Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"penny booksellers"

Publishers Lunch

The NYT Magazine has a feature on the surprisingly sophisticated business of practices of the "penny booksellers" who sell "scores of relatively sought-after books in varying conditions for a cent" online. "The penny booksellers are sometimes seen as forcing books into a new, disturbingly quick life cycle in which prices drop from full price to a few dollars in months, and then further to a penny in just a couple of years." Or put another way, "Penny booksellers are exactly the sort of weedy company that springs up in the cracks of the waste that the Internet has laid to creative industries. They aren't a cause; they’re a small, understandable result. Penny booksellers expose the deep downside to efficiency capitalism, which is that everything, even literal garbage and rare high art, is now as easy to find and roughly as personal as a spare iPhone charging cable."

Mike Ward at Thriftbooks -- which "sells about 12 million books a year, mostly on Amazon, and many for a penny" -- explains how the model works. They buy "landfill-bound books, sight unseen, for around 10 cents a pound." Less than 20 percent of that is salable, and the rest is recycled. The books that sell for a penny plus shipping yield, after costs, "A couple of cents, to be honest." But "Ward says that less than half of his stock sells for that price. And because processing costs don't increase with book price, while Thriftbooks may only make a few cents on a penny book, it will make $2, plus a few cents, from a book priced at $2."

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