Sunday, February 23, 2014

What is *Normal* Book Damage?

One of my last purchases of 2013 before I got serious about reining in the book-buying was from Half.com. I've used this site for years and 98% of my transactions have been problem-free. A few months ago, I had that problem where I was sent two ARCs instead of finished copies, but generally speaking I've had very good experiences. After this last fiasco though, I've decided it's a very good thing I've curbed my internet book shopping because this transaction left a really bad taste in my mouth.

It was bad enough the seller took three weeks to ship the book instead of three business days as she was supposed to. But to add insult to injury, I opened the package to find my "very good" condition book had the spine broken in three places, creases on the covers, and a tear at the bottom of the front cover where it is separating from the spine. Now, I've mentioned many times before my love of used books and used bookstores. I don't need every book I purchase to be in pristine condition, but this kind of damage according to Half.com guidelines qualifies the book as "acceptable" condition -- the lowest of the five categories and a full two levels below "very good."

An email to the seller was met with a rather rude response -- I've sold on Half.com myself, so I know exactly how I would have handled a complaint of this type, and it's a far cry from the "customer service" I actually received. Now it's my own fault for buying from a newbie seller, but minimal feedback usually doesn't deter me as long as it's positive feedback. Anyway, her email quickly made clear she had no knowledge of Half.com's Item Quality standards because she told me she, "believed it to be in perfect reading condition, and as a soft cover book, it has normal damage for having been read." Forgetting the fact that she listed according to her own standards instead of the website's, that last part really irked me!

It got me thinking, too -- what does the average person consider "normal damage" to a book? I have no problem reading a book into tatters -- my Diana Gabaldon books are practically crumbling apart -- but under no circumstances would I try to tell anyone else they are in good condition, especially if I were trying to sell them (not that I ever would!). Am I crazy to think creases, rips and mutilated spines are not "normal"? These things happen, I know they do, but they are not normal for a trade paperback only read a time or two, if you ask me.

My early Outlander books are about 20 years old.
I bought them used & have read them several times.
These babies have been loved, not abused!

It really bugged me that she tried to blame the book itself instead of human carelessness saying, "Spines are cracked when the book it sufficiently opened to read with that quality of book." As if every book that's ever been read automatically gets a cracked spine. I'm sorry, but trade paperbacks published in recent years are pretty well made, in my opinion. We're not talking about 1,000 page mass markets, like the photo above. I don't think I've ever broken the spine of a trade paperback, come to think of it!

Fellow book-lovers, please weigh in about what you consider "normal damage" for previously read books -- I'd like to think I'm not crazy, but am I?

33 comments:

  1. I have problems trusting half.com for the reasons you have listed above. I often prefer to get books from the library instead of buying them anyways.

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    1. I can understand that & libraries are awesome :) It's just too bad with so many great sellers, there are also a few that don't play nice!

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  2. I'm super picky when it comes to my books- I generally buy new. The few times I have bought used books I always get the "like new" category (at least from Amazon) and there's always some yellowing, creasing, or stupid stickers stuck to them. I'll buy generic from Target, cut cable, or buy in bulk to make up for the price of new books.

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    1. Oh yea, those stickers are such a pain! This one had a GIANT sticker on it too, but given the way it was listed, I was much more surprised and annoyed about the mutilated spine.

      Those are great ideas for saving -- I'm trying to cut back, but if I continue to buy used, I am much more likely to go to a local store now so I can see the condition for myself!

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  3. I haven't really ordered that many used books, but that damage looks like a lot of extra love, throwing around and heavy reading. None of my books look like that unless they accidentally fall into a puddle or something!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

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    1. Yea, my beat-up Outlander books are definitely a rarity in my collection. Mass market paperback was not the smartest format to get such lengthy tomes in! The newer books in the series I have in trade paperback or hardcover :)

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  4. You're definitely not crazy! Yes, books do tend to look slightly the worse for wear if like us bookaholics you keep and re-read them a lot over the years but I'm sorry if they're selling a book that has that kind of damage they've got a cheek describing it as 'very good'!

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    1. Cheeky indeed! In my view, the real issue was dishonesty more than the actual damage, but it was the additional comments that really got me thinking (made for an interesting post, at any rate!) Reading what the seller considered "normal" for simply having been read were truly baffling to this book-lover!

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  5. See that is so why i only buy used books from my local store instead of online because i dont trust their descriptions!

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    1. I love local used bookstores so much, and I will definitely be opting for them more often going forward! It's just too bad these kinds of things happen sometimes which can overshadow all the good experiences.

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  6. If the cover is damaged or book is separated from spine that is not excellent condition. I think you have every right to be upset and I hope your feedback of seller reflects that

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    1. Yea, I always try to resolve problems first before leaving negative feedback, but it didn't really help much in this case!

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  7. I've always been a firm believer of "It's not what you say, it's how you say it". I don't mind used books either, but that doesn't mean that when I buy a book, I want to get one. More importantly, I can't stand this kind of defencive, snippy, borderline passive-aggressive attitude by someone who wants me to give them my money. Very unprofessional.

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    1. I really like that motto, and you're so right -- if she had responded more nicely or if she had simply said "I'm sorry, I'm a new seller and I didn't realize I had listed this book improperly" I probably would have just let it go! I understand the desire to defend your actions, but a simple apology would have been so much more professional. She also kept saying how it was an inexpensive purchase, so she was basically trying to tell me that for the price I paid, I had no right to complain -- but it wasn't about the amount of money spent, it was about her being misleading in her listing by not following the rules, and then not taking responsibility. Oh well, one more reason to help cut back on the book-buying :)

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  8. I had a similar experience when a book was apparently 'very good' but was actually filled with highlighting and biro marks. Oddly, though, I don't mind buying battered used books (within reason) but I never break the spines on new books. Interesting post!

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    1. Yea, I'm not sure where you bought your book from, but I have learned that Half.com quality rules are much more lenient about markings and highlighting inside a book than damage to the outside -- I guess because it's more obviously visible? All the more reason to favor brick-and-mortar used bookstores going forward, so I can see for myself!

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  9. I definitely don't consider a ripped cover to be "very good" condition or normal wear and tear for a book. If it was just the cracked spines, I'd say you're reading into it too much. But for the cover to be torn and for there to be creases in the cover means this was less than good condition.

    Also, it sounds like their excuse for the damage was that it was a well-read book. In that case, I wonder why they decided to sell it.

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    1. You're probably right, and my experience selling on the site myself has probably made me more sensitive to and aware of the differences between the quality levels. I take those guidelines seriously though so buyers can know what to expect when their package arrives -- and I would say the vast majority of sellers do follow the rules. In fact, it has happened much more often that I receive a book in better condition than expected, so this this was truly an anomaly.

      This book also had one of those giant-ass college bookstore USED stickers on the back, so it probably was more heavily read than she was letting on, since she was claiming that in order to read a book at all, you have to crack the spine. THAT attitude was what really surprised me and got me thinking. And any book that has made the rounds at a college, is unlikely to remain in "very good" condition!

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  10. Your upset at this transaction is well warranted. I've never purchased a used book online, nor do I own any used books, so I can't weigh in too much on this particular topic. The way you have described this book though sounds like it's well and truly beaten up.

    It's understandable that books get cracked spines over time, I know a lot of my books get cracked spines in their first usage because those kinds of things don't both me, but rips and see able wear and tear are by no means 'good condition'.

    I guess it is the same with many online transactions though, there will always be some disappoint. It is just a shame to have duped in to buying something that was not properly advertised.

    :-)

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    1. I can't imagine not having used books in my collection, though I can guarantee my collection would not be as large as it is if it weren't for used books since they are so much less expensive (and sometimes free with trade credit!) There is something extra exciting about a brand-new pristine book though :)

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  11. She does sound inconsiderate, make sure you leave some less than positive feedback!

    I am a bit weird with book damage as I love cracked spines and will go out of my way to crack a spine as I read a paperback. I like that it makes them look loved and read. I know I'm in a minority on this!

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    1. Interesting! You are definitely the first person I've heard of you prefers cracked spines. My beat up pile would be right at home on your shelves :)

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  12. I think a book could get a cracked spine without being abused if it was read enough, but I wouldn't categorize that as "normal" use. Most of my books are only read once or twice and are in nearly new condition. I think it's terrible that she ignored the guidelines! I would see if there's a way you can report her to half.com.

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    1. I totally agree -- it was the attitude of "that's just what happens if a book has been read (at all)" was what really baffled me!

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  13. I haven't done much "used" book shopping online, except for book outlet. But when I shop on book outlet I shop under the scratch and dent section, not really expecting the books to be in quality..simply because they are only a few dollars. But if the seller said it was a certain quality, the book HAS to match the description of that quality!

    Sorry this has happened to you!

    Lisa
    www.turningpages94.blogspot.com

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    1. You're right -- it's really all about making an informed decision -- while shopping in the scratch and dent section or under the acceptable category on Half.com, you know what you are getting yourself into!

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  14. You are not crazy. From the sounds of it those books are not in very good condition and she shouldn't have said they were. She should also be going by the websites standards and not her own. It seems to me that this seller thinks that as long as you can read the word from the page it doesn't matter if the book is falling apart, she considers it good. Ugh, I'm upset for you. The tear in the cover is the one thing that really bothers me, no way is that from normal reading.

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    1. Glad to know I'm not crazy! It was the attitude more than anything that bugged me -- if she just apologized and said she didn't know about the guidelines, I would have been much less upset.

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  15. I would consider a wrinkle in the spine as 'very good', because even reading them very carefully with some books it's impossible to not crack the spine at all, but anything further than that, and most definitely what you've described of the book, that is 'pretty bad condition'. I wonder if the seller is a reader themselves - I can't imagine even those who are happy with cracked spines would say it was very good condition.

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    1. Given the giant college bookstore USED sticker on the back, I'm going to guess she's not a reader, but was just trying to sell off some school books. And you're right, depending on the book some of that damage could be seen as normal, but just be honest about it!

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  16. A dog eared page or a small mark on the cover is only (in my opinion) "very good". The word very makes the difference for me. I would be soooo pissed to get anything more than that. Did you report this to Half.com? I would with pictures and a copy of her email. That is a mess. I would make someone give me my money back too! I hope you tell them a few choice word. :)

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    1. I guess this is what the feedback system is for! In a way I'm glad this happened because it's really helped curb my online book shopping impulses :)

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I'd love to hear what you think :)