Pricing Tools and Tips, Pt. 1: Books with ISBNs

The market sets the price for each book we want to sell, but it doesn’t take long for the new seller to realize that it’s not always a simple, straightforward process to put a price on a particular book. Finding good information is key.

There are several good websites to use to find comparative prices for books. I use all of them selectively, considering the strengths and weaknesses of each for the particular book or type of book that I’m looking for. While the same sellers may appear in multiple listing sites, there are real differences in the scale and specificity of a search from one site to another. You’ll get more efficient and accurate results when you know where to look.

For our purposes, the world of books is divided into those with ISBN numbers and those without. The sales outlets for each category are no longer exclusive, – each lists new and out of print, – but that original orientation still shows in their catalogues and shapes the search.

Amazon is the place to start when the book has an ISBN. Plug in the number and immediately see all the new and used copies offered for sale on the most popular site. Match condition, find the reliable sellers to compare with, consider your profit guidelines and pick a price. (click here for pricing basics) Generally quick and easy for recently published books, but not always for the older ones or for small press titles. ISBN numbers have been used for decades by now, so many are out of print and less available. When a search produces fewer than ten copies offered by the independent sellers, I suggest looking further. Perhaps it is rare and wonderful, but keep your excitement in check for a bit.

Cast a wider net with BookFinder, an aggregator that searches several dozen book selling sites for you. It searches by ISBN or by title; always use ISBN when available to be confident of an exact catalogue match. There will be a good bit of duplication in the results. A seller offering one book through five different venues will be listed all five times. Often this is as much as you need. Same seller, same book, wildly different prices on different sites – red alert! A software algorithm is setting the price in relation to the other listed prices, not to any real value. There can be other games being played, too, on the low end of the price spectrum. Click on a low price listing and look at its website; many times I have seen that price as “out of stock” but a higher priced copy is available.

There’s no guarantee that anything useful will appear, but you’ll usually see a few additional sellers to supplement the ones with Amazon. If there aren’t, if you still have just a few copies with high or widely separated prices, consider a few other factors. Of course, it might really be a book of interest and value. Evaluate the sellers’ reliability and professionalism. I feel much more confident of a book offered by a major bookstore e.g. Powell’s or a member of ABAA. Consider the topic. Science and technical works can remain valuable, if not popular, and are worth listing when a self-help title of the same vintage is not. Perhaps it’s a work of local history or a specialty hobby with such a small press run that there are never many used copies available. If it looks good to you, give it a reasonable price and put it out there. I think we all want to give a book that chance of finding a reader.

On the other hand, is it a self-published work, an ebook that perhaps never sold many print copies? Is the book an older directory or a textbook? It’s likely that a newer edition is available. Most booksellers will drop the out-dated copy from inventory, thus creating a pseudo-scarcity which excites the gullible computer software.

Online scarcity does not equal value. Sometimes it’s just a book that no one wants.

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