I always wondered if penny booksellers made any money. The short answer is yes:
The sellers wouldn’t tell me exactly how much profit they make on penny books. Shipping costs vary depending on the kinds of deals you can cut with delivery services. “We make more than it costs us on the postage to ship it, but not much,” Ward says. “A couple of cents, to be honest.” But the sellers aren’t selling only penny books — Ward says that less than half of his stock sells for that price. And because processing costs don’t increase with book price, while Thriftbooks may only make a few cents on a penny book, it will make $2, plus a few cents, from a book priced at $2. Not bad, when you sell 12 million books a year.
But an even more interesting bit from this article is about the software that handles the mass scanning, pricing, and posting of inventory for penny booksellers:
Say a new copy of “A Visit From the Goon Squad” is scanned into the database. The software races to figure out how many copies are in stock, how many copies have been sold, how the price has changed over time, what the current average, high and low prices are on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Half.com, AbeBooks, eBay and Alibris, and decides: Do we want this book? If the software’s algorithm decides that this is a book that can be sold and is worth selling, it will be stocked and automatically listed in the online marketplace where it has the best chance to be sold. This all happens tens of thousands of times per day.
Future reading, Craig Mod goes long on his love for physical books and what’s disappointing with digital ones.