An Eye-Opener

July 12th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

We thought perhaps Sarah Weinman was playing an early Bastille Day joke (sort of like April Fool’s, but less well known). But, no, it’s true: The New York Times has discovered…wait for it…Amazon’s used book sales. Perhaps we should have warned you in advance or suggested you sit down first. We’re sorry. Anyway, we’d like to welcome the paper of record to the party. Hats to your right, punch in the back corner, please lock the bathroom door if you want to maintain your privacy.

Sometime in 2000, the so-called “blue button” debuted. This has changed to a text link and lots of other links, but the concept is this: you go to a book’s page, and there you see you can purchase a book new or used. Yes, lots of used options right there on the new book page. Authors generally don’t hate used book sales; they are a fact of life, and are generally considered sales builders (especially those authors whose books have a short shelf life; used book sales generate interest in an author’s back catalog and seem to spur current sales). The objection to Amazon’s practices has long been about proximity. If you see a choice between ten bucks and two bucks, what will you do?

Oh sure, some people only like brand new books. Some people realize that buying used takes royalties out of an author’s pocket. Some people don’t even see the used options (the human species is fascinating for its tunnel vision). But so many others, when given the option right up front, will take the cheaper. We’re a nation of bargain hunters (heck, we’re all excited today because we received a postcard in the mail saying we deserve new shoes for our birthday. We couldn’t agree more, and will be off to take advantage of this generous offer shortly). When this option debuted on Amazon, many authors were up in arms (to the point of switching their links to Barnes and Noble), but the publishing industry seemed disinterested.

Now they’re waking from a long winter’s slumber and seeing that they maybe should have been paying attention. What used to be a statistical error has become sort of like the “a” in the quadratic equation. It affects the bottom line (that may very well be our first ever math joke; as it exhausted our repetoire, we won’t be doing it again). We have long had a complex formula for determining when we purchase our books used (long-dead author, something we know we bought but have misplaced, can’t buy it any other way, etc.), and we have long wished Amazon would find a better way to handle its income-producing used book program. Perhaps now there will be more involvement from the publishers. Money does that, you know.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

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