Thursday February 23, 2006

Virtual Bookstores

For at least a decade, we have been bemoaning the loss of small, independent booksellers. These neighborhood stores have fallen victim to the behemoths: Borders, Barnes & Noble, and, to some extent, Amazon. (For a while, Crown Books was a big player too, but then it vanished from the scene).

I am hopeful, however, that this trend has not affected used bookstores. If anything, I think the rise of the Internet may be bringing them more business than ever before. From services such as Half.com and Alibris, to the Used & Out of Print booksellers networks run by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I have instant access to hundreds (if not thousands) of used book shops from my desk.

I take advantage of this service frequently. We often discover new authors, then decide to search out everything that author has written to date! Sometimes the books are still in print (but gently-read used books can be a lot cheaper). At other times, the older books are out of print, available only from used bookstores.

Periodically, publishers and (sometimes) authors, complain that they are "losing money" when people buy used books. That's ludicrous. There have always been used book sellers (not to mention remaindered books at new book stores and, most egregious, libraries). Students sell back their textbooks (and buy used ones) every term at Universities.

We buy used books because they are affordable. Sometimes, we take the money we saved and buy different books, new. (Rich and I can hardly pass up any bookstore we walk by and we nearly always come out with books.) It's impossible to simply count every used book purchase as a loss of revenue on an equivalent new book. The numbers aren't comparable.

I remember what it was like before used book searches became readily available on the web. I could write my book request on a postcard and mail it to a book search firm. If they found a copy, they would let me know the price and I could decide if I wanted to buy it. By the time we sent all of those postcards back and forth, the book could be long gone.

Today, I can hunt for dozens of books by clicking a few buttons. There's also the fact that the number of stores in my virtual neighborhood would never fit in my physical vicinity. And finally, I've learned that I can't actually visit many used bookstores in person anymore because of the musty smell; it literally turns my stomach. There's no mold on the web. ;-)

The only real annoyance about buying books this way is how fast the shipping charges add up. Thank goodness for Media Mail rates!

Virtual Bookstores ( in category Books, Movies, Music , Special Interests ) - posted at Thu, 23 Feb, 08:00 Pacific | «e»