Monday, December 18, 2006

They'll Screw It Up, Intro

We have a wonderful independent bookstore in town. They have a wide selection of books, some CDs, a few maps, and a huge toy store and children's section downstairs. Every time I go in there it always seems a fair number of people are browsing inside. The other day I was thinking how unfortunate it is that I don't hardly buy anything there.

There are good reasons for this. First, way too many of the books on their shelves are in less than "new" condition. Many of the trade paperbacks are slouched sideways, carelessly returned to the shelves and not straightened by careless shoppers. Paying full price for an unread but used looking book seems too much.

Second, they don't typically have the books that I'm currently looking for. This isn't necessarily their fault although they could carry books from Hard Case Crime or classics like Flaubert.

Lastly, there's the matter of price. Paying nearly thirty bucks for a hardcover book is expensive, especially when I can get it cheaper one of three ways: buy it online from Amazon, buy it used, or wait for the paperback.

My feelings on the publishing industry's pricing practices and how they relate to sales have been stated in earlier posts, so I've already talked about how paperbacks are less of an option now than ever. As for buying a book used, if I find a copy online that indicates the book is a hardcover, in new or like new condition, and can be had for cheaper than a paperback (trade or otherwise), including freight charges, I'll buy it. I buy new from Amazon for those very few writers whose work I must have now and in new and collectible condition. James Lee Burke's books, for instance, or the collected short stories of Theodore Sturgeon.

There are two things that I don't do, as way of following my own personal ethos: I won't browse in a bookstore, find something I like, and then go shop for it online. If I discover a book in the bookstore that I want, I'll buy it there and compensate them for their existence. The other thing I won't do is feel bad that by buying a used book I'm denying an author some royalties coming from my pocket. The publishing world is the publishing world and I can't make up for their poor choices with my pocket book.

To put all this another way, I buy most of my books without going through the traditional publishing middleman, the bookstore. Part of the reason is the onhand selection, part of the reason is the condition of the books, and part of the reason is price. Publishers see this sort of unholy practice in a bad light, leading to the previously posted comment about creating books that are poorly made and disappear over time, eliminating the book's ability to be resold. Disgusting.

But what would happen if the industry cut out the middleman? What if they embraced a full print on demand (POD) model? The consumer could go online, order a book, have it printed, bound and shipped to his door step without ever setting foot in an actual store. After all, this is what I do now, isn't it?

Like most things, if done right, shifting to a full on POD system could benefit everyone concerned. If done the way the publishing world is doing things today, it would be an unmitigated disaster. We'll talk more about this tomorrow.


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