Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Unclear on the Concept

Joe The second class period of the semester started here yesterday. One of my stated goals for this term is to sell off the least useful of the textbooks that I bought last fall. This isn't as straightforward a proposition here as I've come to expect in the States; the University doesn't have a bookstore, and neither of the bookstores in town with textbook sections bother to cater directly to the current course schedule, instead just maintaining a general collection of texts used in classes over the years, loosely arranged by subject. And, more to the point, neither of them deals in used books. There are a handful of online textbook exchange services; all are in Swedish naturally, and none of them appear to be frequented by the computer science students, so they aren't really useful to me.

Instead, the foreign students run their own informal textbook exchange over a more general purpose departmental chat group, which works pretty well (and does tend to fetch the seller a slightly better price). I've managed to part with all but one of my intended sales so far (and only been reduced to haggling once), and I have a prospect for the remaining volume. There are, nonetheless, vagaries inherent in such an informal system, such as the e-mail I received this morning regarding my remaining text:

Hej Joe,

I saw your advertisement selling "Designing Interactive Systems". If you haven't sold it, would you be willing to lend it for one week for 25kr? I need to use it for around a week but won't need it after that I think. You can still sell it during the week that it's lent out of course. I'll put collateral of a library book I'd borrowed, let's say. Yes, it sounds like a little like how stock markets work! But I don't need to own the book, just to borrow it for a specific use for one week. Of course I'll treat it like a library book and shall not write
on it.

[name deleted]

I would tend to say that this sounds more like the way that stock markets fail to work, but I'm willing to set that aside for now. I'll also not bother with the absurdly low offering price of 25 SEK (my sale price is 400 SEK, on a book that was originally priced at 1050 SEK), or even the fact that promising "not to write on it" fails to inspire much confidence in the condition the book might be returned in. And I've spent enough years working in bookstores to not be surprised by the "but I just want a few pages, couldn't I just borrow it and copy them?" line of reasoning from prospective customers.

No, the part that cracks me up is offering a library book as collateral. Sure, there's a downside for [name deleted] if he destroys my book and I refuse to return his library book as a result, but where's the upside for me? I have this vision of trying to ransom this kid's library book back to the University library…


  1. Actually, it seems like a fair price to rent the book. If you assume that the student who buys the book from you will only use it for a 16 week semester, it's just right for 1 week's worth. I personally wouldn't buy a book if I really thought I'd only use it during a class (I mean why bother going to a class if I don't intend to use what I learn in the future???), so I would have offered a lower price per week, assuming that the book would be amortized over more like 10 years.

  2. Next time we'll work out some sort of derivative market for bundles of text book loans.