Profiteering in Books ?!

The well for blog post topics remains dry, but last night I encountered something (book related) that got the blood up. It has to do with drop shipping.

I've joked with friends about Abebooks searches that turn up dozens of copies of a book, all priced within the market's prevailing range, except for one seller who is charging a ridiculous amount, like by a factor of 10 or 20 times more. At first I thought this was a clueless amateur. But it isn't: it's always a drop shipper.

Last night I was doing some digging into specialists in modern photography, and this listing from Book Deals showed up. I collect books about printing, and probably know all of the 20th century titles that would be considered uncommon (i.e. expensive). I've never heard of this book or the author. At that price, this must be a pretty kool book. (To add intrigue, this is the only copy that shows up on Abebooks, but you'll see why in a minute...) An original copy of Lewis Allen's Printing With the Handpress lists around $2,000, and it may be the most desirable 20th century book about letterpress, so this First Steps... must be seven times more desirable!

I searched the author and found him in the UK, a semi-retired commercial printer. He wrote First Steps... with the goal of keeping letterpress alive & vital. You can buy a copy of the book from him for $15.

Again: you can buy a copy of the book for $15. The callous heels at Book Deals know that it only takes one person who's too busy or ditsy to shop around, for their $14,111 listing to make a killing. Especially when they apply the model to hundreds of titles (thousands? I couldn't stomach looking long enough to count...): this links to a list of their offered books in descending price. That first title - Stevens' How to Prepare a Feasibility Study - can be had (ex-library) for $179. The next copy online seems to be offered by another drop shipper, but they're only asking $1,700. Gold, Ghost Towns & Grizzlies can be quickly found for $45. And it goes on.

 The worst part is, Book Deals isn't even sitting on a stock of books. That's how drop shipping works: they get your order & then go purchase the cheapest copy they can find & send it to you, pocketing the difference ($15,027 in the case of Ghost Towns...). NPR's podcast Planet Money did an excellent episode on all this. Note the part where the selling platforms wash their hands of the whole question.

SO, if you're shopping for books online, beware of sellers who have multiple results with the same (usually brief) product description. Do a quick search of the bookseller: if nothing (besides Abebooks) comes up, they may well be a drop shipper. Deal with real booksellers who actually have books on shelves, even if it costs a few dollars more. We need book stores, the service will always be better, and you'll be fighting against evil.