Used book sales != Napster

The July 12th New York Times wrote about book publishers concerned that online, used book sales are cannibalizing new book sales. There were a few points made that I’d like to argue about because, you know, that’s what I feel like doing.

“Used books are to consumer books as Napster was to the music industry,” [Lorraine Shanley, a principal at Market Partners International] said.

No, it isn’t. With Napster, an individual can give away infinite copies of music while retaining their copy. This doesn’t happen with books. Even in the hypothetical case, duplication is expensive. For example, I bought an e-book online and decided I wanted a printout. Cost at Kinko’s: $18.00. If the book was available in printed form: $14.95. If I printed it out on my home printer: $25.50 (based on costs of paper, inkjet cartridge use, and depreciation of the printer; it does not include the time to reload the paper bin).

[she adds]
“The question becomes, ‘How does the book industry address its used-book problem?’ There aren’t any easy answers, especially as no one is breaking any laws here.”

The key point is: no one is breaking laws. Her question is really “Can the book industry reap additional royalties on the after-market? Should it?” Amazon and eBay have finally provided a venue more convenient than trolling your local used book store or Goodwill outlet. Maybe the book industry has an opportunity to sell its returns?

“You can find good-quality used paperbacks on Amazon for under $2, and in some cases under $1.” [Albert N. Greco, a professor at Fordham University’s graduate school of business administration]

Obscure text

Yes, but to have them sent to you, you have to pay shipping. Last time I bought a used book on Amazon, they tacked on $3.49 for shipping and handling. This effectively throttles the number of used books I’d buy because there’s no combined shipping, even with the same seller.

I’ve sold books on Amazon, too. They charged me $.99 plus a 15% commission. They credited a token amount for shipping, but it didn’t cover the full amount (this was a heavy book, literally and figuratively). Payment wasn’t issued until the month after the transaction has cleared. Still, selling online is effective for obscure, niche publications like this.

An interesting variation I’ve seen in some books
are unique, embedded codes that entitle the purchaser to use some additional information or service. Once the code’s used, the book’s value is diminished. For example, Marcus Buckingham’s Now, Discover Your Strengths links to their web site providing a self-assessment test. Doug Hall’s Jump Start Your Business Brain has some kind of “Marketing Simulator” (he uses “marketing science” a lot, which makes me very, very skeptical).

These books have transecended mediums and address the “single royalty” question.

3 thoughts on “Used book sales != Napster”

  1. Why am I picturing small groups of monks (carrying beautifully hand-written signs) picketing Guttenburg’s printing works? 🙂

    This is the same industry that quite happily remainders millions of books each year…

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