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How to Heartlessly Arbitrage Used Books With a PDA

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the have-you-ever-seen-such-cruelty? dept.

Books 445

Pickens writes "Michael Savitz writes at Salon how he makes a living armed with a laser bar-code scanner fitted to a Dell PDA. Savitz haunts thrift stores and library book sales to scan hundreds of used books a day and instantly identify those that will get a good price on Amazon Marketplace. 'My PDA shows the range of prices that other Amazon sellers are asking for the book in question,' writes Savitz. 'Those listings offer me guidance on what price to set when I post the book myself and how much I'm likely to earn when the sale goes through.' Savitz writes that on average, only one book in 30 will have a resale value that makes it a "BUY" but that he goes through enough books to average about 30 books sold per day. 'If I can tell from a book's Amazon sales rank that I'll be able to sell it in one day, I might accept a projected profit of as little as a dollar. The more difficult a book will be to sell, the more money the sale needs to promise.' Savitz writes that people scanning books sometimes get kicked out of thrift stores and retail shops and that libraries are beginning to advertise that no electronic devices are allowed at their sales. 'If it's possible to make a decent living selling books online, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work?' concludes Savitz."

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Nothing shameless (4, Insightful)

bobstreo (1320787) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916684)

Supply and demand. Now if he was scanning them and making torrents, that would be shameless.

Re:Nothing shameless (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916786)

Library books were purchased by the state. The sales are designed as a way that people without much money can buy books to encourage reading.

Thrift stores are often charities, designed for pretty much the same purpose. Neither is set up so some douchebag can make a profit off of them.

Re:Nothing shameless (5, Insightful)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916874)

No, they are being sold to clear the shelf space for something else. Why aren't libraries using these scanners and pricing their books appropriately?

Re:Nothing shameless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916898)

No, they are being sold to clear the shelf space for something else. Why aren't libraries using these scanners and pricing their books appropriately?

All the library sales I've ever been to have just had a flat rate on books. Typically something like 1 for $1, 7 for $5. For them it's not about trying to make the most profit as possible, but rather about giving back to the community (where have I heard that phrase before?).

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

opposabledumbs (1434215) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917190)

But they could be using the same scanned ISBN network info to sell the books that are worth something (not many of these books are) at market price, and using the extra cash to buy more books or even help to provide services to the poorer areas of their towns, such as mobile libraries or remedial reading classes. If it was about giving back to the community, that would surely be more valuable? Besides, if it was a straight giveaway, they wouldn't charge for the books at all.

I read the article a couple of days ago (in slate, not salon) and what struck me was the amount of money that is being thrown away here. Just 'cod taxpayer money was used in the first instance, doesn't mean that people shouldn't think about their resources at this stage.

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

Stellian (673475) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916816)

Now if he was scanning them and making torrents, that would be shameless.

In fact, it would be fucking awsome.

Re:Nothing shameless (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916932)

Supply and demand. Now if he was scanning them and making torrents, that would be shameless.

Only if short-term cannibalism-capitalism is the only thing that counts.

Basically he is making it harder and more expensive to acquire books and thus education, which particularly affects people with less money (and usually already lower education).

Re:Nothing shameless (4, Insightful)

smallfries (601545) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916966)

How do you figure that?

He is taking high desirability items from a low-volume local market and reselling them in a high-volume global market. If anything he is making it easier for people to acquire the books that they want. As far as the difference in price goes: that is true of anyone who trades between different markets in any product. Why should there be special rules that make it immoral in this case?

Re:Nothing shameless (2, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917072)

If anything he is making it easier for people to acquire the books that they want.

Unless they don't have the money.

"Free markets" are about the worst way to educate and bring poor people out of poverty. No, I said that wrong. Free markets are a fantasy used to sell a system where wealth only flows upward.

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917242)

It seems that we are separated by a common language. I deliberately split the issue into ease of access and price. Then you try to make the ease of access issue about price.

When you say "Unless they don't have the money" you are thinking of some specific hypothetical individual who wants the item but can't afford it. But given the market we are talking about items wanted by many people, some of whom can afford the higher price. For those people it is easier to access the item.

You argue that the larger market with people who can afford the price should have a harder time accessing the item to benefit some smaller number of people with less money. Last time I checked bookstores were not a social program. If you believe that they should be run as one then how can you justify any price for the book other than zero?

Re:Nothing shameless (2, Insightful)

opposabledumbs (1434215) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917270)

If they don't have the money, maybe they should consider using the library to get the book? That's where a lot of my books come from, and they're free...

Re:Nothing shameless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916994)

Or he's making it easier and cheaper to acquire books and thus education, as the book is now in reach of a larger audience.

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

lvangool (1393983) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917054)

I don't know about all of you, but there is just no way I can envision the bottleneck of a proper education for poor people to be a few dollars on a second-hand book. I don't believe for a second that they would buy them, read them and actually be better off in this world as a result of his or her alleged higher education. I live in a country with near-free (as in beer) education all the way from preschool to university, and I don't see everyone going to school here. Your statement implies an assumption that people will educate themselves if society makes it available to them, but that doesn't seem to be the case. It's not like food or cars, you know.

Re:Nothing shameless (2, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917122)

I don't believe for a second that they would buy them, read them and actually be better off in this world as a result of his or her alleged higher education.

I can easily "envision" that some poor student, who's already stretched to the point of poverty and in some $7 per hour work study, not being able to afford to walk into a Barnes and Noble and buy books.

You're making the mistake of thinking that "poor people" are all empty vessels, unable to do anything on their own. Think instead of the young person who's struggled to make it to a point where education is a possibility and already has the will to read, to learn. For him, a $1 library sale is a chance to stock a bookshelf that could make a huge difference.

There's a good reason the person with the PDA trying to cherry pick library sales feels like a douche. Because he's doing something shitty. Now, if the poor kid who was trying to educate himself was making a few bucks reselling those books, that would be a different story, but I doubt the turd with the PDA is in that position.

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

lvangool (1393983) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917178)

I see that you have a hard time appreciating the future value of knowledge or information.

Information asymmetry (2, Interesting)

SpeedyDX (1014595) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916978)

A completely free market works best when there is no information asymmetry between the parties involved in a transaction. If the buyer knows exactly what the seller knows and vice versa. Scanning books like this creates information asymmetry by giving information to the buyer that is unavailable* to the seller. The seller corrects this by placing limits on the marketplace in order to maintain as good an information balance as possible.

This is exactly how textbook capitalism is supposed to work. Of course, it's ideal if the party placing limits on the marketplace is not a party involved in the transaction in order to avoid bias towards one side or another. That's how governments become involved in regulating the market. Of course, in practice, there are a lot more variables that have an effect on information symmetry and party bias. But something as simple as this is easily explained by basic free market principles.

* Of course, the information is available to the seller, but it's just that the seller is unwilling to procure that information for one reason or another. The seller finds that correcting the information balance by limiting information access to the buyer is easier than correcting it by having to access that information themselves.

Re:Information asymmetry (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917008)

This is exactly how textbook capitalism is supposed to work.

Quite literally.

Re:Information asymmetry (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917128)

We could use this for textbooks as well. You know that a market is distorted when it's literally cheaper to reimport books that were exported than it is to buy in ones primary market. Retailers hate these sorts of things, but they'll ultimately have to deal with it as the alternative is likely to be people not going to their store to begin with.

The only aspect of this which bothers me is that sellers are restricted somewhat in terms of looking up the information as doing so could easily run afoul of antitrust regulation.

Re:Information asymmetry (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917150)

A completely free market works best when there is no information asymmetry between the parties involved in a transaction.

Until we get a real-life example of a "completely free market", it's safe to assume that it's just a fairy tale for useless discussions, like whether or not there are street lights in heaven.

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917014)

Exactly. And the business goes away the moment 1000 people start doing it because of oversupply.

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

electrosoccertux (874415) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917058)

THE FREE MARKET IS EVIL, DOWN WITH THE CORPORATIST PIGS AND IN WITH OUR NEW ANTI-CORPORATIST OVERLORDS!!!!

The book seller is stealing from other would-be buyers and taking away all the good deals available locally. He owes them a portion, or all, of his profits.

Re:Nothing shameless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917060)

Don't you mean 'shameFULL'?

Re:Nothing shameless (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917160)

He's SAVING desired books from the shredder. The "heartless" nonsense is merely because he isn't personally collecting them to fap over.

SELLING them to people who want them is efficient recycling. Not a fucking thing wrong with that, it give more people a shot a them.

Depends what you want... (5, Interesting)

backwardMechanic (959818) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916710)

Sure, you can go through all those second-hand bookstores and strip them of anything will make a profit. It makes the store less interesting for the rest of us, who actually want to read the books we find. I like the search, which may turn up a treasure I recognise, or may turn up something obscure that I, but virtually nobody else, want to read. To put it another way, it's why Firefly was canned. Lots of us thought it was good, but not enough to turn a quick profit. There's a lot of instant-hit cheap crap on TV. Please don't do this to bookstores as well.

Re:Depends what you want... (5, Insightful)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916724)

The bookstores are putting them up for sale at a price which they deem to make a fair profit for them. What's wrong with him buying them and selling them elsewhere if he believes that he can make a profit too?

Re:Depends what you want... (5, Interesting)

ultranova (717540) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916840)

The bookstores are putting them up for sale at a price which they deem to make a fair profit for them. What's wrong with him buying them and selling them elsewhere if he believes that he can make a profit too?

Because it rises the price of books for everyone else. Rather than getting a book for $2 from the bookstore, I'll have to buy it for $5 from Amazon.

This guy is simply a new version of a ticket scalper. He's a parasite and will hopefully get banned from every bookstore. Every single penny he makes comes from someone else's pocket; he simply monopolizes a resource and profiteers from it, contributing absolutely nothing to the economy. He's scum.

Re:Depends what you want... (4, Insightful)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916886)

You spend more than $3 by losing the all day searching for a book on dozens of stores. He makes it cheaper if you count all the costs, not just the markup prices.

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916908)

I buy books from Amazon and from second-hand shops, but they serve different purposes. I look on Amazon for books that I want. I go into second-hand shops for ideas about books to read. Amazon serves the first purpose because it sells pretty much every book I might want. Second-hand shops serve the second purpose because they have a limited selection, so I can browse their entire range and often find something that I would not have seen online but which I might want to read.

If you remove all of the interesting books from the second-hand shops, then this also harms Amazon and Amazon Marketplace sellers. I've just bought a couple of books from Amazon Marketplace people precisely because I found the first one in a trilogy in a second-hand store and enjoyed it. If it hadn't been there, then I wouldn't have bought the others.

In theory, Amazon's recommendations are meant to address this, but in practice they are useless (for some reason, my front page on Amazon keeps trying to sell me women's shoes - no idea why).

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917032)

What's interesting varies from person to person and place to place. And if a book that you might have found interesting is in an Oxfam store a thousand miles from where you live you would never have known about it, and so he's doing no harm to you by selling it onto somebody else.

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917200)

But he's not moving them from an Oxfam shop a thousand miles away to another Oxfam shop. He's moving them from a local shop to the Internet. On the Internet, it's already possible to buy pretty much any book relatively cheaply, but because of the almost limitless selection it's much harder to impulse buy something completely new.

Re:Depends what you want... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917102)

...my front page on Amazon keeps trying to sell me women's shoes - no idea why).

It seems that Amazon found that you have a kinky taste in books so they are quessing that you might have a kinky taste in your dressing as well.

Re:Depends what you want... (4, Interesting)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917094)

You make a false assumption on the expense associated to the time spent searching. If this time is "expensed" uniquely as cost associated looking for a single asset, then one could argue your point. But, if the time "expensed" looking for books has another more important function [getting out of the house, small diversion from other shopping, enjoying the hunt], then the expense is nearly zero. If the time "expensed" is nearly zero, any books found will then have a return on time invested which is extremely high.

Cheaper has proper meaning only if you include all the cost inputs, not just the "time expensed".

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

Lazareth (1756336) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916894)

Subjectivity is such a wonderful thing. Another way to view it is that he is merely offering a service of identifying a market and moving the object to where the demand is.

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

Dr. Evil (3501) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917222)

He could probably make a lot more money selling the tools and training to bookstores so that they can better price their books and better know which books don't sell at all. It's a good model.

Re:Depends what you want... (4, Informative)

Ritchie70 (860516) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917266)

The only penny he's taking from someone's pocket is from his customer on Amazon.

The store was going to sell it for the price he paid, no loss to them. Could they have sold it for more? Sure. Were they going to? No.

If Slashdotters are so offended by this, they should create some free software that all the stores can use to figure out which books are worth selling on Amazon and help their local thrift store get up and running.

Let the used book stores get it running themselves.

Thrift stores aren't the same as used book stores or other for-profit resale stores. They're run by charities, both to sell things to the community at affordable prices and to make money to support their other programs.

Re:Depends what you want... (5, Interesting)

Sethumme (1313479) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916860)

Well, local used-books shops might be accurately pricing their books for the local market, which could differ from the nationwide market on the internet. If the local stores were forced to price to the national market, they might not be able to sell those books to their usual customers, and not even the used-book arbitrage traders would want to buy them. This could, in the long run, significantly reduce the thrift bookstore revenues and drive some out of business.

And like GP pointed out, some of the hidden treasures in the book stores act as sales to draw in customers to the store, who might buy other books as well. If the arbitrage trades come in and snatch up the "sale" items, the stores are forced to eat the discount instead of generating more revenue.

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917092)

Simple: He's raising the average price of all second hand books for everybody else.

(And he's not even interested in reading them, he just sees them as a profit).

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

Lazareth (1756336) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917208)

Simply incorrect: You assume he is selling the books for above average price. He isn't (that would require more nefarious market meddling than I think he has the connections for), he's in fact buying books at below average price and selling them at or presumably just under average price, thus averaging the price of the book.

Oh sure, in the purely mathematical view where you take all the data points of sell prices (versus what is actually being SOLD), he IS raising the average price by moving a single data point upwards. But he is in fact simply moving the book price closer to actual average price set by demand (what people are willing to buy it for, not what people want to sell it for).

By your argument, I could go down and buy a new book for 5$ and set it up on eBay or whatever market for 50 million dollars. I most likely wouldn't sell it, but in your view I would be a complete monster for raising the average price by a horrendous amount!

What actually happens is that he buys the book at below average price (adding a data point to the average price of actual SOLD books) and then sells it again at around the average (thus adding another data point also under or about average price). That means he has actually lowered the average price, not raised it.

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

mattdm (1931) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917120)

The bookstores are putting them up for sale at a price which they deem to make a fair profit for them. What's wrong with him buying them and selling them elsewhere if he believes that he can make a profit too?

Because the bookstore is part of a whole picture — book browsing, eccentric finds, local businesses, basically a whole ecosystem, and their pricing takes that into account. Same thing happens with sports tickets — the Red Sox benefit from having tickets priced so that their regular fans can actually go to games, just just the super-wealthy. The scalper can come and go and doesn't care about any of that. If whatever they're leeching from collapses, no problem, they can move on to suck blood from something else.

Re:Depends what you want... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917214)

"What's wrong with him buying them and selling them elsewhere if he believes that he can make a profit too?"

By getting in there and cherry picking all the good books and leaving all the poor value and crap books, he gives more traditional customers the impression that only crap books can be found at these sales. Thereby harming the long term viability of these sales. Unlike traditional customers he buys a large number of books, but doesn't by any of the lower value books as an impulse buy. Therefore even if he buys the number of books of 10 normal customers, he is of lower value than 10 normal customers.

Depends what you want...opportunity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917258)

Maybe the question we individually should ask is, if I was at these bookstore sales, how would I feel knowing I was denied* the opportunity to get these books at the "fair profit" price and instead had to pay the markup from these other middlemen?

*And let's be honest here, while it's not an absolute denial, the laser armed reseller has an overwhelming (especially in numbers) advantage to most both in equipment and experience.

To drive my point home just imaging shopping for groceries and finding all the good stuff has been picked away to be sold at a higher price elsewhere? Maybe we all will have a better shopping experience if we turn it into a competitive sport?

Re:Depends what you want... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916752)

This guy won't be buying the books that you want but virtually nobody else will - they won't give him a profit, so you will still find them in the stores.

He'll be buying the books that a big enough number of people want to buy online that their price will give him a profit.

Looking at it another way, he is helping people to get what they want online at a better price, by moving them from one place (the store) to another (online) where there is more demand for them.

Re:Depends what you want... (4, Insightful)

osgeek (239988) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916856)

That makes no sense. A sale is a sale is a sale. The stores should be thankful that the guy is moving their products. That allows them to buy more and keep their shelves stocked. If they don't like it, they should set their prices better.

If you want books that no one else wants to read, then those books are still there. This guy isn't snapping them up.

Firefly was canned because no one was watching it. Book stores close because no one buys their books. This guy is buying books... lots of them. A bookstore being low on inventory because of good sales is a good problem to have. You should try some sort of car analogy instead. :)

Re:Depends what you want... (1)

funfail (970288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917164)

A sale is not always a sale. Shops often discount a few items hoping that people purchasing them will find some other items they saw while shopping interesting too. Resellers like this guy defeat the purpose.

Make it a "BUY"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916720)

Shouldn't that be - make it a "BUY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Added value? (1)

s-whs (959229) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916730)

'If it's possible to make a decent living selling books online, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work?' concludes Savitz."

Because he's not really adding value, only a markup for selling in a different place. Whether that's of use to anyone (by making it available where it will be appreciated more) is debateable, and it may be of some worth, but I would say he is indeed more profiteering than adding value.

Re:Added value? (4, Insightful)

hankwang (413283) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916754)

Because he's not really adding value, only a markup for selling in a different place.

The added value is that customers looking for a specific book can find a second-hand seller online. I sometimes buy 2nd hand scientific books (the kind that costs $200 new) online; no way that I would consider visiting 20 second-hand stores around here for the faint chance that one of them happens to have that book on the shelf.

The smart thrift store owner would scan the books by themselves and increase the price and/or put them online.

Re:Added value? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916784)

You don't think there is significant value in him making the books available online where people that want them can find them, then sending the book to the person who wants it?

Taking goods from a place where there is less demand to a place where there is more absolutely adds value - it causes more economic activity to happen which is good for the economy as a whole.

Look at it this way - one of those books, sitting on a shelf in a store is not helping anyone.

This guy buys the book from the store at a price that the store thinks is fair (since they set it), then sells it to someone who wants it at a price that they think is fair (since they choose to buy it).

So, everyone is transacting at a price that they think is fair and everyone is gaining. The store gets cash for their book that was taking up shelf space. The eventual purchaser gets a book that they want. The middle man makes a profit.

Where is the problem?

Re:Added value? (4, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916798)

He is increasing the availability of sought-after books. Many's the time I've wanted to buy a book from ANYWHERE and not managed it for months only to find it years later on a boot sale or second hand shop (as an example, I once had a copy of Geoffrey Trease's "The Black Banner Players" pass through my hands - one of the rarest books in the world - and incidentally apparently one of the crappiest). The book has a lot more value being able to be purchased from anywhere in the world for the price of postage, especially if it is actually sought-after because it's rare, expensive, limited print run, in a country that doesn't normally sell it, etc.

I don't really see the problem with what he's doing. If I had the time / money / inclination, it sounds like a good way to earn money and always has. My ex used to trawl boot-sales (think garage sales or flea markets if you're American) just before they closed. All the stuff the sellers would normally throw away or put back in their attic for another year would be snapped up for a few pounds for huge bags full. Then she'd sort through them, take out anything of good quality (usually things like baby clothes which are ridiculously expensive when new), wash it, iron it, and sell it on eBay for 50p - £1 per item. Nobody was stopped from buying that stuff from the boot sale itself, but the locality of it meant that most of the young, poor mothers in the country couldn't viably buy the item. The extra value wasn't from washing / ironing (that cost money and rarely made much of a difference because stained tended to stay stained) but from the availability of that item to anyone in the UK. Getting an item for 5p isn't a bargain if it would cost you £40 in fuel to pick it up and there was absolutely no guarantee you wouldn't have a wasted journey. But having someone local pick up all the spare items, and offer them for the price of a stamp to the entire country, with full descriptions and photographs, is more than worth £1 or £2. Profit for my ex, profit for the boot sale seller from stuff they would throw away, profit for eBay, ultra cheap baby clothes that are described exactly and the bad stuff already weeded out for every young mother online.

The value is the availability, and the initial search. He adds that value by doing something completely legal that ANYONE with a brain, or a knowledge of their subject, could do. Every boot sale I've ever been to, there is a queue from 6:30am of various local experts and businesses that swoop in, buy all the good stuff and are onto the next boot sale within ten minutes, because they can recognise the valuable items immediately and snap them up for a good price that the seller is happy with. Many admit that they will then go on to sell that item for near-new prices in their shops. Same thing, slightly less "ethical" and slightly more "business" but hell - they make money, the seller makes money, nobody gets hurt and someone else gets what they consider a bargain when they rebuy it from their specialist shop (because that's easier than trawling boot sales in the hope you'll find some item you're after).

Re:Added value? (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917126)

I once had a copy of Geoffrey Trease's "The Black Banner Players" pass through my hands - one of the rarest books in the world

This book [amazon.co.uk] ? The GBP 23.40 book, available at Amazon?

For such a rare book, it's surprisingly cheap.

Re:Added value? (2, Informative)

cacba (1831766) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916804)

At the very least he is reducing the price of books, though in some cases he could be saving a book from sitting on the shelf for years till it is finally recycled. He is adding efficiency to the book market.

Re:Added value? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917280)

Whether that's of use to anyone (by making it available where it will be appreciated more) is debateable

That's actually one of the most common and important aspects of commerce. All of those trucks you see? That's what they're doing. Those stores? They're in on it too.

Lots of reasons... (4, Interesting)

Qubit (100461) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916734)

Savitz writes that people scanning books sometimes get kicked out of thrift stores and retail shops and that libraries are beginning to advertise that no electronic devices are allowed at their sales. 'If it's possible to make a decent living selling books online, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work?' concludes Savitz."

Perhaps the people running these sales want them to have more of a community feel, and either anticipate or know from past experience that allowing professional sellers to come in and take on-the-spot digital assessments of books will disrupt the existing selling environment.

Here are some potential motivations for the ban that I can think up off the top of my head:

  • People tearing through hundreds of books, treating them carelessly, as every book they buy and flip represents more profit
  • People being aggressive about getting certain books, making the sale less friendly to casual, non-pros
  • Some (misguided) impression that it's wrong for resellers to be buying books at a friends-of-the-library sale
  • A fear that if pros come in, comb through, and cull out the "good deals" quickly, they'll sell fewer books overall.

Re:Lots of reasons... (4, Interesting)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916788)

Our local library has a used book sale, and it's fantastic. Really, the only problem is the assholes with PDAs, because they camp in an aisle, scanning everything, blocking people trying to get by, and being a complete pain in the ass. The problem isn't that they're buying books, the problem is that they're taking up space.

Re:Lots of reasons... (4, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916888)

The solution, though, isn't to ban PDAs. It's to kick people out when they act like a tool. It's unfortunate that we have to do that but it's the society we've all created, where manners are held in low esteem; turn on the television and all you'll see is a bunch of people being rude to each other on every channel, unless you can find a Bob Ross rerun on PBS... happy little trees. If you want this to change, then you need to go out and aggressively demand good manners. Every time you receive bad ones, comment. Refuse to do business with the impolite where possible. Let's create a useful stratification of society, between those who think of others and those who think fuck you.

Re:Lots of reasons... (1)

Lazareth (1756336) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916924)

If they're actively and consciously trying to prevent people from accessing the aisle, then they're being willfully disruptive and should be removed from the premises regardless of their primary agenda. If they're in your way because they're genuinely trying to buy something (for whatever reason), then you're simply being an asshole for thinking you deserve the space more than they do. Please go feel important somewhere else.

Re:Lots of reasons... (5, Interesting)

complete loony (663508) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917062)

The libraries don't even need a scanner to accomplish the same thing. Just trawl through their database and look up the Amazon price / volume. Filter out the more valuable volumes, separate them, mark them for prices that are closer to market value. And anything the locals don't buy, list online.

Do that and you remove the easy profit from scalpers, removing the problem.

Re:Lots of reasons... (1)

Kozz (7764) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917286)

The libraries don't even need a scanner to accomplish the same thing. Just trawl through their database and look up the Amazon price / volume. Filter out the more valuable volumes, separate them, mark them for prices that are closer to market value. And anything the locals don't buy, list online.

Do that and you remove the easy profit from scalpers, removing the problem.

Or better yet, provide on demand a complete list of author/title/ISBN of books in the sale on the website. No more PDA campers, right?

Because they love books (4, Insightful)

KGBear (71109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916742)

People buy books at thrift stores and library sales because they love books. People donate books to libraries because they want to share their love of books. If this becomes any popular, it will drive the price up for one thing; it will take the books from people who might pick one up because it's cheap, and love it, and put it in the hands of people who are trying to make a profit from it. Because as with everything, it takes something that people do for love of knowledge, art, or craft, and pollute it with people who don't care for it at all, just for the money it represents. That is why you feel shame doing it. Not to mention that if this becomes really profitable, how long until publishers, editors and authors see the "lost profits" and crack down on it like they are doing with music and movies? Once again, thank you for ruining it for the rest of us for the sake of your short term greed.

Breaking an unspoken social contract (0)

west (39918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916746)

> then why does it feel so shameful to do this work?

Part of the joy of used book sales is discovering treasures. By automating this task, it allows the fellow to empty stores of these treasures. He is depriving hundreds of people of a little joy that would make their day ("Wow, I found a $5 book for $.50!") in order to actually make a living (which probably becomes a lot less pleasurable and a lot more work-a-day after a short while).

So, he feels shame because subconsciously he knows he's depriving the world of many moments of happiness!

[Note for the picky, yes, "treasures" don't 100% correlate with price differences, but you get the idea :-)]

Re:Breaking an unspoken social contract (5, Interesting)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916872)

As someone for whom the web is the only place I can find such "treasures" in their original language (I'm not from an English speaking country), stopping him from doing what he's doing deprives me from actually reading the books.

Re:Breaking an unspoken social contract (0)

west (39918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917048)

Ah, but since he's charging market rates for them, they may certainly be worth buying, but they're not "treasures" in the sense of that little flush of pleasure at finding something for much less than it's worth.

But yes, an economist would indeed rightly state that he is performing a service by getting these books into the hands of those who value them most. However, a person who raises prices for truly needed goods during a crisis also ensures that the goods go to the people who have the most critical need (as measured by willingness to pay), yet are still widely despised. One of the many cases where economics and human nature diverge.

Re:Breaking an unspoken social contract (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917192)

Bullshit I may have a critical need for food but if poor theres no way in hell I can pay during a famine - therefore I restort to the methods of my 'noble' betters. Id take it at the point of a gun.

scumbag (4, Interesting)

WillyWanker (1502057) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916764)

" 'If it's possible to make a decent living selling books online, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work?' concludes Savitz."

Because it makes you a bottom-feeder. And no one likes bottom-feeders. You're taking the generosity and good will of others who are trying to help the less fortunate and turning it into your own personal profit machine. What, has the "stealing candy from babies and reselling it online" market dried up so quickly? This is right up there with people that go around to thrift stores buying up all the decent items and reselling them for 10-100x more in their "antique" stores, leaving nothing but crap for those that are in need. Sorry dude, but you're a scum-sucking lowlife.

Re:scumbag (1)

pruss (246395) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917068)

I think library sales are different from thrift stores. The main point of thrift stores is to sell low-cost goods for the needy. Buying stuff there for resale does indeed harm the needy. The main point of library sales is not to provide low-cost books for the needy but to provide funds to support the library's operations, including the library's free book rental program which is traditionally its core.

Re:scumbag (1)

WillyWanker (1502057) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917196)

But at the same time I'm sure most people would rather see the books go to those that will enjoy reading/owning them rather than some guy who is vulturing thru the tables looking for something he can resell.

I mean, a library is all about being free for everyone. And to have someone come in and try to profit from their operations is distasteful.

Now if they did something like allow these schiesters to come in at the very end of the sale to go thru whatever is left over and didn't otherwise sell, I think I would be ok with that.

There is nothing wrong with doing this (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916774)

Indeed, by doing this you are probably saving untold energy by preventing people from having to search for books.

All the buggy-whip manufacturers bitching about how this will change the used book landscape have missed the point entirely. There will time when books will go away completely, and this is only an interim step. In a hundred years of technological progress don't you think that hardcopy books are going to be a specialty, boutique item?

Let the buggy-whip manufacturers die. Accept that buying used books via Amazon is easier and indeed better for everyone than driving from store to store. Sure, book browsing will be deprecated. But then, ALL retail outlets will eventually go away except for boutiques and big box stores. There's really no need for anything in-between and such a business will always be less efficient than one which has no physical presence. The only thing that depends on physical presence is impulse buying, where you get someone in your store and sell them crap they don't need.

Re:There is nothing wrong with doing this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917090)

Until everybody in the third world can afford computers and also not slaughter each other over American-capitalism-funded diamonds and/or other exported goods, I doubt a hundred years will be enough.

2000 was supposed to be the year of the Transformers, nothing happened with that.
2010 was supposed to have Moon colonies and flying cars and nothing happened with that.
2010 was supposed to be the start of THREE DIMENSIONAL DISPLAYS and nobody cared about that.

Everybody overestimates our technological progress in their predictions.

some perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916782)

I'm not entirely sure if I have a major problem with what he's doing here, but let's put things into perspective.

Most used booksellers and employees work where they do because they love books and the joy that reading gives them and others (through suggestions etc). Now this guy comes along and strips all of that out and does what he does purely for the goal of making a profit. Sure, I could see how booksellers, library sale volunteers, etc would be pissed off with him, and I honestly can't blame them for that. He's intruding on their community just to make a buck. Yes, he's allowed to, but it's annoying to see it happen.

To put it another way, the OSS community thrives specifically because volunteers and enthusiasts enjoy working on the problem and creating something. Yet many of them get pissed off when companies come along purely to profit off of their works, even if they do play by the ground rules that have been set up (following licenses, etc). A lot of it is because they're not contributing in any way to the community that has been created. Hell, they've gone so far as to change the rules because they didn't like how people were following them (see GPLv3 and TiVo). So how is what this guy is doing really any different?

Connecting buyers and sellers. (4, Interesting)

Jeeeb (1141117) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916792)

I can't see anything at all wrong with this. This is a classic business connecting a group of buyers and sellers who wouldn't have otherwise been connected. The sellers get their book sale and the buyers get their book at a reasonable price. Everyone wins. No different from any other shop that buys at factory price and sells at retail price.

collect cans, get a paper route (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916796)

you're not a freemason? your prospects are limited/none out here in the 'new' baal driven war, of the world's worst, against ALL the rest of US. there is one thing you can do to improve your slim/no chances. it's a little complicated but not difficult (like fairytail meets fantasy presented as reality)......, & you get to promote it.

on mountains and molehills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916818)

uhm do you realize that right now, as you read this, there are extremely rich people who are arbitraging when old and sick people will die? and these arbitragers are at the highest levels of civic authority, on the boards of charities, and running agencies in the government?

its called 'life settlements' and 'longevity swaps' and,, unlike you guys who 'arbitrage' used books for 2 dollars, they have no qualms about it, in fact they will scream at you very lustily about how they are 'doing gods work' and their 'services' are a vital part of society and the foundation of capitalism (and thus freedom).

its kind of sad to think people are worried about this, and that people want to ban it, while the real arbitrages,,,, arbitraging environmental and human rights law by moving production to China for example,,,, run rampant and are taking over the planet.

and every year there are fewer and fewer regulations on it.

So why don't the sellers do this? (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916830)

Putting aside indolence and being "scared" of technology it seems to me that the charities and community outlets should be doing this. Don't they have some sort of implied responsibility to not waste (i.e. sell off too cheaply) any donations or communal property they own or are given?

Apart from anything else, they are in the ideal position to do this - since they could scan the books at their leisure before pitting them on sale. if I gave books to a charity shop, I'd like to feel that they were getting the most benefit from my gifts - and if that entails checking their value before slapping a generic $2 price tag on each one, so be it.

Re:So why don't the sellers do this? (1)

Nevynxxx (932175) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916880)

The problem with that is, the local shop, probably can't fetch the prices Amazon sellers can, with a wider market....

Re:So why don't the sellers do this? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917010)

The problem with that is, the local shop, probably can't fetch the prices Amazon sellers can, with a wider market....

You have just declared yourself incompetent to make slashdot comments. You may now depart.

Hint: Anyone can be an Amazon seller. HTH, HAND.

Re:So why don't the sellers do this? (1)

altinos.com (919185) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917028)

There are many used book stores that sell online via ABE or Amazon. A better strategy if they don't want these people in their stores is to inform them that all books are scanned when acquired so all the good ones are already for sale online.

Re:So why don't the sellers do this? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917096)

Of course, there's nothing stopping a second-hand shop also listing its products on Amazon. They could automate it pretty easily with the Amazon APIs; scan the bar code when it comes in, pick a price that is roughly what other sellers are charging, automatically de-list it when it is sold, and ping the shopkeeper to remove it from the shelves when someone buys it online.

Re:So why don't the sellers do this? (1)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917030)

Putting aside indolence and being "scared" of technology it seems to me that the charities and community outlets should be doing this. Don't they have some sort of implied responsibility to not waste (i.e. sell off too cheaply) any donations or communal property they own or are given?

I thought the idea of thrift stores was to dell stuff inexpensively so people with limited means could afford to get them?

Apart from anything else, they are in the ideal position to do this - since they could scan the books at their leisure before pitting them on sale. if I gave books to a charity shop, I'd like to feel that they were getting the most benefit from my gifts - and if that entails checking their value before slapping a generic $2 price tag on each one, so be it.

They have a hard enough time getting enough volunteers, and you want to add work to the process. And work that takes more training?

Waste of Time (1)

MogNuts (97512) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916832)

Why does this guy even bother. If 1 in 30 he can make a markup on, how much can this guy be making? $20-50 per day, if he's lucky. He probably spends all day doing it and probably makes $5k per year if he's lucky.

Re:Waste of Life (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916870)

God you are a waste of fucking life. Quit breathing and make room for those who bother to read before making some shitheaded comment.

Re:Waste of Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916890)

I did not read the article, but the summary states that the 1 dollar profit books are about as low as he is willing to go. His average could be $10. At 30 books/day that could be 75k/year which isn't all that bad.

a little irony? (1)

Imabug (2259) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916904)

Does anybody not see irony in this? Amazon originally started off as an online retailer/clearinghouse helping people purchase hard to find books through affiliated second hand book sellers.

Playing devil's advocate, is it really so bad though? initial "bottom feeder" reaction aside, the thrift store/used book seller makes a sale and presumably makes a little profit, scanner guy posts a listing, makes a sale and some profit, book buyer gets a book they're after. Scanner guy just becomes a middle man, the same way Amazon started off.

That said, I'll stick with my initial bottom feeder reaction and agree with what backwardmechanic said.

Why aren't the books doing this themselves? (3, Interesting)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916912)

Why aren't the books doing this themselves?

The reason's simple. These retailers make a profit by offering the opportunity to find a precious gem in amongst a ton of crap books. If someone takes all the gems, the viability of the stores diminish. If the stores did this themselves, no one would come to the physical store, and they'd make a pittance selling the few worthwhile books.

So the underlying problem is that the stores are unsustainable, and the guy with the scanner exacerbates the problem.

I'm afraid the second hand book trade is dying for all the wrong reasons. You simply can't build a long term bookselling system on greed and hoarding. By now all books should be freely available online in a searchable format and unencumbered by DRM (but not necessarily free to access). But again there are problems with that because too many people would just take the books (in fact that's already happening).

Re:Why aren't the books doing this themselves? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916942)

Because if books start selling themselves for a profit, that would be prostitution, which is illegal.

Re:Why aren't the books doing this themselves? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916974)

I'm afraid the second hand book trade is dying for all the wrong reasons. You simply can't build a long term bookselling system on greed and hoarding.

Don't you mean that it's dying for all the right reasons? Used bookstores which buy rafts of crap just to build stock are the problem, and good riddance. If you only have books someone might want to buy then who cares if someone comes in with a PDA? Charge them what the book is worth and move on with your life. If you want to prevent it, put your stock on Amazon like everyone else. Nobody should be starting a bookstore without already sitting on a huge pile of books that other people want to buy. Nobody should be starting a bookstore by buying a bookstore full of books no one wants. Let it die already.

I like bookstores okay, but they ALREADY have the problem that someone has usually picked off all the goodies. Better that when the next guy unloads them or dies or whatever that the books end up on Amazon so that they can be connected with the next reader, because books are to be read, and they help no one but insects which eat them when they sit idle on shelves.

Heartless? (2, Insightful)

Kit Cosper (7007) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916936)

How is this "heartless" - as previously stated, people are purchasing books at a price that the seller has deemed fair and are moving them to another market where they have identified the potential to make a profit. Since when did it become taboo to make a fair profit? If they're willing to search out the books and put forth the effort then they're certainly entitled to reaping benefit for their efforts. It's called work. I find the concept inspiring; here's someone who identified an opportunity and is using it to earn money without taking advantage of anyone.

If I donate to the library for their sale it is for several reasons. 1) Recycling the books 2) Providing the library a source of revenue 3) Hoping that someone else will derive enjoyment from something that I have previously possessed. If there's a 2a) inserted by a third party it has not diminished any of the reasons I had and actually adds an additional benefit. All of the statements about the outlets using technology to maximize their profits are well taken, but there are explicit and implicit costs to the application of this technology and the cost/benefit may not merit the effort as compared to pricing them by an algorithm.

Re:Heartless? (2, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917132)

There's nothing wrong with wearing a suit either. A lot of the worlds rich and successful wear suits .... yet "suit" is an insult in some circles.

He feels dirty for doing this and maybe there's a reason.

I wonder about the HUGE mark ups for some used. (2, Interesting)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916950)

I was looking at used prices of many book and some folks sell them for ridiculous prices, even when they're still in print. Like this one [amazon.com] and most of the material in the book is out of date. Someone is selling one for $60+ !?

Then there are books like Experimental Methods in RF Design [amazon.com] that are selling for a huge amount of money used because, I think, Amazon has the new one listed misspelled [amazon.com] .

The used book market can be really weird.

Shitty editin and not of coffeeee (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916962)

Arg! The Kodak Color Darkroom Dataguide isn't still in print. It's been out of print for over a decade - but most of it is obsolete. Many of Kodak's color products mentioned in that book have been discontinued.

Had to switch from Chrome to Firefox because for some crazy reason the Cut&Paste won't work.

To anyone who has a problem with this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916954)

...please do some background reading into basic economics and it's history. For any layman I highly recommend 'The Ascent of Money' by Niall Ferguson, a really well researched and interesting read.

As many other posters have pointed out, this is the essence of economics - taking a product from one market and moving it to another, more profitable one. You want to buy for as cheap as you can, and sell for as much as you can. Manufacturing in China, and selling in the West, for example...

Why it's shameful (0, Troll)

drumcat (1659893) | more than 3 years ago | (#33916956)

It's shameful because it's kind of like collecting aluminum cans from public garbage. If you're willing to give your time for that little money, you have a lame existence.

Re:Why it's shameful (1)

altinos.com (919185) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917056)

Some people have fun doing it. One article said he was making $1,000 per week doing it on average, which for $52,000/year is not too shabby. Though he did work 80 hours per week.

we're only a 98% match to monkeys? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33916996)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20101016/sc_livescience/deepthoughtsonwhatmakeshumansspecial

the article does say we act like monkeys. what's the other 2%? lizard, alien, mindless bot?

Politics of envy (1)

gregraven (574513) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917052)

I don't understand the objection to this. If a library puts a book out to be sold, why would it be happier to sell the book to one person than to another? Just because someone doesn't use a scanner to determine whether or not to buy a book, doesn't mean that he wants the book for the "right" reasons. So what if the purchaser may make money reselling the book later? If the original seller wanted, he could offer the book at that higher price himself. The fact is, he's satisified receiving the lower amount, except in cases where the buyer scans the book. This is envy, pure and simple. You get the feeling that the objecting sellers would be happier if the buyer was planning on burning the book, or using it to plan or commit a crime, than simply reselling it at a profit. Geesh.

Re:Politics of envy (1)

altinos.com (919185) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917074)

Maybe they think instead of buying the books to resell, they should spend money on a PDA, scan all the books at a bookstore for free, and inform the bookstore owner that his prices are too low for these books. There is nothing stopping the bookstore from doing their own research. In fact, it would be even easier for a bookstore to do it. I know of one bookstore that listed most of his inventory on ABE at different prices than in the store. When it sold online, he'd erase the price he wrote in the book in pencil. The only objections I can see are to the people who grab a stack of books and block the aisle, or make the staff put them all back, or scan all day and not buy anything, etc.

Analyzing, analyzing, analyzing... (2, Insightful)

lvangool (1393983) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917104)

If there's one thing a lot of you should learn about economics, it's that an economy is meant to be practiced, not analyzed. Everywhere were there's profit, there will be an explanation thinkable that will blame someone for unethical behavior. If you want to be succesful in a market economy, it's best to just go ahead and exploit opportunities. All this blame (out of jealousy?) will get you nowhere.

It is shameful (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33917144)

It's Slate, btw, not Salon. And what seems shameful, at least to me, is that it completely debases one of the main purposes of thrift stores, library sales and yard sales, and that is community need. Yeah, there's some money-making, but most libraries aren't actually expecting to make much real money on a booksale -- they're there to build goodwill and community. They still depend on donors, grants and tax money for operations. In fact, Libraries are much more social than commercial institutions. Same with yard sales -- it's a community event, and a way to clear out your basement and/or garage a little, but when it becomes a way to make money, it starts to feel creepy. Thrift stores too hardly ever try to make full profit on what they sell -- they're raising money, often for the poor, and trying to help out the poor by underselling donated goods.

By coming along and skimming that community-building profit margin off, what Savitz is doing is saying that the community means less to him than the profit he can glean from it. It's a fundamentally ruthless position and, while not at all illegal, it's certainly shameful.

Re:It is shameful (2)

heyitsgogi (959280) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917154)

d'oh. I forgot to sign in. Not trying to be anonymous, or cowardly.

Because it is shameful. (4, Insightful)

neumayr (819083) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917174)

If it's possible to make a decent living selling books online, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work?

If it's possible to make a decent living giving unjustified loans/selling alcohol or drugs/etc. to people who're already down, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work?
Seriously, you're being a leech, a bottom feeder, and you're right in feeling ashamed. Actually, that feeling speaks for you - there's hope for you yet, maybe.

Scanners are allowed (5, Interesting)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 3 years ago | (#33917180)

This may come as a shock, but the summary isn't *gasp* fully accurate. Scanners are allowed at the library sale they say forbids it. It's actually rather interesting-- the early "member's only" hour forbids scanners, then they let scanners in during the open sale hours. So it's a nice compromise between "let people browse" and "let the book sellers make a profit", they're just giving first crack to readers, then a fair shake to sellers afterwards. Neat compromise, that.

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