Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Trajectory of Modern First Edition Prices

A couple of days ago, I noticed a first edition of Shadowmancer by GP Taylor (the privately published Mount edition) on Ebay, starting price of £9.99. Two days later it has reached £21.00, and I will be interested to see the final price. However, this reminded me that I had been meaning to write something about prices of hypermodern first edition fiction. Shadowmancer is a classic example of a book which was initially very cheap, but subsequently achieved very high prices on the secondary market in a short period of time (over £1000, which was extraordinary for a resently published paperback). Since then, prices have plummeted, and now you should not have to pay more than £100 or so if you want a copy. I do not mean to cast any aspersions on the quality of this book (which I haven’t read), but I will be very surprised if it retains any substantial value over the years to come, and it seems to me more likely that prices will continue to fall.

This phenomenon has become very much a trend with modern first edition, and it is easy to name other examples, perhaps less marked, where an initial short-lived surge in prices has not been maintained. This is the case even for well regarded books which will probably be read for many years to come - Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The English Patient fall into this category.

Of course, the first rule of collecting is only to buy what you like. If your judgement is good, at least some of your purchases will show a sustained long term rise in value. However, from a financial perspective, the key is to buy books as prices start to rise and to aim to sell at the peak. To do this successfully requires paying careful attention to the market, and even then it is easy to make mistakes. But overall, you will win more often than you lose if you aim to follow this strategy.

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