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Brad discovers a book in his basement. The old book is written in ancient English and dates from 1800. Brad learned a fire spell and burnt his house to the ground; only he and the book survived.
Now, Brad is a homeless guy and his only tenable option is to sell the spellbook.

  • How much should he ask for the book?
  • How can Brad sell it safely without get killed?

Note: This book can teach how to use the 5 elements! Fire, Water, Wind, Gravity (to pull and push things), and Lighting will bend to your wishes! It also features a dark reality-bending spell which requires the souls of 10 humans, and which can transmute those souls into anything or anyone.

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    $\begingroup$ Sell it on ebay, like everything else. Minimum price: Three balrog spleens $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Mar 13 '17 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ I hope you aren't bothered by my tweaks to that last bit. Another user here made the Note paragraph a block quote, so I decided to rewrite it as if it were a quote. Do with my edit as you wish, of course! $\endgroup$ Mar 13 '17 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ @user535733 Sure, but the shipping & handling fee is your first born. They always get you with the shipping. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Mar 13 '17 at 4:40
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    $\begingroup$ Brad's homeless and has a unique, priceless artifact of world-shaking power? Showing other people that he actually has such an item would be a horrible idea. More power-hungry types wouldn't only steal it, but also kill him, since he'd know too much. Unfortunately, it'd be so easy for them to do this, too; even if he was killed in public, the police would be unlikely to spend much time or effort trying to find the killer. And even if other people told the media that he was killed over a magic spell book, no one would believe them. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Mar 13 '17 at 4:45
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe ask on Worldbuilding Meta or Worldbuilding Chat for help in rephrasing “how much should he ask for it”, or edit to be a bit more general especially given the content of the existing answers. Then again, it's still story based and not WB. It asks about Joe (well, Brad in this case), not crafting a world that Joe et al. will inhabit. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Mar 13 '17 at 5:33
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Brad is a homeless guy and his only tenable option is to sell the spellbook.

Is it? Brad doesn't have much imagination. Maybe he shouldn't be a wizard.

Brad has just made the scientific discovery of the century: actual working magic! And he can demonstrate it! Forget selling the book, use it to demonstrate real magic to the world (and make a lot of money doing so).

Win All The Skeptic Prizes

First, Brad should make a quick buck off the various prizes offered by skeptic groups around the world for anyone who can demonstrate, under scientific conditions, paranormal activity. The most famous is James Randi's One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, but that ended in 2015. There's plenty more to be had. Brad should contact them and clean house. The prizes are anywhere from a few thousand dollars, to $100,000 each from Australian Skeptics and Independent Investigations Group.

This will not only solve Brad's financial problems, but it will bootstrap his credibility. Not a single one of these prizes has ever been claimed, and he can sweep most of them up.

It also addresses the problem of getting killed, realistic or not. These groups are used to dealing with crackpots, so he can openly present himself to them with no fear. Once he's been publicly tested, the publicity will prevent any overt again against him... by someone... for some reason... Look, I'm not a big fan of "the secret shadow government will suppress magic" meme.

At this point he has some not entirely mutually exclusive choices for making money.

Auction The Book For Billions

This is probably the laziest way to make money.

After he's demonstrated its power via skeptical groups he could sell it via any number of auction houses. He'd give the book to the auction house on consignment, so they'd be responsible for protecting it, and there'd be no point in going after Brad. The auction house itself would also check its authenticity and stake their reputation on it.

What would somebody pay for real, working magic? Imagine what the space industry could do with anti-gravity. Imagine what the military could do with soldiers casting fireballs and lightning bolts and tossing tanks around with their minds. Imagine what natural disasters could be stopped with control of the elements: dissipate hurricanes, end droughts, dampen earthquakes, control flooding.

It would be worth BILLIONS.

Become An Entertainer

This is the second least ambitious thing to do: become the world's greatest stage magician. If there is a shadow government wanting to stamp out magic, this is also great cover: a real magician posing as a fake one is no threat to the fabric of society.

Be Tested By The Scientific Community

If Brad is feeling noble, he could share his discovery with the world!

Scientists will be clamoring to test something that defies everything we know about reality, and he can probably squeeze quite a bit of money out of people wanting to examine the book, witness his powers under scientific conditions, and try to replicate them. Control of gravity alone could revolutionize the world!

This would also protect Brad from being killed or the book stolen, once the secret of magic is out there's no reason to go after Brad.

Start A Business Selling Magic Books?

I mean, it could be copied, right? The problem here is once there's another copy, someone will copy it, so probably not a viable business.

Become A Super-Hero/Villain!

You command the elements! Go steal some things and/or rescue them!

This is the riskiest of them all. As a villain or vigilante with so much power he'd be hunted by the authorities. Like any good super-person he'd need a secret identity. It also means he can't go the skeptic prize route, that would link him to magic.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. Winning some quick bets, whether at a bar or from skeptics organizations, would be a way for Brad to get enough money to survive on and get some necessities. Then, once he has a home, some safe place to store the book, and a few hired hands, he'd be in a place to start considering how to handle the magic spell book's potential. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Mar 13 '17 at 4:58
  • $\begingroup$ If he wins all the skeptic prizes, and then lets science study the magic, only to have them discover that magic uses some weird, undiscovered scientific principles, does he have to give the prizes back? $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Mar 13 '17 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 No, because if it works it must be using some weird, undiscovered scientific principle. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". "Science" is not about how the world works, but it's a method of testing it. Once "magic" works and is reproducible it can be studied with the scientific method. It's like what we call "alternative medicine" that works: medicine. There's an entire book about applying the scientific method to magic: "Harry Potter And The Methods Of Rationality". $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Mar 13 '17 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ Right, so I wonder how he'd win the skeptics contests if they could weasel out of it by saying it must use some unknown science. I'm not criticizing, as I like this answer. It's just something that makes me wonder. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Mar 13 '17 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 The tests are designed to counter the weaseling out which is a staple of paranormal research. Both sides must agree on what the paranormal claim is and what will be considered a success. "I will produce a clearly visible flame from my hands with no discernible source of fuel." Brad would demonstrate his power in a non-rigorous setting so they can all agree what effect should be demonstrated once under proper controls, and so Brad can't claim interference from the testing process. Often the people conducting the tests includes stage magicians familiar with sleight-of-hand. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Mar 13 '17 at 17:34
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So. Brad is now homeless. His only possessions are the clothes he is wearing and the book.

Legal matters (Being accused of arson, etc) are going to be somewhat ignored because they make the answer a little boring and go into places I'm not certain of.

The first place Brad should go is to a lawyer. He already burnt his house down, so learning another spell - Perhaps a safer one - and demonstrating it to the lawyer should be enough to convince them. This knowledge is very valuable, so getting the lawyer on board shouldn't be terribly difficult. The lawyer may also know someone who has money to buy it.

We can't necessarily go straight to the military or the government - While ultimately, it'll likely end up there, odds are they could easily confiscate it and poor Brad would get nothing. Or maybe locked up. Depends on the nation.

Selling it to one of the lawyer's friends or acquaintances would likely be fairly easy, straightforward, and rewarding. Enough to replace the house and everything, plus some extra. Additionally, the lawyer would help with the legal/tax stuff so the government doesn't come barging in for tax evasion. Their friend/acquaintance will likely re-sell it to the government/military/whoever and make a boatload of money, but they have the legal know-how, along with resources, to prevent the government from just walking in and taking it.

Realistically, it's impossible to put a set amount of money on something like this. But Brad probably wouldn't have to worry about money for a while.

A better plan, however, would be to learn everything from the book, and finding a way to utilize that for money. Brad could put on a pretty impressive entertainment festival after learning control of the more volatile spells. And entertainment is something that never really goes out of fashion. Reliable income, without having to sell the book. Would probably mean Brad spends a bit couch surfing, but it's significantly better long-term

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  • $\begingroup$ Erm, that last paragraph: the idea is that Brad doesn't want to use the book again. The question, of course, isn't asking for character actions, per se, because that is decided: Brad is selling it. It is asking for help with the responses of the (modern) world to those actions — which you do provide. $\endgroup$ Mar 13 '17 at 3:39
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    $\begingroup$ +1 on the lawyer - "dark reality-bending spells" requiring 10 human souls will quickly get you in trouble with the friendly, curious local police ("Excuse me, did you sell this book to the serial soul-killer?")... and perhaps mighty civil liabilities from the damage caused ("Hello, the book you sold just crashed our $40 million airplane") $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Mar 13 '17 at 3:40
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    $\begingroup$ "His only possessions are the clothes he is wearing and the book." Did Brad keep all his money under his mattress? I keep mine in the bank. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Mar 13 '17 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ Well, since it's stated that his only option is to sell the book, I just went with worst-case scenario. No isurance, not enough in the bank worth mentioning $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Mar 13 '17 at 12:20

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