Half Price Books, How the Mighty Have Fallen

In the 90’s I would go on weekly book hunts. A lot of what I was looking for was Role Playing game books. I would have a route hitting up book stores, game stores and comic stores. Along this route was Half Price books. Over the decades my half price books stops were more than weekly at times. I would go often to keep track on what kind of stuff local locations were getting in. I have to say I bought way too much from Half Price Books over the years. I loved it because I was always able to find great game books at half the cover price. Then, something changed. I noticed the same books that were being sold for 7 or 8 bucks suddenly going on the shelves for $50 or more. I was baffled.

I cannot seem to find game books for reasonable prices at Half Price Books now. Everything they put out they say is a “Collectors Item.” Now, mind you, most game books from decades past are often worn out with names in them, tattered covers, highlighter in them with various other scribblings. And this is considered a collector’s item? I expect books for game to get beat up over time, so the quality of the book really is not always the biggest concern. If I use a book at the table enough it is bound to get coffee or worse on it at some point. And a lot of books like that have ended up in places like Half Price Books. But even more absurd is some of the new books I have found there. Basic Fantasy RPG sells the main book for about $5. With the changes in the gaming industry, print to order books have become common. It is how a lot of us get out books. The BFRPG book is just that, a $5 print to order book. It sells at cost. The Half Price Books store in Dayton Ohio though has this currently available $5 book on the shelf for $15. That is triple the price of a currently available book. This is absurd and seems to indicate to me that whoever is pricing these books is totally unaware of how the RPG industry works.

The same location was selling a common Palladium book for $50 with “Out of Print “written on the price tag. Mind you this is normally about a $20 book. I wanted the book, and it was not a hard one to find since many game stores will have tons of Palladium titles discounted. I picked that very book up brand new without the wear and damage as the $50 copy for less than the cover price of $20. And the game store up the street had a full shelf of these old Palladium books for $2 a pop.

There was a time I’d get the same prices at Half Price as I find elsewhere, but at some point in the last ten years Half Price Books decided that when it came to game books they wanted to become twice price books, perhaps in the case of that BFRPG book they were becoming triple price books. But my rant does not stop there. I have come to accept that any game book I buy will be priced way too high at any Half Price Books I go to. Really, that is sad to me. It would be understandable that a few harder to find books might be priced a bit high, but the mindset seems to be that every game book is suddenly a rare collector’s item is just absurd. In the days of print to order a lot of the old AD&D modules are available through DriveThruRPG in print and you get a brand new clean and crisp copy or you can pay four times the price for one that looks like some kid scribbles all over it before taking sandpaper to. I fail to see how some of the copies they are charging so much for would even remotely fall under the collector’s category. I’ve just saved my money and ordered brand new copies for substantially lower prices.

I have seen books that I picked up for seven or eight dollars at HPB on their shelves now for literally $70 or $80, and the absurd part about some of those specifically AD&D books is that they are also available for print on demand on DriveThruRPG. As a player who plans on using these books to play a game, I tend to just buy the clean new reprints and save my money.

HPB does not seem to have any concept of how publishing works in the RPG industry. A great deal of the books out there are smaller press, and do not stay in print for long periods of time. Most RPG books are out of print. Some games will have books sit in game stores for years and the prices only tend to go down. But sell it used at HPB and suddenly the books that game stores cannot sell they think are the holy grail.

There was a time I would go to Half Price Books at least twice a week and walk out with game books often, but at this point I can’t remember the last time I bought one from them because of this. I can tell you the last time I walked out and bought the same books new for a lower price at a near by game store or on eBay though. I’m a bit sad that the Half Price Books of old is pretty much gone forever, but I have moved on to other places.