Unknowing is a blessing in disguise sometimes. There is so much to learn and, regrettably, little time outside work to do it. Books are my life. I work in publishing, so I know a passable amount about the book business. I have much still to learn. To support my research, which doesn’t include a university library, I often have to purchase academic books. I know quite a bit about academic book pricing (hint: what the market will bear), and I know that it’s assumed academics have university professor-level salaries. The “independent scholar” is as much a ghost as the next revenant. So I buy books used. The best clearinghouse I know of is Bookfinder.com. They list other sellers who have the book and facilitate your buying of it. I strongly suspect they take a small cut.
While looking for an obscure book (it pains me to say, for I met the author), I wondered if Amazon’s used copy had the lowest price. So I went to Bookfinder. The Amazon copy was there, along with seven comparably, slightly lower, priced other copies. Reading the descriptions, I realized these were different vendors hawking the exact same copy of the book. Some of the description wording was oddly specific and that led to this epiphany. Down at the bottom was a lone seller some $4 to $5 dollars cheaper, selling the book directly. Navigating to this page I discovered it was the self-same book—the same physical book being marked up by the other vendors. Each reseller along the way, with wider reach, stopping at Amazon with the widest reach, was charging a finder’s fee for this same object. It was available directly from the seller.
Used books are a thriving business. Many publishers these days are focusing on “the electronic future,” scratching their heads that people are still reading paper. What will happen to walking into that impressive library? Have you ever walked into someone’s impressive iPad or Kindle? It looks the same no matter how many electrons you add. The internet has been taken with the photo of the late Johns Hopkins humanities professor Richard Macksey’s library. Would it be possible to have walked in there and not been impressed with the obvious love of books? As a Hopkins professor I doubt he had to resort to used books much, but I kind of think he probably did anyway. Bibliophiles are like that. A first edition is a thing of beauty forever. And so I find myself on Bookfinder and I’m willing to give them a cut just for the privilege of holding a coveted book.
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