Where We Buy Our Books, Part Deux

After reading New York Times reporter David Streitfeld's article about the cost of second-hand bookstores, I put some thought into my own practices and encountered another article that helped put things in perspective and made me better understand my ambivalence about the publishing industry — and other industries.

I wondered how much waste and excess is practiced in the publishing world, and I got a hint of it in an article by Motoko Rich ("Puttin' off the Ritz: The New Austerity in Publishing," New York Times, January 4, 2009). A lunch meeting between an author and her/his publisher isn't extravagant, but them having their own tables at The Four Seasons is a little excessive. So are insane advances for unknown authors, conferences that are just an excuse for debauchery and other misuses of funds.

The money isn't sitting in the safes, though — it's in the hands of the fastest dreg producers in the West, so to speak. If it's hot, there's a hardback book in the store awaiting your purchase. I'm all for pop culture, but readers shouldn't have to sacrifice quality for speed. Bake while the oven is hot, by all means, but let the dough rise first or you'll wind up with matzoh (which, truth be told, tastes like the box in which it is packaged).

Should there be fewer books published, then? Maybe — though that increases the chances of winding up with matzoh instead of beignets. (The Last Templar comes to mind.) I know reducing the number of titles published may create a dearth of O'Nan- and Gaiman-quality writers. I also know my Gaiman could be your Khoury (shudder). However, publishers found Gaiman and Pratchett before, and they will again — as they will the next Jacques or Evanovich.

And so will I, in the great world of books of any hands. In most industries, the original seller is the only one who provides a "cut" to the originator of the goods (publisher, designer, etc.). Resellers, a long tradition in every culture, never have had a responsibility to the originator for any item: clothing, shoes, music, dishes, electronics, movies. To throw away a book just because it's been read is as insensible as shredding a Van Gogh because the original owner died. Until the system changes, I will choose when to purchase something by when the urge strikes. New or used, full-price or discounted, library or bookstore — unless it's Jasper Fforde, Ariana Franklin or Sara Gruen, who will be purchased hot off the press because I just can't wait.

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