Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
The Almighty Buck

Used Books: An Actual Internet Success Story 447

theodp writes: "An Actual Internet Success Story explains how, in just a few years, the Internet has transformed the world into a huge marketplace for used books, utterly transforming a business that had gone pretty much unobserved for centuries. The Net has changed how we buy and think about books - someone in Illinois can easily buy a cheap used hardback over the Net from a New York dealer, read it and then resell it to someone in California, having spent, in effect, only a few dollars. According to the story, the increase in the number of used books sold is staggering, maybe 100 times what it was in 1995, and now accounts for more than 15 percent of Amazon's sales. Tales are told of used book dealers lining up nine hours before a library sale to get 'free money,' cutting deals with thrift-store managers and library-sale organizers to avoid 'feeding frenzy' fights, volunteering at the Salvation Army to get first dibs on donations, and offering review copies for half price on the Net weeks before a book is even published."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Used Books: An Actual Internet Success Story

Comments Filter:
  • by ( 583077 ) <nospam AT minotaurcomputing DOT com> on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:01PM (#3673439) Homepage
    Ahh yes, but then the book companies can complain about the used book market stealing money from their pockets. I wonder when the selling of used books will become illegal.
    • We are working on that.

      BTW, where do you hide your books ;-)

      Warmest regards,
      Guy Montag
      • Former AAP [] (Association of American Publishers) changes its name to BPAA. An AAP spokesman said, "we IP bullying trusts have to standardize on naming conventions".
    • Well, Richard Stallman has a good idea that eBooks are going to "solve" that problem for publishers. He was interviewed on Off The Hook, a weekly radio show in New York, a few months ago about the topic. You can find the MP3 archive of the show here [].
    • Tim O'Reilly actually commented on this same issue in his weblog []. It's intresting to note that as a publisher he knows that the business of trying to stop book use like the RIAA is trying to stop MP3 use won't work. Take a look at O'Reilly and the network of information they setup. I'm sure no one is hurting over their and consumers still have the ability to buy, sell, loan, etc. books in their library.
    • by SEWilco ( 27983 )
      Restricting used books has been tried. The example which first comes to mind is the publisher a long time ago who put a license in books which prohibited resale. Courts rejected it.
    • by Trekologer ( 86619 ) <> on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:38PM (#3673671) Homepage
      The courts have already ruled on "first sale". Once the publisher sells the copy, they have no say over what you do with it, wether its read it and throw it out, give it away, sell it, burn it, etc.

      This is why college textbook publishers change the edition every few years. The slight changes are enough that using older versions when the professor is basing his/her course over the new one becomes unfeasable.
      • The courts have already ruled on "first sale". Once the publisher sells the copy, they have no say over what you do with it, wether its read it and throw it out, give it away, sell it, burn it, etc.

        Yeah, that makes sense. I can sell my moldy old couch (this is a hypothetical example: no one in their right mind would buy my couch) because it is, after all, mine. So I'm wondering why this doesn't apply to music in the form of mp3s over the internet? After all, I've sold used CDs to music stores before. Suppose I decide to give my CD to the store instead without payment. And then suppose instead of giving it to a store, I give it to someone over the internet. And then suppose instead of giving them a CD, I give them a lower-quality mp3. Why don't I have the right to do this?

        Clearly I'm missing something here. Little help, Anyone?


        • Correct me if I am wrong, but I'm pretty sure the rules of "first sale" do not include the right to photo-copy the book and sell the copies or even give them away for free. Or to transcribe the copy to your computer and then distribute it for free over the net. Call me crazy (or ignorant), but I am pretty sure that the current copyright law does NOT allow this.

          Anyway, that is pretty much the equivalent of giving your .mp3s away for free over the net from your ripped CDs, is it not? The problem isn't necessarily the copying, I suspect, but rather the distribution.

          I imagine that it is pretty much OK to transcribe a book to your computer to transfer to your PDA, but you are not allowed to post that copyrighted work to your web page and give it away. On the same note I imagine (even though the RIAA is trying to take even this away) that it is pretty much OK to rip your CD for use in your portable .mp3 player, but you are not allowed to post those songs to your web page and give them away.

          Please correct me if I am wrong, but that is pretty much how it works, right?

          • Correct me if I am wrong, but I'm pretty sure the rules of "first sale" do not include the right to photo-copy the book and sell the copies or even give them away for free.

            Yup, I guess you're right.
            After all;
            mv != cp
            move != copy
            moveright != copyright
        • Clearly I'm missing something here. Little help, Anyone?
          When you sell your couch, or your CD, you can't continue to use it. Same thing if you give them away. If you give sell/give away mp3s, you still have the original, and can continue to play it. If you bought a new cd for each set of mp3s you gave away, and destroyed them as you do it, then fair use would apply.
        • You own the disc. The publisher can not take that away from you. Just as with a book where you own the paper. You don't own the music on the disc or the words on the paper. The author/publisher owns them. By selling you a CD or a book, the author has given you the right to use the music or words that are contained on the medium.

          In your example, you are taking a copy of the music off of the medium and distributing it sans the disc. Unless the owner give you permission to do so, you are not allowed to do that.

          Data is not a tangable object; you can't pick up an idea. You can do anything with the medium that you would please you. However, unless the owner gives you permission to do so, you can not take the data and distribute it independantly of the medium.
    • I wonder when the selling of used books will become illegal.

      At least some authors/publishers are not that dumb [].

      • Not ot mention baen's other initiative, Webscription [] which you pay for 4 books that you get over a number of months as they prep it for publishing (In HTML), and get a full, edited (digital) copy in Palm Pilot, Rocketbook, RTF and MS Reader formats.

        Cost? $15 a month for the books that are started that month. And, you only pay for months you want something from.

        Could this be the fiture in publishing? Maybe... might just be a flop, but hey, at least it's getting tried.

    • Then we'll have live performances of books by the authors. Smaller authors will open for the bigger ones. Soon enough all the authors will become hopelessly addicted to drugs to deal with the stress of being on the road so often. Publishing companies will have to make most of their money off of young teen authors whose work is written for them by someone else.
  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:02PM (#3673452) Journal
    Three or four comic book stores in the Orlando area went out of business quickly about 2 years ago. While scrounging for stuff, I got to speak with the owners and they ALL had the same story.

    They made more money in one month selling their inventory on Ebay than they did in a year selling inthe "real" world. They pointed out all the really good stuff was gone, and I wasn't going to find what I was looking for.

    All were quite happy with the situation and planned to continue selling at online auctions.

    A side note is that in the last week I've sold 5 books on Amazon that I no longer wanted. I got decent money, too, not like the $1 or so at a garage sale. I *HATE* throwing books out -- they need to go to a good home.
    • The same thing has happened with a lot of small mom and pop music shops (although they have mostly quoted the internet as making them go out of business). The bummer is, it takes away some of the "real-world" sentiment and raises the prices significantly. I remember when I went to a garage sale and bought about 30 forgotten realms books for about 50 cents per book. Now days, I'd probably pay 5-10 times that on ebay (plus shipping), plus I wouldn't be able to see the condition of the book, and I'd have to hope the person I'm buying from isn't a crook. As far as the music store goes.. I can no longer pick up a dozen guitar picks and get some string replacements right before I head out to the gig (unless I drive clear accross town). I have to pre-order them. Plus, what ever happened to pulling a garth on the drum set.. or playing stairway on the $3K strat. Those days are all but gone. :(

      On the other hand, you can find just about ANYTHING on ebay/ You don't have to really drive anywhere to get to it (unless you work during the day and UPS requires a signature.. how annoying). The person selling gets closer to what the item is actually worth because there is more of a market.

      In a way it is more convenient but less personal. I suppose that is the way society has always been heading in the technology era we're in. We have to take the good with the bad...
    • I would love to buy things in online auctions - except that invariably, some obsessive-compulsive type halfway across the continent is willing to bid half their net worth for whatever it is I'm looking for. My upper bidding limit (and I don't think I'm being cheap) is often a fraction of what the latest top bid is...

      The good thing of course, is that this benefits sellers, and thus encourages a thriving auction market. If I can't afford to bid on an item that I can't get locally anyway, I guess nobody's hurt by that. The downside, as you say is that the often financially risky proposition of running a "brick-and-mortar" physical storefront somewhere is not as compelling for would-be retailers. So collectible items like comic books etc. may become completely unavailable, except online and in very large cities. One of the two local gaming/comic shops in my city just closed down to become a strictly online business (putting at least one fangirl out of work in the process...)
      • I would love to buy things in online auctions - except that invariably, some obsessive-compulsive type halfway across the continent is willing to bid half their net worth for whatever it is I'm looking for.

        This is something I noticed long before eBay... Once upon a time I would attend (real world) auctions and I noticed that quite often people would get so caught up in the frenzy of bidding that they would bid well beyond what something was worth. A few auctions were so bad that the bulk of the people in the room would be laughing (loudly!) at the 2-3 idoits in the room who just couldn't let something go... I think this is the prime motivation for folks to hold an auction instead of just placing it up for sale some other way. Furthermore, opening up the bidding audience to a nationwide set of bidders only increases the chances that there will be an obsessive-compulsive type bidding against you... Even better for the seller!

        With that in mind, I think the Internet has affected "real world" sales in two distinct ways... eBay has made it incredibly easy for folks to auction something. Before you had to have a decent amount of stuff and hire an auctioneer, now all you need is a digital camera and a credit card. In cases where a seller has not gone the eBay route, the mere fact something can be sold to a wider audience will raise the value of that item. If I sell a relatively obscure book in a real world shop, chances are pretty low that someone will come in and buy it. But if I can open my audience up to a larger group of folks looking for that book, the value rises. (Higher demand, fixed supply -> price goes up.)


    • I remember in the o-Town area a particular comic store on Sand Lake Rd. was closing down after years of business. When I asked the owner, whom I had known for years the real reason of his close down he bitterly said 1 word "divorce".

      The other 2 you are talking about I remember and I think that at least one of them may be opening a store front again soon, also though there is that mega-comix store on International which does not help a smaller business in the area epically in such a small market.

      Too bad most tourists don't buy comics.
      The other 2 you are talking about I remember and I think that at least one of them may be opening a store front again soon, also though there is that mega-comix store on International which does not help a smaller business in the area epically in such a small market.

      Too bad most tourists don't buy comics.

      There are some things I do miss about the corner store. I am much more prone to pick up a new series or something I haven't seen if I have the opportunity to read through it a bit. Plus I always enjoyed "talking shop" with the owner or clerk for about 20 mins when I stopped in.

      Now I just point and click and get exactly what I'm looking for. It's nice and convient and I can get something I could never find in the corner store but I do miss some of the more human aspects.

      Conversely an Anmie storm in Columbus, OH has struck a nice balance. They have managed to make 80% of their business off the net and catalog sales however they still maintain a local storefront attached to the warehouse. It was great to go down there and if it was not up front, 90% of the time he had it in the back. Since he automated nearly everything you could still talk shop too.

      I think we can strike balance with technology and brick and mortar, the markets just have to find it because in reality all this stuff is still very new.
    • by rodbegbie ( 4449 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:56PM (#3673791) Homepage
      If you don't mind "giving your books away", Book Crossing ( []) encourages you to drop the books you're finished with off on trains, in cafes or just pass them on to your friends, and then track where they end up.

      It's a rather sweetly viral approach.

    • Sounds a lot like what a guy I know does... he's got friends in the local recycling center, so when they get in books, particuarly older hard covers, he takes them and sells them on ebay, making decent enough money on it too.

    • A side note is that in the last week I've sold 5 books on Amazon that I no longer wanted. I got decent money, too, not like the $1 or so at a garage sale. I *HATE* throwing books out -- they need to go to a good home.

      Considering the amount of knowledge I've gained and fun I've had because of my locallibrary, I hope that instead of throwing out books, you'd actually donate them.

      Libraries are good, as everyone has access to the material, librarians (in general) fight censorship, and help promote learning for the whole citizenship. What better home than that?

      I figure it's better to give back to the community institutions that nurtured me and hopefully foster knowledge in another instead of making a few bucks on an auction.
  • Yeah but.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Servo ( 9177 ) <dstringf@ g m a i l . c om> on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:03PM (#3673457) Journal
    I think that this is partially off. For the most part, it is correct that many people are able to buy/sell/trade in the "global marketplace" whereas they could not before. However, used bookstores have been around for a long long time, and they always seem to have a good selection, even in small towns. I can only see the "specialty" market actually being helped by this. Its only the lazy people who order groceries from the web and don't want to go down to the local used book store to look around.
    • I think you are missing the point. The people that are selling used books are acting as very effective market makers, going around to the small book stores and grabbing up anything of worth that is being sold for pennies.

      Sure, if you are into reading paperbacks for pleasure, it's not going to affect you as much, but if you were the bargian hunter type, then you might be facing some new professional competition.
    • by sugrshack ( 519761 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:19PM (#3673548) Homepage
      it's really difficult to browse through online books. Used bookstores still serve an important role... when I'm looking for something to read, I don't necessarily know WHAT I want; I make a habit of reading a page or two to see if it's something in which I'd be interested. Granted, the online method is great for finding books you can't find elsewhere if you know what specifically you are seeking.

      plus, used bookstores smell good.

      and they usually have a cat.

      • There's a flipside to this as well. The library district here lets you browse the card catolog (if you can still call it that) and reserve books on the web. I routinely do my browsing on Amazon to find new books I might be interested in, then reserve my finding at the local library.

        Best of both worlds!
    • Its only the lazy people who order groceries from the web and don't want to go down to the local used book store to look around.

      My question is... so?

      Seriously, as a business person, why NOT cater to a group that lets you maintain low overhead (only computers, internet connection, and storage space - instead of a retail presence, etc) and GLADLY pays you top dollar for your products? Who cares if this is only 2% of the population - niche markets make people rich every day. I think you underestimate the number of lazy people who are willing to pay to have products delivered to them.

  • by eyegor ( 148503 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:03PM (#3673460)
    I've been haunting used book stores for years. It's usually a hit-or-miss proposition. The mass market books are usually pretty easy to find in the local shops, but the more obscure or esoteric books are nearly impossible to find. and B&N (and their associated sellers) have greatly changed that. I can find almost anything now and usually at a reasonable price. I looked for years to find copies of out-of-print and obscure books before and now it's pretty easy.

    I expect it'll be a few years before we're able to get the majority of used-book stores on-line though. Most stores have far too much stock and too few resources to make that happen.
  • Sam Wellers [] in Salt Lake City.
  • Used = good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gorbie ( 101704 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:05PM (#3673474) Journal
    One thing I absolutely love on the net is the chance to go someplace like Amazon, E-bay, or and find something oscure that I am looking for.

    I have always been someone that likes to buy good stuff, but it's not always economically feasible. Of course, buying a great couch online from Oregon isn't the best idea when you live in New England, but these types of sites are there if you want to do it.

    The strength of this scenario is that it is exactly the type of marketplace the net is suited for. .com everything might have overloaded people with the notion that get online and you will find piles of useless companies that don't belong there, but it never really hit the sites like e-bay hard.

    I guess I am saying I am a big fan of this, whether it be books or anything else. It's a great form of recycling when one man's junk becomes another's treasure.

    • The strength of this scenario is that it is exactly the type of marketplace the net is suited for. .com everything might have overloaded people with the notion that get online and you will find piles of useless companies that don't belong there, but it never really hit the sites like e-bay hard.

      But it's interesting to think that there isn't room for too many ebays...there may be other auction sites, but it seems that none are going to come close to the 800lb gorilla. I mean, I think a lot of people think ideally, there might be just one auction site for the whole internet. (So maybe there's some room for bargain hunting on the other sites?)
      • You know, you have a great point. Last week I was looking for something and when I didn't find it on E-bay I went looking for options as far as other online auction sites go. There really are none that compete.

        E-Bay has the brand, almost akin to Coke in the net auction sense. What I was wondering is if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Is there room for 2? How can we improve upon the current situation? 2 ideas I had...although they may not be the most popular, were to either have the site run for charitable purposes by an organisation such as the Salvation Army. People could donate products for auction to benefit the organization and get the tax bennies, or just pay the fee to the organisation for running the site and have the profits doing good work in the community. The other idea I had was to have the site run by the government. It would bring up the possibility of sales tax, for good or for bad, and potentially regulate international sales, again for good or for bad. The money could be used for just about any government program and could be a good step towards lower taxes in other areas. Then again it could become a useless government run agency...helping the IRS put the S in service...that kind of thing.

    • Man that sig brings back scary memories. I had weeble wobbles when I was a kid.

      I think you missed a wobble in the first part of your sig. "Weeble Wobbles wobble, but they don't fall down."

  • Stealing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:07PM (#3673486)
    I wonder if all this leads to a black market for stolen books. I had 4-5 of my College text books stolen back in the day. Imagine libraries having all there books go missing and ending up on ebay/

    • I remember well a guy I knew (all right, he was a friend) who would shoplift popular just-published books then run to the local used bookstore and fence them for beer money.
    • Re:Stealing (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kintanon ( 65528 )
      I worked at a University bookstore for a few months, and this was REALLY common during book buyback. We had people come into the store, steal books off of the shelves, and then go downstairs to the book buyback section and try to sell the books back. It was completely rediculous.

      • Re:Stealing (Score:3, Funny)

        by Sabalon ( 1684 )
        Uh...are you implying there is a college bookstore that actually buys books back at a price decent enough for it to be worth ones effort? this is a big story :)

        (too many times the $60 is bought back for $5 and resold for $40 storyies.)
    • I wonder if all this leads to a black market for stolen books. I had 4-5 of my College text books stolen back in the day.

      I used to work for a (barely) off-campus college-textbook store. We had fairly decent security (mainly from being a smaller store that was easier to monitor), but the university bookstore wasn't as careful. There was pretty much always a stream of obviously stolen books coming'd pick up at the beginning and end of each semester, but it was always there to a degree. Spotting them was fairly easy...the people trying to fence books didn't look like students, and the types of damage they'd inflict to a new book to make it look "used" (run dirty fingers along the edge of the pages, scratch the cover with something rough, etc.) didn't look at all like normal wear-and-tear. You really had no proof that the books were stolen, though, so we'd offer $2-$5 for a book that would sell for $50 or more. We'd more than get our money back, as we'd sell it used and get 80% of the new-book price for it. Since the perps were only interested in getting enough money to fund their crack habits (or whatever), they always took whatever pittance we offered (further evidence that they're not for real, as your average student would've bitched about getting taken like that, just like they do when a book is bought back at wholesale price).

  • Embracing the net (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:16PM (#3673534) Homepage Journal
    This is because the book publishers have embraced the internet and allowed the new technology and their industry to naturally merge together into something beneficial for everybody.
    On the other hand the music and movie industries seem to be doing the exact opposite. Example - Stephen King's + Scott Adams E-Books. Publishers embrace the technology and don't try to make money with lawyers. I doubt the RIAA will learn a lesson however.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:17PM (#3673536) Homepage Journal
    .. X has been unmeasured for centuries, but in the last n years, its gone up 100 times! Please, there is no way to do a realistic study. The best they can say is, used book sold on the web have gone up x amount since we began studying the trend.
    There are many used book stores that don't report to anybody.
  • Personally I find it amazing that anyone would want to buy a used book. But clearly there are people with mindsets completely differnet than mine.

    When I want a book, I buy it new and treat it carefully and store it in well protected conditions such that in 20 years, I can pull out the same book and it will still be in perfect condition just as the day I bought it. I have read my set of Lord of the Rings more than 3 times now and still they are immaculate. The damage and wear that multiple reads, shipping, selling, etc puts on books in my opinion ruins them. Sure, the words are still on the page and still readable. But the damage to the book undermines and disrespects both the work of the author to put together a thoughtful work of writing, the work the artists to create the cover artwork, and the whole 'book feeling' that cannot be reproduced by PDF, e-book or newspaper. And thus, when it comes to my personal reading, I only buy new books and keep them in perefect condition.

    • Re:I am surprised! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by garcia ( 6573 )
      I disagree. In fact, I happen to like the musty smell of older books. I prefer to shop at this little hell hole in Bowling Green, OH called "Pauper's Books". The place is an absolute disaster. There are books stacked (or piled I guess would be the best description) all over the place, the shelves are filled w/random books that students have sold to them over the years and that they have collected.

      I found 25 books for less than $7 and they were in good enough condition to read them.

      There is no disrespect to the author's time/effort when you are buying a book that is old and tattered. In fact, I believe if the author cared that much about the condition of the book itself and not the contents of that book then he was writing for the COMPLETE wrong reason.

      My favorite part of "Pauper's" is the fact that they have a Commodore64 (brown, non-C) in a box in the middle of the store stacked on top of a bunch of other shit.

      Ahhh, musty smells, Commodores, and Piers Anthony, takes me back, way back.
    • Give me a break (Score:2, Interesting)

      by multimed ( 189254 )
      While I think it's cool that you appreciate books take great care of them, but give it a rest on the whole "disrespect the author" and damage of multiple readings crap.

      It's not about the physical mainfestation of the book, it's about the words and thoughts and ideas the author is communicating. I'd be willing to bet most authors would rather have people share their books and re-read them and really love them than pamper them and be afraid to read it one more time for fear of hurting it.

      When I read a book, I'm brutal to it, that's just my way. I fold pages and highlight things that really move me, and I really don't think the authors would think that I'm being disrespectful.

      Like I said, I wouldn't ever be critical of some one like you taking great care of the book, but you really have no right to be critical of the way others treat their books.

    • Re:I am surprised! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Toshito ( 452851 )
      I think I'm quite the opposite of you. I love books, and I handle them carefully.

      But new books have no soul, there is a unique feeling when you have an old book that you know have been in the hands of someone else. The smell, the look of old paper... Sometimes there are notes in the margin, names under the cover, etc.

      I have such a book, "Towers, Turrets and Temples". Under the cover there is a mention that it was given as a christmas gift in December 1900...
    • I love my books, and that's why they're trashed.

      Books are to be read, not preserved. The authors words live in the reading - not in the uncreased, unmarked cover, or in the pristine white pages.

      I just can't understand you, I tried as I was composing this. It seems to me you don't want the writing - you just want the physical object... a literary trophy hunter, if you will.

      I'll continue reading, wearing out, and replacing my favorite works, and by doing so, supporting my favored authors. Lois McMaster Bujold already has my payment twice over for Memory, and thrice over for the Vor Game, and she deserves every damn penny. (Yes, I know Baen gets most of it)
    • Re:I am surprised! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thornae ( 53316 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:44PM (#3673708)
      Personally I find it amazing that anyone would want to buy a used book ... The damage and wear that multiple reads, shipping, selling, etc puts on books in my opinion ruins them.

      And that's why you find it amazing. You don't understand the love of secondhand books.

      Good secondhand bookstores are their own microcosm of wonder - especially the ones with creaky wooden floors, three cramped stories packed with floor to ceiling shelves, and overstuffed leather armchairs in odd places. There's a magic about prowling through the slightly yellowed rows of golden age SciFi looking for that one special novel that will complete your obscure author collection (Lloyd Biggle jr, anyone?), and if you don't understand that magic, well, I'm sorry for you. Used/old books have a certain smell and feel that is unique, and I'll guarantee that the great majority of good authors frequent second-hand bookstores.

      Keeping books in "perfect condition" is a nice ideal - you should take care of books. My personal peeve is people who mark their place by leaving the book open, face down (Fire and Hemlock's fault). But keeping them in mint condition is unecessarily picky. Books are made to be read, and signs of wear are the marks of a good book. My (third) copy of LOTR is battered, creased, dogeared, and still perfectly readable. I can throw it in my backpack or overcoat pocket for reading on long bus trips, or up on a hill at Uni. Maybe, if it survives further multiple readings, I'll be able to lend it to someone else to love.

      And by lend, I usually mean give - I don't try particularly hard to get back really good books that I can easily get another copy of secondhand, which is the whole point of second-hand books. Good books are to be read and shared. Not kept in vacuum storage for their preservation.
    • Personally I find it amazing that anyone would want to buy a used book.

      Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. If someone wants to read a book, but not keep the book, then there's a wonderful place called a LIBRARY that has been around for a long long time. I can only think of 2 possible reasons why someone would buy a used book:

      • Utility/specialty book. Textbooks, encyclopedias, map book, etc. These books are usually not in a library, or are not removable from the library (i.e. reference section).
      • Collectable (out of print) books. Comic books primarily, but there are other collectable books. The buyers for these usually pay more than the book's face value, and the purchase is more of an investment and/or desire to possess the item, than a desire to read it.

      Almost all used books out there are available in your local library. And it's free there.

      Personally, I buy books that I want to keep and go to the library for books I only want to read (once). Why would I pay for a book I don't want to keep when I can get it for free?

      • Almost all used books out there are available in your local library.

        Who said this?

        A. A troll
        B. Someone who doesn't read very much
        C. Has never been in their local library

        I'm guessing B & C
  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:18PM (#3673546)

    I really hate getting a used book that someone has taken a highlighter to. The light yellow/green/pink really distracts my eye when trying to concentrate. Even worse when the previous owner has a really bad highlighting technique. Far less annoying are the standard food stains/coffee cup marks, even when half the book in stained.

    Anyone know of any online bookstores that at least check a few pages of used books for highlighter marks and the like, and mention if they found any in the book description?


    Ryan Fenton
  • by aTMsA ( 188604 )
    Well, if you don't have/don't want an account on NYTimes, this script [] automatically fills one for you with nonsense.

    For the impatient here's an automatic registration link to the article [].

  • My dad's book (Score:2, Interesting)

    by christurkel ( 520220 )
    if it wasn't for Ebay and Bibliofind (now part of Amazon) I never would have been able to find copies of my father's book and my grandmother's book.
  • Can't browse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bsartist ( 550317 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:22PM (#3673572) Homepage
    Online bookstores are great, if you already know what book you want. But, one of the biggest attractions that used bookstores have for me is the thousands of books that I've never heard of. I can spend hours in a bookstore, just browsing through the shelves - that experience is pretty hard to duplicate online.
  • back in the '80s, it was said that the rise of the electronic office would dramatically cut the usage of paper in the modern office. the opposite happened!

    i think it is kind of funny then that the internet, this colossal, immediate, hyperlinked textual monstrosity, should greatly increase the market for... used books!!?? ;-P

    so i am hereby predicting the next big media revolution will have everyone reading the saturday evening post... or life magazine... don't ask me how or why, but the precedent is clear. LOL
  • by warpSpeed ( 67927 ) <> on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:23PM (#3673576) Homepage Journal
    This is a great example of how capitalism is suppoesed to work. The system will squeeze out as much efficiency as possible from the market. A way for "recycling" these items has become avaiable and now the market has sprung up around it.

    I'm sure it pisses off the book publishers, but they can join the ranks of the candle makers and buggy whip producers.

    • by Zen Mastuh ( 456254 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:49PM (#3673751)

      I wouldn't be celebrating. Capitalism may be working, but book fans are getting ripped off.

      This is my experience: I have been adding to my Robert Anton Wilson [] collection lately. In case you aren't familiar with him, he has written a large number of important and controversial books [fiction,non-fiction,fantasy]. He was also the senior editor at Playboy [] during the late 70's. Most of his books have been through multiple printings by various publishers. Two or three years ago I could have purchased any of his books in paperback for under $10. Now price-gouging season has begun. Some of my recent quotes: $25, $60, etc... These are prices for used paperbacks less than twenty years old. I lent and lost a copy of The Earth Will Shake a few years ago, but now I can buy a used copy for $65--I spent $10 for a new copy about five years ago.

      I lamented this just the other day while in the local bookstore. Then the owner gave me some inside information: the book seller has been hoarding Robert Anton Wilson books with the help of the web. He has nearly monopolized this particular market; now he sells a small number each week for his cash flow.

      That's my beef with capitalism. The "market" (really: anticipation of future sales) has caused a product to become scarce. Hence the outrageous prices. In the meantime it is impossible--without enough disposable income--to find most books written by this contemporary author. I don't doubt that the internet has opened up a lot of readers to a lot of authors, but the speculators are creating a scenario not unlike the end result of censorship.

      So yes, it does piss off the book publishers. It also pisses off people who would like to buy books for a fair price to read them [newsflash: original purpose of books is for reading!].

      • I do not think that this is a good example. Here, one writter has managed to manipulate the market to his advantage, while most used books are probably selling for cheaper then they originaly went for. He can do this because he still holds the copyright. If you tried to collect all of his books then the authoer could just have more books published and defeat your intentions.

        If the author is not involved then it is more of a level playing field for the used book market, and the price would not be artifcialy(?) inflated.

    • Book publishers just need to deal with it, like everyone else. There has already been an article on slashdot a few weeks back stating that the great majority of a book's sales will occur in the first few months after publication, and insignificant returns after that, in all but a few exceptional cases.

      If I'm an advid reader with limited funds to spend on books, I might spend some of the money on the latest and greatest, but it only makes sense for me to get more bang for my buck by purchasing used books at discounted prices. I would do so anyway at conventional used book stores, but the online bookstores only increase the selection. The money spent there will likely be spent elsewhere in ways that the original publisher will not benefit. They have nothing to get pissed about.

      In fact, there's the potential fact that someone will buy up large quantities of a current author's older works and therefore be a prime candidate for purchasing new copies of the author's new books as they're released. This is a GOOD thing for the publishers.

      • one problem with used book sales is when they are done so heavily in those crucial "first few months" you mention.

        When that happens, the publisher gets a distorted view of how popular the author's work is, which can lead to new authors simply not getting a second book contract. This is a BAD thing for the publishers, the authors, AND the fans.

        And this is also why selling review copies is just plain short-sighted.
  • by gergi ( 220700 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:24PM (#3673584)
    If you're buying a used book so you can read it and then resell it, what are you gaining? Why not just go to the library?
    • Sadly, most libraries have very small collections.
    • Flexible return times? Potential for keeping the book? Able to loan it out to others?
      • Flexible return times?
        Okay. This one is a decent reason, though most libraries will allow you to re-sign out a book. Enlightened ones let you do it over the net or phone even.

        Potential for keeping the book?
        You can always purchase it later, and then you're not paying the original out of pocket expense if you decide you didn't want it.

        Able to loan it out to others?
        Direct them to the library.

        The more people who use the library, the more people who will support the libraries.

        The more people who support the libraries, the better their collections get.

        • The more people who support the libraries, the better their collections get.

          I wonder about this. It seems true on the surface, but...
          • More demand usually means that the demand follows the same curves as the rest of the demand, and all get is more demand for popular items -- more copies of Hairy Potter.
          • Linear expansion of catalog depth probably requires exponential expansion of demand; to get an additional non-popular item would require a lot of people to want it. Lots of people wanting lots of different items won't help since the demand will be diluted among the readers. (And they spent the money on new Hairy Potter books...)
  • Working at an Academic [] library [] I must say that this is very true. About half of the items that I see (being the cataloguer I see all of them) come in are from B&N, amazon, and other books sellers online. And if the item is more than a few years old or an esoteric (sp?) most of these are used. It has made the acquisitions department very happy these sites. And the directors too. Much more bang for thier ever shrinking buck.
  • ...beyond helping us consume more.

    Ok, so here I am, doing my PhD in Australia. It is exceedingly difficult to find *good* books in my area of study at reasonable prices. Buying a $70 book to read it in a day and find half of it useless garbage, as I did yesterday, is *very* frustrating, and rough on a student's budget. It's also frustrating to spend a month harassing the interlibrary loan clerk at the Uni library to try to track down a book that ONLY the University of Waggawaggabernong has only to hear "oh sorry, they won't loan that one out!".

    I've got more than a few books - books I'll be using to draft my "original contribution to knowledge" - that, were it not for centralized used-book databases like, I would never have found.

    Amazon can make their little profit on used books and referrals - that's honest money to me. They (and others that do the same thing) provide a mechanism to share information (real, print information - there's very few good books on the net) that provides a signficant net benefit, and one that will only grow more beneficial as more academic/intellectual/literate types take advantage of it.

    Nice to see ecommerce used for something other than consume-consume-consume. Even e-bay doesn't seem like recycling - well ok, not to me at least, I only seem to be able to buy stuff from it! (/me looks guiltily around at numerous silly ebay purchases)
    • by Erasmus Darwin ( 183180 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @01:44PM (#3673707)
      "ecommerce as a net benefit to society"

      I'm not quite as optimistic as you. While there are areas where this is a win (such as books that were previously unavailable because the only copies were buried in an unknown used bookstore), it is also cutting into the revenue for the book publishers. That's the same money that is used to encourage authors to spend their time writing books instead of writing advertising copy, flipping burgers, or working in a factory.

      There are a number of ways the book industry can try and adapt. They can adjust the initial purchase price to reflect the larger average number of people reading each copy. They can cut costs through cheaper materials. They can use cheap materials to make the books fall apart sooner, making it harder to resell the books. They can focus only on the mainstream authors who always sell big numbers.

      Now I'm not saying that reselling books is evil, immoral, or illegal. But it does have a potentially negative effect on the book industry, and I believe there's a good chance that that negative effect will get transferred back to the consumer.

  • People using the 'Net to avoid paying artists. They'll be downloading music next.


  • What if the equivalent of the RIAA and the MPAA in the book industry (what's that, the BIAA?) starts suing those who sell used books? The reason? Those who buy used books aren't paying a dime to the author of the books. It must be stealing. Right?

    If not, what's the difference between music sharing and used books selling? That I'm giving you a *copy* of a song, and not the original one, right? But who prevents me from deleting the "original" song once you downloaded it from my pc?

    ...if 'original' and 'copy' has a meaning in a digital world..

    ok this was joking. Obviously selling used books isn't a crime. ...yet :)

    • Shouldn't you be comparing selling used CDs and DVDs to used books? Is it not different to take a product from it's medium, put it into a new medium and resell it?

      Wouldn't your example be like taking a book, reprinting it with a different cover and selling it? Or maybe scannig it into a document and distributing it as a .pdf file over the net as you saw fit?
    • Record companies do not like the used CD market. Book publishers do not like the used book market.

      Record companies would love to stop used CD sales [].

      I wouldn't worry about restrictions on the sales of used books until long after CD resale becomes illegal.

      There is one fly in the ointment- I have seen stories regarding restrictions on the resale of books that include CD-ROMs, related to the licensing of the software on the included CD.

  • Because if you mail only published materials (books, magazines, etc.) than you pay a much reduced price.

    Do other nations do this?

    How long before the USPS, in an effort to gain more revinue, rids itself of the discount to mailing books?

    On a side note, I get free Amazon [] gift certificates because of the credit card [] I use. I can't apply it toward used anything, but I rack up enough points to get new stuff as fast as I can read it. (I don't think this offer exists for new customers anymore... but it couldn't hurt to try/ask)
  • Bookfinder used to be the king of used book searches. It would search all the other sides like Albris, Half, ABE, Amazon, B&N, Powells and others. But now it's a sad shadow of it's former self. Somehow it's data is now long outdated, like it's only updated once a month or worse.

    So now you need to search all those sites manually to be sure to find a particular book.

    I start with Amazon to find the book and get the ISBN, and make note of Amazon's used price.

    Then I look at Half (because it's so damn easy! and I trust the eBay ratings system). Usually the best place for recent books.

    Then the dreaded ABEbooks where it's a zillion little dealers, each with their own shipping rates, and method of payment. ABE is what used book buying via email and BBS used to be like (except now we have PayPal).

    I was amazed to find the best price via Bibliofind even though it's a branch of Amazon. Seems Bibliofind searches ZSHOPS, while the normal page in Amazon didn't list the ZSHOP copy. The best price I found anywhere else was over $40 (for a less than 10 year old Del Rey paperback!). The ZSHOP price? $2.50! Yes! The joy of buying used.

    Of course the shipping kind of kills those wonderful deals. Nothing could beat walking out of a used bookstore with huge stack of paperbacks for $20 ($1 to $2 a book). Thats how you really discover authors (and accumulate shelf after shelf of stuff you will never get around to reading).

  • NYtimes continues to make money off of information sales thanks to slashdot continually linking at least one story a day!
  • I had fifteen or sixteen different book searches out and unfilled before ABE started up. Then came ABE, I filled all but two of them within a month. That alone made my web access bill worthwhile.
  • someone in Illinois can easily buy a cheap used hardback over the Net from a New York dealer, read it and then resell it to someone in California, having spent, in effect, only a few dollars.

    I can usually walk down to the one down the street from me, borrow the one I want and return it, having spent, in effect, nothing.

    Yes, not all books are available at the local library but I'll wager the vast majority of the ones being traded are. And if it isn't available at the local one, they are usually willing to get it for you within a few days.

    Sadly, though, with the economy the way it is, the library system is one of the areas that my city is considering cutting back on.
  • by Dr. Awktagon ( 233360 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @02:05PM (#3673847) Homepage

    Yes, this is true, and not only books, but other things as well.

    I don't know about the rest of you who sell on eBay but I've noticed something over the past year or so .. everytime I buy something, I immediately think of the inevitable eBay resale.

    Electronics: I will buy a more expensive digital camera because I know I can resell it later to buy the next model. Instead of collecting junk in my closet I can "upgrade" it by selling it and buying something else. I'm already anal about keeping things nice and clean and like-new, so it's no problem keeping stuff in ready to sell condition.

    CDs: I used to buy lots of obscure indie/electronic CDs, but I had to pick and choose. Now, I basically buy everything on the new release lists because I know I can unload the ones I don't like on eBay (sometimes for more than I paid for those limited releases).

    Books: I don't hesitate to buy the "intro" computer books (e.g., O'Reilly's Learning XML) because once I outgrow them, I can get $10-$15 back on eBay. And I might be helping some programmer who couldn't afford the full price of the new book.

    It's not "the internet", it's eBay! eBay is the only Internet company that has really changed things, if you ask me. With eBay, everything can be "try before you buy".

  • Does anyone worry (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @02:08PM (#3673870) Homepage

    That we've reached the situation where there is a sufficient concentration of idiocy, arrogance and financial interest to push for the removal or truncation of first sale rights on items that contain content, including books?

    I know it sounds insane, but bear with me. I'm thinking about the Elcomsoft judge, and his assertion that because you can transcribe an eBook by hand, that satisfies the right to copy it in part for fair use rights of quotation, and in whole for eventually putting it into the public domain. So a court has said that it's both possible and practical to copy an eBook, and so by a close extrapolation, that applies (even more so because of OCR) to a text book.

    So... (thinks an unscrupulous IP lawyer concerned that kiddies are actually sharing copies of Harry Potter and the Amazonian Gift Certificate or another lucrative movie tie in) if it's even easier to copy a paper book than a highly protected eBook, then why shouldn't some of those juicy DMCA criminal penalties apply to paper books?

    Bear in mind that some eBooks are already tied to individual devices (my colleage has just bought a new PDA, but simply can't transfer his Microsoft licensed eBooks from his old one to the new one). They are treated as information licensed to you; you have no rights of first sale. Now, transferral of an eBook is copying of information, not a physical transfer, but look also at how hard it is to sell software on eBay. Publisher can and do have you shut down in an instant, even if you explicitely state that you are selling a boxed non-OEM copy that you have removed from your hardware. The very idea that you can own an object that contains copyrighted content is being challenged by habit and usage, and that's often a precursor to a change in the law.

    I'm not saying that this will happen this year or the next. I'm thinking five or ten years, but I'm thinking that it can and will happen, after all digital content is locked down tight with mandatory DRM. I'm not proposing that it's Constitutional, or even that it's in any way workable, but that's not necessarily a bar to having a law passed that will take years of fighting up to the Supremes to have struck or modified.

    I'm also thinking that it might be the issue that finally wakes up Joe Consumer regarding fair use and the balance of power in copyright, but that by then it might be too late to recover any of the rights that we've already lost to the publishers and distributors.

    What do you think? Am I delusional, or am I just following the money?

  • Yeah,us that's pretty neat. Recently, I bought a used book about Linux kernel programming for EUR 15,--, a few weeks ago "The C++ programming language" by Bjarne Stroustrup for EUR 10,-- and today, 4 books about OSF/Motif, neural networks and object oriented programming with Smalltalk for only EUR 19,--. Pretty cheap, and the books' contents is still valuable for a poor CS student. ;-)
  • by pinkpineapple ( 173261 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @02:13PM (#3673896) Homepage
    I really enjoy buying on the internet. Regarding used (and sometimes new) books, here is what I discovered:
    - I get a lot out of the reviews posted by other buyers. But this requires to be vigilant about the posts (the wolfram book is one example where people posted negative reviews one day after the publication, even if the book is 1000 pages.)
    - Some people will just lie about the quality of the books they sell just to make more profit. Shop to places with good credibility and don't be surprised to pay a little bit more to get a nicer copy.
    - Some sellers are charging up to the nose for books that are out of print. Use google extensively to find your copy for cheaper (half is not always the best place, amazon zshop is also very good.)
    - Shipping cost is not negligible. Even using media mail, it will be higher than to pay for sales tax. And media mail is slow and doesn't let you insure your packages.
    - Shipping delays are sometimes what makes me go to Borders or BN (the latter which I try to avoid) and get my copy there. Then I order online for cheaper, then I have one month to return my copy to the bricks+cement merchant. You've got to do what you have to do. Not my fault if the "real" stores don't compete aggressively with online prices.
    - I still like to go to some dusty used bookstores and browse thru the huge selection, because I support moms&pops businesses and it's really enjoyable to find that rare copy of something I would never have thought buying online (e.g. D&D first ed. monster manual that I bought last weekend.)

    PPA, the girl next door.
  • by Graspee_Leemoor ( 302316 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @03:46PM (#3674550) Homepage Journal
    I just realized that books are the one media that will continue to be sold and re-sold for the forseeable future. As someone who is currently replacing all his CDs, Videos, DVDs with digital equivalents I can see that sales of 2nd-Hand films and music will fall off in the next few years because a lot of people will be "pirating" their own DVDs, computer games, albums and videos then selling them; once everyone is doing this there will be nobody buying originals to sell on.

    With books however we still haven't got to the stage where the electronic "rip" is as good as owning the original. I think it will take years before portable readers are as good as real books (in terms of ease of reading, battery life, portability etc).

    The other thing that may happen is that it becomes feasible to print a book to read it then recycling the paper. I think the price of ink in a format to suit a printer will always make this uneconomical though.

    Just my thoughts


  • by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Monday June 10, 2002 @05:45PM (#3675429) Homepage Journal
    Those folks who have pointed out selling used books would be impossible to stop because of long-standing inertia are quite correct. The same is true with public libraries (indeed, ANY libraries) because they are very much entrenched. Indeed, there is along-standing friction between libraries and publishers over this very issue. In some countries there is a so-called "public lending right" which results in the goverment paying fees to publishers based on library corculation. Authors, in truth the most low-paid cog in the publishing machine, are all for this because that means more royalties (they think), so it's been made into a class issue as well.

    Today is not the problem; tomorrow is. Today e-books and e-distribution, and e-paper, and all that is not much of an issue. After some initial excitement the concept is in the trough of disillusionment at the moment once publishers figured out people didn't want to lug around a Rocketbook.

    In about then yeras or so we are likely to see the first signs of a peak in the "book" industry and the first statistically significant moves to digital in the industry. As that happens you will be buying a license to read the material. Time and technology will gradually decide this issue as more and more material is produced in the new formats.

    It does not bode well for libraries or the used book trade. I am a librarian of 30 years in charge of our IT department. There is a sentiment in our profession that we may not be around as an institution very much longer.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?