Why sell to half-price books?

Laura and I unpacked all our books yesterday and realized that we have a shelf-space crisis in our new house, so we decide to try selling some to Half-Price Books. We picked out three boxes of books, probably around 40 books total (though maybe more, I didn’t count). The were mostly hardbound, and many fairly technical, which according to HPB’s FAQ are the kind of books that fetch the most. We carted them down to the Bellevue HPB location, and I waited 30-40 minutes for their buyer to assess the haul. The final offer? Twelve dollars. That comes out to something like 30c per book.

Now, I’m a big believer in the free market, especially for things like this, so I can’t criticize HPB for trying to pay as little as possible for their inventory. What I can’t figure out is this: Why would anyone would ever bother to sell them books in the first place? The HPB is located about 4 miles from my house, and gas here is $4.40 per gallon, so just the cost of driving there ate up about $1 of my gross. Counting driving and waiting, the trip took about an hour. I specially selected books that I thought had a chance of being valuable, rather than just grabbing the many tatttered pulp paperbacks in my library, that probably added an extra hour to the process. If I value my time at Washington’s minimum wage of $8/hour, the whole trip was a net loss for me. I would have been better off just taking the oldest and most tattered books from my library and throwing them away. It would have gained me just as much shelf space with far less time and hassle.

I can’t figure out how selling to HPB ever comes out to a rational thing to do.  If you have a few high-value books (e.g. first editions or collectors editions) HPB will probably offer more than I got, but you’d still be better off selling them individually as an Amazon seller.  If you have just the average haul of old books, HPB will offer you peanuts.  I get a sense that a lot of their customers buy books there, read them, and then sell them back. If the books they buy are high-value, then maybe the fetch more on resale, but it’s still a net loss for the consumer. That’s certainly a nice deal for HPB, getting to resell the same book over and over, profiting each time. But for the reader, it seems like it would be far more economical to just use a library. At least I have the satisfaction of not having recycled any of the $12 back into HPB’s till. I just took the cash and left.

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