Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Books Businesses Handhelds The Almighty Buck News

How to Heartlessly Arbitrage Used Books With a PDA 445

Posted by timothy
from the have-you-ever-seen-such-cruelty? dept.
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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How to Heartlessly Arbitrage Used Books With a PDA

Comments Filter:
  • Nothing shameless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bobstreo (1320787) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:05AM (#33916684)

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

    • by Stellian (673475)

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

      In fact, it would be fucking awsome.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by severoon (536737)

        Banning shoppers seems like a thoughtless response from these store owners. What difference does it make to a store owner if the buyer is going to resell the item they just bought? If you don't like it, raise your price. Otherwise, either sell it to anyone or take it off the shelf. Are we soon going to have to endure interviews about what we plan to do with the item before we're allowed to buy it?

        "How come you wouldn't sell to that guy?"

        "Who, him? Because he was going to resell that book at a higher price!"

    • by SpeedyDX (1014595)

      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, i

      • This is exactly how textbook capitalism is supposed to work.

        Quite literally.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        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 anti
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        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.

        • by SpeedyDX (1014595)

          That's a little disingenuous I think. Sure, a free market is an ideal that is not manifest in real-life practice, but that doesn't take away from its usefulness. We use such ideal constructs in our everyday lives, but we learn to correct for their impracticality through various means. In this case, we recognize that the practice of book scanning is a practical obstacle to the information-symmetric free market of book trading. So we correct for that by applying specific limits on that particular market.

          It's

      • by SvnLyrBrto (62138) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @12:45PM (#33918318)

        > 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.

        Easier than having access? The only ease of access that PDA guy has in his favor is the laser barcode scanner; which saves him all of five seconds of typing the UPC into a search engine. We're not talking about information asymmetry here. We're talking about a guy who's willing to put in a modicum of effort vs. the sheer laziness of others.

        I comparison shop with my iPhone all the time. And the closest thing to flack I've ever gotten from a brick and mortar store is a polite request to let them try to match the offer if I find a better price online. Informed consumers via always-on portable internet access are a fact of life in this day and age. Businesses need to adapt or die.

    • by arivanov (12034)

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

    • 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.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      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.

  • by backwardMechanic (959818) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:11AM (#33916710) Homepage
    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.
    • by Dexter Herbivore (1322345) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:14AM (#33916724) Journal
      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?
      • by ultranova (717540) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:41AM (#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.

        • by icebraining (1313345) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:52AM (#33916886) Homepage

          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.

          • 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 i

            • 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.

              • 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.
                • But he's not moving them from an Oxfam shop a thousand miles away to another Oxfam shop.

                  No shit, Sherlock. Point me to where I said he was.

                  Though there's no reason Oxfam couldn't offer such a service themselves.

                  On the Internet

                  On the internet someone a thousand miles away can become aware of it, buy it, and enjoy it. I guess it'd be better if it just stayed on a shelf, unsold, until it succumbs to bugs, fire or fungus.

                  Obviously the whole thing about the physical limitations of actual oldey-styley shopping

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by dougisfunny (1200171)

              He's a lumberjack and he's okay.

          • by GaryOlson (737642) <<slashdot> <at> <garyolson.org>> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @09:30AM (#33917094) Journal
            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".
        • by Dr. Evil (3501)

          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.

        • by Ritchie70 (860516) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @10:00AM (#33917266) Journal

          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.

        • By your definition every merchant is a parasite.

      • by Sethumme (1313479) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:46AM (#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.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        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).

      • by mattdm (1931)

        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

    • by osgeek (239988) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:44AM (#33916856) Homepage Journal

      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. :)

      • by funfail (970288)

        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.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Dr Fro (169927)

          Until there's a contract to that effect - e.g. "buy 10 books get this sale item for half off" then that's not the buyer's problem legally or ethically. This is no different than the network execs saying not watching the commercials by using a DVR is stealing (pg 8 here - web.mit.edu/cms/Events/mit2/Abstracts/DerekKompare.pdf)

          If this continues, the end result is that book prices in both the local marked of the bookstore and the end buyer both move closer to the average - though that means higher prices one p

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NJRoadfan (1254248)

      I have a friend who does this with not only books, but records and DVDs. Records he knows from decades in the industry, no scanner required. Books he generally buys in bulk, he simply scans the ISBN, gets a market price and re-sells. DVDs are interesting. He becomes friends with the managers of various dollar stores and buy them in bulk for a slightly lower cost. Some titles can bring in upwards of $20 a piece if its rare/sought after, otherwise most go for $5.

      Why don't people just go to the store and buy t

  • '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? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hankwang (413283) * on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:20AM (#33916754) Homepage

      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? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:28AM (#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? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ledow (319597) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:29AM (#33916798) Homepage

      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).

      • 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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by cacba (1831766)

      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.

  • Lots of reasons... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Qubit (100461) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:15AM (#33916734) Homepage Journal

    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.
    • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:28AM (#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.
      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:53AM (#33916888) Homepage Journal

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cherokee158 (701472)

          Unfortunately, the essence of the free market is a society where everyone thinks 'fuck you'.

      • by complete loony (663508) <Jeremy,Lakeman&gmail,com> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @09:24AM (#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.

        • by Kozz (7764)

          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?

      • PDA? Faugh. I'll use the laptop in my backpack and a CueCat!

  • by KGBear (71109) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:17AM (#33916742) Homepage
    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.
  • scumbag (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WillyWanker (1502057) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:21AM (#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.
    • by pruss (246395)

      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.

      • 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 wou
      • Re:scumbag (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gtbritishskull (1435843) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:19PM (#33918540)

        The main point of thrift stores is to sell low-cost goods for the needy.

        Please provide a citation for this. I was always under the impression that the purpose of thrift stores was to provide fundraising for the charity that supports them (Salvation Army, Goodwill, ect). It is a way for those charities to monetize the goods that have been donated to them. The result is that they underprice the goods so that they can get a higher turnover. While this may help some poor people in the area buy cheap items, I have always understood that as just an incidental advantage. Arbitrage like mentioned in the article would let thrift stores increase their prices while maintaining turnover rates, which would get more money to the charity. I think that the advantage of providing more money to the charitable organization (with which they can run soup kitchens, shelters, ect) would more than offset the increased cost to the customers.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:26AM (#33916774) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Jeeeb (1141117) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:29AM (#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.
  • 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 th

    • by Nevynxxx (932175)

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

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        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.

      • 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.
    • by kent_eh (543303)

      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?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • by syousef (465911) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @08:59AM (#33916912) Journal

    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).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 16, 2010 @09:04AM (#33916942)
      Because if books start selling themselves for a profit, that would be prostitution, which is illegal.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      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 sho

      • by syousef (465911)

        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.

        The problem is it's not just them that will go, it's all used book sales. Instead we'll likely wind up with licenses and have to keep re-buying in multiple formats as the publishers milk us for every cent.

  • Heartless? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kit Cosper (7007)

    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 us

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Joce640k (829181)

      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 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.

  • 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 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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

  • by neumayr (819083) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @09:44AM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ghostlibrary (450718) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @09:44AM (#33917180) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by b4upoo (166390) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @10:24AM (#33917368)

    Although employment generally is very similar to prostitution, one way or another, we like to hide that sad fact from ourselves. Finding a book to resell is probably dredging up feelings rather like a wino going through trash to collect aluminum cans. It should not dredge up those feelings but the fact that you are doing your scavenging in view of others is bothering you. Actually you provide a great service to people but then again so do buzzards.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @11:15AM (#33917714) Journal

    Two things:

    Someone will make up a better way and sell it to the bigger book stores and thrift stores. The will relegate this to a smaller and smaller pool, as competition (thanks to articles like this) heats up for the dwindling supply of non-internet-enabled stores.

    Second: the pay sucks. This guy, who admits that you can make up to $1000 a week (more if you employ your family/other people) spends 80 hours doing all the work, including listing, selling, and mailing.

    Okay...so he's grossing $12.50 hr, on average. Great. When the economy picks up and he can get a "real" job paying him twice that, this option will probably go away. Presuming he's not ADHD or otherwise impaired, anyone with this kind of organizational skill is probably going to be gold for somebody who can pay him $45-60k/yr plus benefits. For 40-50 hours a week of work. He'll get his life back (presuming he ever had one), and get better pay and benefits.

    This is the depression era trashpicker. They will always exist, but it's mostly a fad that rears its head in bad times. The only twist to it is that the internet has made the trashpickers job "clean".

  • by Sir Holo (531007) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:16PM (#33918520)
    FTA: '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 thrift store and libraries do not exist simply to collect, store, and present the books to be used for purely commercial purposes. After all, the library and thrift store could easily do the same thing to make money. There is professional licensing for such arbitrageurs – for example auctioneers, who pays licensing fees, etc. These sales are not there to enrich you. They are there to find a good home for donated books, to provide work opportunities for people that might not otherwise have them, and to survive as organizations doing work for the public good.

    Savitz's regular use of this resource to supply his commercial enterprise is unethical and is probably illegal. Is he registered in his state as a profit-making enterprise? Does he collect appropriate sales taxes on his sales? Does he compensate the library and thrift store for their labor? Does he report this income on his IRS-1040?

    If my donations to Goodwill were destined only to line someone's pockets, I would quit donating used articles and instead destroy and discard them.
  • by Local ID10T (790134) <ID10T.L.USER@gmail.com> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @02:01PM (#33918822) Homepage

    I work for a company that is in the used book business. I meet with the people who run the local thrift stores, and the local friends-of-the-library sales. They are very open about why they don't welcome these people to their sales/stores.

    The reason people with scanners are not welcome is because they are disruptive and rude to other patrons. Typically these people show up and are waiting when the doors open, they come in and lay claim to an entire section of shelves, or display table and begin sorting into piles by price-point. They stay for hours, and systematically move through the entire inventory. They take up a lot of space, prevent other customers from accessing the merchandise and leave a big mess behind for the staff to clean up.

    The reason they don't scan the books and sell them online themselves is because they don't have the staff to do it. It is a great business as a sideline, easy to do, low overhead, moderate profitability. It is an enormous amount of work to do on a larger scale. Many of the chain thrift shops are expanding into online sales, but the smaller ones do not have the resources. Library sales are typically staffed by volunteers with one or two actual employees overseeing the process -they don't have the staff to do more.

Neckties strangle clear thinking. -- Lin Yutang

Working...