Friday, November 26, 2010

Gains and Losses in the Book World

I feel like I've been running a marathon. Every single frassin' rassin' day I've had something major scheduled for weeks. Though I get a break tomorrow, this morning I was up at 7am, so I could go over and finish getting my Dad's books ready for the Book Guy to come and take them away. I had already prepped and packed about 30 crates and we had at least as many to go.

And as we packed and hauled and loaded more and more books (and book cases), I felt a certain relief to think that the hundreds of ebooks in my iPod Touch would never have to be hauled and packed. Also they'll never get moldy or musty or trigger my allergies.

eBooks are doing great things for publishing and reading (and moving house). It's easier to buy them, to read them and to store them. I've probably bought more books this year than I have in a very long time.

But this is also a melancholy time for booklovers. When I called the Book Guy, he wasn't sure he would be able to take many of the books. Everyone is selling books and nobody is buying them. He blamed the down economy and that fact that younger people don't seem to read as much.

And a part of that is the move to ebooks. Heavy readers are getting rid of their excess libraries. Sure, we all keep around our special, most treasured books, but we're ditching the rest. And we're not looking for so many deals in used books to take their place. We're not buying so many new books either. Plus, everybody is selling those used books themselves on Amazon, or giving them to the library, which is supporting itself by selling them.

This is a tough time for the grand old used book store - the place we used to find treasures.

However, when the Book Guy came, he did take every single one of my Dad's books. (And the bookcases, and some other furniture, and the magazines and the paintings and posters, and the life-sized cardboard standee of Obama.) I don't think he could have afforded to buy them, or not many of them, but they were worth the labor and storage to him. Was it sentimentality? I don't think so.

I think it's like the advice of Baron Rothschild: when there is blood in the streets, buy. We're in the middle of a shakeout in paper books. The junk - the books people only want for a quick read and don't want to keep - will soon disappear from the paper world altogether.

But the treasured books - the interesting and esoteric and rare books - will always have a market. One day, I expect, those will be the only books printed onto paper. And those will be the ones that survive as antiques and collectibles as well. At the moment, when everyone is ditching their paper collections, the price to collect them is a bargain - Free. It costs only the labor and storage, which is the main thing most people are trying to avoid.

So the fact that the Book Guy wants those books, all of them, gives me hope that there is still a place for the treasured object in the world of books. And a place for sharing the cost through trading and selling of used books.

After all, in spite of the hundreds of book on my iPod, I still have hundreds of physical books of my own to pack and carry if I ever move. But when it's thinned down to the treasures, that won't seem like such a labor.

1 comment:

L.C. Evans said...

Very nice post, Camille. I'm at that point with my paper books, too. I was always buying new bookcases and now I have space opening up as I cull and move to ebook. I hope your dad's books go to someone who will treasure them.