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Better World Books Will Sell You a Used Book, or a Scanned Copy for $2 More

3089163372_f5e0e4afc8_m[1]This blogger may be an inveterate ebook devotee but I still buy used paper books when they are cheaper. So when a reader tipped me to an online bookseller which offered to scan the used books you buy and send you a PDF instead of the paper copy, I knew I’d found my new bookseller.

Better World Books is a 12 year old online bookstore which sells both new and used books as well as textbooks, DVDs, and audiobooks. That sounds like a lot of bookstores, but around this time last year BWB added a service which few booksellers can match.

If you buy a used ebook, you now have the option of having BWB feed it though a scanner so they can send you a scanned image+text PDF. This eDelivery option is not available for all used titles, and the scanning process is destructive, so it’s not a solution for all cases. But it will get you a DRM-free PDF which BWB says will have searchable text.

And with a price of only $1 to $3 (on top of the price of the paper book), I have to say that I am sorely tempted.

Interlock MCLS Digitization Tour

a non-destructive book scanner

I’m not in the market to buy any books right now, so I haven’t tried the service yet. But I know that the high prices of certain ebooks from some publishers will make it worthwhile.

Let me give you an example.

Over Christmas I bought a bunch of books, including all 3 Norton titles. These 3 books feature a Scottish Fold cat, and were published in the late 1980s and 1990s by Random House. The books are so old that you can find paper copies for $4 to $6 each, but since these are PRH titles the ebooks all cost $10 each.

Naturally I bought the paper copies, and spent about $14.

Those 3 titles are not available via BWB’s eDelivery service, but if they were I would get them in a heartbeat. DRM-free PDFs for two-thirds the price of the Kindle edition? That sounds like a great deal!

Okay, this isn’t going to work so well for titles which I want to keep forever, but in many cases it is still going to be a better option than the paper book. The PDF can be scrolled, zoomed, panned, and printed. And while this scanned PDF won’t always be a better option than a regular ebook, if it is enough cheaper than the official ebook then I won’t care.

image-27Now, I haven’t tried the service, but I did get a single page sample from a friend, William O’Neil. As you can see, the page scan is quite readable when you zoom in.

I also have it as a PDFThanks, William!


So what do you think?

I for one am amazed that scanning tech is cheap enough and simple enough that this is practical, but I can also see that this service only exists because of unhealthy prices in the ebook market.

For the longest time I’ve thought that publishers should price their backlist ebook low enough that they are competitive with used copies. Had they done so, BWB’s eDelivery service would have no appeal.

If  those 3 Norton books  had been priced reasonably, I would have bought the ebooks. This would put the money in the pocket of the publisher and author, but instead I acted in my own best interests and bought used copies.

That is money which publishers are leaving on the table.

images by Wonderlanebert_m_b

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Jon Jermey March 20, 2015 um 5:07 pm

I live in bushfire territory, so over the last eight years I have scanned all my books other than those that have sentimental value. There are some issues you have to watch out for, but the results are generally good. Before shelling out cash, though, check that the books you want haven’t already been scanned for the Open Library:

Eric Muller March 20, 2015 um 5:08 pm

I have never used them, but does (destructive) scanning for $1/100 pages.

Barney March 20, 2015 um 5:59 pm

I learned about the Better Worlds edelivery service a few months ago, and got very excited because there are many, many books I’d like to have in digital form that aren’t available yet. However, I’ve had a very mixed experience using it.

The Good: Better Worlds will deliver your ebook within 24 hours (and within two hours if you pay an extra dollar.) They send you a link to a perfectly legible but fairly low-res PDF scan of the book in question. I have no complaints about the quality of the scans, and they’re perfectly honest about what to expect.

The Bad: Their selection stinks, and their website is horrendous. While they claim to have over 8 million books in their warehouses, currently there are only 34, 995 available for edelivery. Incredibly, you can’t – in 2015 – search specifically by author or title but only keyword.

The Ugly: They have major, MAJOR problems tracking their inventory. At least half of the books I’ve ordered for edelivery turn out to be unavailable. They charge my credit card first, send me an email saying, "Oops, we don’t have that after all, would you like a physical copy?" and then I have to wait a few days for them to reimburse me. It’s shockingly unprofessional.

Yet as frustrating as it is, I’ll continue to shop at Better Worlds since it seems to be the only website to offer such a service. Will Amazon ever do something similar? I have a feeling the Big Five would have a total conniption if Amazon did – because Amazon would do it right.

puzzled March 20, 2015 um 8:03 pm

I’ve just read the Better Worlds eDelivery page (not easy to find).

Do you know what resolution the scan is at (300dpi, 600dpi)?

They say they watermark the pdf with your personal details. Is this once or on every page?

Nate Hoffelder March 20, 2015 um 8:12 pm

I linked to the relevant page, actually.

The sample PDF I posted shows a scan resolution of 300dpi. I wouldn’t call that low-res, although TBH I would use a higher resolution.

puzzled March 21, 2015 um 3:24 am

Sorry, I generally read the post once, then goto the site and when commenting, don’t refer to it.

I’ll slap myself on the wrist…

Nate Hoffelder March 21, 2015 um 1:25 pm

Their search function is terrible in every way. I couldn’t use it to find anything.

Jo Robinson March 21, 2015 um 2:08 am

What about copyright infringement? Apart from public domain books I would imagine that all of them have in their forwards that they are not allowed to be copied in any way.

Eric Welch March 24, 2015 um 10:25 pm

I use 1dollarscan to create pdfs of books I own for which I can’t purchase ebooks. I send the book to them, they scan it, and then they destroy the physical book. That’s the key. The argument is that because you still wind up with only one copy but are just changing the format, it’s fair use. Note that it’s considered perfectly legal to make a copy of a CD (or as many as you want) if you own the CD and you still wind up with more than one copy. Note that McGraw-Hill has forbidden 1dollarscan to scan its books. It’s more expensive than buy an ebook and I always prefer to purchase the ebook from Amazon, but for many of my old books, no ebook is available and that’s my preferred way to read.

William D. O’Neil March 21, 2015 um 2:25 am

Another option is to have the dealer send the book directly to who will scan it (destructively) for $1 per 100 pp and transmit the scanned version to you. I haven’t tried them yet, but mean to.

I’m quite satisfied with BetterWorldBooks' performance and I let do the search for me in any event.

Nate Hoffelder March 21, 2015 um 1:24 pm

I hadn’t thought of that, but it is an option I want to try as well.

Rebecca Allen March 21, 2015 um 9:12 am

@Jo: here is what PublishingPerspectives said in 2012 about the possible copyright implications of scanning for personal use.

What BWB and 1DollarScan are doing would seem to be operating under the same Fair Use theory (the original paper copy is destroyed, the digital copy is sold to a single buyer and it is watermarked with the buyer’s information).

We don’t have the court cases yet, AFAIK, to answer the question definitively.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that used books were in one of those last flourishes of a population boom before an enormous die-off, as many readers with extensive personal libraries dump their p-book collections, generating very high quality used books on a wide range of topics, many of them from recent years and valued copies from past years. For a brief period of time, other readers of p-books who have not yet committed fully to e-books find glorious wonder in the goodness and the cheapness and the selection, but over time, nobody’s gonna want a lot of this stuff and figuring out how to extract any kind of value is tricky. A destructive copy to produce a (cheaper) (otherwise unavailable) ebook seems perfect for the ecosystem.

Daily Links: Netflix comes to Australia | The eBook Evangelist November 28, 2015 um 10:03 pm

[…] Better World Books Will Sell You a Used Book, or a Scanned Copy for $2 More (Ink, Bits & Pixels) […]

JCB January 25, 2016 um 4:48 pm

Looks like they canceled the service without announcement. Bummer. I was pleased with their scanning. I got the book faster than buying it and waiting around for USPS Media Mail.

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