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.


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’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 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.


Physical Bookshelves versus Kindle Library

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, January 5, 2015

I’m in a buying quandary. Is it better to own a hardback or a digital book? This particular problem arose just now because I’m wondering how to acquire Ada’s Algorithm by James Essinger, a new book about Ada Lovelace. At Amazon it’s $12.99 for the Kindle edition, and $19.41 for the hardback. I’d save $6.42 by buying the digital book – that’s a good bit for a retired person. But since I routinely buy used hardback books for $3-5, I’d could save even more if I wait. But then Mr. Essinger would earn no royalty.  In fact, while reading about Ada’s Algorithm I see that he also wrote Jacquard’s Web, which I immediately bought just now for $4 (1 cent for the book, $3.99 for shipping). If I waited I could eventually get the same deal on the book about Ada Lovelace.

However, there is more to my buying decision than price. In the long run – defined as rest of my life – is it better to own a hardback or ebook? Which format is easier to read? Which format is easier to review? Which format is easier to reference and look stuff up?  Which format is easier to lend to friends? Once I start thinking about all these other factors, my brain begins begging for a nap.


I love holding a hardback book. I love their dust jackets. But I don’t like owning a lot of possessions. I often cull my old books and give them to the Friends of the Library after I’ve read them, so buying the hardback doesn’t mean owning it for life. One advantage of buying the Kindle edition at Amazon is I own it without having to shelve and store it. In other words, Kindle books don’t weigh heavy on my sense of possessions, and thus I have them as long as Amazon remains in business, which if I’m lucky, is for the rest of my life.

If Kindle books were as exactly usable as hardbacks I think I would always buy the Kindle edition. Unfortunately, they aren’t – at least not at this moment. Hardbacks are far more user friendly when it comes to flipping around the book, and reading randomly. Hardbacks are nicer to lend to friends, and use for reference. Kindle books are easier to hold. Kindle books are easier to copy quotes from. And I can find a Kindle book faster.  And it’s a snap to search for a keyword.

I really wish Amazon would put some major effort into making managing my digital library more fun and useful. I own a whole lot of Kindle books I’ve forgotten that I own. Kindle books would be more appealing for collecting if we had better library management tools.

Man, my brain is really begging for a nap now. If Ada’s Algorithm had been $7.99 for the Kindle, I would have bought it immediately, and not even thought about writing this essay. Mr. Essiinger would have gotten paid, and I would be reading. Instead, I’ll wait for Jacquard’s Web to show up in the mail. In other words, price will determine what kind of book I buy. Next Christmas when I’m going through my old Wish List items at Amazon, I’ll see Ada’s Algorithm and if there’s a cheap hardback, order it. I ordered four or five books that way this Christmas when I was reviewing my Wish List for things to tell my wife what I want Santa Claus to bring me.  Hell, I don’t mind when Santa has to pay new hardback prices. I wish I had gotten Santa to get me the Ada book this Christmas.

That said, I do wish I had digital copies of all the books I’ve ever read or owned. I often give away books and later want to look at them again. Publishers want to raise ebook prices. That’s their prerogative.  As long as I can get used hardbacks for $3-5, then that’s the price that makes my decision. I’d be willing to pay two or three dollars more for ebooks, so the author gets paid, but not two or three times as much.

Finally, if I wait long enough, I see the ebook edition of books I want in the Kindle Daily Deal or Bookbub for $1.99. At that price I often buy books I’ve read just to have a copy for my digital library. Someday I don’t think I’ll have bookshelves or own hardback books, and it might even happen before I die. (Yes, it’s always about me.)


The Strange Pricing of Digital Goods

I buy a lot of digital goods and services but I’ve noticed that there is no consistency in pricing.  For example I subscribe to and pay $4.99 a month for access to millions of songs and albums.  Yet, The New York Times wants $15-$35 a month for access to just one newspaper.  $60 a year for 15,000,000 songs versus $180 for 365 issues of one newspaper – can you spot the obvious bargain?

Yet for $7.99 a month, or $96 a year I get access to 75,000 movies and TV shows at Netflix.  $7.99 a month is also the price Hulu Plus charges for thousands of shows too.  So why does one newspaper cost $15 a month, especially since it was free for years.  I love reading The New York Times, but I can’t make myself pay $15 a month for it when I get so much music for $4.99 a month, and so many movies and TV shows for $7.99 a month.  If I was getting access to several great papers for $7.99 a month I’d consider it a fair deal.  But for one title, I think it should be much less.

This makes The New York Times appear to be very expensive.  However, The Wall Street Journal is $3.99 a week, or $207.48 a year. Strangely, The Economist, a weekly is $126.99 a year for print and digital, or $126.99 for just digital. Go figure.

I also get digital audio books from  I pay $229.50 for a 24 pack, which is $9.56 per book, but they often have sales for $7.95 and $4.95 a book.  I can get two books from Audible for what I’d pay for 30 daily papers, but I actually spend way more time listening to books than I’d spend reading the paper online. 

I subscribe to several digital magazines through the Kindle store.  Right now I’m getting a month of The New Yorker for $2.99, but that’s suppose to go up to $5.99 soon.  (What is it about stuff from New York being more expensive?)  Most of the magazines I get from Amazon are $1.99 a month, way under the cost for a printed copy at the newsstand.  The Rolling Stone is $2.99 and I usually get two issues in a month.  So for $15 a month, the price of The New York Times, I get 11 magazines (4 New Yorkers, 2 Rolling Stones, Discover, Maximum PC, National Geographic, Home Theater and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction).  That’s a lot of reading for $15 a month, and a lot of variety.

However, I also subscribe to Zite, an app on my iPad where I do the most of my news reading, and that’s free.  I get free articles from those magazines above and who knows how many more, all for free.  In fact, I spend so much time reading Zite, because it’s customized to my interests, that I’m thinking of cancelling my magazine subscriptions.  But that’s another issue.  Like when I subscribed to paper copies of magazines I mostly let them go unread.

Even if I paid $15 a month for The New York Times I’m not sure how many articles I would read above the 10 articles a month they offer now for free.  I don’t expect everything to be free on the internet, but sadly, paid content has to compete with free.  Zite, which is free, is actually worth $15 a month, because I get access to zillions of magazine articles, newspaper stories, and web blogs.

I’m also a subscriber to Safari Books Online, a subscription library to technical books.  I pay $9.99 a month and get to have 5 books a month “checked out” to read.  I can keep them longer, but I have to keep them at least one month.  So for $120 a year I get to read as many as 60 books, which means the price could be as low as $2 a book.  That’s a bargain when most computer books are $40-50.

And I’m a member of Amazon Prime.  For $79 a year I get unlimited 2-day shipping, access to 12 ebooks (1 a month from their library of 100,000 titles) and unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows.  This is another tremendous bargain.  I also buy ebooks for my Kindle and iPad from Amazon.  Costs run from free to $9.99.  On very rare occasions I’ll pay more, but it hurts.  Digital books just seem less valuable than physical books.  I don’t feel like I collect digital books like I do with hardcovers.  I don’t even feel I own ebooks.

Next Issue Media is now offering a library of digital magazines Netflix style for $9.99-$14.99 a month, but only one of the magazines I currently subscribe to, The New Yorker, is part of the deal.  If all of my regular magazines and The New York Times were part of the deal, then I’d go for it.  However, Zite with it’s intelligent reading system would still dominate my reading.  Flipping through magazines is just too time consuming.  What I want is a Zite Plus, a service that provides access to all the free and paid content I like to read.

Can you spot the trend in all of this?

I think most people on the net are willing to pay for digital goods if they get a bargain, especially if it’s part of a library of goods like Netflix, Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, Hulu Plus, Safari Online, Amazon Prime, etc.

And there is another issue about buying digital goods.  Some companies charge extra if you use their content on a smartphone.  Rdio and Spotify are $4.99 a month for listening on your computer but $9.99 a month to also listen on your smartphone.  The New York Times is $15/month for reading online and smartphone, $20 for online and tablet, and $35 for online, smartphone and tablet.  Why the heck is that?  It’s the same damn words.  Why would they care where you read their paper.

Netflix charges $7.99 a month and you can watch it on a whole array of possible devices.

JWH – 4/24/12

Dear Amazon, Please Create These Features for My Kindles

Now that I’m slowly becoming Kindlelized I realize I might be reading on a Kindle for the rest of my life, at least if Amazon keeps marketing their ereaders by that name.  Evolutionary steps in the Kindle technology have made reading much easier than book reading, especially now that I’m older with bad eyesight.  However, the Kindle is far from perfect, and I’d like to make a few suggestions Mr. Bezos for future features I’d like to use.

If I’m switching to ebooks then I want a library for my ebooks.  So far Kindles are more like a box for books, not even a bookshelf, and what I need for a lifetime of ebook collecting is a personal electronic library system.

Kindle Cloud Library and Librarian

Once I got a couple dozen books and magazines on my Kindle the interface became annoying and clumsy.  I now read my Kindle books on my Kindle 3, iPad 2, iPod touch, PC and Mac.  My wife owns a Kindle Touch and I’m going to buy one too, and I plan to get a Fire when version 2 comes out.  I also have Calibre on my PC, and Send to Kindle extension for Chrome on all my computers.  And even though the Kindle environment keeps up where I left off in any book despite what device I read on, not all content is available on every device or reader program.

My first request is for a Kindle Library in the Amazon Cloud.  I want one location to keep all books, magazines and documents that will be permanent.  By permanent, I mean the rest of my life.  I want to leave my library in my will.

I want one location to keep clean and organized.  I want one location where I can file and organize my library.  I want to be able to list by author, title, subject and collection.  I’d also like to list by year published, date acquired, books read, books unread, books I want to read, etc.

Once I start getting thousands of documents this will become very important.

I want all my devices to check out books from a single Kindle Cloud Library.  Then when I’m finish reading, I want to clear the book from the device, or even from all devices automatically.  I want to manage one library in the cloud rather than libraries on every device and reader program.

I want to upload my personal documents to the Kindle Cloud Library in addition to sending them to my Kindle email address.

I want a cataloging system too, something simple like the Dewey Decimal system.  Library of Congress is too complicated.

I also want tools for managing my library like a database.  It would be a huge plus if it integrated with LibraryThing or GoodReads, and I could export data to a spreadsheet or database for making printed reports.

It would also be great Mr. Bezos if my Kindle Cloud Library integrated with Evernote.

Kindle Special Collections File Folders

I don’t care how Amazon stores my ebooks and audiobooks, but I want a section of my cloud library for documents I create that works like Dropbox.  I want to be able to organize my documents into folders and subfolders.  It would also be useful to have a tool that converts documents that I want to keep permanently in my library to Kindle’s ebook format, but I want to store Word and Acrobat files too, as well as jpeg photos.  And hey, get rid of DRM and work out a world-wide universal ebook format that will last forever.

Kindle Library Card

I hate the fact that my wife can’t read my Kindle books.  I suppose we could swap Kindles, but that’s messy.  I suppose we could share one account, but that’s messy too.  I want my own library, and I want her to have her own library, but I want to be able to borrow each other’s books.

We need to have a library checkout system for family members.  Spouses and children should have unlimited access to family libraries.  We should also have limited check-out privileges for friends and extended family.

Kindle Interlibrary Loan and Bookstore

When I search for a book in my library I want to know if I own it first.  Then, I want to know if there are public domain editions I can add to my library.  Then I want to know if there are library copies available, either from my public library or from Amazon Prime.  Finally, I want to be told what copies are available for sale.

Kindle Multimedia Library

Because Amazon also owns where I buy my audio books, and I have my music stored in the Amazon Cloud, I’d like to be able to integrate these media into my Kindle Library Cloud.  The Fire is moving towards this now, but I want all my Kindle devices and readers to read all the various kinds of content in my library.  I want my librarian management software to work with all media.

I’d also like to be able to add audiobooks I’ve ripped from CDs to my Kindle Cloud Library.  Ditto for tape audiobooks I’ve converted to MP3s.

Remove from Collection

I also want a way to remove content from my collection.  Whether this is a permanent deletion or shelving in hidden stacks I don’t care.

Kindle Book Match

Now I don’t know if this last request is even possible, but I’m going to ask.  I know some people will never cotton to ebooks, and many people will always want to collect physical books.  I’d like some kind of system like iTunes Music Match where I turn in my physical books and get ebooks added to my library.  I just don’t want to buy books twice like I did with albums when I bought many CDs that I already owned on LPs.  Since Amazon is in the used book business maybe it would take physical books in trade for ebook editions.

JWH – 2/14/12

Rethinking Ebooks

The other day I bought The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson because of a review I read by Eva at A Striped Armchair that was so compelling that I had to buy the book.  I went to Amazon and found the trade edition for $12.21 while the Kindle edition was $9.87, and I thought for $2.34  I’d spring for the beautiful New York Review Books Classic paper edition.  Now that I have that book in my hands, which is a very nice trade paper copy, I’m wishing I had gotten the Kindle edition.  Or waited until just when I was ready to sit down to read it before buying it.  I’m finding several ways the Kindle is making me rethink my book buying and reading habits, and I’m not sure publishers and writers will like these changes.


The addiction to own beautiful books is one thing, but to read them is another problem, and I’m discovering that it’s much easier to read books on my Kindle.  Mainly I’ve been using my Kindle to get free and cheap books, because I’ve always liked to collect books, and owning the Kindle edition doesn’t feel like I own the book.  This is an emotional conflict.  I like holding the real book until it’s time to sit down and read, and then I wished it was on my Kindle so it would be easier to hold and easier to read because I can magnify the font.  But I hate the thought of spending $9.99 for electrons.

Ebooks look better on my iPad, but it’s actually harder to hold than a hardback.  Ebooks are easiest to read on the Kindle.

I took some extra days off here at Christmas and I’m cleaning  up my bookshelves today to make room for all the books I’ve bought in the last few months that are just sitting in piles around the house.  Which brings me to problem #2.  I buy far more books than I read.  I figured I’ve got 40-50 years worth of books waiting for me to read.  I really should stop buying books altogether.  Especially since of the 50-60 books a year I do read, most are listened to as audio books. 

Okay, I’m crazy.  Yes, my name is Jim, I’m an addict.  I’m addicted to book buying.

If I was wise, I’d stop buying books in 2012.  Or not buy any book until I’m in my chair ready to read at which time I can order it from Amazon.  The Kindle really does facilitate a chain reading habit.  Finish one book, order another and start it in 30 seconds.

Collecting ebooks is just plain no fun.  If Amazon kept all my books online in some kind of virtual library where I could admire their number, see their colorful dust jackets, and flip through their pages and feel like Midas with his pile of gold, then maybe it would be fun. But as it stands now, my growing number of books on my Kindle is only annoying because it makes finding a particular book more difficult.  Note to Kindle developers – invent some kind of interface for organizing books into various collections and topics.  Just archiving isn’t good enough.

If I become a total Kindle reader then I’m not going to buy books way ahead of time.  I’m going to assume that anything I want to read that’s in print as an ebook will stay in print as an ebook and I can get it when I actually feel like reading it.  I doubt the Amazon planned for this when it started pushing ebooks.  They probably thought we’d buy books just like we’ve always had but just electronically.

Instead of buying ebooks ahead of time, I might just download the sample chapter.  That will leave a place holder that reminds me that I want to read that book someday.

I bought two more books today, and all my Christmas presents I’ve asked for from my wife are books.  But the two I bought today are picture books, books about western films.  That’s not something I’d want to read on the Kindle.  But I would like them on the iPad if they were fully multimedia.  Whoops – Amazon doesn’t sell iPad app books.  I bought a special iPad edition of The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins.  I’m not sure it would even look good on a 7” tablet like the Kindle Fire.  Now I have to worry about two virtual libraries – one at Amazon, the other at Apple.  And the book by Dawkins is an app, so it won’t even be in the iBooks library.  What a pain for the future.  I’m also thinking about buying the multimedia edition of On The Road by Jack Kerouac, but now I wonder.  How do I save such books for the rest of my life?

I have a wall of books that sits across from my La-Z-Boy where I read.  It’s quite wonderful to gaze at, and to think about all the wonderful books I have sitting there.  Old friends that go back to when I was a kid, and all the unread books that will be uncharted territory to explore.  What will it be like if my library was in the cloud?  Can computer programmers ever develop a virtual library that’s fun to gaze at, or offer just as much fun to pull titles down from a virtual shelf and flip through their pages?  I don’t know, but I suppose some brilliant young programmer will think of something.


[click photo to enlarge]

First, ebooks have changed the way I read.  Now they are changing the way I buy books.  Next they will change the way I store and collect books in my lifetime library.  What will an ebook reader look like five years from now, or ten?  What are the possibilities of a virtual library?  And where will my virtual library reside?  At a bookseller’s server farm?  Or will I pay to keep them elsewhere?  Can we trust our lifetime of book collecting to Amazon, B&N, Google or Apple?  And would I want to have multiple libraries?  That’s already the case now that I have books at Amazon and Apple.  And will I continue to own books?  I stopped buying music because I rent it from music libraries like Rhapsody and Rdio.  Could that happen to books too?

Has anyone really thought what the ultimate results of ebooks mean?  If I stick with Amazon will it be around in 30 years, or 50?

I wish it was possible to rip books like it is for music.  Digital music is so much nicer to manage.  Whenever I move my collection of books and CDs they’re a pain in the ass to box, ship, unbox and re-shelve.  I wouldn’t mind the simplicity of going completely digital, but what will that mean?  If I was a child getting my very first digital book, what’s the chance of me keeping it my whole life?

One way publishers could solve this problem is to give away an ebook edition with the purchase of a hardback edition.

JWH – 12/19/11

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