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Confessions of a Used Bookseller
October 7, 2010 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Have you seen people at library book sales going over all the books with a barcode scanner? One of these folks reveals his methods and discusses his feelings about what he does.
posted by reenum (165 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ummm... yeah, I'm a book lover who's having a hard time getting worked up over this. The library (or junk seller or whev) knows perfectly well that they could make more revenue selling the worthy books and junking the specialized ones, but they'd spend a lot of that revenue on the time it takes to scan each book, post it on Amazon, then ship it to the winner.

The author says "I turn a profit every time", but I don't think he's taking in to account his own labor hours.
posted by muddgirl at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


Fascinating. I recently joined bookmooch.com and I wonder how many books circulating there wind up sold.
posted by exogenous at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2010


As someone who has worked in libraries and bookstores (new, used, and rare), I only have an issue with this if it is making browsing for others more difficult. The library, of course, can choose to ban scanners if they feel it's disruptive, but their intention is to sell the books for the price, anyway, so it's sort of a win for them. (On the other hand, the library might be better off opening their own Amazon store -- they could probably hire someone to do do this pretty easily and pocket the money assuming that municipal regulations didn't get in the way).

I think the real danger is that this kind of thing erodes the pleasures of book hunting, which may drive people out of the hobby, close used book stores, and, I suppose, eventually put these guys out of business, but I am not sure that will change regardless.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I didn't know this existed but it makes sense and, I guess, makes the market more efficient. Personally, when I shop for used books, I'm hardly ever looking for anything published in the era of the bar code. It's older books that are attractive, hard-to-find, etc. There's still room in that area there for dealers who rely on their knowledge to make a living and keep the trade going.
posted by Paquda at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't see why he should feel ashamed. Books are great and all but there's no point in holding them as some sort of sacred objects that can only be sold by people who truly read and appreciate them.

People don't generally sell books at used sales/yard sales/ thrift shops because they want to get a fair value for them, they do it because they want to get rid of them and can't be arsed to put any more work into it. He's just exploiting that gap for profit, though I suppose making it easier to find used copies on the internet actually probably does hurt the authors and publishers to some extent.
posted by ghharr at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have a co-worker that does this and raves about it.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2010


So that's how it works. There's one person that's always doing this at the library sales in my area, the same person each time, and I understood they were quick-searching the books by barcode but I didn't understand that they were actually price-comparing. One of my clients has a programmable data collector lying around that I could talk them out of and repurpose for this.

Oh, wait: we just moved, and the reason my desk isn't set up is because there are 55 boxes of books stacked on my end of the office. The last thing I need right now is more books.

But, still...the project involves programming a device, old books, thrift shops, data analysis, scraping website databases...I think this might just be the greatest project I have ever thought of. Any I wonder why my wife calls me a nerd.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:31 AM on October 7, 2010 [13 favorites]


If it's strengthening the market in used books, delivering more supply for people who actually are looking for the titles, and helping keep prices down, I don't see what the problem is. In fact, the author's doing society a service and making a little profit on it. This is the way that things are supposed to work. After all, if the alternative is that wanted books sit unnoticed in storage, or trashed, then that seems a lot worse.

But an interesting job nonetheless.
posted by cotterpin at 8:31 AM on October 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


Smartphone scanner applications, which interpret photographic images of barcodes and then look up the corresponding products on the Web, work too slowly to be tools for the professional.

I'm not sure that's correct. I use ShopSavvey on my Droid and it's pretty much instantaneous.
posted by octothorpe at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Basically, he claims he's working up to 80 hours per week for up to $1000 - that's $12.50 an hour. The one benefit to this over, say, working as a receptionist is that he can quite likely avoid reporting this income on his taxes.
posted by muddgirl at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


Like everyone else so far, I'm not worked up by this -- for some reason, I expected something much more evil-seeming. However, despite not feeling riled up, for some reason, I am also glad the author of the piece feels bad about it.

On the other hand, there's a part of me who would love to do this. However, that same part of me would suck at it because I wouldn't be able to just play the numbers and would do it the way his friend who says its a "really creative way to educate yourself."

In other words, I'd suck at making money but would have a great time....


which might as well be my epitaph.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


> When I first started this work, I would wake up every morning with fingers stiff from prying apart books in order to get a better look, and a clear shot at the barcode...When I find a good one, I get a little feeling of violent achievement, and I hide the book away immediately. (Sometimes resellers will carry blankets around to throw over their piles of treasures.)

This is very much in keeping with my wife's observation that the Record Collector Dudes who showed up at our last couple of garage sales (and got in fights over who was there first because they started showing up half an hour early) looked and acted "like Gollum."
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:35 AM on October 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


I'm glad some old man called him an asshole.
posted by fryman at 8:38 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Anyone know if similar software/devices exist for the CD/LP market? I run a record store which is not computerised but I'd like it to be. The thought of manually entering the data of 15000 items has always kept me from doing it... but if I could just scan the barcode I'd be golden.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:39 AM on October 7, 2010


An engaging article about scanning second hand books? Somethings tells me the author reads a little bit more than he lets on. Of course the whole "I love reading books...I scan them and collect them for a living" angle wouldn't have worked as well. I spent a Summer picking fruit in France. Naturally, I tell everybody that I haven't eaten a pear or apple since.
posted by popecork at 8:41 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


i've yet to see anyone doing this, but i've seen used bookstore owners going through sales fairly often
posted by pyramid termite at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2010


The author says "I turn a profit every time", but I don't think he's taking in to account his own labor hours.

Netting $1k per week, including his labor hours, is a pretty good profit.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2010


My mom's job has, for the past 20-something years, laid her off every summer. She is an avowed garage sale and thrift store fiend. This would be an amazing way for her to supplement their income every summer AND let her do something she loves...thank you so much for posting it, reenum.

Of course, as the person who's going to end up being her tech support... (sigh)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:50 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


America, a nation of salesmen.
posted by pianomover at 8:53 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not opposed to this..

The guy says if you work really hard, you can make upwards of $1000 / week. He also puts in 80 hours a week. So on a good week, he's only pulling in $12.50 an hour, so not very lucrative.

And as someone who has a taste for obscure books, it is these people sifting the bulk piles of books that keep out-of-print gems available.
I'd much rather spend $40 on an obscure OOP book than have zero copies available anywhere because they all ended up in the trash.
posted by Theta States at 8:53 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


I have a friend who used to be a professional book buyer for Powell's. He spent years learning the trade, how to spot the valuable books in a pile of garbage. Then he went independent with his knowledge, made a decent living buying and trading books with his encyclopedic knowledge of what editions and what types of books would be valuable. He's now quit because the increasing efficiency of things like book scanners has taken all the fun out of it. You can still make money, but it's much less interesting than it used to be.

The other end of the business is dominated by Monsoon, which automatically prices books for sale online. Amazon is full of slightly obscure books with ridiculous pricing. Ie, a book available new for $10 direct from the publisher, but Amazon only has three used copies at $44.45, $45.00, and $76.69. Apparently that pricing and undercutting is automated via Monsoon.
posted by Nelson at 8:53 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is kind of neat! Like some kind of quasi-literary cyborg nomad! I hope he dresses in tatters and thick glasses and lumbers a lot!
posted by Greg Nog at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


They've always been around, the scroungers, it's just that now that they're mechanized they're easier to spot. I suspect part of the author's feelings are based on the knowledge that it has become an idiot's game, and the scanner shows the world this fact. Have scanner, will travel. Do these folks - I generally see several at our local library sale - know from experience about books, the way the pre-Amazon types had to? Seems not.

On the other hand, the bar code books are rarely the kind of books that I am looking for (hell, the kind of books that wind up in library book sales period are rarely the kind of books that I am looking for), so it's generally not like they'll snatch anything I would buy.

But it does kill a bit of the romance of the hunt.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:55 AM on October 7, 2010


I don't understand the guilt. I've bought used books from Amazon and (a) don't see myself as less "pure" than the guy who buys them directly from the library and (b) don't bregrudge anyone from making a little money getting those books on Amazon.
posted by rtimmel at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


At the risk of asking the obvious, what stops libraries using the same scanning system and pricing their books at a price that is nearer true market value?
posted by MuffinMan at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Public libraries aren't bookstores.
posted by fryman at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've run into these people frequently and hate it. I understand it, but still, we are competing for books, and they are doing it for a profit motive, I am doing it for the love of reading. I am taking home a small pile to enjoy, they are taking home a car-load to profit off other people like me. I give my books away when done at another local sale, they are shipping the books outside the community. It becomes really irritating when you look at the pile they made and you see a bunch of books you would have bought, if you were only just a little more aggressive and pushy and armed with electronic weapons. My only consolation is that I enjoy the reading, while they are working hard moving objects around. They usually have a fevered shifty look about them. It used to be book scouting was an art. It took experience, a 6th sense, and there was a risk involved, a certain romance. These scanners have unleashed an army of idiot script kiddies.

what stops libraries using the same scanning system and pricing their books at a price that is nearer true market value?

Time.
posted by stbalbach at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2010 [12 favorites]


MuffinMan -- its not their business. They do not want to deal with advertising, warehousing, sales, shipping and customer complaints. The library just wants to get rid of excess books.
posted by rtimmel at 9:04 AM on October 7, 2010


what stops libraries using the same scanning system and pricing their books at a price that is nearer true market value?

At my library, we just don't have the volunteer manpower to do this. The volume of donations and weeded books is too much for our loyal volunteers to keep up with. It's hard enough to get them to schedule big book sales, get them set up and staff them.

And there is no way the staff have time to do it either.
posted by morganannie at 9:04 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Libraries already use software to decide what books to get rid of. Pretty soon that software will just print out price tags for each book based on the current price for used copies online, and these guys will be out of business. Enjoy it while it lasts!
posted by miyabo at 9:06 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not if he's working 80-hr weeks and properly filing his self-employment tax and quarterly estimated tax filings. It's enough to live on, sure, but I doubt his portrayal of colleagues who are, like, buying Porches based solely on this business.
posted by muddgirl at 9:06 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't despise (nor envy) the guy - arbitrageurs keep prices down and ultimately help books get to where they would be appreciated most. Not so sure how I feel about another species of reseller - the type you'd find at the front of the line of a book signing with 10 first editions of the same title. That's more disingenuous.
posted by marco_nj at 9:06 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Gah, forgot to quote Threeway Handshake: Netting $1k per week, including his labor hours, is a pretty good profit.
posted by muddgirl at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2010


I'm not sure that's correct. I use ShopSavvey on my Droid and it's pretty much instantaneous.

In my quick testing, Shop Savey takes forever to focus on the barcode, then has to make a network request over, if lucky, 3g, and gets the wrong book back. His device/app uses a real laser, so no time wasted on focusing, and has a local DB, so no network query.
posted by nomisxid at 9:08 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


> what stops libraries using the same scanning system and pricing their books at a price that is nearer true market value?

A lack of time and human resources, as other people have noted. Generally, we just want to get the stuff out of the building to make way for newer material. Coincidentally enough, the library I work at had its quarterly book sale last Saturday and by the end of the day we had lowered the prices (cheap cheap CHEAP to begin with) to the point where we were joking that the next step was not letting anyone out of the building unless they took at least one book or video with them.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:10 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


You want evil, you could figure out how much your library charges to replace books, plug that variable in, and go looking through the active stacks.
posted by smackfu at 9:12 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


A few years ago, I worked the book sale room at my university's research library. They were freeing up shelf space by culling duplicates and obsolete material from the shelves. Each week between ten and twenty carts of books would come downstairs and would be arranged by subject heading on the metal shelving in a repurposed storage room. Graduate students and self-styled precocious undergrads would wander in, browse through the day's offerings and walk out with, say, a crumbling copy of The Wealth of Nations that they could pick up for $2.50.

But the booksellers were a different animal altogether. It was a shitty, boring job and I was often late to open up. I'd stumble down the stairs with a paper cup of coffee splashing over my hand, only to see them crowded like flies on offal around the locked door. They would stare pointedly at their watches and shoot me dark, semi-threatening looks. Once the doors were unlocked, they ran through the routine this guy describes: sifting through the books as quickly as possible, grabbing copies and stashing them in their carts. The objective was to find out where the new books had been shelved. The smarter ones figured out the schedule and would show up 15 minutes before the new material arrived. The sadder ones just hung around, all day long, waiting for the machine to spit out another dusty pellet.

There's something tragic and broken in these people. All of them looked like they had at one time or another been a bibliophile. They would, in off moments, talk intelligently about the pleasures of book ownership and the satisfaction of discovering a treasure. But wheel a new cart in front of them and they were instantly transformed back into twitching, grasping beasts. The technological capability of instantly abstracting from a book's content to its value on a marketplace stripped them straight down to the lizard brain.

Wheeling a cart out from acquisitions one morning, I saw that a sequence of books from Middle Eastern studies had been culled from the shelves. Looking more closely, I realized that a dozen or so were turn of the century travelogues and anthropological accounts of colonial-era Pakistan and Iran. The potential resale value of these treasures exploded in my head and I stashed them, hands trembling, under the desk. In a quiet moment, I checked Amazon marketplace and confirmed that I had around $2500 worth of books in a cardboard box at my feet. But when I took them home and started leafing through them, I got caught up in the subject matter. In the end, I couldn't bring myself to sell them. They're still sitting at the bottom of a bookshelf in my study, valuable only to me.
posted by felix betachat at 9:15 AM on October 7, 2010 [61 favorites]


Also, I think those handheld things are pretty expensive. One of our volunteers asked about getting one a couple of years ago and at that time they were upwards of a thousand dollars.
posted by morganannie at 9:15 AM on October 7, 2010


It's hard not to make a profit when buying books at a dollar a piece, but it's worth nothing that there are a lot of booksellers, both online and off, sitting on a lot of unsold books these days, and I think part of that is due to the overuse of the internet to price everything.

There is a tendency now in the secondhand book market to price everything according to internet sales: i.e. to price a title according to the highest price ever fetched for a title. But as a longtime consummate book collector, I often see a lot of books that are not moving (like they are just sitting there for years) b/c they've been priced too high. My thoughts run like this when I find this: "ok, I would like that title, but $60 seems like a lot; I mean yes I'm sure if you wait long enough (like years) someone in Finland might buy it at that price, but if you knocked it down $20 I would just buy it now."
posted by existential hobo at 9:16 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a love/hate relationship with the whole ecosystem of online booksellers. On one hand, I agree with those who say that the folks with scanners are performing a service. I can search Amazon for a book that I am interested in and buy it for less than the new price and it's one less new book that needs to be printed.

On the other side, local used bookstores are just not that interesting to browse anymore. They also sell books online and it seems like there's a giant internet vacuum cleaner that sucks the interesting and unusual books out of the store. I guess it might be the price to pay for actually still having a used bookstore in a small town, but it seems like only a matter of time before they figure out that they can't make money selling books in a real store.

Towns around me used to have 6 or 7 used bookstores and there are only one or two left, and it's a shame to me. I used to spend a lot of time browsing books and talking about books with the owners of the shops.
posted by jefeweiss at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Supply and demand. If there were not people doing this, how many valuable books may/will end up being recycled (hopefully) or more likely be thrown into landfills?

This is a wonderful niche, the ability of technology to create niches like this always amazes me.
posted by jkaczor at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excellently written article.

I, for one, am extremely thankful for people like this. Why? Several reasons:
1) The bookseller/store/library he buys his finds from actually getting a sale. Yes, they could do the Amazon listing themselves, but do not.
2) Books that would otherwise get tossed are now available
3) Books that I would be hard-pressed to find are now available.

So I honestly feel that he should not feel any shame whatsoever with what's he doing. And the old man with 10,000 books that's he's read is a hoarder, not a reader.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:19 AM on October 7, 2010 [13 favorites]


I frequent my local libraries' book sales, and while I often lament the treasure-troves which are culled by the bookdealers before I get there, it doesn't bug me too much. Most libraries have two sales: there's a preview for members of the Friends of the Library the day or night before (that's when all the wheat gets separated from the chaff), and then a public sale the next day. A lot of the time the dealers' hoarded piles are still waiting to get picked up the next day. Mysterious, exotic volumes with leather-and-gilt covers and no visible titles. 12- and 20-volume sets, complete. Giant, ledger-sized texts. But do I care enough to pony up the $50 or $100 annually to join the Friends? No.

I enjoy the browsing, finding things I didn't know existed, and looking at bookplates and illustrations and library stamps from bygone days. I rarely find a book I really wanted at a local sale (the odds are astronomical), so let the hardworking booksellers find them for me and put them up online.

Say, when is the next book sale? I'm getting itchy fingers just talking about it, now.
posted by steef at 9:19 AM on October 7, 2010


Even though the library isn't in the bookselling business, they have a good opportunity to improve this process a bit - sell the rights to get in to the book sale an hour before it opens for something like $50. Label it something uplifting like "Premiere entry at 6 AM for Golden Circle donors" so people see it as less of a sales transaction and more as a bonus freebie for "donors". The scanner guys get in before the plebes and can work glare-free, the regular customers don't have all these people disheveling the books and getting in their way, and the library gets money.

Uh, on preview, exactly what steef says exists.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:21 AM on October 7, 2010


Amazon is full of slightly obscure books with ridiculous pricing.

Yes. Yes it is. I've misplaced a favourite book of mine and in looking for a replacement copy, any edition and any format, I've discovered this bit of unfortunate price gouging. I'm not even sure it's in demand; it's just hard to find.

It's doubtful that we'd cross purposes like this often; I'm not mostly interested in particular editions and hard-to-find copies, but it does rob people of that unexpected treasure when it happens to be the only copy available. That treasure being the ability to read it, of course. One business undercutting another doesn't concern me too much.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:23 AM on October 7, 2010


what stops libraries using the same scanning system and pricing their books at a price that is nearer true market value?

The market price of a book on Amazon is higher than the market price at a jumble sale because it's exposed to people searching for that particular item. Unless libraries get rid of physical book sales altogether and list items on Amazon, it'd make no sense. And if they do, it'd make more sense for them to do business with existing book brokers than to set up their own Amazon selling operations.
posted by acb at 9:29 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The other end of the business is dominated by Monsoon, which automatically prices books for sale online. Amazon is full of slightly obscure books with ridiculous pricing. Ie, a book available new for $10 direct from the publisher, but Amazon only has three used copies at $44.45, $45.00, and $76.69. Apparently that pricing and undercutting is automated via Monsoon.

I have seen this many times and wondered what was up with it. Interesting to know that there's an automatic pricer with a flawed algorithm at work--I always wondered, "How can any person have priced this used copy at $76.45 when the brand-new one is $14.95?"
posted by not that girl at 9:32 AM on October 7, 2010


Here in Portland, OR there's a Goodwill Outlet Center that most people call "The Bins" due to the fact everything is in giant unsorted bins. Clothing, electronics, books, you name it. It's dirty, dusty, and sometimes you may get pricked by broken glass.

Naturally, the place has scavengers that spend all day there. There's two/three classes of scavengers: Almost always women picking through clothes to re-sell, Overweight retired men that are hoarders, and the book guys.

The book guys get on my nerves because I made most of my personal library from books there and as soon as a new bin rolls out they grab EVERYTHING filling up their carts. And it's not two or three guys, its a dozen all working together. Take the books to the carts, scan, dump the rejects which leaves me trying to find anything good in a sea of Joy Luck Clubs and Men are From Mars.
posted by wcfields at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


morganannie : Also, I think those handheld things are pretty expensive. One of our volunteers asked about getting one a couple of years ago and at that time they were upwards of a thousand dollars.

Depends entirely on what you look for. The Telxon-style devices, which amount to a WinCE PC in a pistol-scanner form factor, yeah, you'll pay over a grand for. If you settle for just a high quality bluetooth scanner such as a Wasp, you can get them for around $350, with another $50-$100 budgeted for the PDA.

And if you reduce your criteria to using a portable with a USB port, you can get good quality wired laser scanners (Metrologic makes a number of these) for under $100 - I could easily see someone on a budget going with one of those connected to a netbook with a 3G card in it, and you have not just your scanner but your entire operation's IT needs all in one tidy portable package for under $300.
posted by pla at 9:36 AM on October 7, 2010


I've thought about doing this myself. (I didn't realize there was a special kind of scanner one could use, but I would have figured that out if I'd done any research.) But books are heavy, thrift stores and libraries are geographically scattered, and I don't have a car.

As for these people making book hunting less fun - I don't think so. But maybe I just have weird taste in books, so I'm not afraid that these people would snatch up the ones I'd want to buy.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that's correct. I use ShopSavvey on my Droid and it's pretty much instantaneous.

For these purposes, it's not even close. I see the scanner guys every so often at thrift stores, and they can power through about half a dozen books in the space of time it would take to scan a single one with a Droid. It's as fast as scanning groceries, really.

I do find these guys to be, I don't know... distasteful, I guess. I love reading; to me, someone who looks at books as something to sell instead of something to read is just weird and wrong.
posted by stefanie at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's something kind of sad to me, as a junk-store and yard-sale aficionado, about the way the internet has impact the ability of a regular, casual buyer to stumble upon something wonderful. This goes not just for books, but for clothing, housewares, etc. For instance, in the town I grew up in is a charity thrift store. While still in high school, I would frequent the place and occasionally find thigns that just filled me with joy - vintage overcoats and purses and hats, 1950s aluminum tumblers, really great record albums and books, vintage graphics like old greeting cards...real finds, some of them. Amid the dross, of course. It was all tossed together, all out there, in a very democratic fashion - finders, keepers.

Today, that same store has rearranged its facilities so that donations now come in through the 'sorting room.' The junkier stuff gets tagged and put out on the floor, but a conspicious shelf is set aside for the "good" stuff, which is then bound for eBay and never hits the floor.

I'm sure money is raised for the charity this way; maybe more money than the shop would have drawn for the same item, because with ebay you can sell it in a marketplace that draws only enthusiasts. But it makes for more disappointing shopping. Instead of the potential treasures amidst the mad piles of dross, you can be sure that the junk in the shop has been pre-sorted and is now only dross. There is none of the pleasure of hoping to run across a wonderful surprise. And if you're interested in something, you can find and purchase it online, and you'll have the pleasure of owning it but none of the serendipitious pleasures of searching it out and locating it at last.

The same is true for many bookstores and record stores now - pre-sorted dross-only. The only good thing about the used book market is that the used books that end up being most valuable are sometimes odd choices, not necessarily the things a book lover would be after. My brother sold books for a while, and he made the most money off first editions by midlist authors whose books ended up breaking big and being surprised bestsellers. So despite the fact that you could find 4 copies of Snow Falling on Cedars at your average library sale, the one he identified would sell for $45. It wasn't the rarity of the contents or the quality of the book that governed pricing.

Anyway, that's my elegy to the former great randomness of the used-stuff marketplaces of yore.
posted by Miko at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


wcfields: "The book guys get on my nerves because I made most of my personal library from books there and as soon as a new bin rolls out they grab EVERYTHING filling up their carts. And it's not two or three guys, its a dozen all working together. Take the books to the carts, scan, dump the rejects which leaves me trying to find anything good in a sea of Joy Luck Clubs and Men are From Mars."

Same here. I have mixed feelings about this whole thing. On the one hand, hooray for the free market and keeping books in circulation. On the other hand (as others have said above), it's hardly worth it to go to library sales, thrift shops, etc. in person any more.
posted by jquinby at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2010


I love used books. I love to buy used books. And there's something particularly special about old library books. So if this guy wants to work his fingers to the bone to make available some used library books that I might not otherwise be able to purchase, then he is my hero and I will gladly give him my money. He gets money, the library gets money, and I get a lovely little hardback treasure. Win all around.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


someone who looks at books as something to sell instead of something to read is just weird and wrong.

I speak from experience here when I say: never, ever get a job in publishing.
posted by existential hobo at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here in Tucson, there's a volunteer organization, Friends of the Tucson Pima Public Library, that checks all the books the library's about to sell to see if they're worth selling online.

They've contributed over a million dollars to the library, and are one of the reasons that, despite recent budget cuts, the libraries here are still thriving.
posted by MrVisible at 9:48 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


My only real complaint with these guys is when they roll up with their tub full of books and then pay with a check (and are the only ones who pay with checks because everyone else is happy with their 2 books for $4 and also, seriously, checks?) when I can barely work the register because this isn't my job, I've had no training in using it, and I'm only doing this because everyone has to take a shift at the yearly booksale and then he's haggling with me about whether the 30 volume encyclopedia counts as 1 hardcover or 30 hardcovers while I'm trying to enter his other 65 books properly into the register and then, when I've finally figured out his total and examined, stamped, validated, and written his license number on his check, he asks if I, the only library employee in the room at the time, can help him take his giant tub of books out to his car, because leaving the other 10 nearly-identical scanner guys alone in there seems like a great idea, so I shrugged my shoulders and told him that I had to man the register, leading to him complaining to someone and having me box up all of his books and put them on a dolly for his convenience while the rest of the customers who just wanted to buy a water-damaged copy of the Marx-Engels reader or whatever stood around. Oh, and when he was done, he triple-checked the receipt for any mistakes in the hopes that I'd miscounted and he could knock another $2 off of his bill.

Actually, I guess that's actually several complaints, some of which are even real complaints and not just whining. In the end, I don't really have a problem with resellers, but I do agree that it's sort of distasteful.
posted by Copronymus at 9:50 AM on October 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Oh not that girl, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Monsoon's pricing algorithms. They're designed to maximize the sale price of uncommon books. You can't buy my example book for $10 in the US, you have to order it from England. And the demand for that books is presumably very low, I'd be surprised if more than one copy a year got sold via Amazon. So selling it for $45 makes sense. What I find interesting is there are three sellers all trying to sell it for $45+. There's some competition, but not much. The fact that two prices are within $1 of each other suggests Monsoon's undercut algorithm is geared towards appearing as the lowest price, not actual competition.
posted by Nelson at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2010


Side note: my favorite place in the world is a used book store a few miles from my home that adds 80,000 books to its shelves every month. A book reseller could spend a few months digging through the shelves from one end to the other, and by the time he got back to the beginning, everything would be new again. Hell, they sell Grisham novels for $0.06-$0.50, where they're listed on Amazon starting at $2-3.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:53 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


While other book sellers of this sort might be providing a useful service, this particular man is not. By his own admission, he only purchases books that already have an established online market, one large enough to guarantee him a sale with some sort of profit. He is merely giving you another price option among a list of other books you can already buy. He is not "rescuing" any rare, obscure books from annihilation. He claims that he only looks for books that appear recent and have some sort of eye-catching design. He specifically stays away from books that "look old."

Has anyone even look at his listings? He's selling the BMW 3 Series (E46) Service Manual: 1999-2001 for $96.25. Maybe that's a good price. I don't know. But this guy is hardly making the undiscovered treasures of backwoods libraries available to the masses.

For example, he's selling Nelson Goodman's Languages of Art (sadly out of print). But so are 23 other people. Who's to say someone at whatever library sale he picked this up from wouldn't have bought it? We'll never know, because he prides himself on being there first, early in the morning. Sucks to be anyone who just wants to find some books to read, and can't spend a lot of money. The free market got there first.
posted by fryman at 9:54 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's just kind of disheartening, from a volunteer perspective, to see twelve of these guys striding in, their book carts behind them, drawing their scanners in unison like they were charging the Hun, on minute 0.1 of a three-day sale. Yes, all the books that they buy get sold, but then the sale drags on for the rest of the weekend, with 90% of your customers arriving after the good stuff has been pre-culled. I guess the gut objection is philosophical - we're a library. Getting good books into the hands of the plebes is what we do.
posted by ormondsacker at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm sort of sad about this, I guess, because you can't really get surprise second hand bargains anymore and prices on Amazon market and eBay are generally horribly over inflated (Amazon often has out of print SF titles priced at several hundred dollar, presumably in case someone completely insane comes along) - not sure I;d go as far as calling the guy an asshole though.

Hmm. And I was going to drop off a bunch of books at the library too. I don't know how I feel about that now.
posted by Artw at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2010


As a lover of books and hunting for them, I can't find it in my heart to resent the scanner crowd.

Yeah, they lower the odds I'll find something really good for really cheap. But they're also responsible for it being likely I can find a really substantial percentage of what I want used on-line for $10 shipped or less. And for good books not ending up in the dumpster when the library book sale is over.

Believe me, I have nostalgia for the excitement of visiting a new city, my pocket burning with a list of its used bookstores, a wish list of books, and cash. And I regret that the online market is lowering the margins and hurting used bookstores.

But it seems like it's resulting in a world in which more books are getting to people who want them more easily. And I can't regret that.

Just yesterday, I bought Robert Bloch's Strange Eons on Ebay for $11 shipped. And Facts from Figures from a library book sale for 27¢. Now all I need is time enough at last. Hey, East Bay-ites, UC Berkeley is having a library book sale this Saturday.
posted by Zed at 10:01 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


but I doubt his portrayal of colleagues who are, like, buying Porches based solely on this business.

Yeah. Verandas, maybe. But never Porches.
posted by dersins at 10:01 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I recently joined bookmooch.com and I wonder how many books circulating there wind up sold.

Well, the trick on BookMooch is, you have to give one to get one. And in order to give one, you have to actually be offering something that someone else wants -- meaning it has to fall into a magic zone of desirability where 1) it's not so popular that there are 3000 of them listed already, and 2) it's not so unwanted that it can sit listed for months or years. Trying to plan a bookselling business based on actually giving away items in order to obtain more valuable ones for sale using something like BookMooch... that would take a level of finesse that I'm sure most haven't been able to achieve.
posted by hippybear at 10:02 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


All he's doing is adding to the ultimate cost of the books, which by his own admission would probably have been bought anyways. If he's not selling rare or unpopular books that might have otherwise been pulped then he's just a scalper.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 10:04 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hate them because they stand in front of a shelf with a huge plastic tub and monopolize the space for 20 minutes while they scan EVERY. SINGLE. BOOK. And then as soon as one seller is gone another one steps in to the same shelf and does THE. EXACT. SAME. THING. I've been known to get a little pushy with these people and have even gone so far as to vocally berate them. Needless to say I don't feel too sorry about it. The sales I go to are stressful, hot, and crowded enough without people insisting on being stationary with large footprint containers for long periods of time.
posted by symbollocks at 10:06 AM on October 7, 2010


ghharr: "I don't see why he should feel ashamed. Books are great and all but there's no point in holding them as some sort of sacred objects that can only be sold by people who truly read and appreciate them. "

This. There's a difference between owning a lot of books and reading a lot of books which can be appreciated. Books are a good inasmuch as they're an effective means of transmitting stories or ideas. Books shouldn't be worshiped per se both because:

a) A bunch of them contain either shitty stories / shitty ideas and,
b) Because they're easily replaced with other books. This is actually a good thing - it promotes a social good that most of the world's great novels can be had for less than $5.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:06 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually hippybear, Bookmooch gives you .1 points for listing a book. So, if I list 3000 books no one wants, that gives me 300 points to use.

I have seen some banned accounts on there. I wonder if it's comprised of people who posted crap books in an effort to game the system.
posted by reenum at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2010


There's something kind of sad to me, as a junk-store and yard-sale aficionado, about the way the internet has impact the ability of a regular, casual buyer to stumble upon something wonderful

I share this to some extent, but I am not a shopper or browser, and in my personal life I love that some old book I can't get from the library, or something my kid wants to read, is right there on Amazon for a penny plus shipping. Seems to me this is one of those changes that shifts benefits from one group to another: casual used-book-sale bibliophiles are less likely to serendipitously find that book they didn't even know they were looking for, but people like me are more likely to be able to find and get bargains on the things we know we want. I'm not sure whether it's a net good or a net loss on the whole.

On the other hand, one downside of interconnected pricing came to my attention a few years ago, when a fairly obscure and out-of-print spiritual title started to get popular among Quakers. The big Quaker bookstore started trying to buy used copies to have on hand for people looking for them, but those on-line aggregators noticed the uptick in interest and the price rose so dramatically in response to what was really a very small level of demand that the bookstore could no longer afford to buy the used copies and stock them.
posted by not that girl at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the article: It's also rarely worthwhile to investigate anything that looks truly old or anything that doesn't have a barcode (which usually means it's old). It's certain that I've passed by very valuable old books.

Just one or two, maybe, but don't worry about it, on behalf of those of us who are among the first in the door at the preview sales, please continue to use your scanner and do not do anything to educate your self about points, first editions, et cetera.
posted by mlis at 10:10 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just yesterday, I bought Robert Bloch's Strange Eons on Ebay for $11 shipped

Nice.
posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on October 7, 2010


The other end of the business is dominated by Monsoon, which automatically prices books for sale online. Amazon is full of slightly obscure books with ridiculous pricing.

I've noticed this a lot too.
On the next step of the sequence is people like me. I load up my amazon.com wishlist with all of the books I am interested in.
On occassion when I want new books, I can sift through my wish list and see which books have extremely cheap used copies and buy them then, often at 65% off list price, or cheaper.

If you need a specific book now, then you are the market the Monsoon-using gougers are trying to reach, unfortunately. But hey, at least it's available at all.
posted by Theta States at 10:20 AM on October 7, 2010


The real issue I have with these guys are at my regional book fair where slightly misprinted and damaged books are sold. It used to be you'd go in there and there would be hundreds of each of the more popular books and each person would pick up a copy if it interested them. Now guys show up with shopping carts and grab one hundred copies of the same fucking book. They stay there the entire week of the book fair, waiting for every moment new lots come in so they can make sure to take all copies before the casual reader gets to take 1. I realize that it's profitable for them, but it's no wonder they feel guilty about it, jackasses.
posted by cyphill at 10:22 AM on October 7, 2010


As the Sufis say, when a pickpocket sees a saint, all he notices is his pockets. At least this guy can write a decent article.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Similar thing exists for the LP market -- in the terms of an iPhone app that connects to Collectors Frenzy. You have to enter the title of the LP, but the app pulls from all the old ebay completed listing to give you a nice estimate of the record price.

Simply put, it just makes it easier for anyone to jump into the game. Before, record digging, you either had to have a good ear or a good knowledge of music. Usually, you become an expert in your genre. Us experienced record diggers take pride in that. So when the new fangled technology comes along making this experience useless, it hurts a little bit. All my skills, wasted!

As Ice-T said, "Don't hate the playa, hate the game."
posted by iamck at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I! Am! OUTRAGED!!!

No, actually, I'm not. This is a completely pedestrian activity, and the guy is hardly sweeping huge profits at the expense of others. It's a perfectly cromulent enterprise.
posted by slogger at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2010


You Should See the Other Guy Anyone know if similar software/devices exist for the CD/LP market?

I have seen people using a scanner on CD’s, so they are out there, but I know nothing about them.

Copronymus seriously, checks?

Some of the dealers paying by check are paying >$1000 for their books and are repeat customers over many years known to the staff, so, yes, checks. I agree he was obnoxious and self-entitled, though.
posted by mlis at 10:29 AM on October 7, 2010


Trying to plan a bookselling business based on actually giving away items in order to obtain more valuable ones for sale using something like BookMooch... that would take a level of finesse that I'm sure most haven't been able to achieve.

But I seldom see a book available on bookmooch that would fetch more than a couple of dollars in an online sale (not that I've gone out of my way to look). I don't think anyone makes a business out of it, but I'd be surprised if some more valuable books aren't mooched and then sold. As you indicate, this behavior is sort of self-correcting as people who mooch to sell would tend to run out of points. However the point system is admittedly unbalanced, so it's easy to accumulate surplus points.
posted by exogenous at 10:29 AM on October 7, 2010


Yes, all the books that they buy get sold, but then the sale drags on for the rest of the weekend, with 90% of your customers arriving after the good stuff has been pre-culled. I guess the gut objection is philosophical - we're a library. Getting good books into the hands of the plebes is what we do.

That certainly sums up the most discouraging aspects of it for me.

How about a "no electronic scanners on the first day" rule?
posted by Theta States at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


At the risk of asking the obvious, what stops libraries using the same scanning system and pricing their books at a price that is nearer true market value?

Various answers above say "time," "it's not their business," and of course, they would have to list it on Amazon themselves to get those prices. But the COULD do it, and make more money, so pretty soon, they WILL. The obvious way is for them to partner with one of these scanner guys — allow one of them access to the entire book sale inventory prior to the sale, and sell him all the books he wants for some percentage of the estimated retail value. Or let in two or three scanner people.

Upside: (a) the library takes in more cash for zero extra effort, (b) the scanner guy makes more, because he has an exclusive, (c) the scanner guy can feel better about himself, (d) there won't be other scanner guys at the sale bothering everybody, because there will be nothing much to find.

Downside: the book sale clientele won't have access to the better books, because they'll be raked off by the scanner guy. But as long as the library makes out better overall, it makes sense for them to do this.
posted by beagle at 10:32 AM on October 7, 2010


In my spare time I did a casual scannerless version of this a few years ago (and didn't show up first thing in the morning). I did occasionally manually type in ISBNs into my non-smartphone on Amazon to check pricing. I considered the scanner option and doing it fulltime, but the hours vs profit just weren't worth it. Of course I also kept as many books as I sold, so it was more just using the profits to keep up the habit and unlike this guy I was more into investigating old and obscure books because they're just more interesting.

Anyways I'm not sure anyone should be hating on people like this even if you're perceiving some major slight. Most of them are probably just trying to make a living, not screw you over.

As a side note Amazon's pricing interface makes undercutting and price wars simple even without Monsoon, as it will quickly display for you every book in which you aren't the lowest price of your book's condition, for quick repricing.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:32 AM on October 7, 2010


> So I honestly feel that he should not feel any shame whatsoever with what's he doing. And the old man with 10,000 books that's he's read is a hoarder, not a reader.

Why do you feel the need to shit on the guy who's read all/most of his 10,000 books in the process of defending this guy? What a crappy attitude.

> someone who looks at books as something to sell instead of something to read is just weird and wrong.

Exactly. I've sold books myself (working in bookstores), and like everyone else I knew who sold books, including the guys with street tables, I liked and cared about books. For these people, books might as well be bricks, they're just something people will pay for. Don't get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the argument that they're rescuing books from being pulped, but that doesn't make me like them.
posted by languagehat at 10:36 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Scanners live in vain.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


NECRONOMICON
AUTHOR: ABDUL ALHAZRED

PRICE: $666.6
̢̡͍ͪ6̟̗̝ͫ́ͯ̏̋̽̐ͭi̸͍̫̅̾ͧ̐͊̎͒̓a̡̞͚̯͈̿ͥ͝į̙̥̳͙̺͕̩̦̓͛ͨ̓ͥͫ͢͜a̧̪͔͍̲̮̳̼͑ͦ̅̂͋ͧ̐͝͡s͍̖̙̫͚̒͑͐͐̍ͅự͕̄̐ͮͨ͋̌̚͜b̢̙͕̭͙̹̺̜̘͋̂̒ͭ͞͠ṉ̴̮̤̹̈̀̃̾̕ͅi̛̼̬̻͖͈͖͂̅̈́̉͂̕͢ģ̸̦̗̣̤̥̭̎ͤ͂̎͌g̵̪̝̦͚̼̓̈́̑ͥ̉͛ͥͅu̸̓͊ͫ̎҉̱͖̝̦̺̤̘r̡̤̭͕͕̲̞̪̠̔̓a̩̪̋͗ͣ̍͐ͪ͋̕͞ṱ̴̣̦̗̖̜̔̎ͭ̓ͤ͢h̫͖ͫr̞̙̦͓̟̝͉͔̗ͮ̉ͧͨ̄̾ͦ͘͟y̶̨̼̣̬̗͕̲͛͒ͣḽ̠̺̙͆ͫ̓́ẹ̢̡̖̻̠̺͇͉͌ͯ̃͐͋ͭͅh̻͚̜̓̈́̑ͫ͝͝

ERROR
posted by benzenedream at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


As you indicate, this behavior is sort of self-correcting as people who mooch to sell would tend to run out of points. However the point system is admittedly unbalanced, so it's easy to accumulate surplus points.


When I was on bookmooch I think I spotted a few scammers like that.
the real key to bookmooch is to add every edition of every valuable book to your wishlist, and then be the first to hit "mooch" when you got a notification email that someone had posted it.
posted by Theta States at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2010


Not so sure how I feel about another species of reseller - the type you'd find at the front of the line of a book signing with 10 first editions of the same title. That's more disingenuous.

You will be cheered by Bernard Cornwell (I think it is he) then, who happily signs them and notes to the collector/reseller that in the doing he is pushing the artefact value down just a little bit more.

And the old man with 10,000 books that's he's read is a hoarder, not a reader.

Alternatively, he's a custodian, like the Philippe Patek owner, for the next generation.

Who's to say someone at whatever library sale he picked this up from wouldn't have bought it?

That cuts both ways. I've seen some pretty damn good books thrown into dumpsters at the end of a book fair since it was easier to do that than to save them for next time and a more discerning buyer. (Mind you, that says nothing for the non ISBN books out there.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2010


I think the real danger is that this kind of thing erodes the pleasures of book hunting, which may drive people out of the hobby, close used book stores, and, I suppose, eventually put these guys out of business, but I am not sure that will change regardless.
posted by GenjiandProust


To be honest, I don't care about the hobbyist when I'm genuinely in a dither about a title and I think a thrifty business online presence could likely save most used bookstores, business acumen is their own responsibility.

I've had a massive brain-seizure for a book once in my life. Sure, I've looked for titles that had to be found used, but only once in my life did I absolutely need a title, a sequel to an out-of-print book I love so much that I own two of them in case the first falls apart. There wasn't any joy in the book hunting for me. In fact it was painful, I'd wake up in a sweat, lather myself up in an anxiety attack considering I needed to access one of the only 500 copies in the title's print run ... 500 units only and in another country entirely! All I cared about was getting one of those units and the hobbyist who might dither across it, could very well go piss off. My husband consented to a spending purse of $600 in order to obtain one copy (I'd likely would have gone higher). The book would be my birthday, Christmas and anniversary gift all in one. Finding even just one copy would be a monumental task, the person who had told me of the sequel had been hunting 10 years herself for her own copy (Hi Bella!) Thank God for the used bookseller who ran across my beloved volume being sold off in a small hamlet library in the rural north of Scotland, I hope that person enjoys a very long and happy life for selling me what might be one of the last volumes in existence of my beloved book for only $66 (US) and shipping.

These clever booksellers need to be applauded for upcycling, recycling and bring back into circulation so many titles that would have otherwise rotted away in a corner.
posted by eatdonuts at 10:39 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


felix betachat But wheel a new cart in front of them and they were instantly transformed back into twitching, grasping beasts. The technological capability of instantly abstracting from a book's content to its value on a marketplace stripped them straight down to the lizard brain. . .The potential resale value of these treasures exploded in my head and I stashed them, hands trembling, under the desk. In a quiet moment, I checked Amazon marketplace and confirmed that I had around $2500 worth of books in a cardboard box at my feet.

So, when you recognized some valuable books, you whisked them away and put them under your desk and they wound up in your home.

“twitching, grasping beasts” and “lizard brain”, huh? Go look in a mirror.
posted by mlis at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


One other note about the Monsoon system and Amazon: Is that the bugger system that checks for when amazon is temporarily out of stock, and then jacks up the used prices immediately?

For example, this book went out of stock for 2 months and all of the used copies jumped to over $100.
Now it's back in stock, selling for $78.75.
You see this all over Amazon. Prices jump based on temporary stock fluctuations, but it takes the sellers a long long time to realize that a new copy from Amazon is far cheaper than their remainder copy.
posted by Theta States at 10:46 AM on October 7, 2010


I am glad that there are people out there that do this. I do not consider it an imposition nor a burden. I often am looking for some title that has been out of print or I can make do with an earlier edition or whatever, and I frankly don't have the time (or the inclination) to roam through the used bookstores and Friends of the Library sales--all of which are frustratingly poorly organized in terms of finding A Specific Title. Instead, I log on to A1 or Amazon or Powells and find some new-service-industry entrepreneur who can make a couple of bucks off of me, and in turn pay the price asked by the "original" used seller. Win-freaking-win. That he wants to do it or can do it for around $12.50 an hour takes it out of the realm of things I want to do, although I can think of upsides to the job, too.

Hold your head not in shame sir! Somme of us appreciate your job and will not call you asshole. Unless you spill your coffee on me.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was going to drop off a bunch of books at the library too. I don't know how I feel about that now.

If you have anything else whatsoever you can do with them, don't. When I worked for a library, I was told that not only was the annual booksale (where almost all donations inevitably ended up) a significant money-loser for the library, but that basically the only reason they accepted any donations of books at all was because significant donors to the library liked to think that they could donate their books and increase human knowledge or something. In reality, their books sat moldering away in a back room somewhere literally waiting for the donors to die. The only reason they weren't immediately dumped into the book sale was that if they happened to see their treasured gift on the shelf for $1, they'd go berserk, and so books sat, half-forgotten by everyone except the student employees who found an excuse to go back to where they were stored and make fun of the ridiculous junk that had accumulated there, like a Jingle Babies CD and the Joy of Sex.

Admittedly, this was a giant research library that basically bought every new book published in a Western language and so already had copies of everything, but nothing I've heard about public libraries makes me think they are much happier about random donations.
posted by Copronymus at 10:54 AM on October 7, 2010


In smaller libraries, the effort to even put on the annual booksale is phenomenal. Except for our co-ordinator, all the staff who work it for the week are volunteers. The cost in staff time does not really make it worth our effort.

When I worked for a large library system, a local bookseller would do a look over of the books, pulling anything valuable aside. This was then put into a few different online sellers (ebay, ABE etc) where the money was split 50/50 between library and dealer. I think also members of friends who were volunteering were given a preview the night before. But these people had a $50 annual membership and were volunteering at least 4hrs at the booksale.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 10:57 AM on October 7, 2010


those on-line aggregators noticed the uptick in interest and the price rose so dramatically in response to what was really a very small level of demand

Hunh. On the Tip of Your Tongue, a seemingly ordinary word/factoid/trivia mass market paperback from 1990, was unavailable for less than $75 for a long while. I assume the demand was driven from the same place I heard of it, this article by a Jeopardy champion recommending it for Jeopardy study, but I found it hard to believe they were actually moving at that price. I think it must have been the same phenomenon -- thanks for enlightening me.

At long last, they're back to the $10 neighborhood (I'd stopped looking because it came up on my Paperbackswap wish list.)

only once in my life did I absolutely need a title

Oh, come on! What was the book?
posted by Zed at 10:57 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


If the booksales are a net loss, wouldn't it be a lot easier to just give the books away, and pulp anything that lasted too long?
posted by smackfu at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2010


It's hard not to make a profit when buying books at a dollar a piece

Except when the book starts selling used on amazon for only a penny.

if you reduce your criteria to using a portable with a USB port

I wonder if I could get my old cuecat to work on the ipad via the camera connector kit and a serial-to-usb converter....
posted by nomisxid at 11:01 AM on October 7, 2010


Instead, I log on to A1 or Amazon or Powells and find some new-service-industry entrepreneur who can make a couple of bucks off of me, and in turn pay the price asked by the "original" used seller. Win-freaking-win. That he wants to do it or can do it for around $12.50 an hour takes it out of the realm of things I want to do, although I can think of upsides to the job, too.

I don't know. Sure, the book resurfaces. At $100 mark-up. The book I mentioned earlier, one of two I keep hitting the second hand bookstores hoping for, could be had for something like $175, but i) I'm kicking myself for not buy another $6 copy when I had the chance. But who knew? ii) I haven't quite convinced myself that I won't be able to find it somewhere around the house, despite having looked everywhere multiple times (it's gone it's gone it's gone, fuck), and iii) it's $175. Yeah, I know, it's not "$175 for a $6 book", because that's not how economics works -- it's no longer a $6 book, and I'm stuck with that fact.

What grates, however, is that any remaining copies still kicking around now have a big bounty on their head, so I'm far less likely to run into them on a shelf somewhere. They'll be snatched up. It's probably not popular enough for a reprint, so I'm stuck stalking the book alongside the fortune hunters.

You see this all over Amazon. Prices jump based on temporary stock fluctuations, but it takes the sellers a long long time to realize that a new copy from Amazon is far cheaper than their remainder copy.

I hit this this past weekend, with a $10 (temporarily?) out of stock, and every other copy available through the roof. It was insane, but hopefully in that case we'll see another shipment of the affordable stuff.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:02 AM on October 7, 2010


I was going to drop off a bunch of books at the library too. I don't know how I feel about that now.

If you have anything else whatsoever you can do with them, don't. When I worked for a library, I was told that not only was the annual booksale (where almost all donations inevitably ended up) a significant money-loser for the library, but that basically the only reason they accepted any donations of books at all was because significant donors to the library liked to think that they could donate their books and increase human knowledge or something.


Hmm. Well, they're not taking any donations right now anyway. But it looks like when they are they are pretty organised and determined about it.

And I'm not really expecting them to keep the books or anything.
posted by Artw at 11:07 AM on October 7, 2010


IndigoJones: "Who's to say someone at whatever library sale he picked this up from wouldn't have bought it?

That cuts both ways. I've seen some pretty damn good books thrown into dumpsters at the end of a book fair since it was easier to do that than to save them for next time and a more discerning buyer. (Mind you, that says nothing for the non ISBN books out there.)
"

My point is that with this sort of mercenary, profit-at-all-costs possibly mindset deprives genuine readers from cheap books.

For instance, why can't the scanners wait till near the end of the book sale? That way, if people just want books to read, they can find them. Any books left over can then be processed by the scanners. They'd really only ever be out a couple bucks in profit. That's truly a win-win. Except the scanners have to be first. They compete with each other and the patrons of the library lose out, so that someone online can buy a book for a penny instead of fifty cents.

Personally, the majority of people at my local library book sale are elderly. These are people just looking for books to read, who don't have a ton of money to spend and aren't going to scour the internet looking for books. They'll amass a certain number of books, and then die. Their books will then be sold at an estate sale, or donated back to the library or a thrift store, and the life cycle of books begins anew.
posted by fryman at 11:09 AM on October 7, 2010


I don't believe they are universally a net loss and am looking for figures. This annual sale, for example, is to raise money for scholarships. It is $40.00 to get in a day early and ~300 people pay to get in early. That's $12,000 before a single book has been sold. Would they hold the sale year after year if it was a loss?

Also, at these sales, not all books wind up on a shelf for $1.00 each. The trend in the Northeast US in recent years has been to have a "Rare and Unusual Books" room where books are priced $25 - $75 each
posted by mlis at 11:10 AM on October 7, 2010


At the risk of asking the obvious, what stops libraries using the same scanning system and pricing their books at a price that is nearer true market value?

Various answers above say "time," "it's not their business," and of course, they would have to list it on Amazon themselves to get those prices. But the COULD do it, and make more money, so pretty soon, they WILL. The obvious way is for them to partner with one of these scanner guys — allow one of them access to the entire book sale inventory prior to the sale, and sell him all the books he wants for some percentage of the estimated retail value. Or let in two or three scanner people.

Upside: (a) the library takes in more cash for zero extra effort, (b) the scanner guy makes more, because he has an exclusive, (c) the scanner guy can feel better about himself, (d) there won't be other scanner guys at the sale bothering everybody, because there will be nothing much to find.

Downside: the book sale clientele won't have access to the better books, because they'll be raked off by the scanner guy. But as long as the library makes out better overall, it makes sense for them to do this. Ultimately, the sale is not a way to let poor and elderly people buy good books cheap (they can borrow them from free, after all); it's to support the library financially.
posted by beagle at 11:12 AM on October 7, 2010


I was half-heartedly thinking of working up an FPP around the Slate article; didn't get around to it though.

Anyway, a bit of Googling suggests that some libraries take various steps to give non-professional buyers a first crack at the stock:

Bethlehem: no scanners allowed in the first hour
Washington: $20 fee for scanners
San Ramon: no scanners allowed at all
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:18 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Their books will then be sold at an estate sale, or donated back to the library or a thrift store, and the life cycle of books begins anew.

Quite often you'll be sorting through a bin of records in a thrift store and it's the same old - Hall and Oates, Streisand, Living Strings, Hall and Oates... - and then you hit a solid block of 50 Ukrainian folk song LPs or something esoteric like that. It's always a bit depressing because it's almost certainly a pile of records that belonged to someone recently deceased. I mean, one time it worked out for me and I found a once-in-a-lifetime pile of '50s and '60s jazz and r&b albums at a Goodwill, but I still felt like a bit of a grave robber.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:19 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a second hand book store I know of (no you can't have it's location you scanner augmented freaks) that has an AMAZING selection of SF from the 60s and 70s that I'm pretty sure was someones private collection back in the day.
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2010


I still felt like a bit of a grave robber.

I've talked to gay men living in major cities during the 80s when everyone was dropping like flies from AIDS complications. They've shared stories with me about how CD and book and art collections would end up going back into circulation during the estate sales. The stories were always told with an odd mix of sadness and relief, as rare and valuable objects became available once more, but only due to horrible circumstances. Nearly all of the tales have ended with some point being made about how hard it is to find the really good used CDs and books anymore, because people aren't dying in droves. Truly an odd conversation to have had more than once.
posted by hippybear at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't you just hate efficient markets?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2010


There's a used book sale going on at the Library of Congress' Madison building right now, ending Friday. These aren't books from the collection (no Gutenberg Bibles in there), but donated, mostly by employees. But that's a pretty good group to be buying second-hand from. I donated some 250 books this year (downsizing, you know)--lots of academic editions of fine literature, but also a bunch of Stephen King and kids' books. Check it out if you're in town.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2010


I mean, one time it worked out for me and I found a once-in-a-lifetime pile of '50s and '60s jazz and r&b albums at a Goodwill, but I still felt like a bit of a grave robber.

I don't think you should feel that way. The previous owner probably loved them; her heirs did not, but you do. So at least they ended up with someone who will enjoy them.

I don't like this scanner idea that much. At my local thrift store, I often run into mothers buying books for their children. They can't afford to buy the books off Amazon, so for them, looking for books at the thrift store is an excellent option. But if all the good books are gone, then they're left with a hundred Berenstein Bears instead of a good Trumpet of the Swan or something.
posted by bluefly at 11:53 AM on October 7, 2010


This isn't really new; it's just easier. I used to run library book sales from time to time back in the neolithic era; and we ALWAYS had at least one of these guys dashing about as soon as we unlocked the door, piling books in a corner (often guarded by a spouse or a friend) and then evaluating them for resale. It was much slower, granted -- the prices had to be looked up in a catalog -- but it was the same mixture of impressive and annoying.
posted by steambadger at 11:56 AM on October 7, 2010


I hate people like him. At the last citywide library sale I volunteered at, the sign at the front said that staff had the right to ask anyone they suspected of being a book dealer or reseller to leave.
posted by variella at 12:07 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I don't think you should feel that way.

Thanks! Yeah, "grave robber" was probably a bit harsh in terms of describing how I feel; I very rarely sell anything I find (so there's not much of a profit motive) and adhere to a "catch and release" policy for records I'm not particularly attached to...partly because of space issues and partly because I've never been the sort of person who wants the largest collection for bragging rights or whatever. The way I look at it is, if there are only two or three tracks I actually like on a record, I digitize them and take it back to the thrift store for someone else to find and enjoy.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:07 PM on October 7, 2010


Hard to believe that the makers of the common library collection databases don't just have a tick-box that says "de-accession to Amazon" which automatically lists them at their market price. Every week the database vendor can ship a big box of pre-labeled and -stamped shipping envelopes for items sold, and a volunteer can get them all out in half an afternoon. If something doesn't sell in "x" weeks, then out to the Friends of Library sale it goes.

Then again, concert promoters and sports team owners leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table a year for scalpers to enjoy, so what do I know...
posted by MattD at 12:16 PM on October 7, 2010


All around it seems like a good thing to me. Except of course for the hobbyist looking ot unearth a hidden treasure. If I'm a Ukrainian folk song fan and The Card Cheat's Goodwill is not in my city, those lps will likely be thrown away without me ever knowing about them. These scanners connect fans with product, creating a somewhat efficient market. There is now a transparancy between readers and sellers that gets used books into people's hands at market prices. (I read an article several years ago about the internet's effect on rare book sellers which I cannot find now. It didn't have much effect on extremely rare books such as Gutenberg bibles, but prices on moderately used books dropped significantly. If someone wanted a first edition of Catch 22, they no longer had to pay the price of finding a copy, they could comparision shop across the world.)

Now the real friction is in model is shipping. Bluefly's mother can buy Trumpet of the Swan used for as little as 37 cents on Amazon, which is probably less that it would cost at the thrift shop. However, its going to set her back an additional $3.99 for shipping.
posted by rtimmel at 12:17 PM on October 7, 2010


Good grief.
Because of this wonderful post, for the first time ever I just checked the Amazon marketplace price price of a (no jacket) hardback in vgc I picked up (for 50c) at my library's sale shelf this morning. I selected it using my myopic middle-aged eyes and a sentimental memory.

Good Morning, Miss Dove by Frances Gray Patton.
It's worth $27!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:36 PM on October 7, 2010


Good Morning, Miss Dove by Frances Gray Patton.
It's worth $27!


As of this moment, a "good" quality 1954 edition hardback of that book is going for $8.93 on half.ebay.com, or $6 for a "fair" condition of "Hardcover, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1954" through Alibris.com

Depending on how much you shop around and are willing to try some lesser-known sellers, you can get an apparent steal. Buy the only copy going for $8.93 on half.ebay, and you can resell it there for $16 and still be cheaper than the next-best "good" copy, and well under the $45.85 "very good" copy.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:45 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, I've thought of trying that - if a few copies are selling for significantly less than the rest, buy the cheapies and re-sell them closer to the higher priced items, assuming they're in decent shape.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2010


the sign at the front said that staff had the right to ask anyone they suspected of being a book dealer or reseller to leave.

That's great. Or, allow them in on the last day only. Or a max number of books in the first day. Something to limit the carnage caused by wholesale buyers.
posted by stbalbach at 12:47 PM on October 7, 2010


Basically, he claims he's working up to 80 hours per week for up to $1000 - that's $12.50 an hour. The one benefit to this over, say, working as a receptionist is that he can quite likely avoid reporting this income on his taxes.
Yeah, but he's setting his own hours, doesn't have to put up with anyone else's bullshit. If he feels like taking a day off or sleeping in he can do it. So there are benefits to 'being your own boss'.

In away, almost he's a modern day hunter-gatherer. But he might be sewing the seeds of his own destruction. If he popularizes this, more people will get scanners and the profits will go down.
Public libraries aren't bookstores.
They sell what they don't have room for, pretty cheaply.
Libraries already use software to decide what books to get rid of. Pretty soon that software will just print out price tags for each book based on the current price for used copies online, and these guys will be out of business. Enjoy it while it lasts!
It would make sense for Amazon to write this software, actually. But libraries would also have to store the stuff, using space that they probably want to use for real books.
Also, I think those handheld things are pretty expensive. One of our volunteers asked about getting one a couple of years ago and at that time they were upwards of a thousand dollars.
Remember the cue:cat? People mailed them out for free. When you buy a new 'business' scanner you're paying a lot extra for durability and the fact that not that many are made. If you just hook up a cheapo laser to an obsolete PDA it's pretty cheap.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2010


These scanners connect fans with product, creating a somewhat efficient market.

I'm not sure I agree. The market's already there; the scanner is exploiting it. The author notes that he's filtering both on price and on sales rank: he buys books that he believes will sell reasonably quickly for a reasonable profit.

(Elsewhere in the article he says he's selling about 30 books a day and has about 1000 books listed -- so his average holding time is about a month.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:50 PM on October 7, 2010


Then again, concert promoters and sports team owners leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table a year for scalpers to enjoy, so what do I know...

Scalpers live in a dangerous place, where they try to buy low and sell high. If they don't sell high, they lose. Promoters and owners have sold their tickets at a price where they know they'll make money, and the rest of the suckers can try raising the price. I only wish more states prohibited re-selling tickets for more than they were initially sold, like New York State (used to do).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:53 PM on October 7, 2010


Don't get me wrong, delmoi, I understand the allure of starting a low-overhead business. I also understand the risks and hard work that go into making it solvent; I think the author is (perhaps unintentionally) romanticising the entire process - the air of illegitimacy, the taboo of disrespecting fine books, yadda yadda.
posted by muddgirl at 12:55 PM on October 7, 2010


I have a friend who does this, but without the scanner. She goes to the really low-end thrift stores, finds collectibles, and resells them on ebay, often for a very nice profit. She's noticed a new trend in the scanner-using shoppers, though. And forgive me for the following, because I'm not sure how to phrase it without possibly sounding offensive... She reports having seen groups of Mexican folks grabbing books by the armload at these stores, shoving them into carts, taking them off to the side of the store and scanning them, then buying the ones they want. She believes that someone hires these groups of people, as they don't seem to speak English or have any actual interest in the books. It's actually a pretty smart plan, assuming someone is paying them to do the bulk book harvesting, as it were, and bring back just the valuable ones. I just hope they are paying decently.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:58 PM on October 7, 2010


As of this moment, a "good" quality 1954 edition hardback of that book is going for $8.93 on half.ebay.com, or $6 for a "fair" condition of "Hardcover, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1954" through Alibris.com...


filthy light thief,
I was cast down for a moment - seeing my windfall "profit" dwindle.
But I hadn't even heard about the books/movies/music ebay company half.com until now & it looks great. So thanks!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:02 PM on October 7, 2010


It seems like a lot of the objections would also apply to the collectible industry. Knowing that a Mickey Mouse clock is worth a lot more than $1 on eBay also takes it away from that poor family that could only afford $1 for a clock.
posted by smackfu at 1:03 PM on October 7, 2010


But I hadn't even heard about the books/movies/music ebay company half.com until now & it looks great. So thanks!

I'm sorry. So very sorry. Here begins your journey into discount second-hand purchases, filling those gaps in your library and collection that you've had for so long. Now you will wander the dusty halls of the internet, looking for the next best deal on out of print books. It will not end, and you will not be sated. For this, I am sorry.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:09 PM on October 7, 2010


half.ebay.com

And there ends the search for one of the two books. Wow.

The other is still price-gougingly high. Oh well.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:13 PM on October 7, 2010


You need to be searching BookFinder
posted by mlis at 1:24 PM on October 7, 2010


Bookfinder appears to be no help.

I search one book. It leads me surprisingly to Amazon.ca for a great price. I follow the link. Do they have the book? They do not. But look, other sellers have it! For the price listed on Bookfinder? No.

Didn't find the other book at all, when I know it's on various other listings (ebay, etc) for exhorbitant prices.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:31 PM on October 7, 2010


All you guys who hate this dude? Probably you should be ashamed of yourselves.
posted by tehloki at 1:39 PM on October 7, 2010


My point is that with this sort of mercenary, profit-at-all-costs possibly mindset deprives genuine readers from cheap books.

Oh, come on. The world is hardly lacking for dirt cheap books. It's just a question of what you're willing to read. My point was that even at the end of sale, there is often good stuff that you literally cannot give away. Stuff that probably should be saved for the next cycle. Stuff that is certainly readable.

But if you blame the profit motive, then you sort of have to blame the library (cheap books for the elderly!) for their part in this as well. Some more ambitious sales charge for preview entrance. And almost all charge more on day one than on day five. Alas, you have to look on these guys like lawmakers and sausage makers - unpleasant to watch, often exceedingly so, but serving a (presumably) vital function.

What concerns me is that the search for ISBN codes puts the odder titles in danger, since it takes experience and a brain to recognize them, which the Scan Man clearly does not have and which, if his margins are good enough, and his interest in books is low enough, he will never care to acquire. Opportunity for someone.

Mind you, even at some the huge books sales I've been to in recent years, I find it easier and easier to walk out empty handed. Age, I suppose.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:42 PM on October 7, 2010


Now I know why shopping thrift stores and used bookstores makes me feel as if I'm a survivor of the collapse of civilization, and why the thrift stores are full of things that people don't want. I'm thinking about volunteering at the stores so I can actually handle the medieval incunabula, the first editions of Mark Twain, Picasso paintings, and the Chanel suits and Birkin bags that presumably get donated and funneled immediately to Amazon and eBay.

/sarcasm

I don't really believe this; people who own really valuable stuff know where to auction or resell it; they don't put their stuff out at garage sales or give it to Goodwill.
posted by bad grammar at 2:07 PM on October 7, 2010


It's weird, part of me, the NPR part I suppose, is like, "this is somehow tacky and classless."

Then another part, the Gibson/Sterling part Greg Nog pointed out, is like, "We're living in the future! Independent cyberpunks are eeking a living roving the economically depressed landscape scavenging for hidden treasures that their portable computers instantly lookup in CYBERSPACE!"

Then the rational economist says, "Ahhh yes.. Ahem.. You see, supply and demand. Producer / consumer surplus. Yes, this will be on the test."

Overall, good for them, it may reduce the chances of finding a gem when I go garage saleing, but if these people can make a living from it, that's cool. And it creates a secondary market for software that helps these sellers.
posted by formless at 2:09 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


scavenging for hidden treasures that their portable computers instantly lookup in CYBERSPACE!

Wait till our VR goggles are doing this ALL THE TIME WITH EVERYTHING!
posted by Zed at 2:13 PM on October 7, 2010


She believes that someone hires these groups of people, as they don't seem to speak English or have any actual interest in the books. It's actually a pretty smart plan
Not speaking English doesn't make you retarded. The author of the article said he didn't have any interest in the books either.
My point is that with this sort of mercenary, profit-at-all-costs possibly mindset deprives genuine readers from cheap books.
The problem here is that that doesn't really make any sense. Without these guys, you'd only be able to get the book if you were in the right place at the right time. And since it's a library, you could just check out books and read them for free.
posted by delmoi at 2:13 PM on October 7, 2010


Alas, you have to look on these guys like lawmakers and sausage makers - unpleasant to watch, often exceedingly so, but serving a (presumably) vital function.

I'm still unclear as to what this vital function is. As you put, which I agree with:

the search for ISBN codes puts the odder titles in danger, since it takes experience and a brain to recognize them, which the Scan Man clearly does not have and which, if his margins are good enough, and his interest in books is low enough, he will never care to acquire


Also, what am I blaming the library for? My local library book sale functions in exactly the way you describe. Friends of the Library (yearly membership is $5) are allowed in an hour before everyone else. Books are $1 on the first day (50 cents for paperbacks) and on the second day its $3 for as many books as you can fit in a bag (they provide grocery store paper bags if you didn't bring one). None of these barriers is exorbitant. In fact, the library book sale is the cheapest (that I know of) way to buy books, save for a garage sale here or there.

Everyone's right. The library could try to maximize profit on every book eligible for the book sale. However, I'd like to think they don't, not because of time or manpower or whatever, but because their priority is to make some books cheaply available to the community and to maybe make some money off it. The library is a public service, and as such, the book sale serves the public. It promotes reading.

The problem I have with scanners is the way they go about it. The library, unlike thrift stores, prices their books far below their value in order to make them available to pretty much anyone who wants to read that book. By being there first, and by buying up rare books (this seller says he avoids commonly available books with multiple copies), this seller is abusing the generosity of the library and depriving the community of the best possible selection of books.

I don't care if this makes a book available online to someone that wants it. If the scanner waits till the end of the book sale, this scenario will still occur, with all the other books already taken done so by those that want the books. But instead, the scanners have to go first. And that screws over the community. I'm saying that there's no reason why the scanners have to go in and be first. But since they do, that makes them fucking assholes.
posted by fryman at 2:17 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


scavenging for hidden treasures that their portable computers instantly lookup in CYBERSPACE!

Wait till our VR goggles are doing this ALL THE TIME WITH EVERYTHING!


Yeah, you're right. I just realized there's no reason you couldn't write up a quick smartphone app that integrates with Google Goggles and eBay. It just overlays a "Buy / Sell" icon over everything. Dear god the future is scary.
posted by formless at 2:17 PM on October 7, 2010


When I work with my scanner and there's someone else shopping near me who wants to read books, I feel that my energy is all wrong—high-pitched, focused narrowly in the present, and jealous. Someone browsing through books does it with a diffuse, forgetful curiosity, a kind of open reckoning that she learned from reading. Good health to you, reader. One day I will be like you again.

I read at least one book a day, and to support my habit I frequent a monthly book sale where all softcover books are 50 cents, hardbacks are a dollar, and all proceeds are donated to animal welfare charities.

I usually get there a few minutes before 8am, when they open the doors of the barn where the sale takes place, and alrady there are about 20 people waiting in line. Most of them are scanners.

I don't begrudge the scanners for attempting to make a living doing this, although I think it's a bit horrible to buy a donated book for a buck and then turn around and sell it for several times more than that. But I suppose if the people running the book sale had the time and the inclination to do it themselves they could. They make their money in the quantity, not quality.

But Jesus Christ it's irritating to look try and look through thousands of books for ones that I would like to read with all of these people and their scanners. The author of this article is correct - the energy is wrong. They're frenzied like sharks, sweeping rows of books, pulling one, scanning it, checking the price, and putting it back or into their huge tubs that they kick along the floor as they move through the rows. And I hate it when they crow about their scores to fellow scanners. It's a weirdly awful thing if you're a book lover.

Thankfully, I'm not looking for the same sorts of things as the scanners are - I'm after the things that sell for a penny on Amazon. Occasionally I'll find something good, like a first edition of The Easter Parade with perfect dust jacket, or a signed copy of Stephen Fry's autobiography, but unlike the scanners, I don't run home and list them on Amazon. I put them on my bookshelf and treasure them they way they deserve.


Although I totally recognise that due to a scanner's hard work, someone on the internets can buy that same book and treasure it as well. I just get to be smug about finding it myself.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:26 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


YOU READ A BOOK A DAY???
posted by Theta States at 3:00 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The library, unlike thrift stores, prices their books far below their value in order to make them available to pretty much anyone who wants to read that book.

Isn't that already the library's main function. In fact, they make the books available free. The book sales are just to get rid of the books that nobody is borrowing anymore. Why do you have some superior right to own the book, because you want to possess the book, over this guy, who wants to own the book in order to sell it to make a living.
posted by rtimmel at 3:01 PM on October 7, 2010


I while ago, I saw a good price online on Newman's 4-volume World of Mathematics, and ordered it. I received this email from the seller:
In packing the above book for shipment to you I noticed that my listing clerk, a college student whom I employ part-time, failed to state a condition remark that should have been included. I apologize for this oversight and *I have SERIOUSLY admonished her to be more careful* in the future.

The condition statements which should have been made are:

1) Our listing was for Volume 4 ONLY - *NOT ENTIRE SET OF 4 BOOKS*

If the book is not acceptable, I will be happy to give you a refund. *I will withhold shipment until I hear back from you.*

Again, please accept my apology for this oversight. To better say "I'm sorry" I will give you a 10 percent discount on any future order which you can place anytime. I will leave you positive feedback and will appreciate your doing the same. I am working 12 hrs a day at selling books on Amazon and eBay at $5 a pop average and trying to support a wife and child -- the last thing I need is bad feedback.
He was scared I was going to be a jerk about a listing error that was caught before shipping, with no inconvenience to me. Now, I don't know if this bookseller is a scanner, but it seems likely. For those who think they deserve it, the career may be its own punishment.
posted by Zed at 3:09 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


YOU READ A BOOK A DAY???

That's not that weird, you know. Imagine, for instance, how much reading time you have if you don't watch 3 or 4 hours of TV every evening....
posted by dersins at 3:17 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The book sales are just to get rid of the books that nobody is borrowing anymore.

I don't know how it is with other libraries, but this is not how my local library sale functions. They sell books that are donated by people in order to generate revenue for the Friends of the Library. These are books can often, but not always be found in the library. I don't live in a place with a large enough library system where there's no room for books and they need to get rid of them, nor are their stacks comprehensive.

Why do you have some superior right to own the book, because you want to possess the book, over this guy, who wants to own the book in order to sell it to make a living.


This is not my feeling, nor what I've said. My complaint about scanners is not what they do, but how they do it with regard to library book sales. I could care less if scanners clean out a thrift store. I feel that the library book sale performs a service for the community, and that community members should have the ability to peruse all the books available, or at least on a first-come-first-served basis. These are people just looking for cheap books to read. I've talked to a lot of people at library book sales, and I know that, like myself, a lot of people buy a bunch of books, read through them, and then donate them back. We are not "possessing" these books in the way you imply.

I think that the scanners getting there first, and picking through all the books, looking for "valuable" ones before anyone else even has a chance to see them, are pulling a dick move. Why can't they just let the public go first? The author of the Slate article talks with a sort of pride about the way he competes with other scanners to finish a pile of books first, to get the sale first, etc. These scanners aren't people at the end of their ropes, just scraping by. They've found a way to exploit the generosity of the community and a public institution.
posted by fryman at 3:24 PM on October 7, 2010


I used to supplement my income buying books from charity shops and reselling them online. I worked in a rundown part of the world and I could make my way around three or four in my lunch hour. At weekends I would drive my wife crazy by being unable to walk past Oxfam or the British Heart Foundation without buying something. In the first few months I made around £1500, and it was fun. It was also a kind of perfect business. I bought moribund stock that the average browser wasn't interested in, so the charity benefited, I enjoyed the chase almost as much as the cash, so I benefited, Amazon took their percentage, and because I didn't have the space to store anything my books were competitively priced even when they were otherwise unavailable, so the buyer did well too.

I priced everything by eye and weight, it was a hobby, a harmless kind of low stakes gambling, and I won almost all of the time. But I found that I was spending too much time queuing in a post office with awful lighting and other patrons who looked and smelt like imminent death. Too much time in pound shops buying armfuls of padded envelopes. What really killed it was when the quest itself became professional. One afternoon, uncertain of the likely resale value of a Colette, in paperback, I wrote the ISBN on the back of my hand and replaced it on the shelf. I searched Amazon when I got home and it was a loser. Of course I felt like a cheat so I went back and bought it anyway. But the buzz had gone. I couldn't trust myself not to cheat again so I sold what I could of my remaining stock (not the Colette) returned the rest of it to the charity shops I'd bought it from, and gave it all up.

If it's your business then I suppose it would be irresponsible not to have this apparently inexpensive technology to hand. But it would be so much more of a score, I'd imagine, if you were on holiday, if your partner had insisted that you leave the scanner at home, if you walked into a PDSA shop just near the beach and found a first edition of Kaddish, say, in amongst the Jilly Coopers and bad fairtrade knickknacks.
posted by tigrefacile at 3:25 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fryman -- that may be something different. My library, on the other hand, sells overstock -- multiple copies of last year' s bestsellers and infrequently borrowed back catalogue. What I was getting at is that there seems to be some bleed over between reading books and owning books (maybe not by you but throughout the thread and in the original article). Buying and owning stuff is buying and owning stuff, no matter what that stuff is. A physical book is just product, and no one has a superior right to own product. I don't believe we would be having the same conversation about the guy if, let's say, he bought classic cars in Arizona and sold them for a profit in the Midwest. But people love books, and that seems to muddle the discussion.

The same thing seems to happen in discussions about scalping. It's a crazy inefficient system, and too much money seems to go to the scalper, but no one has the right to a third-row seat for x when the market, i.e., someone else, is willing to pay ten times x for it.
posted by rtimmel at 3:52 PM on October 7, 2010


The world is hardly lacking for dirt cheap books. It's just a question of what you're willing to read.

something something unclear on the concept something
posted by hippybear at 3:54 PM on October 7, 2010


YOU READ A BOOK A DAY???

YEAH AND I HAVE ADHD TOO.

I sit on a train for two hours every day. I'd rather read a book than annoy other passengers by talking on my phone or wasting my time by staring out the window.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:06 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Friends of the Library group at my library (disclaimer: I'm the secretary of the board) just banned scanners at our book sales. From the discussion at the board meeting, I gather that the scanner-users are very disruptive and rude to the other shoppers. Since the sale is held in fairly tight quarters, that's a big deal.

Yes, the idea is to make money, but we want people to have a good experience shopping, so they have good feelings about the library when it comes to donating their own books/money or voting on bond issues, etc.

Most of the books we sell are donated by people in the community: the library itself gets first crack at donations if they will fit into the collection, then the rest are organized for sale.

The volunteer book sorters do look for particularly valuable items (I'm not sure the exact process), which either get priced higher, or sold on Amazon/eBay. Each sale weekend brings in a few thousand dollars, and there's an ongoing book sale that IIRC brings in a few hundred each month. (I've no idea if people use scanners on the ongoing shelves; the whole thing's actually on the honor system.)
posted by epersonae at 4:20 PM on October 7, 2010


The volunteer book sorters do look for particularly valuable items (I'm not sure the exact process), which either get priced higher, or sold on Amazon/eBay.

Oh no! I've just found out I'm getting scanned by my own library. Oh well...I guess you can't scan City Hall.

Since the sale is held in fairly tight quarters, that's a big deal.


Calling that backroom "fairly tight quarters" is like calling the BP oil spill a "little environmental hiccup." I've been in the trunks of cars that were more spacious.
posted by fryman at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2010


fryman, I didn't realize you were a local! (Oly represent!)

And yeah, that room is crazy-small. I think I've heard talk of getting a tent & moving some of the sale outside, altho that's not a great solution in February, obvs.

What I forgot to mention is that we also have some processes in place for dealing with the stuff that doesn't sell at the sales, altho since I'm not involved in that part, I don't remember what it is. :\ The people involved with the whole book sale process have a whole massive system to keep things running; I stand in awe of it. (And stick to taking minutes, running the website, and posting to Twitter.)
posted by epersonae at 5:09 PM on October 7, 2010


Once upon a time I wrote a supplement for a role playing game. For the longest time there was one copy on Amazon for like $125 despite it's cover price of like $18. It also had a review that read like pure ad copy, almost certainly put there by the guy who wanted $125 for his copy.

I think this guy is overestimating the house odds.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:03 PM on October 7, 2010


>Public libraries aren't bookstores.

They are when they hold sales (like Friends of the Library sales where patrons donate books for fund raising). But thanks for sharing.
posted by spock at 8:27 PM on October 7, 2010


But thanks for sharing.

I wasn't sure you were correct about that. Then I read the sentence, "But thanks for sharing", and it gave me chills. I realized you were someone of confidence in your position, able to set others straight quickly, and do so politely. It was a sign of maturity, of real weight and finality, and I immediately knew what you said was correct. Thank you.
posted by stbalbach at 11:08 PM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


>Public libraries aren't bookstores.

They are when they hold sales (like Friends of the Library sales where patrons donate books for fund raising).


Sounds more like a Charity event than a business. The idea of making money off the charity of others seems rather crass.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:16 AM on October 8, 2010


I can't summon up much outrage about this -- if he's prepared to put in 80 hours a week to make a living from bookselling, good luck to him -- but this paragraph made me slightly depressed:

It's also rarely worthwhile to investigate anything that looks truly old or anything that doesn't have a barcode (which usually means it's old). It's certain that I've passed by very valuable old books. I do carry a smartphone along with the PDA so I can search online for curious pieces from the pre-ISBN era. But that research hardly ever pays off. My work is crowded by artifacts of thought and expression which the culture hasn't wanted to conserve. And, of course, the number of actual objects the culture conserves is even smaller. If enough people want to read an older work, it comes out in a new edition. More often, I find the old editions, variably handsome or yellowed and trashy, which will almost all be tumbling in the darkness of a dumpster soon after I pass on them.

So any book without a barcode (i.e. any book published before about 1985) is destined for the dumpster because there's no easy way of doing a price comparison and, hey, who wants old books anyway? 'If enough people want to read an older work, it comes out in a new edition.' It makes you realise how vulnerable books are when they get out into the marketplace. It also makes me wonder what will happen to the books on my shelves after I die.
posted by verstegan at 3:44 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


> The idea of making money off the charity of others seems rather crass.

I agree, deface the barcodes at charity book sales?
posted by gallagho at 4:10 AM on October 8, 2010


And the old man with 10,000 books that's he's read is a hoarder, not a reader.

The English mistake in this sentence was the easiest to highlight, but you may want to revisit this thought from an Economics or a Psych point of view too. For instance:

Books have decreasing marginal cost of production, and in such a situation more books demanded means more books printed and more books written.

If you love a book enough to want to share it with others, the best way to present it to them is carefully preserved and personally introduced, not stuffed at the bottom of the carts in front of Half-Price Books.

...

For those who haven't already read between the lines: yes, this struck slightly close to home. My father has cycled at least 10,000 books out and in to used bookstores; however the one or two thousand best got to stay on his shelves where I could read them growing up, and I'm very thankful that his thought process never crossed "am I hoarding these?" on the way to "where should I build more shelves?".
posted by roystgnr at 7:15 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is definitely an art to knowing what's what, though -- upthread I mentioned how this would be a great PT summer gig for my mom the thrift store queen. What I didn't mention is that she recently found me a good $2000+ of out of print knitting books (most of which will never go back into print because the author is a Bit Difficult, and that's putting it nicely).

There's scanning, but there's also knowing what's what. These books were just shoved into a pile -- the person getting rid of them thought "oh, they're just knitting books" and didn't know what they had. Luckily, Mom did, and now I have books that are worth a crazy amount of money relative to what we spent -- but I'm also going to use the hell out of them!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2010


My brother, who I mentioned used to do this, sent me a comment on this story. He said "That equipment is what drove me out of book scouting, it really killed the fun of using your memory & relegated 1st edition fiction to the back burner."
posted by Miko at 6:45 PM on October 8, 2010


I've been arguing about this with a friend of mine (I plan on reading the comments here, but this comment is cold).

I work in an independent used bookstore. We kicked someone out for scanning books last year. He had been in the store for a while, but we thought nothing of it (we get people who will be in for hours - we have a lot of books) until my co-worker caught him and kicked him out.

Everything in our shop is hand priced. We do not go through our considerable stock to check prices - the owner believed that if a customer finds a gem once in a while, it is good for business (I tend to agree). Having mispriced books doesn't really work against us - now we look up most books as we buy them, some still slip through on occasion.

It's one thing for these people to scan flea markets, garage sales and library sales and whatnot. But to come into our shop and start attempting to scan every. book. in. the. store? Not cool at all.

A lot of the people who sell us books are pickers, but this is a whole new brand of ick.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:07 PM on October 8, 2010


I never thought I'd call a group of people bigots for their opinion on how people choose to buy and sell books but the internet is a wide and wonderful place and this thread is full of bigots.
posted by tehloki at 3:16 PM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I did just say presumably vital function. Function being the recycling of books.

>
something something unclear on the concept something

Oh, you kid!

Seriously, though, what did you not understand? I was responding, perhaps in a bit of distemper, to the guy who suggested scavengers keep poor geriatrics from getting anything to read. My point - go to a library sale and even after the scavengers do their worst, you will be able, for chump change or eve no change, to find something that will divert you for a few hours. Probably a rubbishy paper back thrillers or a forgotten loose binding J.B. Priestley, but something. Indeed, at the tonier townships, possibly something that a scavenger who did not have to lean on the electronic crutch might have snatched up for a serious profit.

....people who own really valuable stuff know where to auction or resell it; they don't put their stuff out at garage sales or give it to Goodwill.

Well, sure, but your examples are willfully absurd. It's a question of scale and knowledge, which is where the opportunity lies. The larger better organized book sales will have a table for that Mark Twain first edition and price it accordingly. They may, however, miss the Bernard Cornwell first edition because it looks like just another novel. So might the person donating it, who just wants to get rid of a bunch of clutter. So, sure, Gutenberg bibles tend not to show up. Books worth three and even four figures, however, do. Not frequently, but it happens, which is what draws the most intense scavengers.

And even at a sales price of the low two figures, you're talking better than a 100% markup on resale. Not too shabby, if that's your game.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:01 PM on October 11, 2010


And not a word about the authors, who get absolutely nothing, no matter who buys or sells these books.
posted by empath at 6:43 AM on October 16, 2010


not a word about the authors

I can't think of any product - furniture, auto, clothing, book, record, anything - where the original maker gets something from a secondhand sale.
posted by Miko at 8:46 AM on October 16, 2010


Miko - Vernor v. Autodesk

Note: recent 9th circuit opinion, may (should) be overturned. Basically says that all those shrinkwrap licenses that you can't read before you buy the software are enforceable in their entirety, even in limiting the second sale doctrine.
posted by cyphill at 7:21 AM on October 18, 2010


And not a word about the authors, who get absolutely nothing, no matter who buys or sells these books.

Hey, authors! Thanks for writing all those books I buy used or remaindered, or get from Paperbackswap, or take out of the library. Couldn't do it without you!
posted by Zed at 8:12 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


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