A Lot of Money for a Book

It’s been brought to my attention that someone is selling a new (i.e., unread) copy of Agent to the Stars for $999.95 (here’s the link for verification, although if you visit it after today, who knows if it will work).

My thoughts on this:

1. At that price for a book, does taking a nickel off actually work on a psychological level?

2. Would someone really pay that much for something they can read online for free?

3. If they would, couldn’t they just buy 140 copies of The Android’s Dream in paperback instead, and artifically inflate my opening week numbers? That would make me and my publisher happy! Heck, I’d give them a copy of Agent to the Stars for that. Hint, hint.

4. If someone can really sell their copy of the book for $1,000, I suddenly know how I’m playing for Athena’s first year of college ten years down the road.

I wouldn’t stop anyone from spending $1,000 on a book of mine if it actually and genuinely makes them happy, but, you know. I can think of better uses of one’s cash. And God knows I’m having a hard time thinking of a book I’d spend a thousand dollars for, so I can’t imagine why anyone would spend $1,000 for mine. This isn’t fake humility, by the way, since I clearly don’t mind putting out $250 limited lettered editions of my work for all y’all solvent enough to buy them. But a grand seems a bit much. That’s an iPhone and a PS3! And pizza! The mind boggles, it does.

36 Comments on “A Lot of Money for a Book”

  1. There’s a lot of that kind of silliness online. You might find the same book at a used bookstore or thrift store for $5, if someone didn’t realize it might have more value and gave it away. But this online stuff is just collecting run amok. Some people will buy anything rare or limited edition, hoping to make more money off of it later. But that buyer doesn’t want your new mass-market book, they want the rare out-of-print item. Or, no one wants it and none of those high-priced copies will sell. :)

  2. Oh, I know the person who would pay $1,000 for the book wants it for purposes other than reading. And, hey, it’s their money.

  3. I sell a fair number of used — and not-used free books sent to me that I have no intention of reading– on places such as Half.com, and bizarre prices, like $823.45 show up there all the time.

    There’s two possibilities:
    1) Terrorists are using unusual price points on books as a back channel for communications
    2) Books that are listed with one used book site are getting brokered to another, which adds their own markup, ad nauseum.

    I’m certain #2 is happening, I’ve read of cases where several copies listed on Allibris may all be the same one, but through different brokers, making the appearance of numerous copies of a rare book, when actually there’s only a couple on the market.

    Regarding #1, I’ve probably been reading too much Bruce Schneier.

  4. I remember reading that Neal Stephenson finally relented and allowed “The Big U” to be republished when he say someone selling old copies for hundreds of dollars on eBay.

  5. Heck, I’d probably sell my copy for only $750. Maybe I should list it and catch someone looking for a bargain.

  6. Steve Burnap:

    Well, Tor, who currently has the rights, can publish it any time they like, as far as I’m concerned.

  7. As a book dealer I have to wade in:

    1) Weird prices – are caused by programs which automatically adjust prices to stay competitive. No, they will not go down to stupid prices automatically. Yes, if the above commenter listed their Agent to the Stars for $750, the other copy would probably be $749.95 in a week. An example of this type of program is Monsoon.

    2) High Prices – “Send it up the flag poll and see if anybody salutes.” Sage words from one of my trainers. You can always come down in price, but you cannot go up if it sells quickly.

    3) The Collector – “Worst pricing ever!!!” Anyway, Agent to the Stars was put out in a small run, to fans and is unlikely to arrive in a thrift store. It is also, with the original HB of OMW the rarest scalzi items. If an author is hot, their books still top out around $300 – usually. That said, when one offers at a ridiculous prices, others jump and unlike just about any other venue I’ve seen, the market works to find the selling price.

    4) Tor publishing the book won’t do a damn thing to the price of the first edition. Just ask Neal Stephenson who republished The Big U to lower the price of the 1st edition. Collectors will want the first no matter what.

  8. Well, Tor, who currently has the rights, can publish it any time they like, as far as I’m concerned.

    As I said on the Whateveresque, if and when that happens, look for the prices on the first print edition of Agent to go way down.

    And this may be yet more evidence that online availability doesn’t significantly depress sales of printed books. Electronic versions, no matter how freely available, do not quite take the place of a printed book.

  9. I have seen signed first editions of Dune come in around that price, and so help me, I have, for the briefest of moments, contemplated what I would have to mortgage or have medically removed to buy one. Of course, I’ve also seen some fake signatures on book club editions going for $600+ on eBay.

    Honestly, I’d be happier with a signed Chapterhouse, but those seem to be rarer, as well as less expensive. Go fig.

    But then Frank is dead and will not be signing anything ever again, whereas you are rather ubiquitous, at least on the web. Not that I’m saying you’re not worth it (of course you are, my precious little snowdrop) but it does seem to violate several fundamental tenets of supply and demand.

  10. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Chang, liberated!

    Wow! You’ve hit the bigtime! Just wait until pirate book’s show up on the shelves with names like “The Android’s Cream”.

  11. spacejock – Simon Haynes is the author of four Hal Spacejock novels, a number of articles on writing and publishing, and several short stories, one of which collected an Aurealis Award in 2001. He divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with the occasional round of golf thrown in for a laugh. Born in the UK and raised in the south of Spain, Simon emigrated to Australia with his family in 1983. He's a founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and lives in Perth with his wife and two children.
    Simon Haynes

    I saw a new copy of my book on Amazon under ‘other sellers’ for $1823 or so. I still have the screenshot knocking around – makes an interesting conversation piece.
    I’m guessing someone confused aussie dollars with italian lira in their conversion algo-thingy.

  12. Would I pay that much for a book? No way. No book. I wouldn’t pay that much for a Gutenberg Bible. Not because I don’t think it is worth that much, but because I don’t want it that badly. Agent to the Stars must be available at a reasonable price elsewhere. And if it isn’t, my library has a copy.

    And Chang, I believe “The Android’s Cream” is a porno movie, not a book.

  13. I once saw a copy of my own anthology STARLIGHT 1 being offered for a grand. Mind you, it was a hardcover–there were only 600 hardcovers printed, primarily for libraries; the book was primarily a trade pb–and it was signed by Susanna Clarke, whose first story appeared therein, a little tale of two guys named Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

    Dunno if anyone actually bought it. But when I met up with Susanna at a con in Dublin last year, I got her to sign my own stock of hardcovers…

  14. Well, this is just the flip side to Amazon’s constant “31 Used & new from $0.01” BS, and other things like listing “GURPS Talislanta” and the blatantly nonsensical ads claiming to have books on anything you searched for on Google (they may have stopped the last).

    “You qualify for a FREE trial of Amazon Prime” Oh wow. I’m supposed to be impressed?

  15. Well, suppose it said you weren’t qualified and were, in fact, too ugly to have a paid membership to Amazon Prime. Would you be offended?

    I think you should count your lucky stars, green clovers, pink hearts, and yellow moons that you qualified.

  16. The most I have ever paid for a book was US$125 (not including tax) for a signed edition of “Night of the Morningstar” by Peter O’Donnell.

    If ever I were to become the Evil Overlord of the planet, one of the things I would outlaw outright is what I call “short-pricing” like the price mentioned in John’s post.

  17. Back in the day when I was looking for a particular hardcover of “Alanna: The First Adventure” (Book 1 of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce), I was indeed willing to pay more than the list price – but a grand?! Good gravy, no.

    I was looking for the exact book I’d read when I was 8 years old in a school library. And of course discovered that there had been many reprints and varying hardcover artwork since I’d read the book. For all of you who care, I did ultimately find it on eBay. I think I paid about $40.

    My original first ed hardcover OMW is still with me but in less than “collector’s edition”, since I dropped it in a snowbank shortly after receiving it!

  18. Man that’s weird!

    I have a signed, lettered edition of Agent To The Stars (which according to the jacket sold for $150). But I bought my copy almost 2 years ago ON Amazon (used) for about $24. I simply wanted a hard copy of the book, as I don’t enjoy reading online.

    The book showed up in almost pristine condition, and my brother in law (who makes a living on the side selling rare book) shrieked at me, and said “Don’t read that – it’s worth too much money”! I promptly ignored him, and went right ahead and read it.

    Go figure.

  19. Well there goes my thoughts about not being able to buy a copy of the Book at any price. Now it just seems to be at a price WAY out of my range. Well maybe TOR will take this as proof that there is demand for a more mass market print edition of the book. hopefully in Hardcover? “Agent” is what brought me to your books in the first place read the whole thing online, (bought OMW the day after I finished) been trying to lay hands on a print copy ever since to complete my collection. I just seem to have horrible luck!

  20. Christian @22: I am a collector, but I see no reason not to read a first edition of a book I own. Books are, after all, books, and as such, are meant to be read, not worshiped as some religious artifact. I would, of course, take extra care not to spill beverages on them, and I will put the dust jacket in a mylar protective cover, but other than that, the best way to enjoy a book is to read it. :)

  21. You know, I once saw a first edition of Joyce’s Ulysses going for $1200 at an antiquarian book fair. So you’re in august company.

  22. I just did a search on http://www.abebooks.com and found two other signed limited copies of Agent to the Stars, one for $827.11, one for $300. So it’s a bit overpriced, but maybe not as much as you thought.

    FYI, signed firsts of Old Man’s War and Scalzi on Writing are also commanding prices in the $250-$400 range.

    So yeah, if you keep your own stock of firsts in good condition, you probably could use it to help pay for Athena’s college.

  23. I once saw a first edition of Joyce’s Ulysses going for $1200 at an antiquarian book fair.

    Boring and unreadable at 1 / 1200 of the price…

  24. It’s a conversation I frequently have with my mother. Just because someone is offering an item for sale at a certain price does not mean he is selling the item at that price.

    Having said that, maybe you should offer the seller another one at $900, so he can take a 10% profit….

  25. I am thinking maybe I should steal the limited edition copy I read from the library. It was in pretty good shape. Maybe I could get rid of that Library sticker without it being noticeable……..

  26. “You know, I once saw a first edition of Joyce’s Ulysses going for $1200 at an antiquarian book fair. So you’re in august company.”

    Then it:
    A) wasn’t a true first
    B) was in terrible condition, or
    C) was seen many decades ago

    “I am thinking maybe I should steal the limited edition copy I read from the library. It was in pretty good shape. Maybe I could get rid of that Library sticker without it being noticeable……..”
    read A Gentle Madness by Basbanes, the chapter “The Blumberg Collection” for a how-to guide.

  27. My local library has a “signed and numbered” copy of Agent to the Stars. It’s got a clear jacket on it so it’s basically in new condition. Since it’s well known our library system disabled the “beepers” at the door years ago and checking out books is now just sort of a bookkeeping exercise (so to speak), if that thing sells, that book will walk out the door.


  28. Apparently, someone thinks the value of AttS has increased in the last few days. I now see a copy advertised for $1179.55, listed condition as ‘brand new’. Now there is ‘collector value’, ‘reader value’, and ‘marketing hype’. I think this one belongs in the latter category.

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