There’s no question that times have changed for book hounds. Back in 2005 when I first got into this as a hobby, flipping wasn’t a common term and there certainly weren’t smartphones with dozens of apps designed to scan and identify valuable antiques of all types. Back when my parents were learning the ropes of online selling via eBay while running a small town antique store, if you went to an estate auction or flea market and didn’t know something was valuable, tough luck.
You went by gut instinct while learning as much as you could, as fast as you could, and collecting actual antique guidebooks to give you an idea of what was valuable, what to look for, and continue your education. As the book hound of the family I did the same, and still have well over a dozen guidebooks giving pictures, identifying features, and estimated prices for a variety of antique books.
Now YouTube channels abound of deal hunters looking at garage sales and flea markets, teaching about how flipping, deal hunting, and arbitrage works in today’s world. And many of these channels are great – but what does this mean for old school book hounds?
Can the new school gain any benefit from old school methods? Is there any place for the old school book hound way of doing things in today’s tech-savvy world?
Let’s dive in to find out!
Old School Book Hound Methods
The old school methods fell back to habits that even more “new school” book hounds still often see the value of: memorization and physical reference resources. Every old school book hound has “A library.” These are books that focus on antique book values and the reason there’s a need for so many books is because there are literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of collectible books.
No matter how good your memory is, you won’t be able to have all that at a glance. Also many book hounds might have a huge knowledge in one area of literature or one time period, but not have a lot of experience in other areas of antique books.
This is where the new tools can help, but when you’re used to researching a library of books about identifying antiques and finding values, your subconscious is full of information that can come back as “gut instinct” while looking at groups of books. Multiple times I just had a feeling to pick up a first edition I didn’t recognize, I did, and found out it was valuable…and a listing on a nearby page of a book I had been studying, researching, or looking up repeatedly in the past.
So that subconscious mind absorbing some information has made me money while scouting for more deals in the past. This is something that doesn’t develop, or at least not at nearly the same level, with someone who jumps to the smartphone app every time.
Another obvious advantage: some of the best estate auctions I’ve been to were at an estate out in the country. Very few Internet options, and no Wi-Fi available. While the sheer reach of smartphones is impressive, there are still plenty of places where that level of data is unreliable at best and those with firsthand knowledge will still have a strong advantage.
- Able to instantly identify many valuable or potentially valuable antique books at a glance
- Less likely to attract attention compared to someone scanning everything in a pile
- Develop an instinct for markets and collectible books that aren’t necessary listed online as anything special
- Know how to look for signs of later printings, book club, or “false firsts” that an app might not catch
- The modern tools are undeniably useful when running into new books you don’t know
- Avoiding apps and tools can keep you focused in on specialties thus missing out on other valuable book opportunities that could be right there
- In an area with good Wi-Fi, the number of books a new school book hound can check or look over in a short time is impressive
New School Book Hound Methods
The new school methods make a lot of sense and some of the tools out there are just amazing. There are some great apps for identifying antique books, but there are also book apps that let you scan to see what books are selling for now. This can open up finding used text books or specialty books that wouldn’t be considered antiques or collectible but might be in demand.
I’ve also found small press specialty books that just looked like a “Local small town pub” and it turned out ghost town hunters in my area were paying $200 a copy for one. No way to know that without the tool.
No matter how knowledgeable, a book hound refusing to use any ID apps is going to be at a disadvantage to a bookhound that has 2-3 of the right book apps on their smartphone and can find out in seconds what a title is going for or whether or not the copyright page is a first edition or not.
While many of these apps focus just on online stores, or require some time to set up in a way that will be custom tailored to your actual needs as a book seller but once you do they can be an invaluable assistant to scanning books you’re just not sure about but might have some major value to them.
There’s no denying that the “new school book hounds” come more from the arbitrage, side hustle, and flipping culture that has always been around but has thrived with YouTube and modern technology as opposed to coming from the position of loving history, old books, and coming into the book hound life through that direction.
Nothing wrong with that, but it shows the difference in styles where the new school book hound knows how to utilize outstanding tools for identifying, valuing, and determining whether a used book is a good purchase or not while an old school book hound can identify certain books on sight and make a beeline, while missing other potential profitable book selling opportunities completely.
- Apps are incredibly useful for fast look up
- See current price listings in many online places
- More data in a device than you could ever hope to memorize no matter how long in the business
- Familiarity with filming and tech can lead to an interesting YouTube channel (and YouTube income)
- Lets you sort through a lot of books in a short period of time
- An old school bookhound with a huge amount of memorized knowledge would be able to pick many gems out of a pile of books before a new school book hound could scan them or look at them
- Some argue there’s a less developed instinct on unknown resources
- No internet signal = tools out of commission
- Might be asked to leave in some places when scanning book after book
Is There a Place for Old School Book Hounds in a New School World?
Absolutely. Now granted, I’m biased here since I started out as what would now be considered “Old School” because hey, time makes fools of us all, but I’m a firm believer that both groups can learn from the other. When I walk into the local used book store having an app on the smartphone that can quickly bring back live data on a book that catches my eye is a wonderful thing and can help me make good buys, or save my budget when my gut instinct is wrong.
On the other hand, you’re not going to go through 10,000 used books on shelves with a smartphone app, and most will skip paperbacks completely because it’s unusual for paperbacks to be valuable as collectible books – at least in comparison to first edition first printing hardcover books.
But there are valuable paperbacks and the fact that I know Dean Koontz ghostwrote under multiple names in multiple genres early in his career meant I picked up those cheap Leigh Nichols and Brian Coffey books that weren’t even getting a glance from other collectors at the large flea market. Because of this, I acquired five collectible first editions for $1 because I didn’t feel like carrying change (10 cents per paperback).
So news flash: those books might not be “high demand” first editions, but eventually I sold all five to a collector and Dean Koontz fan for $150 profit. Not bad for $1 and a few seconds of scanning the paperback section.
I also know from memory what all the really old first edition Sinclair Lewis books are worth. Whether online or offline I can look at a listing or an early Lewis book and know:
- Whether it’s a profitable deal or not
- How much potential profit is there
- How long I’d have to hold the book to get the best deal
- If the potential profit is worth the time, cost, or hassle
That’s pretty powerful. Especially since those early Lewis books pre-Main Street are not going to stick out in any serious way. They’re just hardcovers that won’t jump out from the shelf at all among so many other old books.
That type of ability to just know those five paperbacks are under early Dean Koontz pseudonyms or that The Innocents by Sinclair Lewis is worth closer to $1,000 than the $1 it’s marked for on the shelf allows quick action which can then lead to serious profit down the road.
The Best Book Hounds Use All Available Tools
Times change and while that can feel weird in a field like old collectible books that is based on past times and history by its very nature, we have to live in the world we live in. And while admittedly there’s a part of me that’s a bit sad when a side hustle flipper finds an antique book and gets excited about the profit and nothing else, it’s a business.
We have to adjust with the times and the tools that allow flipping and to quickly look up books are just as handy for the old school book hound who deals with many modern books as for the side hustler looking for another deal.
When you combine the excellent tools and knowledge of modern practices (and opportunities) with the old school knowledge and dedication to studying and learning the craft of the old school traditional book hounds, that is a winning combination. If you love old books, antiques, and the idea of making money off of this passion without having to own your own store, then the book hound route is the way to go and using both styles can help create a more successful book hound experience.