The book is An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi. Now this guy's an important figure in my life so I'm thinking, maybe I should get a hardback? Wow - I never buy hardbacks! But wouldn't it be nice to have a classy edition of this book by such an amazing person - my hero, really (it's a shame that sounds like such an 11 year-old thing to say).
So I turned to the used books page. And the problem struck me: there are several oodles of different editions to choose from. Not only are there new and used versions, but hardback and paperback, old and recent, some with guest introductions, publisher X or Y. How's a guy supposed to pick one?
There are trade-offs, of course. New books are crisp and clean but more expensive and wasteful of our Earth's precious resources. But if I'm concerned about precious resources, maybe I should just borrow from the library or read the freakin' e-book version available there. But, alas, you can't make notes in the margins of an e-book or library book (I know, some people clearly dispel with that rule). Recent editions are likely to be in better shape and they do have that guest introduction, but again they're more expensive and maybe that introduction sucks and spoils an otherwise austere copy of Gandhiji's writing. Which publisher? I don't know! WWGD?
Here's where it got tricky for me. I stumbled across a used Houghton Mifflin paperback edition from 1983 selling for one red cent! What?! Shipping costs are 349% more than the cost of the book! Then I thought, Gandhi would probably be pleased to see this and disappointed that there's only one available at this price. It is worth noting, however, that there are currently 31 copies of this same edition under 5 bucks. How can I turn down a one-cent used book in favor of a new, fashionable, hardback version of the same book? And it's not just any book, but a book about Gandhi, Mr. LiveSimply!
What kind of an outfit sells books for one cent? There's no way this is a reputable business. Really, how can they recoup their costs? Maybe they're taking a loss on some books in order to drum up business and a good reputation while they gouge us on the equally overpriced books in their catalog. Maybe there's a demented old man at his computer somewhere, squeezed into a tiny apartment full of ragged old books. Do I trust this guy? For only one cent, does it really matter? In the comments section, my fears were assuaged: "Go with the name you can trust: Thriftbooks...".
Anyway, I went with the hardback.