Buying books on eBay can be a frustrating experience. I hope to give a few basic pointers to make the experience safer and more rewarding in the long run. To begin with, I must explain that nobody ever bought a book from eBay, but thousands of people buy books offered by eBay sellers. This is an important distinction. I have been in open shops where Grosset & Dunlap reprint titles were offered as first editions, and I have received catalogs where book club reprints were offered as first editions. My point is that a smart book collector needs to use common sense and be careful no matter where he shops.
How can you be sure on eBay? Since so many sellers on eBay have little experience selling books it is important to be careful. Try to buy from a dealer who takes returns. Even the most experienced bookseller makes errors, and the more experienced and professional sellers are willing to admit that and will take a return within a given period of time with no questions asked. This has been a standard in the mail order book trade for as long as I can remember. An honest seller will take a return if the book isn’t as described, and most sellers will take returns for any reason. I’ve had several books returned because the person ˜found out they already have a copy.” As a seller it is frustrating, but I know it gives buyers the confidence to bid on or purchase my books so I have always accepted returns.
Another way to make your shopping safer is to buy from people who sell books. I know it sounds ridiculous; after all, you are buying a book so they sell books, right? Look and see what else they are selling. If they have three books, and two hundred pokemon cards, six chipped mugs, and a vintage motorcycle for sale, maybe they aren’t primarily booksellers. If all you want is a reading copy, these dealers will be fine to buy from, but they generally don’t understand condition standards for book collecting or how to identify first editions or how to properly describe them. These sellers often write “I’m not a bookseller” somewhere in their descriptions. The truth is they ARE booksellers, they just aren’t very good at it.
Another way to judge the experience of the seller is to look for bookselling terminology and clear descriptions of condition. If the person knows the ˜lingo” of bibliography and of book description then they will be able to answer your questions and describe their books correctly.
In general it is wise to be suspicious of dealers who sell through private auctions. Although it does protect the identity of their bidders, it also hides information that is important for bidders to know. Many times books that are misdescribed or contain bad signatures are offered in private auctions so that the bidders cannot be warned off by other members of the eBay community.
If the image and the written description are at odds, believe whichever is worse. I have seen books that are beautiful in the scans with condition descriptions of “fair”–upon inquiring it turns out that a major flaw has not been described or pictured in the scan.
Following these rules may lose you some bargains. You might not get that first edition of Huckleberry Finn for $10.00. On the other hand you might not get that first edition of Huckleberry Finn for $1,000 and find out that it is a Grossett & Dunlap reprint, and the seller doesn’t take returns.
Essentially a buyer’s responsibility on eBay is to learn enough about the seller from their listing style, the types of goods they sell, and their feedback history to feel confident buying from them. It may be a bit more trouble than some mail order transactions, and there certainly are more unsophisticated sellers on eBay, but it really means no more than knowing something about the person or business that you are buying from.
By carefully reading the seller’s listings, judging what types of items they usually sell, and not bidding on auctions where the terms are unfavorable (no returns, or private auctions for instance) anyone can buy safely on eBay. There are as many honest sellers on eBay as there are on any other venue. Unfortunately, the dishonest and irresponsible sellers are the ones that get the most attention.
David Holloway, Bookseller Selling as Hollowayd on eBay.
Books online at ABEBOOKS at: http://www.abebooks.com/home/DRHBOOKS/