Buying books

May 4, 2008 at 8:46 pm (1)

I’ve had an epiphany.

It’s like this: This weekend, i was given one assignment – to track down the next book in the Raymond Feist series that my wife is reading. The library has a copy, but it’s checked out and there are holds in front of me, so it would be a while before it came that way. Next idea: ebay – but ebay takes too long, too. The price can be good, or it can be wretched – even a dollar for the book is too much, because the shipping is inevitably 3 dollars or more, bringing the price of the book up to 4 bucks, which is just stupid for a used paperback. I could go to Goodwill or Value Village, but that’s hit and mostly miss, plus the books aren’t in order except sometimes by broad genre. So that leaves the used bookstore. There’s one fairly close to my house, but it’s not very big. Then there’s Powell’s across the river in Portland. I could go there, and be sure to find a copy of the book.

Here’s the thing. Every time I get in my car, i feel like I’m spending money. At 3.70 a gallon, and 22 mpg, that means if I drive somewhere 11 miles away and then drive home again, I’ve spent 3.70 cents. Just like ebay shipping, I could add that number to my total spent, and get the real price of the item. If I drive 5 miles to my local used bookstore, I’m still adding about 1.50 to my book price, if they have what I want. If I drive in to Powell’s I’m adding 4-5 dollars to my purchase. So, either I have to combine my reasons for going somewhere – shop at other places in the area, etc. Or, i have to buy more during my visit to spread out the cost of driving there. Either way, i’m spending more money overall, to justify going someplace.

Plus, Powell’s might not have the book used. It might be new. In which case, if I go there, and all they have is the new copy, then I’ve just spent 8 dollars on a paperback plus 5 dollars on gas, making my total 13 dollars for the book.

If, on the other hand, I was smart, i would call the local bookstore and see if they have the book on the shelf. Then I could drive there if they have it. I could also call Barnes and Noble and see if they have the book. Even new, and with sales tax, buying a book from a store that’s only two miles away is cheaper than buying anything at Powells, if that’s the only reason I’m driving in to Portland.

Which makes ebay seem that much cheaper. Is there any way I can beat 4 dollars total, taking gas prices into consideration? (I know, the library is free, but we already established that the time lag was unacceptable in this case – most of my wife’s books come from the library, which is as cheap as it gets, since I work there and so there’s no added gas cost for going in to the library.)

The price of gas has me looking very closely now at what stores and services are available in close proximity to my home, and making choices between best and good enough based on distance from my home. I imagine that a lot of people are starting to do this, particularly if they took part in the madness that swept the world when gas was a buck a gallon and SUVs were the coolest thing you could buy.

Now I’m looking for my next car, and cost and fuel efficiency are the highest and almost only factors in my consideration for what constitutes a good purchase. For example, a Prius costs 10grand more than a Yaris, but only gets 15mpg better mileage. How many miles would I drive before the extra 10grand was paid for?

I’m also holding out for a full electric that can achieve 65mph, travel 200 miles on a charge, and recharge in less than 30 minutes. And seats 4. This would take care of almost all my driving needs.

Almost, but not quite.

Tying this in to library service – how much money can we save people? We know it’s a bunch, but do they?



  1. kaet said,

    Could you cycle the five miles?

    On the library side, do you have facilities for people to lock up bicycles outside? Is it in a place that is safe and easy to walk, cycle or take public transport to? Obviously there’s only so much of the latter you can change, but there might be impetus and or funding available on health as well as environmental grounds.

    How many holds on a book do there have to be before your library system buys an extra copy? Might another request make the difference?

    Just thinking aloud here, from your interesting questions.

  2. supercrazylibrarianguy said,

    What? And get healthy exercise? 🙂 Well, I have looked at cycling, but there are various constraints on my life that make it too easy for me to opt out. I’ll leave it at that. As for mass transit, our city is starting to make better mass transit available, but it’s slow going. Our library is on a bus line, but my house isn’t, and the nearest bus stop is about ten blocks away, and would require a transfer before I could get to the library. Excuses, excuses! But I use myself as a barometer of normalcy (don’t we all?), and I think a lot of reasonable people, when faced with the same issues, react in a similar fashion – if it’s too time consuming, or creates too much of a hassle, or a burden on one’s personal responsibilities, most people will choose the options that are easiest in the short term. A long term life change is hard to make, as millions of dieters, alcoholics, smokers, and car drivers know.

    As far as our library goes, I think they do a good job with picking up more copies when demand goes up. Of course, on the patron end, it’s hard to see an immediate return on putting hold number 375 on a book – buying more copies of a book still takes some time to order, process and distribute. And, working at the library, I can usually get any book I want as long as I have a little patience.

    Thanks for the comment! You got me to start rambling all over the place! :>)

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