Are book resellers killing the industry?


How much time do we spend actually using the stuff we own? That kitchen knife -- 5 minutes a day? Those dress shoes -- two hours a week? The lawnmower -- a couple of hours a week, seven months of the year. The treadmill- never? The new trend to rent or share, rather than buy, products (see Hertz Connect, for example) is a good way for consumers to trim expenses. Unfortunately, it can be a disaster for retailers.

According to the New York Times, one industry reeling at the moment is publishing, in large part due to our newly developed practice of reselling books we have finished. Stores such as Half-price Books have abetted this, but the 500-lb gorilla of this industry is Now, publishers have a much shorter window of opportunity in which to sell new books before they begin to show up in quantity on used book shelves and internet sites.

Take, for example, the paperback version of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, which came out in late September with a cover price of $14. Already used copies are available on Amazon beginning at $5.65. Even with $3.99 shipping, the reader will save over $4. Del Rey, the publisher, won't see a nickel of this resale, and neither will Chabon.

So what? you may say. So this- publishers and book stores have to make enough money to justify the expense of producing and retailing a book, and with sales already weakened by the retail bust and competing entertainments, many are hanging on by their fingernails already. If the large publishing houses go under, avid readers will have to contend with the anarchy of self-published or small press offerings, and the difficult task of finding the a kernel of wheat in a mound of chaff will be made even harder.

This is another impetus for publishers to embrace the Kindle and like devices, where books can be sold in captive formats that include a barrier to redistribution, much as DVDs are sold today. I hate the thought that book stores might follow blacksmith and TV repair shops into oblivion, but everybody's got to eat, and paper just isn't all that tasty.