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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Amazon's Used Books Bargains

Lately I've been buying used books via the Amazon site.   The main thing I've done with it is to fill out my collection of the series of art books that Time-Life put out on subscription, back in the 1960's, maybe at 10, 15, or 20 bucks per copy.   I already had about 12 in the series, but a short while ago I found out that there were actually 28, and I resolved to try to get them all.

I have long been fascinated by  these books.   Each is centered around a particular Old Master and his times and his contemporaries, from Giotto right up through Matisse and Duchamp, and each book has a great wealth of illustrations and information, so that if you had all these under your belt, you would have a pretty good grasp of the whole range of art history.

And so I managed to fill out that collection pretty easily and inexpensively.   And the kicker was that though each book was published in a cover box of its own, every copy I got was like new.  And I have gotten other used books through Amazon, and they were all in the same flawless condition.

Amazon sells very few of these books itself.  Instead it presides over an army of little booksellers who are the ones who have the books and package them out..  But therein lies a huge question, whose answer I would very much like to know.

You will notice that quite often these books are offered at some ridiculously low prices, like 4 cents a copy!  

My wife and I have a LOT of books, and we've been able to stuff them in this little homemade "green oak" house of mine without being crowded out as yet.   But even in the 1940's and '50's, when I started buying my part of the collection, the paperbacks or, as they were called then, "pocket books," a hot, new thing in those days, down in the used book stores that used to line downtown 9th Street in D.C. when I was young, I thought that getting three for a quarter, as they were generally sold, was a great bargain.   But now 4 cents, even for hardbacks in good condition?

What gives?   Amazon's shipping is always $3.99, but that still doesn't seem to account for the chances of a good profit.

So far I have strictly avoided buying one of their books for a mere 4 cents.  No.  Not even out of curiosity.   That strikes me as being indecently cheap, and instead I go to the midrange, five and sometimes even ten dollars, as my wife informs me is my habit anyway.

I like to see people, especially in an occupation as highly honorable as dealing with books, get something out of it, besides the joy of outfitting people with objects as endlessly worthwhile as books.

But I suppose that, as with so much else, I am not supposed to worry about this.  I expect that the more hard-headed types, who predominate in this world, would tell me that it is after all, in more than one way, not my business.


Blogger Steve Bates said...

Some people run their Amazon storefronts out of their homes. For them, as for many of us, shelf space is at a premium. And many of these storefronts develop a specialty... a topic, a literary genre or a period... that appeals most to their readers. Often it's just not worth it to them to keep some books, so they sell them cheap to keep their shelves clear.

I know this because my good friend Catherine Fairchild (see my blogroll) used to run an Amazon storefront. She did not carry 4-cent books, though; she bought books very selectively and developed a clientèle who wanted that sort of book (mostly Eastern spirituality) but who did not live in a city with many used bookstores like Houston.

10:38 AM  

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