Sunday, March 16, 2014
Is there a by-the-book way to buy a book?
Are we obligated to buy something from the first place we discover it?
After requesting a catalog, a reader received it in the mail. He thought he might be interested in some of the products the catalog had to offer.
He perused the catalog and found a book listed that he really wanted to read. He writes that he'd never heard of the book before and wouldn't have known about it if he hadn't seen it in the catalog.
Once he knew he'd like to read the book, however, he searched around a bit to see if he could find it more cheaply than the catalog price.
"I found that I could buy it cheaper somewhere else," he writes. He also checked his local public library and found that the book was available there, as well, and on the shelves.
Since he wouldn't have known about the book if he hadn't discovered it in the catalog, he wonders about the propriety of going elsewhere to either buy the book at a cheaper price, or borrow it for no direct charge from the library.
Some readers of the column have taken me to task in the past for arguing that there's nothing wrong with browsing for a particular item one place, then buying it online or in another retail establishment if you can find a better price. Those readers and I continue to differ in our opinion.
In the case of the catalog browser, I'd make a similar argument.
It's up to me and other shoppers to decide if we want to buy an item from the place we first saw it, or if we're willing to shop around and buy it elsewhere at a better price. Or we can buy the item from a catalog or online seller and have it shipped to us at a better price. And it's up to bricks-and-mortar store owners, catalog purveyors or online sellers to decide how to make their products and service so good that we're not tempted to go elsewhere.
The right thing is for my reader to decide how he wants to spend his money and where he wants to spend it, or if he wants to spend it at all. He has no obligation to order the book from the catalog simply because that's where he first discovered it. If he decides there's some added value to doing business with the catalog supplier -- whether in the form of a special reader's guide, frequent buyer plan or other perk -- that's his choice.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin