Tuesday, June 1, 2010

But is it worth it?

In 2003, I published a short story collection, You're a Bad Man, Aren't You?. A few years ago, I noticed the sellers selling used copies of it on Amazon had priced it in the $50 range. Over time, the number of available copies grew smaller, and the price slowly climbed higher. By the time there were around seven or eight copies left, the price ranged from around $75 to around $150. More recently, the number of copies has grown even smaller.

Maybe a week ago, I noticed the highest priced copy was selling for $999.99. I found this amusing and absurd. To be clear, these are independent booksellers. I have no relationship to them and do not profit from these sales. There were no royalties with the book. These copies are theirs to sell and to price as they wish.

In the last few days, supply has dwindle to three available copies. I suppose the other sellers saw what the one seller was pricing the book at -- I don't know how Amazon pricing works -- and now they're all in the just-under-$1,000 range. The best bargain you can get is $998.99.

This seems like a lot to pay for a book that is 70 pages long, thinner than a piece of toast, and includes stories with titles like "Midget in a Suitcase." A book that is not by a famous writer. A book that is about men who love mannequins, a woman pretending to be a lamp, a pornographer in crisis.

Every once in a while, I get an email from someone who wants to know if I have a secret cache of copies. Could I sell them one? they want to know. I have five copies. One of them is signed to someone whose name I don't recognize. They survived a hurricane and probably have trace amounts of asbestos on them from the roof that came off in parts. They are a little frayed.

I have no issue with any of this. It's the opposite of the impulse of the internet: a nonstop vomit of words and numbers and images so free they're worthless. I like the idea of the opposite: rarity, specialty, Luxirare.

Why does this book cost so much? Are you someone who paid $50 or more for this book? If so, why?