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)