A new competitor for readers’ dollars – used books
I found a recent article in the New York Times intensely interesting. It was titled ‘A Penny for Your Books‘. Here’s a brief excerpt.
Better-known titles with more robust print circulation quickly obey the seesaw of supply and demand; after time, their prices can sink even lower, because of the increased number of copies floating around. Take Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad”: You can buy a new hardcover or paperback copy for $18.82 or $9.19, from Amazon itself, or download the Kindle version for $8.56. Or, as with hundreds of thousands of other books on Amazon, you can click through to the “used” section and buy the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction for a penny.
. . .
This is a game of pennies and lightning-quick readjustment. Buyers have no particular loyalty to any of these sellers; it’s all about what’s cheapest and what’s listed first. Each company, seeking an edge, builds and zealously guards its own software. Ward was the lead developer on Thriftbooks’ software before he became president. He has 12 developers, a full-time data scientist and two financial analysts on his staff. Discover Books’ software is known in-house as Trim2. “We have software that we’ve spent years and a lot of money on,” Hincy says, “tweaking to be as optimal as possible to give that book the best opportunity to be sold.”
. . .
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.
There’s more at the link. Highly recommended reading – albeit potentially disturbing for indie authors.
The question is, what will this growing onslaught of ‘penny books’ do to the e-book market? I know many indie authors have been pushing up their prices in an attempt to make a better living. E-books that used to go for $3.99 or $4.99 are now $6.99 or $7.99. (I didn’t follow this path: I decided that I wanted to broaden my reader base, so I’ve deliberately left my books priced at $3.99, with the first in a series cheaper than that.)
Now, with so many used books available for $3.99 on Amazon, will shoppers buy them rather than take a chance on an author who’s new to them, and who’s charging a little more money for his or her e-book? I rather suspect they may. I know that, in my own search for reference materials, I now mostly buy $3.99 used paper editions on Amazon, rather than pay two to three times that much for an e-book edition. I can’t store them without overwhelming my limited shelf space, but then I seldom need to. I can look up the information I want, scan some pages or an entire section if I need to, and then discard the book. It’s cheap enough to pass on to Goodwill, or drop off at the local used book store, without a qualm.
How about you, fellow authors? Do you see $3.99 used books as a competitor for your readers’ dollars? If not, why not?