Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Price is (Rapidly Becoming More) Right

I recently read this great article on Slate about guys who go through used bookstores with a device that scans the barcode of books, checks what it's selling at on Amazon, and buys it if it can be sold at a profit. Genius! The usual crowd of market-haters don't like it, but markets will clear whether you like it or not, either rapidly by barcode scanner or slower by smart people doing the same task (but wasting lots of their time memorising the same Amazon price information in less accurate form).

If you ever doubted that there is a clear and unambiguous rating of book quality (and that prices reflect this), have you ever seen the standard book collection a the typical 'take a book, leave a book' place? They're truly awful. A whole lot of people seem to be implicitly engaging in the same type of trades as the guy above, swapping out anything of interest with the world's lamest romance novels, junk thrillers, and other literary detritus. I think this is about the worst fate that can befall an author - having your book as a permanent fixture on a TABLAB shelf. It means that if the market is clearing, your book was literally the worst book in the median person's bookshelf.

The existence of devices like this, however, will make it harder to implement one of my previous philanthropy plans for if I'm ever a senile old billionaire with too much time on his hands. My plan was to buy up a huge number of ultra cheap editions of Shakespeare and Dickens, and distribute them to TABLAB places. Not only does it distribute the gains to a whole lot of people who weren't expecting it, but there's two great positive externalities. One, people are reading more great literature. Two, you can take all the terrible chick lit novels you swapped out and put them in landfill, saving anyone in the future from spending valuable hours reading them that they'll never get back.

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