On a recent business trip, I noticed that Paradies book shops introduced a new program for travelers. Passengers can now buy a book at one of their designated airport shops, read it in transit and return it (with the original receipt) to a Paradies bookstore at their destination airport where they receive back 50% of what they originally paid for it. Barnes & Noble then stickers the returned book to signify it was previously owned and resells it at a 50% discount (the used books purchased at a discount can’t be returned).
This new program effectively reduces the cost of a book to a reader that intends to consume it over a short period of time. It is a price discrimination scheme that charges less to someone who wants a quick reading fix as compared to casual readers who prefer to read at a more leisurely pace.
Offering this service at the airport seems logical. After all, Paradies has a captive audience of readers looking for a source of quick entertainment for their flight. But the industry isn’t likely to stop there. Publishers have used price discrimination as a tool to extract premiums from readers interested in being the first to read new books. That’s why hardcover books come out well in advance of, and at a significant premium to their paperback counterparts. Booksellers may have found that price discrimination works for them too. Today it’s the airport. Tomorrow it might be every bookstore. Imagine – an incentive to read quickly! Buy a book today, read it and return it within a specified timeframe in good condition for cash or credit. Perhaps there will be different rates for books depending on how long you take to read them: 50% if returned within one week, 40% within two weeks and 25% within one month.
So, how will this impact the booksellers, publishers, readers and authors? Booksellers should presumably sell more books since they have just cut their price in half for brisk readers as well as for those willing to buy used copies. Correspondingly, readers should buy more books, armed with lower cost alternatives. Publishers and authors may lose out because they don’t participate in the recycled revenue.
How will the industry respond to this trend? Perhaps publishers will increase the length of their books to make the reads longer. More likely, they will just increase the price of their books to offset their losses. Alternatively, they might restructure their deal with booksellers to insure they get a piece of the second sale.
Whatever the outcome, this issue will be dealt with by more that just the book industry. Look for more brick and mortar players in other industries considering similar strategies that embrace auction culture, as they realize that consumers want more temporary ownership choices.
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