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 Where now for used booksellers? 
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Post Where now for used booksellers?
by: Michael Nankivell

Where now for used booksellers?

The traditional high street bookshop is fast disappearing and so what does the future hold for the professional bookseller? The move towards the internet has been massive but competition is ferocious and margins have gotten tighter and tighter. Who will survive and in what form?

There will always be a place for bookstores. The internet cannot provide for the casual browser who loves the smell and feel of that dusty cosy book filled haven from the real world. Rare books, collectors items, first editions you need to see them and haggle with the owner over the price. This used to be the only way to buy a used book, but we all know that book buying has exploded onto the internet in the guise of Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris et al. This is definitely the future, at least for the volume trading of cheap, mass produced novels, textbooks, reference books, manuals, literature etc. etc. etc.

Most bookstores survive by adding their inventory to the database of these big book listing services but the trend is relentlessly moving away from the costly main street premises to the relatively cheap shop window of the internet where the biggest cost is often shipping.

I remember from my school economics that the 'perfect market' was when everyone knew the price that everyone else was selling for. This theoretical market is now a reality and book comparison sites and book search engines like instantly give the best price and location for any given book criteria. It has gotten so competitive in the used book market that paperback novels are selling for 1 cent and any profit is contained in the shipping charge. Herein lies the future where no dealer can afford to rent a shop, cannot afford the cost of any storage area, cannot even afford to employ staff because the profit margin is so small on every single book, just to make a sale.

The most efficient means of delivering the written word is electronically. But e-books apart from the 'get rich quick' fraternity does not seem to have gone the same way as say, electronic music where downloading your favourite track is fast becoming the method of preference. Most people would still rather print out a document rather than read it exclusively from the screen which is not easy on the eye for a relaxing dip into that favourite novel.

Until the handheld electronic book becomes the next part of the cell phone, i-pod, organiser merger then we are stuck with the good old paperback. This is not as archaic as it might seem as when you order a book you are pretty sure what you will be getting through the post in the next day or two. It is also already fairly compact, lightweight and instantly usable upon delivery.

So, I believe the future will be some form of automated system (website?) that enables a book to move directly from the current owner to the customer with only shipping costs in between. Yes, there will always be room for dealers who can buy in bulk or even find a source of free books (they would have to work from home and store the books under the bed), but the principal would be the same. The contract would be between the customer and the individual selling. This is being done already by Ebay with the added excitement of an online auction to determine the price. Unfortunately the book you want to buy may not be up for auction just when you need it for that project at college! Amazon allow individuals to post their books for sale , and in my opinion, this comes closest to the way used books will be sold in the future, but they charge a standing fee and then 15% commission on top and this is still probably subsidised by their other activities. There is plenty of room for competing with this for someone without the overheads that Amazon must be carrying each year. Everyone else (and including the main part of Amazon) is part of the 'book industry', dealing with dealers, each level taking a bit off the top.

So, that is my vision of the future of used book selling. A person to person arrangement without middlemen, just service providers putting people together.

About The Author
Mike Nankivell, the man behind and, has been in 'the business' as a used book affiliate for seven years.

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This article was posted by permission.

Tue Dec 30, 2008 12:21 pm
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