Internet increases value of used and rare books, study finds

May 14, 2000

ATHENS, Ohio - E-commerce has raised the value of and market for used and rare books, according to a new survey of 189 booksellers around the world. Online sales have increased the number of used books sold by an average of 12.5 percent, even though some books sold online cost more than the same books sold in a bricks-and-mortar store.

The new Ohio University study found that 34 percent of the booksellers polled charge higher prices to their Internet customers than to patrons of their conventional stores. And while online sales have stabilized or decreased the price of common, plentiful used book titles, the price of rare books has climbed.

Rare or collectable books are finite goods, and the Internet reaches a much wider audience of potential buyers than a physical shop could, said Phyllis Bernt, a professor of communication systems management and co-author of the study. She and Joseph Bernt, associate professor of journalism, polled affiliates of the Advanced Book Exchange, http://www.abebooks.com, a Web search engine for 5,200 book dealers. They presented the research recently at the Electronic Communication and Culture Area of the Popular Culture Association Conference in New Orleans.

E-commerce has been such a profitable venture for many bricks-and-mortar booksellers, that 29 of 131 owners in the study had closed those shops to conduct business solely in cyberspace. However, the Internet isn't replacing the traditional book store. Many survey respondents said they need a physical presence for book storage and to attract a key source of their book supply: individuals who come to stores to trade in old books.

"Some looked at online sales not as a replacement but as an augmentation of what they already have," said Phyllis Bernt.

The success of online sales also had prompted book lovers who had never owned a store - about one-third of the survey respondents - to start an online-only endeavor. About 11 percent of study participants who weren't traditional store owners turned to the Web to sell a private book collection, something they couldn't do before the advent of the Internet. Almost 75 percent of all respondents agreed that the overhead and start-up costs for online stores are lower than for bricks-and-mortar shops, though they apparently aren't passing along those savings to customers.

But the sometimes higher prices haven't deterred consumers from buying online. "The problem with an antique store, a swap meet or a pawn shop is that buyers have to go to them and find things by happenstance," says Joseph Bernt, adding that the ease and convenience of finding a unique work online may mitigate the higher cost for buyers.

Online bookselling also has opened up the international market, with about 22 percent of the survey respondents shipping more than 30 percent of their goods abroad.

"The fact that these moldy old books really are perceived by the world market as valuable - I think that's going to have an impact on book culture," he said.
-end-
Written by Andrea Gibson.

Contacts: Joseph Bernt, (740) 593-4118, berntj@ohio.edu; Phyllis Bernt, (740) 593-4885, bernt@ohio.edu.

Joseph Bernt and Phyllis Bernt hold appointments in the College of Communication.

Attention editors, reporters: A copy of the study on which this news release is based is available by contacting Andrea Gibson at (740) 597-2166 or Charlene Clifford at (740) 593-0946. A graphic of some of the statistical findings can be downloaded at http://www.ohiou.edu/researchnews/pix/bookstore.jpg.

Ohio University

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