walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

What's Going on with Used Books?

Pew's most recent survey suggests that large fractions of the US population now own tablets (about a third) or e-readers (about a quarter). Of course, research continues to show that people who have an e-reader or otherwise read ebooks (like on a phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) also buy and read pbooks.

When Nate over at The Digital Reader posted this infographic about used books:


I got to thinking. In my head, people who converted early-ish to ebooks are now starting to drastically reduce their pbook inventory (that is, sell, donate, give away their pbook library), and this isn't a trend that will be stopping any time soon. This _should_ have several effects.

(1) In conjunction with Hard Times for large fractions of the population, this new supply of pbooks should make selling used books a pretty good business. Supply is up. There are more buyers (because they've down-scaled from buying new books). It's easier than ever to connect buyers and sellers (through bookfinder, alibris, amazon third party sales, etc.).

(2) But because there's so much supply and the barriers to entry are so low, a lot of people might enter, thus reducing margins. Kinda catastrophically. This could be particularly bad for:

(3) Long time participants who are accustomed to buying at too high a level, because they think they can sell it for more than they realistically can anymore, in a world in which literally every copy of that item and a bunch of things kinda like it are available for two day shipping. Worse:

(4) When most people have switched over to pbooks, _they_ will be dumping their pbooks -- and they won't be buying them any more. So after this amazing ramp _up_, the supply will head straight to the moon, while demand entirely disappears.

Any evidence for this theory?


This is from 2010. I always find it easier to predict things that have _already happened_. I learned that by reading golden age sf authors Explaining How It Is Done.

Half Price with lots of stores and opening more, check (they continue to expand, with plans extending into next year).

Independent book stores starting to sell used to go with new (of course, other coverage of the same phenomenon is presented as sort of a desperation measure to deal with drop off in new sales and general loss of customers).

Here's one indication that growth was occurring because buying used was outpacing selling used:

"For her, one of the biggest challenges is simply keeping up with the buying. "Our business is up all the way around. Just in the last year it's exploded," says Morton. In 2009, Iliad doubled in size to 5,000 sq. ft., and it recently hired a fifth full-time staffer with a sixth to be added soon.

Morton attributes Iliad's uptick in sales to the economy. "People who have been collecting for years are suddenly selling their collections. They're telling us they've had to downsize; they've had to move.""

Powell's has always been an exception. This is no different.

""It's nice after years of buying locally and selling globally to be able to buy globally," says Jon Guetschow, director of used books, who is bullish about used. "We don't know the limits of what we're able to sell. So far we haven't reached the point where the supply exceeds the demand.""

Makes sense. They were the only bookstore out of Seattle I would call to see if they had something I wanted (when I lived in Seattle).

But someone who has been doing this as a family for generations is a little concerned:

"Unlike many booksellers, he is far less gung ho about the long-term prospects for the used-book market. "We've seen the market shrink over the last 15 years," says Weller, for whom one of the biggest challenges is curbing the appetite of the store's used-book buyers. "The easiest mistake is to buy too much," he says,"

And Elliott Bay has figured out that while the profit on used books seems good (price paid vs. sales price), someone they still don't make much on it. I could have told them that. I've been telling people that about used books for ... a really long time now.

I'll be back with more.


From 2012: hey, make money at home selling used books, starting with your own, and then getting supplies from discount stores, yard sales, and friends of the library sales:


Whenever someone says:

"You don't need to write a business plan."

I hear: "You don't need to actually make any money, and _definitely_ not enough to be minimum wage hourly."

At this point, there are really big operations at every point in the used book chain. Operations like Better World Books, Discover Books, Got Books and similar run bins to collect in communities, and will also collect used books from people via mail, freight. Operations like this one:


will take _anything_:

"All your library media discards can go in the same shipment. Fiction, non-fiction, hardcover, paperback, VHS, DVDs, magazines, newspapers, damaged items, encyclopedias, journals - even your office paper can now be included in your discard shipments. In fact, the more you send the better. This is the perfect opportunity to get rid of the donations of textbooks, Readers Digest Condensed Books, and National Geographic magazines that come in from the community. In fact, you can turn your library into a drop-off point for community book recycling."

All those things everyone says they don't want from you? VHS, encyclopedias, Readers Digest, NatGeo, textbooks, etc. -- they'll take all of them and your office paper, too. It constantly amazes me that anyone can make any money attempting to cherry pick the stream any more, with organizations like this (their charges are _really_ reasonable, too: $35 to coordinate a pickup if you are within 100 miles of one of their locations, and they'll take it out of whatever they get for what you give them. Convenience AND cheap upfront).

Speaking of cherry picking, here is some used textbook arbitrage from 2011. There must be way too many people doing this now to make it possible any more:


Finding a niche in used books has gotten so bad, the antiquarians have taken to selling manuscripts:


It's a _really great read_ and worth your time.

I'm still trying to figure out why I don't remember this bookstore:


I bought my condo on Cap Hill in the fall of 1997 and was there until the fall of 2003, and I walked up and down the Pike/Pine corridors often enough. And I hung out on the hill long before I moved there. *shrug*

This one has some gems in it:

"Also, if many people read digital versions of books and fewer physical books are printed, we could see “common” books actually increasing in value down the road. Our biggest problem right now, guess what, is storage space."

Uh, okay. That made the opposite of sense.

If you are wondering what a megalister is, exactly (you know, obviously, but if you want to know more):


It is more than a little strange that IOBA writers conflate people who sell stuff they don't have for _way_ more money than people who have (had) it for sale, and people who sell stuff they have for _way_ less money than other sellers. The two groups share only the characteristic of scale. Obvs, the people scraping other listings are more than a little annoying (especially when they cannot fulfill, which has happened to me. Once. I did a little digging on the smaller listing sites the IOBA crowd likes. They don't seem to have the rarest books I've bought recently, altho I will note that someone on Amazon has a copy of _Dear Cousin_ for $55. *sigh* I feel like I should buy it, because that's sort of a screaming deal, but I'll just let a distant relative be all happy when they track it down instead.). But I don't see any reason why the cherry pickers should get a crack at stuff when someone else is willing to deal with the entire stream.

A little blast from the past (2009):


"Dave, they're all dead. Everybody's dead, Dave."

Book Hunter Press, which used to have a database of every used book dealer in the US and categorized them by open shop, appointment only, etc., sputtered after around 2008 (maybe their last guide was published in 2004?), was bought in 2011 by Nigel Beale, who runs literarytourist.com, and when I go to their website now, I get stuff in a language I cannot read.
Tags: our future economy today
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