On Grading a Book’s Condition

Added March 7, 2010
  • On Grading a Book’s Condition

With the advent of internet shopping it has become necessary to adopt a specific and standardized method of grading the condition of books for sale. Any of you who have bought collectible books on-line will have seen the system of letter grades for the books themselves and then for their dust jackets, if applicable. Abebooks website has a glossary of book terminology, and near the top is an in-depth definition for each grading category from new to poor. condition-dust-jacket

The basic idea is that a reputable seller will grade the book accurately and also provide clear details of any flaws. Sellers should also provide photographs whenever possible, and buyers should ask for photos, if there are none.

Of course, if you have been using the web at all to buy collectible books, you have undoubtedly come across many listings that are either not graded at all, or incorrectly graded. You frequently see descriptions like fine, except for these ten major issues, or fine, considering the age of the book. In reality, fine specifically means near new condition. If there is even a minor flaw it should be noted, because, let’s face it, in practice, a letter system for grading books is somewhat arbitrary unless the buyer and seller are in agreement, and buying sight unseen over the internet, it goes without saying, (but I’ll say it anyway) precludes such agreement.

You can tell a lot about the reputation of the internet book seller by how much (or how little) detail they put into their descriptions, and by how clear their details and photographs are. condition-hardcover A red flag should shoot up whenever an on-line seller leaves out any key information, such as the edition, or the publisher, or the year of publication, or (as I’ve said) a crystal clear idea of the condition of the book. Also, be leery if the letter grade and the description really don’t match.

About sellers’ reputations — I have to say here that I find Abebooks’ seller rating system somewhat useless for the buyer and unfair to the seller. I’ll go into it more in a later posting, but for now I will just mention that Abe’s rating system is based solely on the percentage of completed sales. It seems to me that there are many reasons why a sale might be canceled; reasons that do not necessarily reflect how reliable a seller might be.

In the end, the reality is that you are taking a bit of a chance buying on-line, at least until you get to know sellers whom you can trust.

Having said that, I personally have purchased many books through many different websites, and by taking the few simple precautions noted on this page, I have only had the very rare problem with condition being worse than stated, condition-paperback or for that matter, the book being damaged in transit.

So, lastly, regarding damage in transit; if you are concerned about it, do not hesitate to discuss with your book sellers how you would like your books packed and shipped. This is especially true of eBay, where sellers do not necessarily sell many (or any) books and may not be experienced in packing them safely.

After all, what good is a grading system if you spend your money on a book because it is in new condition, but it arrives at your door damaged.

Keep in mind that packing materials are expensive. Plus, it costs more to send a larger, heavier package, or to choose a faster mode of transport, so be prepared to spend more on shipping if you are making these choices. And also keep in mind that, besides accurately rating a book’s condition, a big part of being a reputable internet seller is knowing how to pack and ship books to adequately protect them from moisture and physical damage. Once you have established relationships with honest sellers, you should be able, for the most part, to put these worries behind you.