughes, with the benefit perhaps of a broader canvas, suggests, that whilst ethnic cleansing (though he does not use the phrase) may have occurred it is difficult at this distance to unpick the specific reasons for any killings shorn of any local context (for example- personal rivalries, economic factors or social difficulties). What Hughes suggests is that, although it is difficult to establish the motive, it is certain that religious disagreement was an obvious factor in this strife and the war of independence provided a welcome cover for acts of sectarian murder.
Of particular interest to readers might be the chapter dealing with ‘Defying the I.R.A in Belfast’. One particularly strong aspect of this chapter is an exploration of why the levels of conflict did not reach similar levels as those in other parts of the country such as Dublin, Cork or Donegal. The absence of conflict between state and non-state forces is mitigated however by the horrific intracommunal violence of the early 1920’s. This violence had been a feature of life in Belfast since the 1850’s but it now took on an even more virulent form. One slight concern was with the occasional absence of citation for some statements. For example Hughes writes that ‘Though Catholics were disproportionate victims of violence, both sides of the religious divide perpetrated violence … ranging from intimidation and expulsion to killing’ there is no evidence offered in support of any of these statements but this is a rare lapse in an otherwise meticulously sourced book.
Hughes makes excellent use of both the Irish and British state records – which provides one useful final illustration of the difficulties encountered by civilians during the time. In 1934 an egg-dealer from Arvagh Co. Cavan made a claim to the Irish Government for compensation for property damaged during the war of independence – he stressed his republican credentials, his family ‘gave all and got nothing’ in the Anglo-Irish war, – a car had been taken by the Black and Tans and a son ‘taken’…Stirring stuff you would agree? The fact that the same author made a simultaneous claim to the UK authorities for the same damage whilst stressing his ‘sworn allegiance to the British Government’ and his record as a police pensioner might be thought somewhat hypocritical or opportunistic. But, he represents a vast number of stories of people whose allegiances, loyalties or histories cannot be neatly summarised or easily dismissed.
Kindly reviewed by Dr. Deaglan Page
You'll remember in our first blog post before the holidays, we promised you there was a part two coming. It promised to reveal "who is selling copies of the book, how they have arrived at that pricing, and why. I’ll also share will you who might buy hyper price inflated used books, and why."
Let's look at who is offering copies of overvalued Out of Print (OOP) and Collectible (mostly signed and First Edition) books for sale.
Pretty much everyone and anyone.
Serial optimists like Daily Deals on Amazon Marketplace are frequently the highest price for an OOP book on Amazon Marketplace. Not so on this occasion though, and the market has cooled somewhat since the blog post, with copies being withdrawn from Amazon Marketplace and other book selling sites. I'll not be so bold to suggest that this was due to the issues raised in the original blog post, but before the blog post the market was out of control for this book.
A lot of times the outrageous pricing is arrived at by the automatic tracking software that large used book businesses use. The overvaluing happens when there is a very limited supply of the books,the top price is an outrageously high one, and the tracking software that knows nothing about books and everything about comparative analysis tracks the 'optimistic' highest price. It's a bit like that that time I chased after a guy in the 400m at Shore Road Playing Fields and needed an iron lung at the 250m mark. Only the computer sticks with the maniac until a human intervenes.
The copy the optimist has for sale is theirs to ask whatever they wish for it. You'd have to ask them why they have placed that value on the book, and I would encourage you to do that with every used item transaction, including with ourselves. The owner of the item is not doing anything illegal asking whatever amount they want for the book, as it's not worth anything of itself. To understand this, lets look at this nonsensical sketch...
*in any store that sells expensive things*
Genius - That'll be £600 please.
Customer - *Reaches into messenger bag and pulls out payment*. "Do you take 'Lost Lives' by McKittrick, it's worth £600?
Genius - That'll do nicely sir...
The moral of the story here is that of itself, any OOP or collectible book offered for sale at any price IS ACTUALLY WORTHLESS. If you cant lodge it in a bank, it doesn't have any value of itself. It's worth what you get for it - otherwise, its an expensive door stopper or table leg propper-upper.
Who would pay a super inflated price for a book? This is informed speculation, but speculation nonetheless.
A rich PhD student on a deadline? A television production company fact checking? Someone wrongly believing that the book is valuable and thinking it's an investment? A library benefactor thinking that they are donating a valuable and sought after book to their alma mater. Someone on their last day of work looking to hurt their employer? Who knows? I'd love to hear some of your suggestions..
Having cooled the market first time round, we are potentially going to excite the market again with the news that the publishers were bought over by Random House, who have no plans to reprint the title. Don't believe us? This..
*Closes Door on Mayhem*
Out of print books are like freshly landed fish - their price can change daily, based on supply and demand.
If you've been to our shop you'll see that for the more expensive books, we scan them at the time of purchase to see what price sellers are asking at that exact second. Today, a customer saved himself £10 on a Doctor Who collectible book by us checking today's market price for a book he picked up in the shop and wanted to buy. We were delighted to tell him the good news and he went off, happy as a sand boy.
An extreme example of this price fluctuation is the seminal Troubles book 'Lost Lives' by McKittrick et al. The Amazon search page here shows all listings of Lost Lives currently on sale by third party sellers on Amazon.
For those book nerds out there who have a barcode scanner on their Christmas list, the real title of the tome in question is Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles . It comes in hardcover, was first published in 1999, and last published in revised format in 2008 by Chris Thornton (Author), Seamus Kelters (Author), Brian Feeney (Author), David McKittrick (Author).
Unless you’re challenging your inner librarian, or doing the good old cut and paste from this blog post there’s no need to put the full title in to search on Amazon - as ‘Lost Lives McKittrick ‘ will do.
Around 18 months ago the second hand price for this book averaged £15, half of what it cost when new. Today, in its various Amazon listings, used sellers are asking between £115-£613 including UK delivery. Yes, nearly £500 difference for the same used book (in all its 25 different printings from 1999-2008).
The book itself is an important Troubles book, more because of the easily digestible information it holds on each death, rather than any political commentary. However, there is also a lacuna as big as a Laguna in that it was last published in revised format in 2008. For students of Troubles history, that means those who lost their lives since 'Lost Lives' was last printed aren't included in the print copies. So as a guide to people murdered in Northern Ireland by groups and individuals whose ‘craft’ was forged in the Troubles, ‘Lost Lives’ is silent after 2008, and for me that should push the value down, not up. It should also push the publishers to update and republish. I'll be speaking with them directly about that.
Personally I value all versions of Lost Lives at McKittrick it at in and around the £70-80 retail price bracket in VERY GOOD condition, which is the most popular grade of used books, especially hardbacks. For those of you holding signed copies I’d value it at up to £160 if signed by all four authors; and at £100 if signed by one; £120 by two; and £140 by only three authors. If you've a first edition, first printing you can add 50% to all those valuations.
Some of you might be surprised that at this stage I am not differentiating in value between the 25 different printings of 'Lost Lives'. Surely the most up to date editions must be the most sought after, and therefore the most valuable? Not necessarily as it all depends on how many books are out there in the marketplace of each edition. I'll speak with the publishers and see what print runs of each book were produced for what edition, and reserve the right to plus or minus individual editions.
I’ll also do a second piece on this Lost Lives saga when I'll look at who is selling copies of the book, how they have arrived at that pricing, and why. I’ll also share will you who might buy hyper price inflated used books, and why.
Subscribers to our mailing list here will get this first, so it might be a good idea to pop over and join that. A bit like Crimestoppers the Mailchimp powered list won’t ask for your name, but it will ask for your email.
Now there is a question.
Here's a simple answer, "sometimes to us", but first you need to read the following...
Gumtree Belfast has a books section, only people seem to think their books are made of gold, and because they are listed on Amazon as £14.87 used, they think that £13 cash is a fair price, totally neglecting that Amazon has a Sales Rank system, and used books that are priced that high are SLOOOOOOOWWWWWW movers, out of print stuff or something else. Phew, that was a long sentence.