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December 31, 2008
Are Resales Killing Publishing?
In a column published by the NY Times this week, David Streitfeld puts forth the proposition that the highly available, highly interconnected nature of the online book reselling market is killing book publishing. New-in-print brick-and-mortar retail has been under pressure at least since Amazon started its first Web site. The economics of book publishing have also been sagging since Reagan-era tax reforms that made carrying inventory unprofitable, and the costs of paper, ink, and transport keep going up.
But I had not considered that the ease of finding a cheap used copy would have that big of an impact on publishing and book retailing. Used book search engines are easy to find, there's Ebay/Half.com, and even Amazon puts competing reseller links on the same pages as its new book listing. So with all that, why would anyone pay retail?
It's not too far from the question that the music business faced back at the end of the 90s when Napster boomed - given that you could get music for free, why buy? The record labels have spent most of the last decade struggling to come up with a version of what I call the "bottled water" solution - given that we have some of the world's highest quality tap water essentially for free, why do we pay so much for water in bottles? Somehow we've been convinced it's worth paying for, and there's no reason to think that consumers of music, or books, couldn't be similarly convinced.
Along the way I'd also like to be convinced of the original thesis of the column. The idea that book reselling is killing new book publishing is an interesting theory, but sadly it's put forth here without any supporting data.
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