Cato Institute Publishes Leftist Screed!, Pars Octava

If I’d known how many more parts there’d be I wouldn’t have started the damn Latin titles. In any case, my last post should’ve been Pars Septima, not Pars Septa. Argh! Oh well.

Wait, this post has an actual topic: Shawn Wilbur weighs in on whether big chain bookstores benefit from state intervention. (Spoiler alert: yes.)

More from me on the conflation debate anon.

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One Response to Cato Institute Publishes Leftist Screed!, Pars Octava

  1. scineram December 10, 2008 at 6:45 am #

    So do they customers? Me?

  2. Mike December 10, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    “So do they customers? Me? ”

    Well, yes, but customers of polluting energy companies also benefit. That doesn’t mean it’s an accurate representation of market forces.

  3. Shawn P. Wilbur December 10, 2008 at 10:06 am #

    “So do they customers? Me?”

    It looks like there will have to be a Part II, but there are some obvious questions without entirely obvious answers. Here’s one:

    What *evidence* is there that a bookselling monoculture with lots of coupons and discount stickers prominently displayed actually represents lots of cheap choices for consumers?

    Mass-market bookselling is notoriously wasteful of resources (to the point of destroying gazillions of mass-market paperbacks “necessary” for saturation point-of-purchase displays, but too expensive to actually ship back to a warehouse.) When the price of a major new release mass-market paperback is roughly ten bucks, you have to ask yourself how many copies you are actually paying for.

  4. Administrator December 10, 2008 at 1:02 pm #

    Isn’t there also some tax law that helps make it cheaper to destroy unsold stock than to store it?

  5. Shawn P. Wilbur December 10, 2008 at 4:20 pm #


    Yes. The industry was really transformed by changes in the inventory tax laws. All those fly-by-night remainder sales and outlet mall stores in the ’80s and ’90s were the result of inventory being sold off pennies on the pound to avoid taxation. Mass market paperback books and most magazines are all still cover-stripped and destroyed, rather than returned. And de-inking for recycling is still an expensive process, so we’re talking about a lot of waste of resources as well.

    All of this influences what gets published, and the size of print runs. The model can accommodate more diversity, but only by colonizing the work of independent marketplace sellers, who can provide marginal product that Amazon’s main distributors would never touch. If independents actually went away then the big boxes and net stores would lose a substantial amount of flexibility. Instead, they have to bank on our willingness to sell through their central interface, to work for them while paying them for the privilege, for whatever we can dig out of the buyers market they have helped to create.

  6. Gabriel December 10, 2008 at 5:21 pm #

    I’m not sure that just rating the quality of a book I bought counts as “working for amazon”…

  7. Shawn P. Wilbur December 10, 2008 at 5:49 pm #

    “I’m not sure that just rating the quality of a book I bought counts as ‘working for amazon’… ”

    Well, customer-reviewers are what Amazon has instead of booksellers, even if it is thousands of customer-reviewers doing the work of a few sellers. By shopping at a “self-service” bookstore, you just trade lower price for lower standard of service. By volunteering expertise, you really enter the labor market in competition with conventional booksellers. There are lots of reasons not to shop at Amazon. They treat small presses pretty shabbily. For instance, if you are told by any of the big box stores or large online operations that a book is out of print, make sure you double-check, since the distinction between “out of print” and “not stocked by us” seems to be a little hard for the big corporate operations to wrap their heads around. Customer service is notoriously nonexistent at Amazon

    All of this naturally looks different to a career bookseller than it does to someone looking for a good deal, and I’m not interested in condemning anyone, but just as the big box model seems to depend on particular kinds of public infrastructure, the online store model seems to depend on user participation.

  8. Gabriel December 10, 2008 at 7:48 pm #

    I certainly don’t know much about your perspective as a bookseller, but from my own perspective as a customer it certainly seems reasonable to me to rate a book that I buy, or to rate the seller I purchased it from. If this is “working for Amazon”, then so be it I guess… it almost sounds like an argument that I am competing with waiters by going to a self-service buffet. Ultimately there’s nothing wrong with competition – it’s the backbone of any market. If other small bookstores competed with amazon by offering similar services I would rate books I bought from them also.

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