Friday, May 11, 2012
The Fungibility of Books
10 minutes ago I had no idea what fungibility was. It's the quality of replaceability that certain commodities have. For instance. money is highly fungible. If were to loan Robyn a $10 bill, one I had drawn a happy face on, I would not be at all upset if the $10 bill she repaid me with lacked a happy face. That is, I was not expecting her to repay me with exactly the same bill. As a matter of fact I would have found it rather odd.
Books, though, are not fungible, at least not in my view. One of my favorite authors is Jim Butcher. If I were to lend Robyn, say, Jim Butcher's latest book, Ghost Story, and she repaid the loan by giving me his novel Stormfront I would have NOT thought the loan repaid. No one book is the equivalent of any other; like snowflakes, they are unique.
You might be wondering, What on earth is Karen on about? Excellent question!
One day, I want to write a post about the Department of Justice's suit against Apple and five of the Big-6 publishers, but this isn't the day. It has been suggested, though, that although there was collusion among Apple and the publishers that the collusion didn't amount to anything because books are -- wait for it -- fungible.
Here's how the argument goes: Sure, we raised prices on a small sub-set of books, the best sellers, but many other books either didn't have their prices affected or they actually went down in price. For instance, many self-published books can be purchased quite reasonably. So it was always possible for a person to buy a book at pre-collusion prices, just not the same book (i.e., not a best seller). So, no harm, no foul, right?
I accept the economic statement, that many people aren't going to buy books at or beyond a certain price point, whether for reasons of poverty or principle, but I reject the idea that books are interchangeable.
White I agree that if the latest book by my favorite author was out of my price range I would not purchase it (I would either wait for the paperback, buy the ebook when it came down in price or take it out of the library), I do view this as a loss. That many other books are in my price range doesn't make it okay that the price of that one book was made high due to collusion.
I mean, I don't want to be contentious, but it reminds me of someone saying, "Well, it doesn't matter if your pet dies, you can always buy another." It's true but so not the point!
Anyway, that's my rant. I don't have them often, so I'm hoping you'll forgive this one. It was sparked by Joe Konrath's latest post, Simon Says. It's quite good, I'd encourage you to read it, especially the first bit.