How to know when to grade a book as Very Good condition, the exact definition of VG, and photo examples: a guide for Amazon sellers
Understanding Very Good and Amazon’s condition guidelines
One of the top questions that comes up when grading books is how to define the ambiguous “very good” condition option.
The confusion around this subject results in Amazon sellers frequently erring on the side of caution and listing most used books in Good condition, because Amazon simply doesn’t provide clearly defined guidelines. The purpose of this article is to empower sellers to understand Very Good condition as it relates to books on Amazon, and start listing more books as Very Good (vs Good).
We’ll start with Amazon’s definition of Very Good, then fill in the blanks with a clearer definition that I’ve developed from personal experience.
Amazon’s definition of “Very Good” condition
The first stop to understanding how to grade books in any condition is reviewing Amazon’s own condition guidelines. Here are their rules for Very Good, specifically for the Books category:
“Used – Very Good: Item may have minor cosmetic defects (marks, wears, cuts, bends, crushes) on the cover, spine, pages or dust cover. Shrink wrap, dust covers, or boxed set case may be missing. Item may contain remainder marks on outside edges, which should be noted in listing comments. Item may be missing bundled media.”
What have learned from Amazon’s guidelines?
According to Amazon, Very Good condition applies to:
- A used book.
- With no writing or highlighting inside (inferred).
- “Minor” blemishes such as marks, wears, cuts, bends, crushes are okay.
- Remainder marks are okay, if noted in the condition notes.
- “Bundled media” (such as access codes) can be missing.
This obviously leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Which is why I use Amazon as a starting point, not an end-all-be-all.
Now we have a general framework to work with, but it doesn’t really get to an answer for the question: “If I have a book in my hand, how do I know for sure if this book is in Very Good condition?”
Grading books is not an exact science
When I’m reading various Amazon seller forum and groups, one of the most amusing things is the debates that erupt over grading books, and if a book is in Good condition or Very Good. The subject elicits passionate opinions, with everyone convinced they are “right.”
What they miss completely is that no one is “right.” Condition is subjective. Even if you’re the most rule-abiding person on earth, you still can’t be “right” because Amazon’s guidelines aren’t clear. There is no “right” answer.
Amazon’s specific guidelines for each condition still leave some questions unanswered. The important thing to take away from this is that there is no such thing as a “right” answer when it comes to grading and condition.
You could have ten sellers each giving their opinion about whether a book is Acceptable condition, Good condition, or Very Good condition; and there really isn’t a “right” answer. The only arbiter of whether a condition is the “correct” one is the person who buys the book. Ten sellers. Ten books. Ten customers. Ten potential opportunities for people to say the condition listed was the “correct” one.
Good vs Very Good condition: How to decide?
There are two guidelines I use to grade books as Very Good when I’m undecided.
Book Grading Guideline #1
What if you’re on the fence as to whether a book is Good vs Very Good? Here’s the mental shortcut I used to decide:
“Does this book have a specific blemish I can point to, or is it merely have general “reading wear”?
That’s how you decide.
A “specific blemish” would be something like a fold, a tear, or pen marks.
Whereas, “reader wear” would be more subtle signs that a book has been read, but nothing you can point to from three feet away and say “look at that damage.”
Book Grading Guideline #2
“Very good condition means a slightly above-average used book.”
Not near-perfect. Not Brand new. Just a book that is clearly used but has a light amount of wear.
There’s still some subjectivity to this, but these are good guidelines that have served me well and kept my feedback score above 95% positive for years.
Checklist of the top book blemishes: Acceptable, Good, or Very Good?
Let’s go down a list of the most common blemishes you’re likely to see when selling books, and how you should condition each.
Ex-library books: I never list retired library books in Very Good condition. If the signs the book came from a library are minor, I will list this as Good. If there are abundant stamps, stickers, pouches, etc; then I will list as Acceptable condition.
Creases to cover: I never list a book with a large crease of any kind as Very Good condition. A small crease, such as a minor bend to a corner, is fine. No problem listing as Very Good in that case.
Damaged spine: I’ll never list a book with trauma to the spine in Very Good condition. This is one of the few blemishes Amazon is clear about not being allowed.
Highlighting: I’ll never list a book with highlighting in Very Good condition. This is going demote a book to Good or Acceptable condition, every time. Another blemish Amazon is clear about not being allowed.
A single sticker: I have no problem listing a book with one sticker as Very Good.
Many stickers: When a book has several stickers, I will usually knock the grade down to Good condition.
Writing on one page: This is probably the only controversial position I’ll take in this article. It’s very common to find a book that has minimal cosmetic wear, that also has some sort of gift inscription or name inscription on a single page. I have no problem listing a book like this as Very Good condition.
Writing on multiple pages: Either Acceptable or Good condition, depending on the volume or writing. Never Very Good for a book like this.
Tear in cover: I won’t list a book with any tears as Very Good condition. This will usually be a Good condition book, or Acceptable depending on the size of the tear.
Wear around edges of cover: This is very much an “it depends” situation. When there is edge wear that is significant enough that you can see it from a distance, I’ll probably list that book as Good. When it’s more subtle, I’ll have no problem listing it as Very Good.
I’m ignoring some obvious blemishes, that instantly drop a book into Acceptable condition status, like lots of writing or highlighting, water damage, etc.
Examples of books in Very Good condition
Here are examples I pulled from a current shipment I’m working on for Amazon. A clear visual for books I would consider “Very Good” is probably the best way to help you understand.
Example #1: Typical Very Good condition book with light shelving wear.
You can see there’s a very slight amount of wear. Small dent to lower left corner. Some sticker residue. Nothing that remotely puts this book anywhere close to Good condition.
Nothing exciting happening here. This book would be New if not for the typical wear that happens when you read a book one time.
Let’s move to a slightly more damaged book that can still be graded as Very Good.
Example #2: A book with discoloration around the edges
Most blemishes for any book in VG are going to be too mild to picked up in a photo, and this is a pretty good example of that. There’s some light black smudges and wear around the edge of the cover, but it’s still subtle enough that this book can safely fall in VG territory.
The blemishes are a little more obvious on the back cover:
A lot of sellers would look at the mild discoloration and consider this Good. But my positive feedback sits at an above-average 97%, so I think my approach is vindicated.
Example #3: A book on the line of Good/Very Good
Here’s another one that (in my opinion) sits on the edge of G/VG, but that would list as Very Good:
Some chipping/wear on the edges of the cover, but otherwise unblemished. I’m listing this as Very Good.
I’m using this book as an example because its the outer-limits of what I would still consider VG. And I know a lot of sellers will disagree with this grading. So you have a sense as to the subjectivity of the Very Good classification.
Bonus: Example of a book in Good condition
For contrast, here is a book I consider over the line, and safely in Good condition territory (not VG):
Are you seeing the difference? Subtle reading wear vs heavier general wear.
Can’t stress enough how subjective this is, and there’s no value in debating this minutia. The only measure of who is “right” is customer feedback. If buyers are leaving negative reviews, then you’r doing it wrong. If they don’t, then you’re on the right track.
The secret advantage to grading inventory Very Good
Here’s a hidden reason you should be very motivated to list something in Very Good condition vs Good (when you can)…
The majority of your competition is going to come from what we call “megasellers.” These are huge booksellers who ship hundreds or thousands of items a day, sell at razor thin margins, use expensive automated repricers that forced prices down, and are generally a nuisance.
But even megasellers have their weaknesses. And one of their biggest is that they do such high volume, it’s impossible for them to individually grade books. That means most of them list everything in Good condition. They have to grade conservatively because the difference between Good and Very Good is subjective, and difficult to train employees to gauge without inviting major risks to their feedback score. It’s much easier to train them to apply a condition of Good to any book without major blemishes (which they would grade as Acceptable, or just discard).
That means that listing a book as Very Good gives small sellers a small advantage over megasellers.
A VG book may not exactly get a massive bump in sales over G, but even small advantages like this add up when you’re talking about thousands of books a year.
And as a small seller, it’s just fun knowing that – in a tiny way – you turned a small weakness of megasellers against them.
Is Very Good condition better or worse than Like New?
Maybe I’m actually stupid, but I remember when I started selling on Amazon I got confused by this for some reason. So for the benefit of those as slow as me, let me clear this up:
Like new is a better condition than Very Good.
“Like new” is a close as you can get to New, without actually being new. While Very Good (as discussed), implies a little wear.
Like New condition should only be applied in very limited circumstances, when a book is truly “like new.” I might list 1/200 books as Like New. If you’re applying this condition correctly, the average bookseller should be listing a Like New book rarely. Whereas Very Good is (for me) the most common condition.
What are the top things sellers get wrong about Very Good?
#1 Grading a book Good when it should be Very Good
Too often, sellers are too strict about their grading standards. This means they list a lot of books as Good when they should be Very Good.
The mistaken perception is that a book has to be nearly flawless (i.e. “like new”) to be listed as Very Good. But it’s totally unnecessary to be this conservative.
#2: Pricing Very Good condition books more than Good
Also too often, sellers have a mistaken idea that Amazon customers are willing to pay significantly more for books in Very Good condition vs Good. So they consider anything in Good condition to not be competitive, and only compare their prices to other Very Good offers. Big mistake.
I’m not saying buyers like that aren’t out there. They (might) exist. But to the vast majority of Amazon customers – both Very Good and Good condition books are considered “average used copies” and it’s not realistic to price them any differently.
Will you lose sales if you grade Good condition instead?
If you’re on the fence about how to grade a book and opt for Good vs Very Good – don’t panic. It’s probably not going to impact your sales to any perceptible degree. My experience is that Amazon customers don’t have a strong prejudice for Very Good over Good condition listings.The average buyer interprets both in roughly the same way, which is “this is an average used book.”
No doubt there’s a percentage of customers who maybe had a bad experience once and simply won’t buy anything worse than Very Good condition, but these buyers won’t move the needle on your sales.
- Very good condition just means a slightly above-average used book with no major blemishes.
- Condition is subjective: There is no such thing as a right answer.
- Books in Very Good condition don’t sell significantly more often (or for more money) than Good condition.