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Capitalism - A story.

"Ships from United Kingdom," the website said. The American website. "Delivers in: 4-5 weeks." Hm, I thought, all the way from England, don't they have their own books here? Then I looked again. Weeks? The reading was due in ten days. What in the world?

I am looking for a book by a French philosopher. Certainly not a nobody. In fact, he's a big deal in media and film studies; people bring him up all the time. He's said a little bit about everything, so mentioning him makes sense in most cases. But more importantly, it makes the speaker look really intellectual although I doubt that anybody really understands what the Frenchman is talking about. But that's a different column.

Anyway, his writings are important for my dissertation and I was looking for a specific edition on Amazon. Again, neither the book nor the publisher in question are particularly hard to find. When you type in only two key words, the book pops up on top of the list. So, really, we're talking about a best seller. That is, until you find out that you can't get it except overpriced and not before Christmas. To make sure I wasn't completely insane and looking for a rarity, I checked the German Amazon website. There it was: in stock and half off. Ships within 1-3 business days. And when delivered to an address in Germany, the shipping is free.

This was ridiculous. I was looking for an English translation of the book; I had intentionally decided not to bring the book from Germany (the suitcase was heavy enough already); I waited to buy it here because I assumed America's exquisite range of products would include at least one copy of my edition. I believed in the freedom of this market. So, I decided to go to the local bookstore.

The Independent had just published the poll of its readers' favorite bookstore, so I wanted to see what they could do for me. But before I got a chance to go, my hope was taken away by the UCSB Bookstore.

On campus, I was informed that my French guy was out of stock everywhere in America. "No printed copies left," the friendly assistant told me. "I could get you a used copy if you want?" She went to check the Amazon website.

I couldn't believe it. The bookstore was trying to sell me a used copy which they got off Amazon? The friendly assistant suddenly looked depressed. "Publishers don't want old editions in stock," she said. My book is a 2005 edition. "With text books, it's even worse. Publishers ship them to Africa or Asia, so American students have to buy new ones."

The thought is scary. In America, are books more valuable when there aren't any? We all know the basic economic idea that scarcity raises prices. Of course, surplus is undesirable. But can someone be interested in cutting back on books?

Then all the sudden, it made sense. This was Fahrenheit 2009! Ray Bradbury had predicted the end of books in 1953; and only a week ago, hadn't he come back to Santa Barbara to remind us?

Now, I knew what I had to do. I went online for the last time and opened the German website. I ordered my book as long as I could still get it.

Tonight, there were 5 copies left. Amazon recommends to "buy fast."

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