May 2002

Jessa Crispin


How to Haggle

Every bookslut needs to have a good collection of classics on her shelves, even if they're only for reference. Or to make yourself look smart. And those cheap, ugly paperbacks they sell at Barnes & Noble? You can do better than that. Go to a used bookstore and get some nice hardbacks that will make you look oh so sophisticated. Buying used hardbacks will cost about the same as those cheap paperbacks, especially if you become a haggler. And here's how you do it.

1. Establish a relationship.
Go to the same bookstore and make sure it's independently owned. You won't get very far in a chain like Half Price Books if the person you're trying to haggle with doesn't make pricing decisions. Owners of small stores will remember your name and your penchant for 17th Century Russian novels. Special order books and make conversation. If they know you, they'll be more flexible.

2. Be a woman haggling with a man.

Not necessary, of course, but it can help. A tiny flirt and smile while suggesting a lower price can work wonders. They also won't be expecting it from a woman. I'm not telling you to flash the clerk, but use your wiles.

3. Know your shit.
While making chit chat, make sure you know what you're talking about. Learn how to properly pronounce Camus (hint: it's not Kah-muhs) and know your genders. Rainer Maria Rilke: male. George Eliot: female. Do a little research and use your knowledge in conversation with the seller. "I was astounded to read in an interview with Dmitri Nabokov that Vladimir was self-conscious about his use of the English language in his later novels, when I always believed he had such an inventive, lyrical quality to his writing, especially in his later English works."

4a. Buy several books at a time.

Get three $10 books and offer $25. Don't offer too low and don't refuse to compromise. Either way you're wasting your time.

4b. Buy books in a set.
Instead of buying one volume at a time, buy the set and adjust the price. If you're buying the memoirs of Casanova for $10 a volume, that's six volumes for a total of $60. Feel free to deduct the cost of 1-2 books for a 5-7 volume set. If there are eight or more, deduct 15-20%, but that's offering low. You'll probably end up paying more, so be willing to do so.

5. Hem and haw.
Before agreeing to a price, pause, tilt your head and look like you're doing massive calculations with your budget. Wait about 30 seconds to see if he'll give a lower price. Either accept or slightly raise your offer.

6. Pay in cash.
If you've successfully haggled the price down on a crate full of books and then proceed to pull out a Platinum Visa card, they may not go so far low next time. Pay with cash and as close to the exact amount as you can.