Books Aren’t Worth the Paper They’re Printed On

Got your attention?

I’m a writer. How could I possibly, truthfully express the sentiment in that headline? Well, let me tell you a story…

My mother is an avid reader, mostly of thrillers and mysteries, and she had a number of bookshelves, stocked with her favorites from over the years. Recently, she had the carpet replaced in her home and, rather than going to the trouble of reshelving most of those books when the new carpet was in and she could return her furniture to the rooms, she decided to sell the majority of those books to a used book store.

About three years ago, she made the reluctant plunge to ebooks. I say reluctant because she didn’t think she’d stick with it initially. Now, you’d have to pry her kindle from her cold, dead fingers. She’s discovered dozens of Indie authors (it helped that her son is one of them) and spends far, far less money on reading material than she used to, all the while enjoying the activity just as much as she ever did, perhaps more.

dreamstimefree_122041The paper books from her dusty shelves, which included pristine, hardback copies of Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, and Jonathan Kellerman best sellers, didn’t hold the nostalgic value they once had. She had no interest in rereading them, so it made sense to take them to a used book store and get a few bucks for them.

Billings, Montana isn’t a huge town by most standards, but we have a number of used book stores. We stopped by one on our way to lunch, thinking to drop the books off, quickly collect a few dollars, and hopefully pay for our meal with the “windfall.” Our visit was indeed quick, but not for the reason we supposed.

“We’re not buying any books,” the clerk explained. “In fact, we’re having a big sale right now to try to pare down our inventory.”

Hm. Okay. No big deal, we thought. We’ll just try another store.

We accumulated strikes two and three faster than Casey from the Mudville Nine.

Resigned to not being able to pay for our lunch, we visited the library after we’d eaten, seeking to donate the books.

“Could you bring them by when we have our big book sale in the winter?” the lady at the front desk asked. “We really wouldn’t have any place to store them until then.”

The library doesn’t want books? It’s not like these were outdated software manuals. Tom freaking Clancy!

We ended up dropping them off at our local GoodWill. The attendant took them with a slight frown on her face.

Being a relatively well informed writer who’s steeped in ebooks, I knew the digital world has been gaining ground on the world of dead trees, but this experience really drove the point home. I remember buying and trading used books as a kid — and as an adult — for many years. Proprietors were always happy to see me come in with a box of books, because they knew I’d be trading them for more reading material and they’d generate some churn in their inventory. Now? Those stores wouldn’t even take books in trade, because their shelves were already packed to overflowing.

And people wonder why the big publishers are doing everything they can to keep ebook prices as high as possible. Their businesses are built on paper. When anyone can publish a book in electronic form and have it appear on the virtual shelves of the largest bookseller on the planet, right next to Tom freaking Clancy, where is the incentive to spend years playing the agent-to-acquisition-to-publication lottery? Especially when the payout for that particular lottery is getting smaller and smaller with each passing day.

Before long, paper books will be a novelty item, only sought out by collectors, much like vinyl records are today. Vinyl aficionados claim digital is too clean. They like to hear the hisses and pops that records produce. I suspect the same sort of folks probably like ink smudges on their fingers from printed pages as well.

Personally, words carry the same impact for me, whether displayed on a screen or paper. A good story carries me off to another world, regardless of the medium in which it’s presented.

Books are worth much more than mere paper and ink.

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About Alan Tucker

Writer, Dad, Graphic Designer, Soccer Coach … not necessarily in that order!

Posted on August 25, 2015, in Books/Writing, Random/Rants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Wow! Very interesting, Alan!

  2. Sad, but true, Alan. We moved last year and I had to pare down my shelves. I gave away some books to the Salvation Army store and practically begged our local library to take my books and copies of National Geographic mags. Thanks for your insight!

  3. 1. Visit yelp.com
    2. ‘Find’ “used books” near somewhere. Choose a store.
    3. Sort the reviews by ranking by clicking on ‘ranking’. The first time, positive reviews float to the top. The second click, 1-star reviews.

    — all the positive reviews are the usual used-bookstore love. varied stock, reasonable prices, etc. I like used bookstores.

    — all the 1-star reviews are from people who actually think that their paper books have resale value. They’re entertaining to read.

  4. Faced with the problem of too many books and no one to buy them I left them, four at a time, in public bus shelters near home. They were obviously appreciated. Most disappeared within hours.

    • That’s an amazing idea, Maureen! I will mention that to my mother if she decides to part with any more of her library. Thanks for commenting!

      • Another place? Your local hospital. Ours maintains a few bookshelves – where people leave the books they brought with them, or pick up one to read after surgery. I’ve grabbed a number of classics and bestsellers there, to do market research with: see how the words look on the pages, what size the margins are, trim size… The big fat paperbckk (1468 pages) of Gone With the Wind reassured me that my own magnum opus (first book of trilogy about to be published), will still be publishable by Createspace.

        And a few to read.

        As for magazines, a local school will be happy to have the ones with pictures – but you have to let them be cut up. They do a lot of cutting – they always need more. Animal magazines or National Geographics are quite useful.

        But you MUST mentally compare that to just recycling (remove covers from the hardbacks) – because books and magazines and newspapers are rubbish now.

        Homeless shelters? Those people don’t have Kindles and Amazon accounts. Prisons? Their budgets are always being cut.

  5. I have about 3,000 books in my upstairs library I accumulated over the years. These days, I buy maybe one or two physical books a year, mainly the result of the eBook being almost as expensive as the hardback, although 99% of my reading is done on my Kindle or my phone. All the used bookstores in my town have shut down, so I will probably end up trucking all but a few of those books to Goodwill or Salvation Army. I’ve considered setting up as a third party seller on Amazon, but I don’t care to hassle with the packing and shipping.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Blake! That eBay/Amazon third party route is probably the only viable option for getting anything out of a collection that large, but, as you say, there are the obvious drawbacks to that as well. The digital disruption factor is real, as can be seen from the demise of record stores and the dwindling selection of CDs, even at places like Walmart.

      My only real fear about all of this is what happens to everything if we have a major disruption of cell/internet service, from a natural disaster or nefarious means? Not much point in worrying about it, I suppose, but there are still some perks from owning the physical object as opposed to a digital one stored in the ether.

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