Periscope Depth

overthrow the effigy, the vast majority

I had some time to kill in the Inman Square / Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge weekend before last, so I hit up some used bookstores. I only intended to browse there. Of course I ended up buying. That’s what I do in used bookstores. It doesn’t matter that my shelves at home are filled three layers deep. I’m an addict with a problem.

(Tangent: the first job I ever held was at age 16 in the local public library. I was reprimanded on more than one occasion for reading instead of shelving. How am I supposed to stay clean in a cookhouse like that? I felt like Pookie going undercover at The Carter in New Jack City.)

Acquiring a Kindle should have meant the end of purchasing traditional books. The Kindle is an easier format for me to read, transport and manage than a big block of fungible paper. I had this fantasy of paring down my bookshelves, a few outdated items at a time, and making my library more digital every year.

So why am I still buying paperbacks?

The Enemy by Lee Child (Kindle Edition), one of the better books in the Jack Reacher series, retails for $9.99 on Amazon. For that, you get a digital copy of a novel that Amazon can take back at any time. Ten bucks for a book that, while good, you can polish off in a long weekend. Of that $9.99, the publisher collects $3.49.

You could also go to a bookstore (or Amazon.com) and buy a used paperback copy. “Used” in this case means “effectively new,” in that it was never sold to a private reader. Picture Barnes & Noble backing a truck up to Lorem Ipsum and shoveling unsold Lee Childs into a crate. You’ll pay $4.99 for a book that you can keep without fear of repossession, or lend out to friends without hassle, or even resell yourself. Of that $4.99, the publisher gets $0.

Questions:

1) How many people will continue to buy eBooks at publisher-dictated prices if this pricing structure continues?

2) How long will traditional publishers stay in business if this pricing structure continues?

3) Is the latest Reacher novel, Worth Dying For, any good? Fans savaged the last one (including yours truly) and I’m growing skittish.

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