Book terms

After mentioning in todays first blog entry that ‘Mint’ has no part in a discussion about books, it dawned on me that not everybody gets bogged down in esoteric discussions about what are, and are not, the proper ways by which one might describe a book’s condition. So I’ll give you my personal list of conditions, which are more or less in line with the majority of sellers, even if some will no doubt consider me a Phillistine.

New– The book is new. Duh, right? But you’d be surprised how many sellers out there describe books as ‘new’ but when the buyer gets them they are mangled. This happened to me on Ebay just this year: a box full of ‘new’ and ‘like new’ John Ringo hardbacks were actually beat-up ex-library copies. Fortunately, the matter was settled neatly without Ebay’s heavy-hand ever getting involved. Anyway, new means new.

Fine- A lovely copy, possibly looks just as good as new, but there is just the hint of spacing between the pages that show it has at least been leafed through, if not read very carefully. A Fine copy has no flaws.

Near Fine- Older booksellers skin crawls when they see this term, because for the decades before the internet it was not accepted in the world of used booksellers. (Except for the rogues among us) In essence, a Near Fine book has no real flaws, but it shows some light wear or usage in a few spots. Nothing that could be called a flaw, but not exactly perfect, either. I do use this term, and ask forgiveness of those who know better.

Very Good- Still a collectible copy of a book, but there are one or more flaws. Maybe a small closed tear in the jacket, maybe an owner’s name in a book or a lean to the spine. All defects must be noted in the description. Now, within Very Good one will often see Very Good+ or Very Good-. Again, many booksellers won’t like these variations but they exist. I look at it this way, if a VG copy is a 7 out of 10, then VG+ would be a 7.5 and VG- would be a 6.5.

God, I feel like a heretic.

Good- A better bookie than me coined the phrase ‘Good ain’t good.’ If you see a book described as Good, that means it is NOT collectible. It’s pretty beat up, has multiple flaws and in general has seen better days. That does not mean books in Good condition don’t have their place. They’re fine as a reading copy or for research, or if the book is rare or you need a copy to fill in a collection, and you find a Good copy at a price you can live with, great, go for it. After all, a well read book means that more than once person thought it was worth reading. But don’t order a cheap Good condition copy thinking you’re going to get something pristine.

These days, many dealers let computer programs do their work for them. They scan their books with a bar code reader, don’t bother even looking at the book’s actual condition, and let the default condition be filled in as ‘Good/Good’, meaning a Good book in a Good dust jacket. And if a seller can’t be bothered to even look at the book they are asking you to spend your hard earned money to buy, then you should believe the book really is in ‘Good/Good’ condition, meaning beat up and smelly.

Fair- A fair book is really, really beat up, it is probably still holding together but unless it’s rare and you are going to have it rebound, it’s value is in the text and nothing else.

Ex-library- I put XL in a special category because the condition and reasons for buying them vary widely. Libraries mark their books up in a number of ways, from stickers on the spines to card pocket, taping down jackets to stamps everywhere. Many XLs have never been read but they still have all of these defects. So from that standpoint alone they are not collectible. And yet, some do have a bit of value. A rare XL might be worth buying because it’s the only copy available, or other copies in better condition are too expensive or you already have a nice copy but need a dust jacket. XL dust jackets can be in surprisingly good condition, once the old mylar protective jacket is stripped off.

That’s a brief run-down on conditions in today’s world of bookselling. If you’ve got specific questions, please just ask, I’ll do what I can to answer them for you.

Addendum: sometimes uploading to various websites can alter the condition settings a seller has loaded. For example, Amazon.com routinely changes whatever setting a dealer has used to ‘Used: Acceptable’ on their site. Very often there is nothing a seller can do about this at Amazon and we just have to live with it. What the hell ‘acceptable’ means is anybody’s guess, but you know the really lazy sellers when you see this term used on other websites than Amazon. That means they can’t even be bothered to use a default of ‘Good/Good’, they simply upload whatever Amazon has regurgitated to wherever they can list their books. They might as well be selling tires or scrap metal.

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