Quotulatiousness

October 7, 2010

The sad tale of the used book hunter

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:04

By way of Walter Olson’s Twitter feed, a story of real life arbitrage — the Confessions of a Used Book Salesman:

I make a living buying and selling used books. I browse the racks of thrift stores and library book sales using an electronic bar-code scanner. I push the button, a red laser hops about, and an LCD screen lights up with the resale values. It feels like being God in his own tiny recreational casino; my judgments are sure and simple, and I always win because I have foreknowledge of all bad bets. The software I use tells me the going price, on Amazon Marketplace, of the title I just scanned, along with the all-important sales rank, so I know the book’s prospects immediately. I turn a profit every time.

I’m pretty sure I first heard about the practice of shopping for books with laser scanners in a story on NPR, which, as I recall it, disparaged their use as classless. And, really, it is precisely this. The book merchant of the high-cultural imagination is a literate compleat and serves the literate. He doesn’t need a scanner, because he knows more than the scanner knows. I fill a different niche — I deal in collectible or meaningful books only by accident. I’m not deep, but I am broad. My customer is anyone who needs a book that I happen to find and can make money from.

My economics side says this is a good thing: connecting buyers with their desired purchases. My bibliophile side says this is somehow morally wrong . . . or if not precisely wrong, then tainted or shady. I’m not sure how to reconcile my feelings.

2 Comments

  1. Quotulatiousness’ Rule of Used Book Buying: “Free markets for me, but not for thee”

    – or –

    It’s OK when I score a rare book that I have always wanted for a good or even the-guy-did-not-know-what-he-had price, but it’s not fair that the seller should have this unfair advantage of, you know, actually knowing the going rate of a book that he wants to sell me.

    And besides — if you’re talking about books with UPC codes, then by definition you’re talking about trash. What sort of self-respecting purveyor of literary antiquities would have anything in his shop with a UPC code on it?

    Stick with your economics side — it is the way and the light. Bibliophilia is the path to the dark side. Bibliophilia leads to a shortage of shelf space. A shortage of shelf space leads to IKEA Billy bookshelves. IKEA Billy bookshelves lead to suffering.

    Comment by Lickmuffin — October 7, 2010 @ 10:21

  2. Quotulatiousness’ Rule of Used Book Buying: “Free markets for me, but not for thee”

    I fail to see a problem with this . . .

    Bibliophilia leads to a shortage of shelf space. A shortage of shelf space leads to IKEA Billy bookshelves. IKEA Billy bookshelves lead to suffering.

    But if I’d just caved in and bought IKEA Billy bookshelves, I wouldn’t be covered in all the wood dust from my power sander right now. Seriously, six book cases plus plywood backs, plus adjustable shelves means a hell of a lot of sanding. Even with two (TWO!) random-orbit sanders in operation, it’s still a tedious job. Especially when you have to start with 80 grit for the hardwood, then go to 150 grit, then 180 grit.

    Comment by Nicholas — October 7, 2010 @ 13:55

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

« « Follow up: burning the free market for government failure| Isn’t this a barbaric practice for a free society? » »

Powered by WordPress