Dear Amazon: Convert My Dead-Tree Library to Kindle Books

I have too many books. It’s a first-world problem, I know, and I should probably accept that I am not going to re-read many of them and sell or give them away to a good home. But I am unlikely to do this. In the meantime, my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves overflow, taking up valuable square footage in my modest townhouse.

Amazon, you can solve this problem. Here’s how.

You already have a strong partnership with UPS, which you use for shipping. Make another deal with them. There are UPS Stores all around the country. If I bring a dead-tree book to any UPS Store, they should recycle the book for me and give me a credit for the Kindle version of that same book. The cost of handling or recycling the book can be split between me and Amazon.

This is a win-win-win-win proposition.

I win because I have fewer physical books cluttering up my house, while retaining access to my library.

Amazon wins because more consumers will have large Kindle libraries. This will create an incentive to make future purchases in the Kindle ecosystem.

Book publishers win because when used books are recycled, the market for used books shrinks. Physical books are durable and resalable; converting to Kindle books solves the durable goods problem and makes publisher profits higher because they would sell more copies.

UPS wins because they get a small fee-per-book that comes out of the gains to the other parties.

When I talk about this idea, I find that the main objection I get is an emotional one: “Isn’t it wasteful to destroy used books?” people ask. And the answer is not really. No information is destroyed by recycling the book, because Kindle books are a pretty good substitute. And if the book were not destroyed, then the publishers would never go for the deal, and we would be stuck in a more wasteful situation, one in which a significant fraction of real estate goes toward book storage.

Amazon, you started the ebook revolution. Now take it to the next level by helping everyone complete the transition.

11 replies to “Dear Amazon: Convert My Dead-Tree Library to Kindle Books

  1. Robert

    The books on my shelves are for signalling when I have guests!

    Destroying them doesn’t necessarily seem like the best solution though. If Amazon can sell the books used, potentially there is some price below that they can pay the publishers per used book sold, to keep them happy.

  2. Eli Post author

    I am open to that, but my strong suspicion is that the gains to the publishers are only positive if the books are destroyed. This is especially the case since people could re-buy up the used books and then trade them back in for a Kindle version. In equilibrium, used books have to go for the same price as Kindle books, net of transaction and shipping costs.

  3. Robert

    Don’t those have to converge anyway if this is implemented? People who want to get an ebook version will buy a used book and take it in for trade instead (since currently ebooks almost always cost more than used physical books). So used book markets are going to quickly dry up and take the price up with them.

    I have a strong intuition that scenarios where a physical resource is deliberately destroyed are optimal. If someone values having it, it feels like there should be a better solution. But maybe not in this case.

  4. Eli Post author

    Robert, that is correct. Prices will have to converge either way. I am for whatever deal Amazon would strike with the publishers to make this happen.

  5. Robert

    In that case, I think I have to oppose the idea! I like being able to buy cheap used books because then I can put them on my bookshelf and show visitors how smart I am. Reading ebooks can’t give me that :P

    (Also even ignoring this dubious reason, it would mean I end up paying more to read books, since I’m just as happy reading physical used as reading ebook.)

  6. Karl

    So Amazon should be giving you free ebooks in return for recyclable paper trash… why? Because your resulting “large Kindle library” will give you “incentive to make future purchases in the Kindle ecosystem”?

    Granted, that’s presumably the reasoning behind Amazon selling the Kindle hardware at a loss (according to some analysts), but you’re taking it to a vastly weirder level. It would be far cheaper and simpler (and more limitable by Amazon) to just randomly give away get-a-free-ebook codes, and I don’t expect that to happen either.

    Note that you can already easily sell your used paper books through Amazon, and thereby recover some (usually small) fraction of the price of the ebook. It’s simple to set up a seller account with Amazon, though I suppose not as easy as just saying “gimme” and waiting for a flood of free ebooks to fall into your arms.

  7. Tom

    Your idea has a vague scent of Fahrenheit 451 and even real-world book destroyers (e.g. German students in May 1933). One admittedly far fetched way this would be bad: an electromagnetic pulse would fry all eReaders and the Cloud, but would leave paper books blissfully unaffected. E-reading is growing, but it doesn’t need to war explicitly with paper.

  8. j

    I like to occasionally take a random book on my shelf and check to see if there is a Kindle or iBooks version. About half the time there is not. The thing is, I like to be “all in” with one format or the other. I’d really like to be all ebook, but not half ebook. I went all in with digital music because I could rip my CDs.

    Anyhow, I would gladly give up ALL my paper books in exchange for DRM-free ePub versions. I’d rather not sign myself up for platform lock-in. Even when I buy ebooks I strip the DRM off them, and I buy from Apple and not Amazon because Amazon uses weird file formats. When you take the DRM from an iBook you are left with a standard epub. Yes, you can convert from mobi and KF8 to epub but there are frequently formatting errors.

    The notion of only being able to read my books after connecting to some DRM server terrifies me.

  9. Online one

    I’d pay $2 to amazon to convert. $.50 to UPS, $.50 to the publisher for a book they already sold and $1 to amazon. Amazon could then resell or donate to rural communities

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