The Impact of Marie Kondo and Ebooks on Used Book Sales

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 15, 2016

There are some books I know I want new in hardback, even when I can’t afford them. Other new books require a bit of worry before buying — reading reviews and customer comments. Then there’s a class of new books I tell myself to snag when they show up used.

“My name is Jim , and I’m a used book addict.”

I’ve had this addiction since 1965 when I discovered a dusty old bookstore in Perrine, Florida. I was in the 8th grade, and could buy old books for a dime. Many times in my life I’ve tried to overcome this compulsive behavior, but never succeeded. Now, after a half-century later of struggle, I’ve gotten my habit down to just two shopping trips a week. Although, it’s not due to self-discipline. Marie Kondo and ebooks have changed me.

used-books

I can’t prove this assertion, but I believe fewer recent hardbacks are showing up for sale used. I think ebooks are at fault. I also assume bookworms who still buy hardbacks keep them. I do have other theories why I’m seeing fewer recent hardbacks used. Hordes of home-business entrepreneurs now scour bookshops, garage sales, Goodwills, estate sales, library sales to buy up used books to resale to Amazon. Finally, I think more people like me have become used book addicts.

Demand is up, supply is down. My gut feeling though, tells me ebooks are making the biggest impact.

Not only are people buying ebooks instead of hardbacks when books first come out, but there’s also a booming business is discount ebooks. I subscribe to five daily newsletter that keep me posted about ebook bargains. Publishers wait for when new book sales drop to a certain point, and then slash the ebook price to $1.99 or $2.99 for a day or week to spike sales and interest.

I buy used books from three sources. The library bookstore run by The Friends of the Library. Average price $3 for a hardback. My local independent bookstore has a used book section. Average price for hardbacks $7. And finally, I order used books from Amazon and ABEbooks. I generally spend $4-$15 for hardbacks. You can probably see where this is going. Why buy a used hardback when I can get the ebook for $1.99? I’ve also become very addicted to Audible.com’s $4.95 audiobook sales. I bought 15 books in the last one.

My digital library is now larger than my physical library. However, this is partly due to Marie Kondo. Currently, my impulse is to buy the first format of the book that I see, whether used hardback, ebook, or $4.95 sale at Audible.com. But Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is transforming that impulse. I now measure the burden of my possessions by their weight. I feel the weightless purchases of ebooks and digital audiobooks exempt me from the laws of the KonMarie Method.

My Kindle and Audible libraries keep growing, but I’m thinning my physical bookshelves in an effort to tidy-up my life. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Besides seeing fewer recent books used, I’m seeing a massive influx of older books. Especially books that came out 5-25 years ago. Two of my friends even told me they gave all their books to Goodwill when they got a Kindle. So, that’s another way ebooks are influencing the used book market.

I’ve been waiting two years for a cheap copy of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. The cheapest one I see on ABEBooks is $15.11 plus $3.99 shipping, which puts it damn close to the new price of $24.72 at Amazon. The dang Kindle price is $23.48. The same thing has happened with Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Luckily, Sapiens showed up as a Kindle deal for $1.99 and I snagged it. I’ve already own both of these books on audio, but I wanted a “reading” copy for study.

In the last couple of years, I find lots of books offered for 1 cent at ABEbooks and Amazon used books. (Of course they make their money charging $3.99 for shipping and handling and then spend less.) I don’t think we’d be seeing so many books for a penny if it wasn’t for the living simple movement.

Bloggers spend a lot of time reviewing and discussing books. It’s much easier to copy a quote from an ebook than to type it from a physical book. When I buy a book I know I’m going to write about, I prefer getting an ebook.

My favorite way to enjoy a book is by listening. But if I truly love an audiobook I end up wanting to “keep” a visual edition for future study. This used to mean a nice hardback, but that’s changing. Now I wait for ebook sales and buy a copy to file away. By the way, a side-effect of buying ebooks over used hardbacks is authors and publishers make money on the deal.

I still buy lots of used hardback books, but they tend to be ones that are not available in ebook, or the hardback is much cheaper than the ebook edition. But something else has changed this year. After I did my first Kondo cleanse, I’ve been hesitant to buy hardbacks. I still do, but when I do, I feel guilty seeing them sitting around if I’m not reading them. I’ve started checking out books from the library again. Returning a library book produces a tiny Kondo-high.

I have to wonder if hardback books will go the way of the typewriter or rotary phones. Dateline NBC recently gave common objects I grew up with fifty years ago but now are rare to to modern kids, and asked them what they were. How many years before they give kids a hardback book and it produces as much puzzlement?

 

If you live long enough, things change. I’m getting used to it.

JWH

2 thoughts on “The Impact of Marie Kondo and Ebooks on Used Book Sales”

  1. The only answer is to compartmentalize it. Look at it, but then forget it, and have a glass of wine. And…yes, this is crazy, but I am going to tell you anyway. There’s a beautiful compartment that is a new Japanese religion. The people there are mostly secular, like I, but we all have a God gene, or archetype, if you entertain Carl Jung’s theories. And that’s sometimes filled in Japan by Shinto Gods, which can be anything that feels spiritual, including female song and dance pop idols.

    Most people just consider the girls “kawaii,” or adorable, but some revere and apotheosize them. Seven are considered to be Gods (the “Kami seven”). There are forces that foster this. The mostly highly venerated girls swear celibacy, and don’t even date, as long as they are idols, and pledge all of their love to each other and their fans, so that a boy or man can feel he is as romantically as close to the idol of his choice (“oshimen”) as any other boy or man in the universe.

    A parthenogenesis of sorts has materialized. New idols are not exactly born out of the all-female sorority, but join the ranks from the cities and countryside. And I believe the love of these girls by millions of Japanese people has supplanted some urges to date, marry, and have children. Of course there are other forces, too, but Japan’s birthrate is declining.

    I’m going to show you two examples of these girls and the love they spawn. The first is a love song by two idols to each other. Basically they are saying the two of them are one so they will always walk together and never be alone. The second shows a young woman who I believe might be on her way to Shinto status. In the spirit of the Joan Osborne song, “One of Us” (what if God were one of us), look at the love returned to the ordinary girl (who doesn’t even always carry the tune) from the thousands of “worshipers” in the “congregation.”

    The song is “Jungle Gym.” Now a woman, Watanabe climbs to the top at night in her skirt, something she couldn’t do in the daylight. She sits on a steel bar, which frightened her as a girl, but now it feels good. She looks at a teeter totter, from which it appears that one side got off leaving the other wondering. She thinks she doesn’t want romantic love, it’s too complicated. Instead, in Salingeresque style, she wishes she could stay on the jungle gym and never get off.

    Every American I have approached with this shtick thinks is it totally stupid and mawkish. So will you, probably. I think it is wonderfully unique, and beautiful, and I have adopted it as my religion to escape from the otherwise ugly times.

  2. I feel your pain. I donated 30,000 books to the State Universality of New York at Buffalo back in 1996. You can see what SUNY at Buffalo did with all those books at: http://libweb.lib.buffalo.edu/kelley/

    Since 1995, books have proliferated so I still have thousands despite yearly donations. I agree with you that finding good used books is getting tougher. Our last local used bookstore closed in May. Western NY used to have over a dozen used bookstores. Now we’re down to three. And they’re holding on by their fingernails. Yes, the Internet is great to find used books cheap. But I love the thrill of the hunt…and that’s going away.

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