Thursday, February 10, 2011

More books for the rest of us...

One aspect of e-readers that I haven't heard anyone talk about -- maybe because only a used bookstore owner would think it -- is the possibility of a flood of books on the secondary market.

What happens when e-reader owners empty their library? We've already seen it happen a couple of times.

I don't believe there is a shortage of books in the world. In fact, I think there is a huge surplus. I think this is due to the mass market and the internet and the thrift stores.

At least at first, I think this surplus of books is only going to increase.

The first thing that will change, in my opinion, will be the willingness of used bookstore owners to actually buy books cash. The "Powell's" model, if you will. They will get overwhelmed with sellers who will never again be buyers.

I think the surplus has already affected the "trade only" stores. Some of them are still clinging to life, and some have added unwieldy dues or fees to their trade policy. But it's possible now to get any book you want for mere pennies, if you scout the thrift stores and garage sales, which you can then trade for the books you really want.

The response to this flood has been, and this will only increase, is to be ultra selective which books they'll take in. I've mentioned before, I think this is counter-productive; that it gives a "no" message, and only makes the customer go elsewhere.

It may seem strange that a store that extends credit to half the price of a book would gain more customers than a store that let's you trade straight across --but, if the store that only trades is not accepting the majority of books coming in the door, and the trade for half credit is accepting most books that come in the door; well, I believe the store that accepts books and extends generous credit will actually seem like a more open store.

Plus, they actually make money.

Here's another thought. Eventually, the flood will recede and -- hey, paper books may be actually harder to find. Which will bring us full circle back to value and rarity.

The world is an ironical place, you know?


RDC said...

So you appear to have gone from a view that ebook readers will not have a sizeable impact for many years, to one of dramatic impact upon not only the new book market but the used book market as well.

The interesting thing about the trade in for half credit model is that if you had to use the same accounting rules that a public compant had to, instead of a cash flow model, you would probably never show a profit, because of the build up in the liability of credits on the books. It is really the secret of that business model. A lot of the credits will never be used. I suspect if you total the dollar value of unused but outstanding credits it will show an increasing value that can grow to be rather substantial. Makes for an interesting question of what happens if/when the business is ever shutdown. Do the people that have credits, but have never exercised them have a potential claim? Hopefully businesses that use that model have some kind of a written policy for just that situation.

Duncan McGeary said...

I don't know that I've changed my mind that much.

It doesn't take much to add to the flood of books.

I know that when you first open as a used bookstore, people seem to want to know that you'll be there awhile.

I think as long as you give everyone plenty of time -- months, they feel they've been treated fairly.

Much credit isn't used -- nor do I think the holders expect to use it...