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The Nuances of Book Conditions

Updated: Aug 31, 2022



Book conditions. The bane of my existence if misinterpreted, especially when I buy from third-party sellers on websites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and eBay. I hate buying books that way, but sometimes I’m looking for an out-of-print book, and those are the only places I can find them. I’ve never purchased from a bookseller who gets used book conditions correctly. I usually buy Used, Good or better but wind up—even if I order a Used, Like New condition book—with a Used, Acceptable book. Keeping in mind that I’m writing this article from a collector viewpoint. I’m not trying to write as a reader or a collector (though I can get very nitpickey) of antique or rare books or first editions from hundreds of years ago. The conditions detailed in this article are for relatively new releases and not collector’s editions of rare, antique, or antique first printings, and the books are not just for reading purposes. Special Editions exist for the purpose of collection, which is why the price tag on one is much higher than a plain, readable, bookstore copy.


In order, the book conditions are:

  • New

  • Used, Like New

  • Used, Very Good

  • Used, Good

  • Used, Acceptable

  • Used, Poor

According to several places, including multiple bookseller sites, Amazon Seller Central, and even eBay, here are the descriptions for how books should arrive to the customer according to category along with some visual examples:

 

New.


A new book is exactly that.  New.  It should look exactly as if it were just printed and bound at the publisher and be completely free of scuffs, dings, shelf wear, paper tears, marks, binding cracks or breaks, loose binding, etc. This is the most controversial classification of book conditions due to the fact that many book sellers and book boxes send out books that arrive to customers, even though the customers purchased the book in new condition from them, in less than new condition.


Examples of spines and corners that look new. The spines are nice and unbent, and the corner is nice and square.


I’ve seen many a comment about the dings and scuffs not being a big deal. I have also seen some less than polite comments about how picky bookish folk are who insist on their beautiful, collector special editions showing up in less than pristine condition. The truth of the matter is—the picky bookish folk are correct. The books are not showing up in New condition, but they were ordered that way. A book with a bent spine or a dinged corner is not a New book. It’s not even a Like New book. More on that in the appropriate condition for books that are “but it’s still readable” below.


Examples of spine and corners that do not look new. The spine is bent/creased, and the corners are not square but dinged.

 

A book with a bent spine or a dinged corner is not a New book.

 

Used, Like New.


A Used, Like New book is also pretty straight forward. It’s Like New. It doesn’t have any dings, binding cracks or breaks, loose binding, marks, or tears. It can, however, have mild, very minimal shelf wear. When I describe shelf wear, I in no way mean dings or bends to the cover boards, dust jacket, or spine. I mean very little, minuscule amounts of shelf wear (it is used, after all). The book is still collectible, though it is not brand new. The Used, Like New book can pass for New at a distance, but under scrutiny, it will show that it has been used very gently. See eBay's description of book conditions here. The general opinion is that books that are like new still look brand new but have been read once. Only once. I'm a bit more generous, as Amazon and eBay, etc. is, but pickier book collectors (even though I'm pretty picky) would say the book must still look New if it is designated as Like New.

 

Used, Very Good.


The Used, Very Good category gets a bit more complicated, as it is not as straight forward as New and Like New. New and Like New are a bit more objective in description, but Very Good and below start to get more subjective.


The Very Good book looks like it has been read, maybe more than once, has some shelf wear (not much), but is still free of any dings and heavy scuffs. Corners on the cover boards should still be relatively square and the spine, while it may show some use, is not completely folded over like it’s been dropped or banged on something. Many collectors, such as myself, won’t even buy reading copies of paperbacks in less than Very Good condition. The reason for this is because the rating is so much in the eye of the beholder.


I’ve gotten Very Good books that look like they were thrown on busy train tracks and left there for a few days while the lines just rolled right over them repeatedly. I’ve also gotten (maybe once or twice in my whole life) Very Good books that look to me as though they belong in the Like New category. Additionally, though Amazon gives the stipulation that the Very Good book may be missing its dust jacket, I do not agree. This is also why I try not to buy less than Like New condition when buying a used book.


An example of a Used, Very Good collectible paperback.

 

Used, Good.


Here is the category books with dinged edges and spines should be placed in, according to many book seller sites. Used, Good books can show “significant wear,” which includes dings, bent spine ends, broken bindings (including on paperbacks), and shelf wear—also known as scuffing. Any presence of the aforementioned conditions on a book to any degree immediately places the book in the Used, Good category, at the highest.


Used, Good books are only good for being readable and are not really collectible, as some of the components of the book—such as dust jackets—may be missing, and the book may even have writing or highlighting in it. Please note that paperbacks with cracked spines do not belong in this category. See below for appropriate categorizations of paperbacks with cracked spines.


No book sold as New should arrive with any damage or evidence of use (also termed “shelf wear”) that belongs in this category, though unfortunately, many booksellers and book boxes do. I find it appears as though most New books shipped from sellers or boxes have been put in the box (or the BUBBLE MAILER) that way. Regardless of the condition in which a book was shipped, though, the shipper/seller should always take care to make sure a “New” book is shipped in New condition and in enough protection IN A BOX that it also arrives to the customer in New condition. Also, books should never, ever be shipped in bubble mailers.


An example of a Used, Good (though on the low end) paperback.

This paperback is now out of print. Notice no spine creases.

 
Also, books should never, ever be shipped in bubble mailers.
 

Used, Acceptable.


We have now arrived at the dregs of the book condition world. Used, Acceptable books are just that: Acceptable. They’re the desperate, last minute picks of people at used book shops or library book sales who see a copy of a book and find it interesting enough to read but not interesting enough to purchase it for more than 25¢ or $1. While all the pages are bound in the book and none are loose, they may be on their way to falling out. If a paperback, the spine has at least one crease in it. One is almost guaranteed to not have the original dust jacket. The binding can also be quite wobbly and the pages may have water damage or a slight wave to them.


If you see a book and sneer at its condition, chances are you have a Used, Acceptable book. These are perfect for toilet reads, as if they fall in the water, you’re not sad you’ve lost a copy of your most favorite, most beautiful book. Please note: any paperback with a cracked spine is automatically relegated to the Used, Acceptable category, regardless of the condition of the rest of the book. The reason for this is that the binding is now compromised, and the pages are no longer guaranteed to be secure.


A Used, Acceptable book. It is an ex-library copy with markings, dirt, horrible spine conditions, and the binding glue is comprised.

This copy was sold by Discover Books as Used, Good.

 

Used, Poor.


Under the dregs is the bacterial growth layer above or below it. This is the Used, Poor book. The pages are falling out, there is writing all in the book, someone’s toddler has scribbled in it with crayon, it’s been wet, burned at the edges, and is most likely missing pages. The spine has been cracked multiple times. The cover has bends, tears, folds, dings—you name it. It could have been dropped in the mud. Perhaps tossed in the ocean. Maybe dropped in the toilet. It’s gross. Many times, these books are used to light grills.


The book is most likely not readable because of missing pages and obscured text. One might even ask: why do booksellers even list Used, Poor books for sale? Good question! I’d have to say that, because books with multiple cracks in the spine and torn, bent covers can still be readable, they’re still pretty poor copies. And desperate college students in need of that specific copy of an academically edited classic for class need them because they only cost about $5 for a paperback instead of $50. Plus, there’s guaranteed to be highlighting in them, so that’s less work when studying. Also, bookish folk may buy Poor condition books to utilize the pages for props when taking snazzy IG photos.


The Poor book is still not without use; it is simply not at all a copy one would consider to collect unless in very special circumstances. As in, it's the last copy in existence and it needs to be protected. I'm being melodramatic, of course.




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