Friday, December 2, 2011

Reprehensible Behavior . . .

So, I mentioned recently that I'd ordered what I considered a second-tier book on Tolkien -- by which I mean one that might be interesting, but not a must-have given my particular interests. One I'd put off because of the price, but finally decided to get because of the out-of-print price madness I'd seen take place a time or two in the past that I'd rather not get mixed up in.

Turns out I was just a little too late: The book in question (Alison Milbank's CHESTERTON AND TOLKIEN AS PHILOSOPHERS) went out of print between my ordering it on November 5th and Amazon's shipping the rest of my order on the 16th. Checking now, I find that $39.93 (pretty much the original price of the book) will now only get you a dog-eared, marked-up copy: 'like new' will run you $141.42 at least. And if you miss this one, the other two 'new' copies are priced at $160.61 and $223.29, while the remaining 'used' copies come in at $135.80 (a pretty bit jump from $39.93), $358.58, and a stunning $900.00. I have no idea who Bordee Books might be, or why they think people wd pay $900 for this book.

As for online book services, ABEbooks came up a blank, but Bookfinder came through with a lot of options. Used started at $43.92 -- which sounded good, until you realize that this is the entry and is no longer operative. The next-best used price was $118.78 for the hardcover and $119.49 for the softcover -- though why, give the choice, anyone wd buy the paperback when they cd get the hardcover for slightly less is beyond me. After various amazon.this-or-that-country, the final (and most expensive) used option listed was from A Libris for $362.57 -- again, bizarre, because A Libris also lists it New at $181.45.

Clearly the 'New' book options looked much better at Bookfinder -- that is, until you actually tried to use them. The first one, from Barnes &, says they're offering the book for $34.15, but once you actually click on the button and go to the B&N site, it turns out they're offering it for $117.46, $185.78, and $358.58. I don't think this is a bait-and-switch, though, so much as the price being updated as it soared in one place and not in the other. The Super Book Deals listing promises it at $42.36, but clicking on the button reveals that the book is no longer available. The offer of $42.90 simply turns out to be a broken link.

However, there is hope: The link does work, leading to the book, new, in paperback, for twenty-one pounds. Which comes out to about the same as the original price wd have been before they ran out of it.

The real fascination here is the price-gouging of a book that hadn't made any particular stir when it first appeared and now, a few years later, went out of print without the public much noticing. But as I understand it the online book-dealers have some sort of software that alerts them to books that go out of print and in some cases (presumably when linked to authors whose readers are as obsessive as we Tolkienists)* immediately doubles or triples the price on any remaining stock. And then others seems to have a variant of that same software than prices their just a little bit higher or lower than those results. And yet others triple that highest price, apparently in the odd belief that, given the choice, people will prefer the most overpriced of all available options.

As for me, I ordered it from Blackwells -- whom I'm happy to give my business (I've bought books from them before, but only when I was in Oxford on one of my rare research trips over there, never before on-line. Now to wait till it arrives, and see if it was worth all this hooplah.

--John R.

*the same thing happened a year or two back with Frederick & McBride's WOMEN AMONG THE INKLINGS, copies of which on Bookfinder start at about $100 (i.e., more than double its original price), with one bookseller offering it for $1503.00. And I'm afraid to say even outdoes this, offering a dozen or so copies in the $100 to $200 range but with one dealer asking $1995.06 for his copy.** Unless it's written on mallorn leaves by elven calligraphers, this is grossly overpriced.

**plus shipping. You'd think that might throw that in gratis. You'd be wrong.


Jason Fisher said...

Hey, John, read this fascinating blog post for some (possible) insight into the high prices for out-of-print books on Amazon. Apparently, the prices in the secondary market are often entirely automated, often repeatedly changed by warring bots. This makes sense when you think about it too, because many of these secondary sellers have so many books they can't possibly be setting the prices manually.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Jason
Yes, that's the piece I read earlier this year, or one v. like it. And note that Bordee Books is the culprit in both cases. Good people to stay away from, methinks.
Many thanks for the link, which was indeed fascinating. I have myself come across the phenomenon of dealers offering books for sale that I know do not exist (like PULP CTHULHU).

--John R.