Is the Kindle a threat to second-hand booksellers?

By Sharon Fussell, June 27, 2011

A question I am often asked is ‘will electronic books destroy the second-hand books market on Amazon and render second-hand booksellers obsolete?’

Now while I cannot see into the future, and do not wish to appear a luddite, I just don’t see the Kindle, or any form of eBook or eReader, as a threat to my book selling business. Or yours either for that matter.

Yes, this electronic device is sought after and it does have a place for many people out there.

But not for all of us.

And that’s the first point I’d like to make about why I, personally, will not be switching to a Kindle and why I feel our second-hand book selling businesses are more than safe.

Why second-hand booksellers aren’t at risk

Firstly the price for the most up-to-date product – the Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device – is £152.00. Quite an expensive gift or ‘treat’ in my opinion! Especially for people who aren’t regular readers and who more often buy a book for a specific purpose (and only once in a while).

And it is thinking of those people, looking for very specific information for a specific purpose that brings me to my next point.

You wouldn’t want a David Bailey book for Kindle…

If you’re one of my regular readers or a subscriber to my weekly eLetter Bookseller Profit Club [LINK] you’ll know that my business has thrived because of my learned skill in finding books with the highest margins for sale. And those books, the books that we are targeting when sourcing stock – often do not work well (or at all) in the Kindle format.

I’m talking here about books with images, university textbooks about science or maths or history with diagrams or photographs or illustrations, car manuals, photography books, encyclopaedias… in short, specialist, niche titles.

The most popular titles on the Kindle are mainstream fiction titles for the masses – exactly the type of titles that I tell you to avoid in printed format. So, as we all know, that isn’t where the money is for second-hand booksellers on Amazon.

Furthermore – what about old books? Books no one would think to put into the Kindle format but which are still very much in demand from small specialist groups of individuals in many many niche markets?

In my opinion, as the Kindle (and other eReader devices) become more mainstream the demand for specialist real books will also increase as this ‘old’ format becomes more and more scarce. Our businesses may become more specialist but I feel (and hope) that this will make them all the more profitable.

So, whilst I do think that the Kindle will (and already is) affecting sales of mainstream fiction titles in paper format – I believe this may well be for the best rather than the worst for us.

All in all, I do not lose any sleep over the sales of electronic books and I recommend you don’t either.

Indeed, for me, even when it does come to popular fiction, I just love picking up a book – it is so tactile, and it is my belief that many other avid readers will feel just the same.

I was in WHSmith last week and had to stop myself impulse buying the entire stock… the appeal of buying downloads you can only see on a screen cannot possibly match that urge in my opinion.

A part of me even feels that the Kindle will probably be a fad. Controversial as that is (especially if you were to talk to anyone involved in publishing right now…) But, personally I hate reading from a screen, and would put money on many others hating to read from screen too.

As always, if you have anything you’d like to say in response to my view on the threat of ebooks and what that means for second-hand booksellers, if you have anything to add to the debate or, indeed, if you have any questions or suggestions for other topics you’d like me to cover please do get in touch.


What do you think?

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