Valuing Books 23 May, 2023 – Posted in: Articles, Books – Tags: ,

For those of us that collect, valuing books is part of the appeal. However, it can be difficult. Sure, it’s nice to have a rare first edition. Or a signed copy of a book by our favourite author, but does this make them any more valuable? The short answer is no. The long answer is no, but…

How do we value books?

The short answer of no is easy because the ‘value’ of a book are the words and worlds between the covers. A cherished book may be dog-eared. It could be on the verge of collapse physically, but its words are stronger than steel to the reader. A book we love is part of who we are. It’s helps us in times of trouble and offers solace whenever called upon. This is true value.

The long answer of no, but is harder to define. A physical book seems to be considered either an inconvenience or a luxury. An inconvenience due to its bulk and ‘limited’ scope. A luxury because of the extra cost now associated with them. A well stocked library takes up space in our homes. If we want to read on the go we need to remember to take a book with us. Then there is the cost of getting a book, either by going to the shop to pick one out or to have it shipped to us. Whereas a digital library, will contain the same information at a fraction of the cost (usually) and taking no more space than our phones.

I have nothing intrinsically against e-books, but I have a despairing feeling that e-books are far too vulnerable.

A digital book usually comes with digital rights management (DRM), which means you can only access that book through some specified device or application as set by the seller. Some publishers do request that their books be sold without DRM. However, this is not the norm. Readers should be able to purchase a digital book wherever they want and read it however they want.

For those books sold with DRM, the seller can lock the reader out of the book with no reason or consequence. You don’t own the book, you’re merely leasing the format from the seller. A physical book, once purchased, is yours forever.

There is also the possibility of tampering with digital books without the reader’s consent. When you have a physical book the words in there are immutable. Nothing can alter its contents short of destroying it. Digital books have no such constraint. Regardless of any good intentions, altering books on a whim is a slippery slope. This type of activity offers a terrible temptation in the wrong hands. You may say, “Yes, but why would they want to?”. And that is the question, why? The answers could be terrifying.

How should we value books today?

Valuing physical books today is mostly down to economics. What condition is the book? How rare is the book? How popular is the book? These are great questions and useful to those of us selling them. However, seeing books banned we need to rethink their value.

A real book offers three distinct values. First, there is real ownership. The book belongs to you as long as you want it. Second, there are no secondary costs with a book. You don’t have to worry about charging it, or keeping it up to date, or having it suddenly stop working. And thirdly, your book may increase in real monetary value. It’s a nice surprise to suddenly find that book you’ve had on your shelf since you were nine is suddenly rare and much sought after.

Physical books are reassuring in their solidity and their boring steadfastness. I would never dissuade anyone from reading a book in any form, be it physical, digital, or some format as yet unknown. But a book in your hands is something you can be sure of your entire life. It will be there, waiting, without change or complaint or cost. That is a value beyond words or money.

Regardless of your preferred method of reading, there is a strong argument that we should make some room on our shelves for real books. One or two of your favourites will be a treasure for many years to come and may take on value in ways we can’t imagine yet.

Valuing books is difficult. Asian woman reading in a bookshop.
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