Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Expensive OOP Book - Is It Worth It?

One thing I learned in law school is that we can't know the "value" of anything.  All you can know is how much someone actually paid the last time the thing was for sale.

This comes up in all sorts of valuation situations, but for romance readers, it's relevant when you find an author you love and her backlist is hard to glom.

Mary Balogh is just such an author.  From 1985 to 1997 she wrote 40+ Signet Regency and Signet Super Regency romances.  Some have been rereleased, but many have not.  And those that haven't can be very expensive if purchased online as used books.

I have three of the least expensive in my TBR:  A Masked Deception (1985), The Incurable Matchmaker (1990), and Snow Angel (1991); I own two more that I have read: Tempting Harriet (1994) and The Temporary Wife (1997); and I've borrowed at least one from Janet W: Dancing with Clara (1994).

With prices at for used copies running anywhere from $5.00 to $40.00, you can imagine my delight when a friend announced, "Oh, I have all of those.  Or, at least I did..."  I drove to New Jersey to help her sort through boxes upon boxes of books...and we found three:  The Double Wager (1985), A Gift of Daisies (1989), and The Unlikely Duchess (1990), which she lent to me.  They all sell in the $10 range on Amazon, so by the time you add in the shipping & handling, it would have cost me over $40 to buy them.

I'm glad I didn't.  Oh, they're okay -- and having gotten to read them for free was a treat -- but if I'd paid that much money for them, I'd have felt a bit gypped.

Now, maybe it's sheer perversity that these were the ones my friend had kept, and all her other Mary Baloghs -- which she thinks she just listed on PaperbackSwap (!!) back in the day -- were sublime.  Or maybe her taste and mine don't jibe.  Or I'm just being a cranky reader, which is the default assumption in all such situations.

But whatever the reasons, these books seemed not nearly as fluid, engaging, and memorable as Balogh's more recent books, e.g., the Slightly and Simply series.

[If you're keeping score at home: I liked The Double Wager the best of the three, but it wouldn't have been a keeper, particularly as Balogh's done the supercilious duke better elsewhere and the circumstances keeping the hero and heroine apart seemed silly.  The Gift of Daisies was refreshingly duke-free -- and therefore quizzing-glass-free -- but the hero came across as a bit of a prig, willing to sacrifice his and the heroine's happiness because he presumes her "true" preferences no matter what she says.  And I liked An Unlikely Duchess so little that I skimmed vast bits of it just to see if the jewels get recovered.  That was a shame because in many ways I liked the hero and heroine of An Unlikely Duchess best of all.  I just didn't like the book.]

One lesson from this is that I'm happy to wait for the other two dozen Signet romances to be rereleased in their turn.  I'd rather pay the conventional $7.99 + sales tax (or shipping) when the time comes than pay a lot of money (none of which would go into Mary Balogh's pocket) for a used book I might not enjoy.

So -- is an OOP worth $10 + s&h just because that's what's someone's willing to pay?  Not to this cranky reader.


  1. I seriously need to go through my keeper boxes, to see what I have -- I could be sitting on a gold mine!

    I used to love to track down books to complete my collection, and I suppose at one time I might have spent something ridiculous. But I might be getting a little more pragmatic about it, since I've changed my mind on what I want to spend my $$ on (right now it would be a tropical vacation--LOL).

  2. I spent $25 for a used copy of THE WINDFLOWER...and will still call it money well spent!

  3. Perhaps nit-picky but fortunately for the inveterate OOP reader, Amazon is now, in many cases, permitting a purchaser to bundle used books to reach the magic free shipping for $25 mark. I'm not sure I quite understand your point ... that $10 + shipping is too much and you'd rather pay $7.99 and download it when it's re-issued. Seriously, why pay $10 or $8 -- why not wait to get it for 75 cents at a UBS? Many times if an author writes a lot, not every book is going to hit it out of the park so why bother. Unless it's the one or two authors that bring out the OCD in one. My $10 worth :)

  4. Donna -- That's what my friend in New Jersey thought. So we whipped out the laptop and ran every title she might be willing to part with through Amazon to get an idea about prices. It's a bit surprising what's worth more and what isn't.

    Sharyn -- Yup, that was a bargain; as I recall, that one's going for a lot more. (I read Janet's copy. Again, not a book I personally need to own. )

    Janet -- Okay, so you want the full economic breakdown?

    For me personally, looking for OOP books in used books stores is not financially efficient -- there aren't that many within a 60 mile radius of my house, and of course, none of them are likely to have any wildly valuable OOP books on the shelves. (They have access to Amazon just the way we do!) So by the time you factor in gas, time, effort, and the number of visits before I find something that would cost me more than $4 on Amazon, I've definitely spent more than $4 to buy that book.

    I agree -- some used books can be included in the $25-free-shipping deal at Amazon, but a lot don't. I personally have never seen a relatively expensive OOP book available (used) from a vendor who offers the free shipping deal.

    Now, if what you're saying is that I wait for the reissue (which I might need to pay full price to get even the digital copy), then wait for that reissue to start showing up at UBS or through Paperback Swap -- well, I'm neither that poor nor that cheap that I have to do that. And I do want Mary Balogh to get the 67 cents in royalties from my purchase.

    But, that's because I'm actively looking forward to the Baloghs. With a lot of books that sound good -- someone's given it a rave review or tweeted about it -- I'll often plunk myself down on a waiting list at Paperback Swap and eventually -- without my spending any gas or wasting any time -- I get a copy. It is completely true that my TBR is more than large enough to keep me busy while I'm waiting.

  5. I bought the Windflower used for $25 plus shipping and handling, read it, loved it, and immediately resold it for $25. The cost for me to read that book was shipping and handling, in other words $4. I've only done that with The Windflower, but I've considered doing it with other books. It's worthwhile if you don't mind the administrative hassle.

  6. I have all of Balogh's trads, obtained through relentless on-line searches and checking every UBS I ever entered. The most I've paid is $25, a "buynow" on e-bay. Having obtained them, I sat down and determinedly read through from first to last, having been told by many that they were the sine qua non of trads. Some are very good character studies of types--like Freddie, in "Dancing with Clara." But, you know, I cannot really convince myself that they are romances, because, in the greater majority, the HEA occurs because the author, like the deus ex machina, determines it will be. From the events in the books, the HEA is unlikely, again as with "Dancing with Clara," and equally so with its sequel, "Tempting Harriet," in which the timely elopement of the hero's intended is the only thing that allows the HEA.
    I, too, think the more recent Balogh's are far better.


  7. Avoriana -- That's a smart approach, particularly with a book like The Windflower that's not likely to be reissued.

    I had a fascinating discussion with Janet W. about the possibility of forming a consortium to buy a wildly expensive OOP book (everyone chips in $5, or whatever) and then the book travels from person to person. In the alternative, one person buys the book but others rent it for $5 plus postage, so that the original purchaser ends up with the book for less money.

    In the end, the logistics (e.g., cost of insuring the book, etc.) makes that scheme seem unfeasible, but it's an interesting idea.

    Dick -- I would recommend Joan Wolf's trad regencies (also Signet Regencies) and some but not all of Elizabeth Mansfield's trad regencies as being better than *some* of the early Baloghs. (I have to be careful because, unlike you, I haven't read them all, so there may be a swoon-worthy volume among those 40+ books.)

    For a nice introduction to Joan Wolf (if you haven't already read it), here's Janet's discussion of His Lordship's Mistress.

  8. @Magdalen: my option when an OOP is not available for a reasonable price on Amazon is to look for it in our extensive library system. Like you, I'm unwilling to pay $10 + S&H for a used.

    @Janet: I know you talked about this before, but I've never managed to find free shipping for a used book.

  9. Magdalen--
    Is Lord Carew's Bride one of the Balogh's you need? If so, let me know, as I have a copy currently languishing on for under $2.

    And yes, I have paid hideous sums for OOP books--but not paperback romances.

  10. Keira -- I do envy you and Janet your superlative library systems. But then I think about your (likely) property taxes... :-)

    Barbara -- Thanks, I have that one. It was rereleased recently with Dark Angel; the final two books in that series, The Famous Heroine and The Plumed Bonnet are due to be released this fall.


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