Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Read and return -- Paradies (sic)?

A recent commenter wondered if I had anything to say about the Read and Return scheme which has been introduced by Paradies Shops in the US. The scheme allows readers to purchase hardcover, best-selling books and then receive a refund of half of the purchase price when they return the book.

My only comment is that this is pretty much a rent-a-book system of the kind that used to operate in the UK. A few decades ago, both WH Smith and Boots used to run huge libraries, usually in the back of their nationwide chains of shops. You either paid a substantial annual subscription, and could then borrow books for free, or you paid so much per book.

Not only that, but in my home town, in the 1950s, there was a lively entrepreneur who used to run the same sort of operation, only in his case he drove round with a van full of books and called at your door. He came every week, and you paid a modest fee for the loan of a book or two.

The big attraction of these commercial libraries was that they had large supplies of the current bestsellers, and the rental was a lot less than the purchase price of the book. True, the so-called public libraries, financed by local taxes, also bought quite a lot of big sellers, but you had to 'reserve' a hot favourite, and you often had to wait months before you got to read it.

Somewhere along the line, in the 1960s or '70s, the bean-counters must have concluded that these commercial libraries were not sufficiently profitable. This probably happened when cheap paperbacks began to make inroads into the market. In any event, the rent-a-book libraries disappeared.

Well, almost. They survive, in essence, in small secondhand bookshops in dingy back streets, or on market stalls. The deal is, you buy a secondhand paperback, let's say for half the price of a new one; and then when you've read it you take it back and you get allowed half of what you paid for it as credit towards another purchase.

The arithmetic isn't too complicated, and although the book will eventually fall to pieces the scheme does produce repeat customers, and in the long run it does generate more profit per book, for the bookseller, than a single sale.

So now we have a new variation on the scheme, this time with hardcover bestsellers. And it is presented, of course, as a 'unique book deal'. Which it ain't.

There is no reason, in principle, why this shouldn't work. But I doubt that the big-time publishers will like it much, and there are, we must not forget, a number of writers, e.g. A.S. Byatt, who apparently think it is practical to arrange for authors to get a second royalty on secondhand books.

As I said on 3 February, that'll be the day.


Zebbers said...

If I recall correctly, the plan is to mainly be implemented in airport shops, targeting business travelers. This may actually turn out to be profitable and is certainly a different beast than running such a business in the center of a town (used bookshops aside). I can imagine business travelers who: want to read, travel too much to use a library, travel to much to be burdened with books. This would be the perfect fit. Not moving about much, relatively that is, Ill stick to my libraries :)

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