Friday, May 9, 2014

book collecting and the use of Amazon MarketPlace

Let's be honest: Amazon MarketPlace is one of the worst places to buy books on the Net. It's virtually a dump of information without honest and detailed descriptions of the books. In most cases best you will get from reading a description is "used book". How about that, huh? Oh, I didn't know it was used. You take me for an idiot?
Unique and honest sellers on AMP is a rare thing. Therefore the most detailed descriptions of the books come from experienced sellers who love and know their books, and by know I mean they know the prices. If a book is well described it usually means it won't be sold for cents or pennies.

To buy something scarce, for cheap and with good description, you should browse for hours and hours on Amazon MarketPlace, and you never can be sure you will find something valuable. Or you can just get lucky, and after a couple of clicks you can find a rare book with good description almost for nothing (shipping price will be way more than the price of the book). I got lucky once - though I browse AMP not so often.

The book I found is Act of Fear by Michael Collins. I already had by the moment one copy of this book, but it was a jacketless one, just yeallow borads. I bought it a year ago, for a couple of bucks from ABE seller who promised DJ. I got my money back but promised to myself I'd never return to that seller. He (they) just doesn't know his business.
But even without DJ it is a scarce book: you will find a couple three-in-one book club edition, maybe even find moderately unexpensive UK firsts, but US first is rare and expensive. As far as I remember the price would be closer to $100.
I was happy when the seller of the book supplied me with the details, I googled the attributes of first editions of Dodd, Mead publisher who issues the book, and I knew then that it was US first edition. My copy cost me around $3. I paid five times more for shipping.

It is an ex-library copy, but I have nothing against ex-lib books. Act of Fear is considered one of the rarest titles which won Edgar awards. It's won an Edgar for the first novel, though for Collins, or Dennis Lynds, as Collins is merely a pseudonym, wrote a few books before Act of Fear (that was also the case for Donald Westlake). It was The Shadow novels mostly, you don't win Edgar for them. Later Lynds used more that half a dozen pen names, he also ghost wrote Mike Shayne novellettes for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Lynds has his readers, critics liked him, though I doubt he had a cult following. I can't explain scarcity of his first books, perhaps, printing runs were small.

Below you can find images of my copy of the book. Act of Fear is, for me, one of the best P.I. novels ever.


  1. I've had somewhat better luck with AMP, but I know what you mean. What annoys me the most is sellers who have a book they know is both rare and not particularly desired by most people, but there's a handful out there who might need it to fill a hole in their collection--so they stick a ridiculous price tag on it, and leave it there dangling--sometimes for years--until some collector, I dunno, wins the lottery, inherits a fortune, and says "Now I can afford to pay that ridiculous sum of money no sane person would ever pay." Just to fill that empty space in his bookshelf.

    There are some very unscrupulous sellers, but most of them are honest--thing is, you're often buying from businesses with a huge inventory, and they don't have time to carefully evaluate every single book's condition.

    And happily, they may not have time to realize they've wildly UNDERpriced some of the books, so that's where the bargains come in.

  2. Underpriced books usually have some defect - it's a book club or without DJ, that's risky. I can't risk ordering a book, paying for shipping up to $25 and then getting jacketless book club. I sometimes demand a refund for something like this, but not every seller will refund. For Americans it's easier, they can risk ordering a book without proper description.

  3. I hear ya. Yeah, if the shipping is that high, you have to know for sure what you're getting. Honestly, I just ordered a P.M. Hubbard book Nick reviewed over at Existential Ennui, for $1.48--the shipping was more than that. The book has no DJ, but it's the American edition, for which the artwork sucked anyhow. Just needed a reading copy. Ex-library. You get those a lot on AMP.

    If I order a first edition vintage paperback, I get very finicky about the condition of the cover. With hardbounds, I'm usually more lax. Someday, many years from now, I hope some lucky collector comes to my post-death apartment sale, and utters a cry of unbelieving delight. Or if he's really lucky, maybe the books will just be dumped on the sidewalk and he gets there just before the garbage truck. My cheerful thought for the day. ;)

  4. For reading copies I prefer ABE. It offers very low shipping prices and ships everywhere, while sellers from AMP mostly sticks to domestic shipping.

  5. I've used them a number of times. Bookfinder can also work, though their website is a bit clunky by present-day standards.

    What I like about all of them is that I'm supporting local booksellers, instead of chains.

    I'd still much rather be able to browse around in actual brick&mortar book shops, but there are fewer and fewer of those around in NYC. The rent is too damn high.