Windowshoppist - Pressing Our Noses Against The Internets

Monday, December 29, 2008

Online Used Book Sellers Blamed For Publishers' & Bookstores' Decline

David Streitfeld argues that online used book sellers are eating into publishing profits and may be hurting booksellers like Powell's and Borders. I can see what he means—certainly authors, publishers, and brick & mortar stores don't get profits from those people who sell used books for a penny plus shipping through Amazon's used book market (how do those people make a profit, by the way?). But it seems to me this may just be the old file-sharing argument in new clothing. The internet makes lots of things cheaper, no? Which means you can try out a lot more stuff. Which means that you discover authors you might not have otherwise found, and then you go out and buy their books new because you can't wait for a cheap used copy of their latest tome.

Where he makes the most sense is in his argument that bookstores used to do big business selling classics and school texts, most of which students can now buy online from individuals much more cheaply (yay!). I should feel sorry for booksellers, I guess, but how many times have students paid way too much for a ratty copy of Lord of the Flies or a College Algebra textbook? It seems fairer, somehow, that these books are now finding a price point more in line with what students think they're worth. After all, a lot of the classics are out of copyright, which means that they were a no-risk proposition for publishers—no author to pay, just pure profit.

When we all started trading music online, musicians had to get better (no one would buy a whole CD for one good song anymore) and distribution had to get smarter (iTunes!). Will something similar happen for the book industry?

How do you shop for books these days? Is it all online, or do you still go to real, live bookstores for certain things?

(Photo by 0olong)


Anonymous said...

Most of my book purchases are from two local used book stores. For new stuff, I try to patronize one particular (independent, lesbian owned, three blocks away, etc. etc.) bookstore. However, they are not likely to have something specific that I am looking for, and if there isn't time to order it, I'll go to B&N or Borders.

Amazon, for me, is mostly for non-book purchases, though I might thrown in a book to bring the price up to where I get free shipping.

Also, I often find myself looking for a specific out-of-print children's book or some such. for those, I use abebooks or alibris, or the Amazon marketplace.

DCP said...

A problem with this argument is that independent bookstores are often the ones selling the books online through used websites. If they can't adapt to the change in technology, then they should go out of business. I mean, I feel bad for them I guess, but it's not that hard to put their inventory online.

shoppista said...

I forgot to leave my answer (doh).

B&R, like you, I have certain bookstores I try to buy from because I like their whole vibe and want them to stay in business. There's something about browsing in a real bookstore that can't be replaced by the online experience.

I also buy online, though. I do it if I'm in a hurry, if the local store doesn't have it, or if I'm looking for a really good deal.

Glenn, you're right -- sometimes those one-penny deals on Amazon are with actual used bookstores. I wonder how they make money on those... bulk sales?