I was thinking about ways in which production might be building up between stages of pipelines that I’m involved in, and I realized: I have forty or so books sitting on my “recently”-bought-but-not-yet-read shelf. That’s several months of inventory – probably well over half a year, actually, given my depressingly low current reading rate and the fact that I try to read books in a pattern consisting of a new book, a book I already owned, and a library book.

So I certainly have room for improvement in my inventory management. I do a lot of my book buying through Amazon these days – if I could just convince myself not to buy a book that I didn’t think I would read within the next month (which would still allow me to use free shipping), I’d eliminate the vast majority of that. If I wanted to push that source of waste down even further, I could even spend the $79 for Amazon Prime and not buy anything that I wasn’t planning to read within the next half-week!

But what, really, are the costs of this excess inventory? Let’s see:

  • It’s probably close to a thousand dollars of inventory. At first, signing up for Amazon Prime sounded ridiculous, but if I were to invest that thousand dollars wisely, I might be able to pay for Amazon Prime with the interest, never mind the principal. So, from that point of view, it’s my current behavior that is ridiculous! (But free shipping combined with one month of inventory is probably the best bet financially.)
  • There’s a risk of the inventory going stale. I’m not actually too worried about this – I don’t buy books unless I’m quite sure I’ll want to read them at this point – but I still suspect that not buying a book unless I was sure I wanted to read it right after I finished my current book would have its advantages.
  • There are warehousing costs – bookshelf space is at a premium in this household, and we already have plans to buy a new bookshelf for Miranda (good girl!) and a couple for Liesl and me in the next month. To be sure, the books in question occupy low-value space (the tops of bookshelves), and the costs in question are relatively small, so I’m not inclined to make too much of this. Unless we start including the costs of the floor space taken up by the bookshelves. I guess we’re paying around $30/square foot; but it’s not entirely clear to me how many square feet to charge to a bookshelf. Hmm. Not quite negligible, perhaps, but the cost of the books themselves still clearly dominates. [Edit: no, it doesn’t – I made a math error in the previous sentence.  See comments.]
  • I personally find it easier to manage finances when costs are relatively even from month to month – I’m not very good at mentally balancing out the costs of infrequent splurges.

All in all, the benefits seem real. What are the costs? I don’t see a downside to replacing Amazon splurges with smaller Amazon purchases. I will miss the occasional physical bookstore splurge, though. But I’m rather less sentimental about physical bookstores than I used to be – Amazon’s inventory makes them much, much more valuable to me than physical bookstores. And it’s not clear that this will reduce the percentage of books that I buy in physical bookstores – it will significantly increase the number of book-buying opportunities, which means that there will be many more times when I’m allowed to buy a book when I’m downtown after dinner, so I might well wander into a bookstore.

Are there ways in which this would cause me to buy more books? Not at all clear to me – I don’t see why it would make it harder to be disciplined about limiting my percentage of reading that happens with newly-bought books to a third. In fact, it might lower the number of new books that I read – right now, that inventory is always sitting there reminding me that it needs to be read, but if it weren’t there, I’d probably feel much freer to just reread some of my favorite books that I already have lying around the house.

Of course, if I really wanted to save money, reducing inventory is the least of my worries – I could stop buying so many books in the first place. But that’s a separate discussion…

Anyways, this is all somewhat beside the point – right now, I have the happy coincidence of on the one hand, having lots of books to read before I can start buying again, and, on the other hand, having spent enough money on computers and car repairs recently that I really should be saving money. So not much book-buying in the near future. But once I start buying again, I suspect I will take a leaner approach; Amazon Prime is even starting to sound pretty tempting. And it’s not like I’ve never used this strategy before – I don’t buy a new video game until I’m almost done with my current game, and that’s served me well for years.

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