Worthless technical books

I sold six technical books to a used book store on the way home today. The store paid me $5 total for four of the books. Two books they didn’t want at all. The books were not that old, but they were practically worthless.

It’s sobering to think how little a technical book is worth a few years after it is printed. It’s a good reminder to focus on things that will last.

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16 thoughts on “Worthless technical books

  1. True, but some books retain their value much better than others. Here’s an interesting exercise: Which of your books might your grandchildren care about?

    I would hope that my grandchildren are interested in my copies of Witness (1952) and Story of Civilization (1963).

  2. I like going through antique stores and finding collections of books to see what sort of technical books they might have. Saw an intro to computer hardware and architecture the other day from 1982. $9 is too much to be asking for something like that, when it’s not even in mint condition. :P

    I usually offer my old tech books on craigslist. I can almost always get rid of them all that way..

  3. When you say “technical books”, do you mean specifically computer-related, or technical in general? Because certainly the autodidact has a lot to gain from a book on aerodynamics from twenty years ago, or a fifty-year-old book on wooden building construction, even though they might be abandoned as school textbooks.

  4. Jason, the books are were all related to computing. Engineering books hold their value better. They also retain their perceived value better.

    There are two issues here. First, some computer books really are worthless after a few years. Second, some computer books are worth reading, but people presume they’re worthless because there are so many books in the first category.

  5. I get rid of them donating them to my alma mater’s library, or selling them on the net, but normally they never get sold… so, I end up with first option, or just through them away.

  6. I bought Introduction to Algorithms: A Creative Approach by Udi Manber from Abebooks by US$ 33.89 last October. Some computer books retain their value.

  7. Carlos: Same here. I usually donate books to my public library.

    I must say I don’t think the market always prices books correctly. Some old books truly are worthless, such as when a technology is replaced by a different one. But I think people overestimate changes between versions of the same technology. If something is on version 6, the book on version 5 is probably a bargain.

  8. I keep old computer books as a source for student projects: “Take this project (in, say, PDP-8 assembler) and bring it up-to-date.”

  9. My biggest book regret over the last 20 years was throwing out my much-loved, much-used but worthless (I’ll never use it again. Ha!) K&R “The C Programming Language”. I’ve lost count of the number of times I wished I still had that book. Last month I finally bit the bullet and bought a second-hand one that even so cost me $30.

  10. The value of a book depends not only on the book itself, but on its buyer.

    But, yes, the internet offers text for a lower price than a book.

  11. @Nick Coleman: Drat! You’ve reminded me I threw out my copy when I left home. Don’t actually need it any more (and I seem to recall it was full of dodgy C’89 type constructions) but now I just want it because it’s a classic.

  12. I have many technical books when i check out their respective ISDN, they either don’t show in database(offers $0) or only $2 or $1.05 when they cost me $80 in the book store;


    Error control coding; fundamentals and applications. by Prentice Hall. this book is still ‘mint’ as when i bought it. the techniques are mathematical and software algorithms used to detect and correct bit errors over a wireless data link between source and destination. very common practice used world wide by developers. I should not have to discount this book; it is ‘mint’ , i suppose i have to find target market myself on linked in perhaps.

  13. If your copy of Mythical Man-Month was printed in 1981, it will get you nothing. But, if was printed in 2014, you’ll get more for it. Problem is that it is more out of date now than back then.

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