Bargain Books, Digitizing Economic Rent down the long tail

Jan. 7, 2009

One of my friends posted on LinkedIn an excellent “Bargain Hunting for Books” story from the New York Times late last month. If you have the market now to buy used books for $.01 or $.25, does that shift tremendous flow from the new book market? Now, my children have no patience to even wait until a book comes out in paperback, but for the rest of us who have longer lifespans to look back on, have we now unleashed our own libraries’ economic value just as we have unleashed the CD collections and hard drives of people all over the digital music world, just with shipping for $3.99?

Another related item is my current life hanging out in dusty stacks of the libraries. The Los Angeles Public Library, in its struggles to keep its shelves full without spending a lot more money, has cut its borrowing time to two weeks. So I’ve been going onto Amazon’s used books to now look at a buy or borrow strategy for books I’ve been wanting to use on my research on connected education. I love, which can tell me which of many libraries a book appears at, then lets me click right there to see if it is available to check out. The amazingly liquid market for used books reflects well the lack of availability in libraries. A friend hinted, and I don’t have the data to support this story, that libraries are having challenges with “rarer” (fewer hanging around Amazon’s used book market) books being “lifted” from library shelves and appearing on the second hand book market as some folks’ personal revenue. Any facts behind this? I wouldn’t be surprised in that over at UCLA’s stacks, many, many books on the more expensive list that I’m looking for are “missing” and haven’t been replaced by the university. In fact, of 20 education books I was looking for, nearly half had disappeared — the expensive half. Hmmm.

All this while I’m working on a textbook proposal. Reminds me of banking — I was told when I got in during 1988 that I’d missed the “good times.”

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