Are the Days of the Real Book Numbered?

Brian W. Webster

Antique French books
(The Invisible Agent in Paris)

I can feel the tremor of fear that runs through the book world with the advent of computered books and, to be honest I felt it too.
But a thought came to my head from remembering a friend I had in ages past.
He owned a very well known Antiques Store on Madison Avenue in New York.
I was in his store one day and he had a new collection just delivered and he was one the phone describing parts he needed.
“Can you get those parts”, I asked, “these days’?
He explained that there was a whole industry turning out table legs, hand pulls, locks, all imitations of the real thing.
He took me over and showed me a table, rickety looking and one leg shorter that the three others.
“It’s going to cost me about $1,000.00 to fix this, varnish it, replace the hinges etc., to make it saleable. Now it’s worth about $4,000.00 as it stands and I paid almost that to get it. When I’m finished, at Auction, it should go for abouy $15,000.00 or more.”
I was stunned. “But that’s cheating.”
“Certainly not. I’m merely bringing it back to its original condition, and the buyer understands that. Do you know that most Antiques on sale are only 40% original? 60% have been refurbished? Even Artwork is cleaned and retouched.”
“Well you might as well go to one of these Companies that Advertise they make copies.” I retorted
“That’s where you’re wrong. People would rather have the real thing, than a copy. Goes for anything. People are would rather own a rebuilt 1939 Cadillac than a brand new one. A Flintlock Pistol than a Mac 9. Show a punter a real Chippendale with the original trademark and he’ll go crazy to buy it.”

Thinking on I realized that I had already experienced that. My first entry into used selling on the Internet was in Records. My wife was a fanatic Jazz Fan. Ragtime, Blues, Dixieland, all of them and she had kept all of her LP’s over the years. As the CD came in so the LP’s stopped.
But the real fans stayed with the LP’s although fewer than before.
Now those fans have suddenly increased as they realised that real Music was far superior to the Computer imitation. There is now a big market for old Vinyl (the professional term for the LP”s), and those with the best Jackets generally got the higher prices.
We did quite well, but the problem was quality. There are are still tons of Vinyl on the market but very little undamaged, and nothing can be done to repair scratches and scuffs, or broken Covers or cracks. You visit people and talk about LP’s and many say, “Oh, I have a lot of my Dad’s LP’s in the Garage. Would you like to see them?”
But rarely do those waterstained cardboard boxes contain a treasure. If they are not junk they are so badly treated there is no revival. Besides this there are so many variations in pressings, dates and makers and it’s tough to run all the information down.

And so we arrive at books. There may be a shift to the Computer books to people who like to boast about what they are reading, but many people buy a book to keep and reread.
Come into a house with lot’s of books and you see a person of intellect, some one that you can admire. I don’t think that would be true with the computer version.
In fact people with lots of books are eager to show what they have, rather like the man who has and Antique motorcycle in his garage. He’ll drag you in therre to view it.
Many people just buy books to impress visitors. I have met people like that who will boast that every book on their shelves is a first Edition. There are even companies on the hunt for Leather Bound Volumes. They buy them by the foot to sell to people with more money than sense.
Mind you, there are exceptions. Looking for something is quicker on the Computer version of Brittanica, although a complete set of Brittanica is lovely to own. Wikkipedia is also quick but very doubtfull about it’s facts.

My wife came in and insisted including the Emotional aspect of a book. It’s the feel of a book, the smell. The paper it’s printed on, the type face they used. There is a romance to a book that no machine can evoke. Merely go to a books store and look at the covers, that is an adventure in itself.
Just visit a used bookshop and look around. There are treasures hidden in there to be discovered and they can be yours!
I believe that the book world is safe. There is nothing nicer than the opening the first page of an unread ( or even an old favorite) book and falling into the wonderland of it’s story.

But there are areas where some books may disappear. Text books are an example, or highly technical tomes. I think a lot reference books may fall into the morass of bits and bites, mainly because of the ease of reference.
And finally, let’s get rid of the telephone book. It’s the only book that makes me groan at seeing on my doorstep.

Resources: The Invisible Agent

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  • Good article Brian.

    My favorite line is, “And finally, let’s get rid of the telephone book. It’s the only book that makes me groan at seeing on my doorstep.” …

    Re-reading that perhaps I should add it is not because it is the last line and I could stop reading. It is because I agree with it 100%. I recently read that phone books will be distributed by customer request only. Indeed some localities are already doing this.

    I think there will always be people that prefer paper and ink (or toner) over digital screens. This is especially true of used books. I just don’t think curling up with a Kindle is quite as comforting as having a book.

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  • Great article, Brian, and great comment too, prying1.

    I’m not so sure about textbooks disappearing … or at least if they do, it won’t be because students no longer buy or want them.

    My son is an undergraduate science student and he has all the usual technology – 2 desktop computers, a laptop, a Smartphone, Ipod, and the list goes on … an on. He bought electronic versions of his textbooks, then asked me to find ‘real’ versions for him because despite his obviously high level of comfort with technology, the ‘real’ versions were much easier to use.

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  • As a picture book writer, I definitely hope the printed book is around for a long time. Telephone books, on the other hand, are an entirely different story. I sometimes chase down that slow moving white van in our neighborhood to return these books that will only go straight into my trash. I try to be nice when I return their books, but sometimes they aren’t nice in return.

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