At Paper Cuts, the blog of the New York Times Book Review, Mick Sussman describes what happened when he went to Amazon.com recently seeking a copy of Rick Perlstein’s study of the Goldwater campaign of 1964, Before The Storm. Sussman, who wanted to read that book before taking on Nixonland, discovered that Before The Storm was now out of print, in both hardcover and paperback, and that the five copies being offered by secondhand vendors were being offered for prices ranging from $131.09 – for the paperback – to $185 for a hardcover copy. (Here, it should be noted that when Hill & Wang published Storm in 2001, it had a list price of $30, and that the paperback edition, which appeared a year later, sold for $17.)
Sussman, understandably startled at this situation, then contacted the vendors offering the book to determine their rationale for setting this price. What he learned is of some interest for anyone wondering why some obscure titles go for a dollar online (or, in the case of some titles on Amazon, for a penny, not including $3.99 postage) and others go for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Essentially, it boils down to the supply-and-demand rule. Thanks to the wide attention Nixonland has received in print and online, its predecessor is in high demand. But Hill & Wang has chosen to let the book go out of print, and so recently that remaindered copies have not yet shown up in the stores. Ergo, the high prices. (Rick Perlstein notes at the above blogpost that Nation Books is to reissue Storm, presumably at an affordable price, but not until next July. In the meantime, Ross Douthat at The Atlantic Monthly has spotted a hardcover copy for a mere $89, probably the ex-library one listed at Bookfinder.com.)
Several Nixon-related titles also illustrate the supply-and-demand rule. A few years ago copies of Kevin Phillips’ long-out-of-print The Emerging Republican Majority routinely went for over $100 via Abebooks and Bookfinder, before some additional copies hit the market and the average price dropped to a somewhat more affordable $40 or $50. And I well recall that around 2002 or 2003, only about a dozen or so copies of the second book of the late Stephen Ambrose’s three-volume Nixon biography could be found at secondhand sites, usually for prices starting at $100 for the paperback and $150 for the hardcover; there are now three or four times as many online, and the hardcover often shows up for around $70.