A few days ago, I posted about a man named Mike Wilcox looking for an out of print anime title for his young daughter. We had copies available for $100, but after laborious searching, he eventually found a cheaper copy from a small seller in Puerto Rico.
I took that case as a challenge, and blogged about how we’re still incredibly far from being able to connect every reader with every book for sale. I was interested to read some of the comments in response to the post.
Wrote Val Morgan:
Do you expect people to find this rare title and sell it for $2.00 ?…Do you not consider that maybe the scarcity makes it valuable?…Why do you no longer respect that people go into the used and rare book business as a profession and you are paying for the fact that they have found the rare gem, looked after it and held it til the right person comes along. Why would they sell their stock for two dollars?
Added an anonymous contributor:
If there are few copies of the book out there and lots of people looking for it, the price wil go up. So this is a $100 book. So what? I don’t see how Bookfinder is failing in any way. Without bookfinder, he’d never have even found it for $100. $100 is a steal for a book you want but can’t find. There are many thousands of books worth even more. He’s lucky to find it for $100. Does “anonymous” or Bookfinder’s proprieter have some problem with rare books being worth lots of money?
BookFinder.com has two roles. We help readers find and buy the books they want, by making it easy to search the broadest possible inventory, and we help booksellers expand their customer base, by connecting their inventories to as many book shoppers as possible. Enabling access to growing inventories is important for both parts of our job.
As searchable inventories expand, the lowest available price for many books do often fall, because we include sellers in different segments of the bookselling market. In the past, the average American reader may never have had access to new books from the UK. The average rural reader may not have had access to the rare book market in large cities. The average college student may not have been able to buy used textbooks from students at another school. We help readers work around those barriers. There have always been insiders out there, buying low, and reselling high. BookFinder.com makes everyone insiders, by spreading the knowledge around. Does that make it somewhat more difficult to engage in arbitrage? Yes, and we’re not ashamed of it.
The commenters I quote above suggest that we’re against rarity. That’s not the case by any means. We’re against artificial rarity, the kind of rarity you get when you have big information gaps. If a seller in Puerto Rico’s selling an out of print book for $2 at the same time that a seller in New York is listing it for $100, believing it to be the only copy for sale, that suggests that the New York seller’s assessment of rarity was wrong, and that the Puerto Rican seller had no idea that the book was rare. Artificial rarity (and artifical ease of availability) will decline over time, and we’ll get a better sense of which books are really rare, and not just rare-because-we-didn’t-know-any-better.
Commenter Val Morgan asks why we “no longer respect that people go into the used and rare book business as a profession.” That’s not the case at all. BookFinder.com is built on enabling readers to access used and rare books, and although the mix of professional vs. individual sellers has been changing on the low end of the market, the higher end is solidly based in the profession. We support the trade by expanding customer exposure, hosting one of the largest professional discussion email lists in the industry, and offering continued support to professional bookselling trade associations.
One of the commenters said “I don’t see how Bookfinder is failing in any way.” I have to disagree. Google says it may take 300 years to index all the world’s information. Our job’s much easier, but we’re nowhere near done connecting every reader with every book for sale.
[Now Reading: Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte]Posted by Anirvan