Just-in-time Purchasing: the economics of ebook workflow

Posted on by Mike Evans

Buying electronic books demands a new system. With ebooks there is no sense in buying before you’re ready to start reading. It’s more logical to buy at the last minute and it’s cheaper in the long run.

Up to now I’ve followed my more traditional instincts. I buy my books in batches, just like when I used to visit a bookstore and grab anything that caught my attention. Who knows, it might not be there next week or it could be out of print.

As a result of not changing tactics, my Kindle system is cluttered with up to twenty books awaiting attention. Some I’ve already started but put down when something more gripping comes along. This was the case last week when I downloaded the Jobs book. Others I keep looking at but discarding in favour of a later acquisition I simply must read.

Strangely, the longer I’ve owned an unread digital book the less attraction it seems to exert. I am far more likely to read something I bought this week than a title I’ve been sitting on for six months.

I will get round to them all in time, but it does become difficult to keep track of books when they are buried in a long list. At least with physical books there’s a pile of volumes gathering dust in the corner to provide a constant reminder of pleasures to come. By contrast, Kindle books lie supine in their folder and don’t even think of nagging: “Read me!”

Today I happened to be lurking in a big bookstore. I never buy anything resembling a real book, you understand, but it’s good for browsing. After a few minutes I found eight titles I would like to read and I was strongly tempted to get out my phone and buy them on the spot.

That was when I thought of the the just-in-time system which has revolutionised manufacturing since the days of Henry Ford and which has been turned into a fine art by Tim Cook of Apple in the past decade. Why buy these books now? Surely all I need is a reminder list, such as the “Books to Read” section I’ve created in the new Reminders app?

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense:

  1. Electronic books are always in stock; once published they will never go out of print.
  2. I can always buy them when I am ready to read (except, maybe, when I’m sitting in a plane). That way they will be more valued and won’t slip down a Kindle list of reading candidates.
  3. They will probably be cheaper when I get round to buying them. This is the real clincher.

A part of me still wants to buy digital books on impulse as I used to collect physical books. There’s a real satisfaction to owning the book and knowing that one day you will read it.

Now, though, we are in the age of the digital book and just-in-time purchasing is going to take over.

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