Today I’m Ranty Dancehall
by Anthony Doerr
Why libraries are evil, used bookstores are hardly better, and you should always choose hardcover—Author and TMN Contributing Writer Anthony Doerr argues for buying books, not borrowing them.
Check my sidebar. See that link at the top, the one that says, “Books Unlimited”? That’s my husband’s store. His used-book store. His evil, used-book store.
I’m taking a little offence at Mr. Doerr’s article.
Now bear with me. I’m a writer who would love to be an Author, best-selling or not. I’d love to generate money just by sitting here and making things up. I understand that Authorhood happens when people go out and buy your book.
Mr. Doerr’s argument is this: when deciding whether or not they are going to publish an author’s next book, a publisher looks at that author’s selling record. There’s a chance that an author’s second book may not see publication because used-book stores and libraries skew this number. Oh, and Mr. Doerr is missing out on his 31 cents if you go to a library. But it’s not about the money, he says.
Yes yes yes. Whatever. Wah.
Leave the used-book stores and libraries out of it. They have only a little impact on what does or doesn’t get published. Why?
Let’s look at American Idol. I have no beef with the show, so don’t flame me about it (not naming names Tootsie). But it is a prime example of how this culture treats artists. There can only be One Great Superstar. The rest are losers. The same goes for writers, for fashion designers, for filmmakers, for photographers and painters. All the money, marketing, and schmoozing goes to a select few every year in the hopes of giving America what the powers that be believe America wants. Really, it’s just a lazy shortcut, but that’s a topic for another day. Go on over to Bud’s site, and see what he has to say about small performance venues (Live Music Matters, Thursday, March 23rd, 2006).
So what happens to the One Great Superstar next year? Yeah. I hear the crickets chirping too.
Apply it to writers. Dan Brown is riding high today. He’ll probably ride high tomorrow, when his next book finally comes out. But after that? Odds are that his publishers will have moved on to the Next Big Author by then. Fine. They need to make money.
What happens to all of Dan Brown’s copies of The Da Vinci Code? Readers need to make room on their shelves for that Next Big Author, don’t they? Gotta keep the economy rolling! Should they just throw DVC into the trash? Maybe tear it up and use it to insulate the house? Line the birdcage or the litter box? Line the landfill?
This is where that evil used-book store comes in.
O is fond of saying that he recycles more paper in a year than most people do in a lifetime. He buys used books from people who would otherwise throw them away. He’s actually had people tell him that. ‘If you don’t take this box of books, I’m just going to toss it into the Dumpster.’
He’s not running a library. He needs to make money. He does this by selling books at a discounted price to people who do not have, or do not wish to spend, the $30 and up on a brand new hardcover. He does not sell hundreds of used copies of a book that is currently at the top of the NYT Bestsellers list. He might sell one or two, if someone brings the book to him right after reading it.
Here’s what he does sell: a few copies of books that were on the list a year ago. He sells books that have been out-of-print for years. Remember, publishers are interested in making money. Good for them. That means taking out of print older books that have had their day to make press room for Dan Brown’s newest potboiler. These cast-aside books are our bread and butter.
Remember Robert James Waller? He wrote a little book called The Bridges of Madison County. It outsold the Bible (at least that’s the hearsay. Or is that heresy?) Do you think copies are flying off the shelves of used-book stores, reducing his chances of getting another book published, not to mention depriving him of 30-odd cents every time?
O won’t touch Bridges with a ten-foot pole. These days, they are good for leveling tables, holding doors open, and that’s about all.
Used-book stores make sure that yesterday’s bestsellers remain available. They also make available books that came nowhere near the A-list, but contain useful information or a good story all the same. We are a research
Here’s where I name-drop. Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Orson Butler had a half-hour conversation with O, talking about how he would always buy from and support used-book stores, because it was the used-book sellers who promoted his book to their customers. The new-book stores did not.
And then there are Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Rikki Doucornet, E. Annie Proux (I think one of her stories became a movie recently…what was it? Something about cowboys…) and Anne Rice. You might have heard of her. (Oh, and Trey Parker…I just mention him because I want you to think I’m cool.) They’ve bought books from us for all sorts of reasons – for research, for entertainment, for a community center – many books that are out-of-print or difficult to find. If they don’t have a problem with used-book stores, no one should.
But, Mr. Doerr can rest a little easier come next October. After seventeen years of stunting the careers of authors everywhere, Books Unlimited will close its doors forever. Sales have slowly diminished over the years, in proportion to the rising number of people looking to sell their books. And we can’t compete with on-line sellers offering books for a penny. The treasure of knowledge gathered under one roof will be scattered, sold, resold and resold until it’s tossed away.
The marketplace has spoken. We’ll get out of its way.
Mr. Doerr needs to stop crying about evil libraries and used-book stores stealing his money and opportunities. We are not the enemy. There is no enemy. There’s just the marketplace. It wants books for a penny. It will get what it wants, no matter what.