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Buying Books Part II

Continuing the theme I started in a previous post concerning book buyers being Hunters and/or Gatherers, I wanted to formally posit John’s Law of Buying Books:

John’s Law of Buying Books: The price of a book is directly proportional to the selection offered by the bookstore that sells it.

In other words, bookstores with larger selections usually have a higher price. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are great on selection, but many books offer little or no discount. Overstock stores (like bookcloseouts.com or overstock.com) offer excellent prices (50% – 80% off retail) but offer a much narrower selection.

This is not a hard and fast rule, mind you. There are exceptions. To which I might augment the Law with the Corollary of Tiers, which states:

Corollary of Tiers: Bookstores usually fit into one of these levels:

  • Best bargains: Overstock stores (bookcloseouts.com or overstock.com)
  • Good bargains: Used bookstores (usually 50% of cover price)
  • Little or no bargain: Big-Name Stores (B&N, Amazon)
  • Overpriced: Book Collector stores

You’ll note that the better prices are usually offered by stores with less selection thus adhering to the Law of Buying Books.

These rules are bad news for Hunters but good news for Gatherers. Hunters, seeking the one title for which they are a-jonesin’, will do better at Amazon or the local brick-and-mortar retailer. Gatherers, browsing the shelves without a clear target, will do better at the overstock and used stores.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

7 Comments on Buying Books Part II

  1. You don’t get out much do you?

    I mean aside from the hourly trips to Half-Price Books…

  2. Well, they DO have a better bargain AND a decent selection!

  3. And if you see something interesting at HPB, feel free to let me know so I can add it to my list of stuff I am not reading πŸ™‚

  4. John’s Law of Buying Books

    John over at SFSignal has been ruminating on the subject of buying books. Hey, its been a quiet week here too, at least he found something original to write about! πŸ˜‰ Anyway the result of these ruminations is John’s Law of Buying Books:

    The price …

  5. I draw a HUGE distinction between the online retailers, who seem to have the largest selection humanly possible as well as a moderate discount from list (about 10% for paperback, 35% for hardback), and the brick and mortal large retailers where they have a collection of what somebody thinks is popular all at list prices.

    The internet retailers have books immediately upon them being published. This also has a benefit to some (those waiting for the next book in the series, for example.) The discount and overstock retailers might have a book 6 months after it was published. Maybe. If you’re lucky. And there on the right day.

    All told I think each store offers a different experience. If you want something and know exactly what you want, the online retailers offer the best option. If you want to browse in a store you can choose to browse with a Starbucks inside the bookstore and comfy chairs in which to sit and sample a small selection of books and pay list price, or you can browse through a shop jammed full of overprinted books where you can’t hardly walk down the isles without knocking over stacks of books and pay less for the book than it cost to print.

    I like looking for interesting books I’ve never read or heard of in the super discount book stores, and I like walking around the fancy retailer with my kids knowing that the extra margin they make on my book sale goes to pay some teenager to clean up after my 1 year old. I also like the convenience of going online and buying exactly what I want without having to even put on pants. All the different stores have their place.

  6. A coupe more thoughts occured to me, once I got over the whole ‘Scott with no pants’ thing.

    First, brick and mortar stores are great for browsing (gathering in John parlance). The probelm I have is that b&m stores have a limited selection, especially of SF. Even Barnes and Noble, with its comparatively large SF selection, is still horribly limited when compared to Amazon. B&N certainly doesn’t have much, if any, of the small press stuff, but, its nice to be able to wander the aisles and see what’s there. I don’t even bother with the mall bookstores since there selection is even worse due to space constraints. So, b&m good for gatherers, but the selection is limited.

    Second, the online stores are great for hunters. They have everything you could possibly want, and its usually available as soon as the book is released. However, I have yet to find an online store whose gathering features are on par with physically walking the SF aisles. Its just too hard to virtually wander the stacks of an online retailer. I know they have the ‘other people who bought this book bought these other books’ and they have recommendation features, but its just not the same. If someone could figure out how to make the online browsing experience better, not even on par with physical browsing, that store would be a winner. I’m not sure what the answer is here.

    So for me, when I’m in hunt mode, I go to the online discount stores first (Bookcloseouts, Overstock), then I go to Books By John, then I’ll check Amazon. Gather mode is strictly at local bookstores, and I don’t do that very often. I usually know what I want to buy.

  7. Fred Kiesche // February 6, 2005 at 3:16 pm //

    Depending on the online store, you can get some “invisible” bargains. For example, Amazon.com gives you free shipping over orders of $25.00 (sure, you have your item shipped by slowboat, but if it’s something you don’t need right away, it’s worth the wait to save the money). Plus, at least for now, Amazon.com remains tax free (it’ll be interesting to see what happens to online retailing when that particular benefit gets taken away).

    There are trade-offs no matter where you shop. Tax vs. no-tax. Shipping vs. gas money. Discounts vs. availability. Let’s face it, a lot of the obscure stuff I read on astronomy and the like is not discounted at any bookstore, online or bricks and mortar. So, sometimes I’ll happily pay full price, tax, and gas money just to get the obscure title of my current desire.

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