Learning from books

Clarence Fisher provided the kernel for this particular post, telling me about Bookmooch.

And it made me think. About books and the web. [An aside. When Amazon entered the Fortune 500 whom did they replace? AT&T…..)
First we had Amazon, a way of discovering and acquiring new books. For a while we also had ZShops as part of Amazon, followed by Amazon Marketplace.
Then we had eBay, which allowed us to acquire used and out-of-print books and a whole lot more.

So along came abebooks, concentrating solely on the purchase of new and second-hand books.

Then we had librarything, allowing individuals to catalogue what they had and share that catalogue, without having to remember ISBN codes. You might as well memorise pi if that’s what gets your rocks off.
Somewhere in between we had bookcrossing, allowing almost-serendipitous discovery of books to read.

Now we have bookmooch.

[Anyone else have more names to add to this, feel free to comment].

So we have different levels of granularity in the discovery of inventory, in the discovery and setting of price, in the taxonomy of the inventory, in exchange models. We have different “currencies” in use for fulfilment, from cash to near-cash to points to nothing at all. As with many other markets, liquidity is critical and specialisation brings its own risks and benefits.

We’ve also learnt a lot about ratings and reviews and collaborative filtering as part of this bookmarket. As we see more pseudocurrencies we will see exchange rates emerge, and some form of title transfer a la Navio.

So what next, besides the obvious use of location/context-sensitive services and greater mobile access to the services?

I guess I’m less worried about the what next, what concerns me is the what Not Next.

  • Please, no attempts at vertical integration. It is the competition between horizontal layers that makes this market exciting.
  • Please, no attempts at putting more garden walls around the information. Less is definitely more. Let the customer keep control of his information.
  • Please, no attempts at bringing DRM into what is a physical delivery market, particularly via the back-door of some of these sites.

In a classic HughTrain mode, micromarkets and microniches will emerge around the book sector; they will associate themselves with different “currencies” and different liquidity pools, different models for making money, different ways of fulfilling transactions. From Assembly Line through to Serendipity. From Free to Exoensive-Because-You-Like-To-Pay-Through-Your-Nose. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes up with a market concentrating on left-handed between-the-wars original pulp cover art, and finds a way of making money out of it. Because Of rather than With.

I try and learn from all these things. Who has the most comprehensive inventory. Who allows me to discover the best price. Who is most likely to guarantee fulfilment of the transaction. Where collaborative filtering gives me the best value.

And I’m looking for a lot more. Simpler ways of cataloguing, valuing and pricing what I have. Even easier ways of adding to, or subtracting from, my inventory. More ways to discover new authors and out-of-print books. More convenient fulfilment methods.

It will happen.

An aside. For many years I dreamt of setting up a bookshop as and when I was put out to grass by Big Business. And I wanted it to be different. No prices at all. Just three types of book:

  • Over My Dead Body: You can look, touch, even read, but it’s Not For Sale.
  • Make Me An Offer: Prepared to trade, if the price is right.
  • Take It Away Jose: Just pay for the bag :-)

But that was a long time ago. Now I dream of setting up a school. Which is why I read people like Clarence Fisher. And when I have that school up and running, I will retain my book-connection by having a library in that school. (And a little book-restoration workshop on the side, as a hobby).

9 thoughts on “Learning from books”

  1. JP,

    Have you looked at PaperbackSwap.com? A lot like BookMooch, except they give you a flat 3 credits for starting out instead of 0.1 credit per book you post.

  2. Hi JP, thanks for this post. I’m happy to have learnt about all the books things happeneing. I had long wanted to mobilise people and work together to build a “People’s Library”, composed of members’ collections which they wanted to share and put into the public domain. I’ve been made and remade by books, I grew up among and with books, I’ve bought lots of books for years, and built up a sizeable personally meaningful collection. And I started a school 8 years ago, and transferred a part of my books to the school library, esp. my collection of books from across the world on creative education and pedagogy, and on cities. But this is only a humble non-formal school for slum children in Howrah. Nevertheless, very interesting things happen there! Best, chutki

  3. Re your aside: The Amazon – AT&T changeover was not a direct reflection of a changing world. AT&T mismanaged their business for years in the face of traditional competitive forces and would have fallen out of the 500 on that basis regardless of the internet.

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