Alberto Mingardi  

Herbert Spencer on Amazon (and Uber)

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I've been re-reading some of Herbert Spencer's works, for a LibertyMatters discussion that began with a very insightful article of George H. Smith. In Spencer's The Study of Sociology I've stumbled upon this rather amusing quotation that I'd like to share:

the difficulties of altering the settled routine are, if not insurmountable, still very considerable. Take, for instance, the commerce of literature. In days when a letter cost a shilling and no book-post existed, there grew up an organization of wholesalers and retailers to convey books from publishers to readers: a profit being reaped by each distributing agent, primary and secondary. Now that a book may be ordered for a half-penny and sent for a few pence, the old system of distribution might be replaced by one that would diminish the cost of transfer, and lower the prices of books. But the interests of distributors practically negative the change. An advertised proposal to supply a book direct by post at a reduced rate, offends the trade; and by ignoring the book they check its sale more than its sale is otherwise furthered. And so an old organization, once very serviceable, now stands in the way of a better organization.

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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Tom West writes:

If assume the health of the book industry is roughly equivalent to the number of dollars going in, then I'm not sure Amazon is necessarily good news.

As the anchor price of e-books drops via Amazon's price pressure, I fear that we hit the fact that constraint on most readers who have the money to spend is *time*, not money.

Most high book spenders I know have switched to e-books. They gorged themselves for about 6 months, spending roughly the same amount on 2 to 10 times as many books. But once their unread book pile reached 500-600 books, their purchases dropped as well.

Now, instead of spending $1,000 a year, they're spending $200.

While this is mostly genre reading, it's a pretty scary scenario for anyone hoping to make a living in the book industry, be it writer, editor or publisher.

ThomasH writes:

The book distributors Spencer cites were right to object to subsidized distribution via zero cost postal rates.

ted writes:

@Tom West

The point of production is not to create nice, cushy, well-paid jobs, but to create stuff people want to use, of best possible quality and lowest possible price.

That's called progress.

Not when the "writers, editors and publishers" win. Nobody owes them a living. And if some of them cannot make a living any more from the book trade, that's fine, let the ones who can - because they have the talent and business acumen - to continue to do so, and let the rest try their hand at more productive jobs.

They can go the way of the village blacksmith. You wouldn't want to legislate for the village blacksmith to still make a living, would you? Or for half of us to plant seeds and harvest crops?

It's fantastic that people spend less to get more (or even the same quantity of) books in electronic formats. It leaves people with more money to spend it on things that better their lives.

And it saves a ton of space, and time, and trees, with the added rather huge benefit of being able to carry your whole book collection in your bag, or indeed even your pocket (my wife reads books on her smartphone!).

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