Friday, September 3, 2010

Used Books and the Internet

I have mixed feelings about purchasing used books on the Internet. I like the vast selection and, often, the inexpensive prices, but I've been burned several times by the actual condition of the book against the seller's stated condition and even, on more than one occasion, the seller's advertised edition of the book versus the actual edition that arrives in my mailbox.

I had a recent experience at eBay that was disappointing. I found a lot of eight Richard Laymon titles, all published by Leisure, that were advertised as "like new." I watched the books for nearly a week and placed my bid on the final day of the auction. I won. I was excited. And I paid within minutes of the auction's close. Then a little over a week later the package arrived. I anxiously opened it--a small box--and inside were the eight books. The titles were correct. The editions were correct. Unfortunately the condition was far less than expected. I expected books that were very close to new in condition, but I received books that were very well used and very well worn.

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment because I wanted the books to both read and keep. I sold most of my Richard Laymon novels several years ago and over the past several months I have wanted to replace some of my favorites. Titles like The Traveling Vampire Show, One Rainy Night, Night in the Lonesome October and a few others. The lot I purchased had the first two titles along with a couple books I haven't read. But now every time I look at the books I get a little annoyed, shake my head, and I'm reminded that I could have purchased the four titles I really wanted from a new bookstore for only a few dollars more than I paid for these beat up and abused paperbacks.

These are the Laymon novels purchased on eBay
I guess what I'm really getting at is, I'm going to miss brick and mortar bookstores if and when they disappear for the simple reason that I can walk in, pick up the book, thumb through the pages and know exactly what I'm purchasing. In a very real sense I already miss that feeling and the bookstores aren't gone yet. At least not completely.


  1. You ain't kiddin'! I hate when booksellers on eBay show only a photo or a scan of a used book's cover--it's the spine where most wear & tear shows! Total amateurs. I'd have been livid if I received books like those pictured that were described as "like new." I also think it's odd that sellers describes books as "all pages intact." What? I can't assume even that? If all pages are not intact, it's not a book; it's trash. Literal garbage, and should not even be for sale.

    I think some folks have no idea what descriptions mean; I recently saw a paperback on eBay described thusly: "good condition, heavy creasing on spine, wear on cover edges and spine, some creasing on front cover." *Good condition*?! That is the precise opposite of "good condition"! ARGH. I hope you raised some kind of hell with this seller.

  2. Will. I was amazed at the poor condition of the books. The photograph with the auction made the books look really nice. There were a few minor nicks the covers of a couple of the books, which the seller mentioned in his description, but nothing about the spines.

    When I contacted the seller his response was something like, "I'm sorry you're disappointed, but those books have only been read once and you can't expect a paperback book that has been read to have an uncreased spine." Therefore the books are in like new condition since they have only been read once and all the pages are intact and they haven't been dropped in the toilet. We've exchanged a few emails back and forth. He's holding steady on his story.

    The booksellers on eBay and Amazon, particularly, drive me nuts with their bad condition descriptions and I've even had bad experiences on Alibris and Abebooks. You live, you learn, I guess...I'm just not sure what I'm learning.