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Banking on books

It’s hard to know where to invest in the unsteady economy. As the stock market declines and the tightening job market leaves soon-to-be graduates hard-pressed to find employment, students might be looking for alternative ways to earn some cash.

As students prepare for finals week, there’s one investment popping up seemingly all around them: as they study in the Library, catch up on required reading and unwind from said studying by picking up the latest popular novel.

It is an investment that doesn’t require bonds, a broker or mutual funds — books.

Local bookstore owners gave the Oracle tips on how to become a book connoisseur.

1. Collect what you like
Melanie Cade, co-owner of Mojo Books & Music, said it’s important for people to collect books that interest them.

“Don’t worry about what other people say is collectible,” she said. “Look at what subject or author you like — you can start a good foundation.”

Profitable books aren’t necessarily limited to older books. A signed, first edition copy of 2003’s The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is listed at $3,950 at The original price was $24.95.

2. Keep books in good condition
Paperback books have little value, so collect hardcover books, said Ellen Brown, owner of Old Tampa Book Company, which specializes in rare, used and out-of-print books. Her store only stocks hardcover books.

Leslie Reiner, co-owner of Inkwood Books, said that when reading a book, the reader should take the dust jacket off and put it aside to keep the book pristine.

“A major part of a value of a book is the dust jacket being on it and the dust jacket being in good condition,” Brown said.

She also said books should be stored away from humidity, direct sunlight and bugs, and be dusted regularly.

“Condition is everything when it comes to the value of the book,” Brown said. “A book that is wet, stained, torn or coming apart has very little value. Don’t ever write in a book that you are giving away or keeping yourself with anything but pencil.”

3. Get signed books
Bookstores such as Inkwoods and Barnes and Noble often have visits from authors. Reiner said it is easy to keep track of authors’ tours because many of the popular ones have Web sites.

Inkwoods has a number of people who order signed books when they see an author is visiting the store, she said.

Signed books can also be found at bookstores and online. Generally, with famous authors it is easy to prove the books’ authenticity by looking up the signature on Google to make a comparison, Brown said.

4. First editions
The most important thing about a book’s value is scarcity, Brown said. The rareness, popularity of the book and the edition determines the price.

“If you find a Virginia Woolf first edition with a dust jacket on it, it is very valuable,” she said. “If you were buying it in the 1930s, then you would look for the first edition.”