The Decline of The Used Bookstore, The Rise of The Used Book Sales

September 29th, 2005 · 4 Comments
by Booksquare

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before, and, you know, you’re right. Used book sales still comprise a relatively small piece of the total book sales market. What are we so worried about? It’s going to be fine, it’s better to have readers than royalties, and so on. What me worry?

Yes, worry. Not a lot. Don’t take up stress eating or anything rash like that. Simply look at the trends and ask yourself where you want to be on the issue five years from now. To get your started on your journey, let us quote our hero, Edward Wyatt:

Most of the growth is coming in the online sale of general-interest books, said Jeff Hayes, a group director of InfoTrends, a research company that worked on the study, a trend suggesting that traditional used bookstores might be an increasingly endangered species.

Mere paragraphs before, it was noted that used books sales were up 11% over the previous year, and

“The growth is really being entirely fueled by the online channels,” Mr. [Jeff] Hayes said. “And without question, the volume is going to continue to go up.” Mr. [Jeff] Abraham said that the sales growth was being aided by the fact that most customers of online booksellers report having good experiences with vendors, leading them to conclude overwhelmingly that they would recommend such services to friends.

Maybe used book sales aren’t yet cannibalizing new sales, but you have to start thinking with your business cap on. At what point do we seriously consider the impact used book sales have on your bottom line? And by we, we mean you.

File Under: Square Pegs

4 responses so far ↓

  • Bernita // Sep 30, 2005 at 6:30 am

    Often I find an author I like in a used book store and then proceed to buy new everything they write from then on.Doubt that I’m unusual in this. Has no one considered this factor?

  • Richard Nash // Sep 30, 2005 at 9:31 am

    Economists have pretty clearly demonstrated that the existence of the used book marketplace (well, any secondary market) encourages people to buy books at full retail, because they know they can re-sell them. It’s another way of expressing price elasticity—I’ll buy this for $5 but not for $14. Because we have to set fixed prices, $14 let’s say, we’re stuck being unable to sell books to people willing to only pay $10. Those would all be lost sales but for the used market which allows people to buy and re-sell, the difference between the price being in effect the price they’re willing to pay.

    An economist would typically illustrate this with a graph, which is more more intuitive to grasp than my description. In effect one axis would have volume, the other price. A diagonal line represents the number of people willing to buy at a given price (noone will pay a million, a lotta people will buy for a dollar). The book is given a fixed price and everybody whose accepted price is above that fixed pint will buy, and no one who is below the fixed price will.

    What the used book market allows for not only PURCHASES by people unwilling to pay the fixed price but SALES by people unwillling to pay the fixed price. The after market encourages the full price sales in the primary market.

    One of thiese days I’d love to go into why in don’t think books are in fact too expensive but are simply priced in too fixed a manner, preventing the kinds of price discrimination that can help both producers and consumers, but I’ll spare all y’all that…

  • mapletree7 // Sep 30, 2005 at 11:59 am

    Used book sales support sales of new books.

    See this New York Times article

  • Booksquare // Sep 30, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    Richard, anytime you want to expound upon your thoughts, just say the word. I’ve played around with more elasticity in book prices, but haven’t really formed a cohesive thought.

    Used book sales *do* encourage many readers to try new authors, and, often, those readers will gravitate toward buying new. I’m not going to pretend to get the ins and outs of economics, but I do know that price is a major factor when it comes to spending entertainment dollars. Quality is another. However, we need to acknowledge that the business model for buying and selling books has changed dramatically in the past ten years and will continue to change. One major change, of course, is that finding used books (including hard-to-find used titles) is becoming easier, and often, consumers don’t see or know there’s a different financial model for the authors and publishers when they choose to buy used.

    My primary problem with the used book market is that, unlike many other forms of entertainment, there is only one shot at the royalty stream. Music has a used market, but also provides the opportunity for artists to collect royalties (and more) via radio, publishing, live appearances, and merchandising. Motion pictures, of course, have residuals and participations opportunities. Not every porject turns into retirement money, but you have the ability to make money over the long term.

    Other countries have implemented various schemes to compensate artists for potential lost revenues due to piracy or home taping. I realize I’m a lone voice in the “taking this notion seriously” camp, but at some point, the volume of used sales is going to require that authors and publishers discuss ways to protect their business while still maintaining a valuable resource.