Used, But Not Used Up
Last week, my daughter sold back a barely opened $120 textbook for $35, which of course is a rip-off coming and going. But education publishers will tell you they're barely staying above water. Ironically, as all things on paper give way to the Internet, we're hearing a lot about the persistence -- even the destructive effect -- of used books:
BookFinder has released their always amusing list of the top 10 out-of-print books in the United States. Madonna, God bless her, is still there with her metal-clad book of erotic photos called "Sex" (1992). But so is "Carpentry for Beginners" from 1900, so I think we're looking at a pretty eclectic group of used-book readers.
Our own publishing reporter, Bob Thompson, ran an interesting story about the owner of Wonder Book and Video, a 54,000-square-foot warehouse in Frederick, Md., that houses about a million used books. The task of receiving, sorting and selling so many volumes sounds like something for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
And ex-Book World staffer David Streitfeld writes in the New York Times that the book industry is being destroyed by "people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them. This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes or, if they're lazy like me, in partnership with an Internet dealer who does all the work for a chunk of the proceeds."
A romance novelist who recently retired from the Post told me that romance publishing, too, has been devastated by the prevalence of readers who pass around their favorite books -- among their friends or across the Internet. Who knows where this promiscuous practice will end!
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