Spreading Their Pages For Anyone

The tussle between Amazon and Hachette has been interesting to follow. Not super easy to follow since not a large amount of the dispute has been made public. Mostly speculation, with a bunch of educated guesses thrown around. But some of the immediate effects of it are clear. Authors, even those not directly affected by the dispute, are not too happy. Stephen Colbert is particularly unhappy, as you can see in the video clip below.

What amuses me, in relation to our business, is his description of used books:

Folks, publishers and authors get no cash from used book sales. Plus, you don’t want them. Used books are the sluts of the literary world. Passed around from person to person spreading their pages for anyone, getting cheaper and cheaper until eventually they end up in prison. (Stephen Colbert, June 5th, 2014)

…which is one way to look at it. (Would libraries and used bookstores then be brothels?) Sometimes, I find, a used book is just simply more interesting than a new book, which might be because of marginalia, bookplates, sentimental value, or provenance. Just like in the art world, who the book has been owned by can make it worth more, whatever the book. See my post about one book in particular which perfectly illustrates this. The affordability of used books is an enormous factor, but the provenance is usually difficult or impossible to determine… unless it’s a book that’s been in the family, which will generally only add sentimental or nostalgic value.

I prefer to think of used books like houses. Like living spaces. How many families, how many people have lived in your house before you? There may be little to no evidence that they were ever there, but just knowing that people have lived and died and had kids and arguments, reconciliations, all that good ol’ human drama, not to mention all the stuff, all their baggage, that they brought into the house. A house is defined by who lives in it. And so with a used book. You live with a story while you read it, and though the structure, the words remain the same for whoever comes it anew, the story is always interpreted differently based on the reader’s personal experience and knowledge of the world. Nobody talks about haunted books though, do they? There’s a story in that, if it hasn’t already been told… and if it has, there is surely room for another!

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