Why buy when you can rent?

by F.

My expenditures on books has gone from around $250.00 a month to around $20.00 a month, largely because I have been using the local university library. I also use the public library, but the one at the University of Washington is way cooler. And in addition to the cost-savings, there is another benefit: I’m more likely to actually read the books. Why?

Because they have to go back.

And not only do I read them more quickly, I tend to summarize them. When I buy, I tend to think, “Oh well, I have it on the shelf. I don’t need to summarize this to remember it.” As a result, I remember two or three key points and forget the rest, which makes the yield on my investment of time pretty sucky.

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen has some thoughts on libraries that seem right to me:

My question is whether people are more likely to buy books and never read them, or take books out of the library and then never read them. The naive economist might think that you get more phoney-baloney behavior when the books are free. I suspect the opposite is true. If the book costs nothing, bringing it home involves little signaling or self-signaling. It might impress your neighbor to see a weighty tome on your bookshelves, but only if you had to spend money.

Renting has another benefit. When I get a library book and bring it home, I look it over to make sure it’s worth the investment of time to actaully read it. And if it isn’t, I just take it back. In contrast, I’ve noticed that when I buy, I feel compelled to read the thing, no matter how bad it looks on closer inspection. “Shit,” I think, “I just spent $24.95 on this garbage. Well, I better get some use out of it.” My risk when renting is almost nothing.