Book Flipping – the Robert Galbraith / J.K. Rowling book hits Ebay!

This week, I turned $83 into $620 all thanks to J.K. Rowling.

This past week the world learned that J.K. Rowling wrote a mystery novel under the name Robert Galbraith. Ron Weasley would have been proud by the not-so-tough-to-crack deception. Upon learning of this ruse, the Rowling Readership hit the online stores and drove it to the top of the seller’s list.  Very few hardcovers were to be found, of course, as the print run was reported low. On Ebay, I read one description that listed the North American first edition as being 10,000 (an expected figure for a debut author, but of course certainly low for Rowling).

The Cuckoo's Calling - book flipper's dream come true.
The Cuckoo’s Calling – book flipper’s dream come true.

Upon reading about the Rowling/Galbraith Identity news on Sunday morning, I saw an opportunity. It’s called Book Flipping! Or, more seriously, bookselling. It’s what book scouts and booksellers do – obtain those books at a low enough price to garner some income when sold back to another person or store. They are looking at short-term increases and possibly long term holds – my guess is short-term is preferred. I’m certainly not a professional bookscout or seller, but I have enough experience to know that this type of book – a novel under a pseudonym of a world famous writer – is instantly desired by almost every muggle who likes to read.

So, last Sunday morning, I got in the car and faster than you can say Corman Strike, I was at Barnes and Noble at 9 am, the time they opened.

Hi, how are you, Book Clerk, you poor soul who is not yet aware of the Rowling Book Storm that is soon to land on top of his head. The phones – put those on silent because they will be ringing all day!

I found my copy upstairs in Mystery.  Check the copyright page – first printing, first edition – great. Then, went downstairs to the cash register, where 2 copies were already set aside as I had used their online ‘pick up’ feature before leaving on the 20 minute drive to the store. So excited I was that I had 3 copies in hand, it didn’t occur to me to see if any more copies remained. My mind was already writing my Ebay Item Description (‘free shipping!’ ‘first edition, you bet!’).  Instead, I paid and left. I used to work in a bookstore in the early 90s, so I can sympathize with bookstore employees when a sudden “flash mob” like book event happens – people come in or they call and are puzzled when a book isn’t available. Whether it’s true or not, I imagine the rest of the day for the Barnes and Nobles employees was spent explaining that they were sold out of The Cuckoo’s Calling. I did tell the clerk after my purchase why these books were important (at least from a collector’s perspective), and I’m not sure it hit her just then, but I’m sure it did later.

Cut to Sunday evening. Time to auction these off. It’d been awhile since I listed anything on Ebay (the site has long ago stopped being fun and affordable to use  with the fees but I don’t rely on it for income – perhaps it’s easier for those professionals who use it).  I upload a couple of photos, fill in the item description and then decide the most important thing – price.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is instantly a unique collectible. Written by the mega-selling author of the Harry Potter books, it is a hardboiled detective adult story.  Is this book a collectible for mystery buyers or for Harry Potter fans? Or for literary fans who may believe that Rowling’s talent will only continue to grow thus cementing her standing as one of the most beloved storytellers of the 21st century.

Not knowing anyone in the book scouting business to get advice, I listed my first copy conservatively – $85 for bidding or $115  for Buy It Now.  Other similar first editions were starting at $50 but I hadn’t seen anything selling yet for over $150. I listed my item, and almost immediately it sold. I knew I was onto something.

The next night, I listed copy #2 (all three were first editions, first printing). I took new pictures because I don’t believe in reusing same photo on three different items, even if they are the same book. Again, book sold immediately at $145 – I had listed it a little higher as I was seeing some $200+ auctions for the same book. Prices were increasing but still some auctions were ending at 75. Others were still ongoing and climbing slowly.

The third night, after seeing three books going for more than $400, yet still seeing many more in the $200 range (why I have no idea), I decided to aim higher. $450 was my buy it now. I put a starting bid at $300 so it could have easily gone that route, taking 7 days for a number of bids and maybe it would have climbed past $500, maybe not. Did I want to spend 7 days checking my Ebay account every five minute? No. With the Buy It Now option, though, one person did step up and buy my copy. For $450.  I wasn’t shocked. Not after seeing other items prices, but I was puzzled, though, why others who were bidding on the same book in the price range of $500 wouldn’t jump over and start in on my Item.  Today the same searches on ebay “Cuckoo’s calling” brings up a large variety of prices, although it appears they are all steadily increasing.

For the non-collector, paying $450 for a book is a foreign concept. They may think  “hello, the second printing will be out soon and then this stupid book will be, like, everywhere!  And, yes, the same text that is in the first edition will be in the second edition and in the electronic versions as well. I get it. But the first edition is that first public outing to readers, the first vote of confidence by a publishing house (I’ll leave the debate about the wisdom of publishers for another day). Obviously for the well-know author, a first edition is to be followed by multiple printings based on sales that occur throughout bookshops, grocery stores, Costco, etc.  Nothing special, right?  But that first edition book by an unknown author is something different.  If it catches on, the small print run and high demand will drive up the price for those who want to collect that item that existed before anyone was aware of it (even if it is that they purchased this first edition years later).  It’s a marker of sorts, especially for a first-time author or for a bestselling author’s pseudonym.

Today, five days later, I still see a similar price range for The Cuckoo’s Calling (from $200-$600). My advice? I think anything under $300 is a good deal, of course. Past $600 is iffy,  in my opinion, but only because I’m not sure of the actual print run and what the longterm value will be. I would say for serious first edition collectors, it’s still probably a safe bet both for the mystery book collectors angle and the J.K. Rowling fan-base. Two groups vying for the book for different reasons. I would not be at all surprised if the North American first edition/first printing settles in close to $1,000 this month or next. I couldn’t guess where it might plateau.

I am happy with my venture. I sold three books. After fees, I cleared just over $600.

As of this evening, there are approximately 80 books actively listed.  Where are the rest – tucked away to be sold later or, gasp, on someone’s nightstand being read at this very movement, the value decreasing with each turn of the page, each crease of the spine. The horror!

I usually do not buy books by author’s that I don’t read. I don’t read J. K. Rowling (or Galbraith) but this was an opportunity to make some dough which could be put to some good uses (other books? maybe. Or, more likely, bills).  Had I misjudged the demand (unlikely) I would have been stuck with 3 books I had no interest in. If you buy first editions with the hopes they will increase in value, you better know your market, and if you don’t, then just buy what you like, so you won’t be so disappointed to have ‘that book’ on your shelf, no matter what Ebay thinks.

(btw, I realize this post is all about books as collectibles and doesn’t even discuss the quality of the book by J.K. Rowling. It’s a weird hobby/career, book collecting or dealing. One obtains some book at some ungodly amount and then sets it on his or her shelf, never to be touched again!  The “Robert Galbraith” book’s pages could have been blank and I, having not cracked any of the copies I scooped up, wouldn’t have had any idea. Obviously, the best part of books is what the author provides – the stories and characters, drawn to such a degree that we forget our own lives or we find answers or questions that enrich our lives. A book’s real value isn’t how many dollars we might declare it to be  but whether what is between the covers has provided us with a valuable experience. That is subjective, of course.)

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