Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Something borrowed, something used


The sheer glut of used media (books, CDs, DVDs) has been threatening to overwhelm our society for a few years now. In fact, selling used is apparently not a sound business model (all those CD Warehouses went out of business even before the heyday of digital). Even the thrift stores don't have the room for all the VHS cassettes and Readers Digest condensed volumes dumped into their bins; they still make their bucks turning over clothes and handmade holiday macrame. Is there a better model?

There are still some independent retailers in my area who are sticking to the "mostly-used, some new" model, but many were forced out of business by a public obsessed with purely digital entertainment.  One former community favorite - Vinyl Fever - ended up splitting their new and used music sections 50/50, but I don't think it could sustain itself on meager 99 cent used CD sales. Up by USF, Mojo Books and Music is rocking a cavernous, well-stocked used book selection (and selling coffee and being a community hangout), while in Pinellas Park, SoundExchange is so overrun with used DVDs, they are pushing most off at 3/$5 (but being smart by organizing them by lead actor rather than alphabetically for easier binge watching). The venerable local institution that is Bananas will invite you to their voluminous warehouse, but their retail presence serves up a rather generic catalog of used CDs, sure to please the passer-by looking for a bargain.

So, juggling new and used media in brick & mortar is probably not a good business model at all. (I can't see Barnes and Noble doing it, no matter how quickly I am contributing to their demise.) Books and CDs are, unfortunately, destined to clog up the landfills; DVDs probably even faster due to the realization that you don't have to own a movie in order to have access to it whenever you want thanks to streaming subscription services and several robust rental schemes like Amazon and iTunes.

But folks don't stream CDs, they still rely on glorified radio stations like Pandora (and the upcoming iTunes Radio) to curate for them. As for books, is there really a more sustainable idea than the public library? Thanks to places like Better Worlds Books, it's gotten easier. I can buy a used book for a penny from Better Worlds Books via Amazon, read it, and then deposit it in one of the many green Better Worlds drop boxes in my community. It seems like borrowing to me, verging on recycling  (the tree's already been felled, the presses already run). Unlike the public library, it isn't exactly free - but most of the price goes to keeping the U.S. Postal Service alive - so that's almost being patriotic, right?

I have attempted to set up the same sort of cycle for CDs, but it's a bit more complicated. Sure, I get 99.9% of my music digitally (not just iTunes, elitists, I actually make the trip to bandcamp.com to pay my favorite artists directly), but you know how iTunes and Amazon will make the best song on a soundtrack "album only" just to piss you off? I'll by the CD used and within minutes of it showing up in my p.o. box, I've digitized the track and re-listed it to sell on Amazon. The circle of life to be surel I may even make a profit.

Speaking of supporting artists directly, one fantastic arena rocking my online world is original art t-shirts. Instead of rolling down to Hot Topic (at my age, please!), I find amazing art to wear on websites such as Zazzle and Threadless and – since I have a New Orleans bent – Dirty Coast. The original t-shirt world is bright, shiny and booming while allowing me to spread my bucks around big business directly to the folks who deserve it.