The rare book trade finished another year of sales and according to the Rare Book Hub, sales of the highest priced items did worse in 2023 compared to 2022. Rare Book Hub compares auction sales from most auction houses and it includes items such as trading cards, in addition to books and ephemera. According to the website post, the trend is a continuation from 2022, when book and paper auction sales totaled $1.06 billion, which was down approximately $100 million from 2021, when a few high-priced items skewed figures upward, but up sharply from sales of $725 million in 2020.  Two important statistics referenced are as follow. Firstly, 12 items sold for prices exceeding $1 million in 2023. In 2022, it was twice that number- 24. Secondly, the average price of sales dropped substantially, from $2,094 in 2022, to $1,863 in 2023; an 11% decline.

Auctions are one important channel through which rare books are traded, but it’s not the only channel. Rare books are also traded through on-line marketplaces and dealer websites, as well as at antiquarian book fairs, and through a diminishing number of remaining brick and mortar bookstores. While we have no way to capture in-person exchanges, we do have a number of on-line marketplaces reporting on their top sales for the year. Sales at auctions include some of the most expensive books offered for sale, but on-line sales carry the majority of books traded. For example, Abebooks alone has over 100 million books for sale. Based on the performance reported by a number of dealers, a realistic estimate of the annual sales volume on Abebooks is approximately 10% annually, or 10 million books. Rare Book Hub captured 658,000 items traded during various auctions in 2023.

On-line marketplaces are selling not only more books than auctions, but are also selling at higher prices from one year to the next. According to Abebooks’  most expensive sales reported at the end of each year, prices increased by 11% from 2021, to 2022. And prices for the most expensive sales reported for 2023, jumped a whopping 71% from the prior year. Our Rare Book Sale Monitor produced the following average sale chart for the years 2021-23 by genre. The genres Modern First Editions, Poetry and Literary Criticism and Science Fiction/Fantasy, led this price increase trend.

Most Expensive Average Sale Price by Year by Genre


The pandemic provided the opportunity to capture an accurate set of figures on how well antiquarian book fairs perform. During the years when ABAA book fairs shifted to remote only participation, we were able to collect data on the actual sales for the top three fairs which took place in Boston, New York and California. The number of books sold at fairs such as these, are negligible compared to what gets sold at on-line marketplaces. For example, most sales in terms of total number sold took place in 2020, at the California book fair, with 1,264 sold. The highest average price for books sold was recorded in 2021, in New York, with $2,716. The most expensive tier at this event scored an average price of $44,000; comparable to the one reported by Abebooks most expensive sales for 2023. Of course, there are multiple book fairs held throughout the world.  The combined sales from all such events are estimated to be close to those sold at auctions, which is significantly less than the number of items sold through the various on-line marketplaces.

The ABAA held a few online events as well as several in-person fairs in 2022. Finally, they are now back to pre-pandemic levels of attendance with just a small decline in the number of participating dealers. Some dealers cannot justify spending close to 5 figures for a booth at one of these events. On the opposite side of the trade, buyers are deterred by the high buyer premium fees; some, close to 30%, charged on top of the high bids at auctions. What does the future hold given these dynamics at play? The most probable trend is more of the same: buyers getting more comfortable buying higher priced rare books at on-line marketplaces, while book fairs and auctions give in to dealer and buyers’ preferences.


Collectible Novelists

Kenneth Gloss, the owner of Brattle Book Shop in Boston, whose bookstore sells general used books and rare books, reported to Bloomberg in 2020 that rare books and manuscripts have proven to be the bright spot in the industry. The consensus among dealers of rare books is that overall the market has sustained itself, even though the rest of retail has been thrown into turmoil. In fact, the hotspots in this market have soared past many experts’ expectations driven primarily by high demand for first editions and the more desirable signed copies. Individual titles are being affected by factors such as: popularity of the author, the condition of the book, the scarcity of the copies available for sale, the significance of the book, the cultural impact of the book, and many others less prominent.

The two most important factors driving pricing are the popularity of the author, and the scarcity of the title. Our Rare Book Sales Monitor has selected the top ten most collectible authors during these, the early years of the 21st-century. Ten authors all of whom have made their mark over the last 23 years, with new, successful novels and or have continued to grow in popularity and scarcity with some of their earlier works.

J.K. RowlingJ.K. Rowling: The author of the Harry Potter series and other fantasy books has a huge fan base and a global influence. Her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997 with a small initial print run of only 500 copies. Still popular today with over 2 million shelvings, and with signed first editions trading at mid five-figures.  The Harry Potter universe attracted both old and new fans of the series with many successful film and play adaptations. She maintains a strong online presence where she expresses her opinions on various political and cultural issues .


Philip K. DickPhilip K. Dick: He is considered to be one of the most important figures of the 20th century science fiction, with 44 novels and about 121 short stories. Dick’s works are very popular during this century still, because his writings are inspiring movie producers. Nine films this century alone were based on his stories and future films are in the works. His themes and concepts have become more relevant this century. He anticipated many of the issues and dilemmas that we face today, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, surveillance, climate change, and authoritarianism.


Aldous HuxleyAldous Huxley: Dystopian novels have seen renewed popularity this century as a result of political instability and the pandemic. Progenies of Huxley’s thinking, (a one-man vanguard of the counterculture), feel his works describe the impact which defines much of today’s political landscape. Huxley’s Brave New World, in particular, reached new heights this year with a first edition copy which sold for $15,000 on Abebooks.


George OrwellGeorge Orwell: Another powerful dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, a projection of life under totalitarian rule, and a warning of a future world where the state machine exerts complete control over social life. It also popularized the term “Orwellian” as an adjective, with many terms used in the novel entering common usage, including “Big Brother”, “doublethink”, “Thought Police”, “thoughtcrime”, “Newspeak”, and “2 + 2 = 5”.  First printing of the British edition in original red dust jacket traded for $17,550 this year.


Cormac McCarthyCormac McCarthy: Even though, Blood Meridian (1985), is regarded as his magnum opus despite its initial disappointing critical and commercial reception, his later works at the turn of this century brought greater recognition to his older novels. More recent works such as: The Road, All the Pretty Horses, and No Country for Old Men fueled his popularity and demand for the older Blood Meridian, Suttree, and The Orchard Keeper. After his death this year, the Blood Meridian has been trading around $5,000.


Joan DidionJoan Didion: Didion’s novels resound through generations. So much of Didion’s writing remains current because she wrote about the unrest of people and places we know well.  A pioneer of New Journalism and a master of literary style, she addressed issues such as racism, feminism, grief, and morality. A Netflix documentary, “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold,” in 2017, explored her life and career and increased public interest in her work. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama in 2013.


Stephen KingStephen King: With many famous works to his name, including over 64 novels, the “King of Horror,” received his biggest recognition at the beginning of the century. Among the awards to his name, the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and a National Medal of Arts from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts. The Shining remains his most popular book, selling over 700,000 copies so far.


James BaldwinJames Baldwin: His writings are relevant and insightful for the current social and political climate. The historical importance of social injustice is revisited once again in this period of political and social reaction. Baldwin was a visionary who foresaw the challenges and opportunities that America would face in the 21st century. Go Tell it on the Mountain is a powerful coming-of-age novel that delves into themes of race, religion, and identity in 1930s Harlem.  Expect to pay over $5,000 for a first edition.


Sir Terry PratchettSir Terry Pratchett: Pratchett’s mighty Discworld series is a high point in modern fiction. With more than 100 million books sold worldwide in 43 languages, Pratchett was the UK’s best-selling author at the turn of the century. First edition of the first Discworld novel in the author’s acclaimed series, The Colour of Magic, reported to have comprised 500 copies, but 400 of these were seemingly issued to libraries within the United Kingdom.


Frank HerbertFrank Herbert: Back in 1963, publisher after publisher rejected to publish Dune. Today Dune is considered to be the best-selling sci-fi novel of all time. It was followed by five sequels which were also well received:  Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse; and two Sci-Fi Channel miniseries aired in 2000 and 2003.




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