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Friday, November 20, 2009

JJ: Thirty-One Years

The past thirty years have been a lot of fun. If I make it till January second, it will make thirty-one years of fun. Thirty-one years of selling books. Thirty-one years of pleasure. Thirty-one years of headaches, too, but that is a minor issue. It doesn't seem like it has been that long, until I look around and realize how much the world and this valley have changed. Sykes is gone. Books West is going. Norm's has changed from a community gathering place to a high-end ice cream parlor. Rumor says that soon Borders Express -- once known as Waldenbooks -- will soon be gone. Main street is becoming a ghost town of empty businesses and the fields around Kalispell have turned into Yuppieville. Last week, a customer gave me her stock of paperbacks and refused credit. She owns a Kindle now and doesn't want words on wood pulp any more. I guess this is the wave of the future, and in a way I can understand it. I have several dozen ebooks on my cellphone/PDA, but I consider them to be emergency reading -- I get only a fraction of the pleasure from them that I get from holding and reading a "real" book. When the issue is storage space or availability there is no comparison -- the Kindle wins hands down. All the cubic yards of books that clutter up my apartment could fit handily in the space that one book occupies now and sometimes that seems like a good thing, but the warmth and ambience and sense of companionship those crowded shelves give me would be gone. When the issue is durability, paper wins. Drop a book and a Kindle off of a roof or out of a car and then look at what you have left. The odds are the book will still be readable, or at least enough so to be enjoyable. The Kindle is an all-or-nothing proposition. It works perfectly or not at all, and books don't need batteries. Add in the fact that when you own a book, it can only be taken away by force and that the books you "own" on your Kindle can be stolen away at the whim of Amazon with no notice or warning and the old fashioned ways of reading look even better. Anyone who is a little worried about "Big Brother" should remember that our government tried to coerce librarians into tracking people who read subversive literature, and the appeal of traditional books should be even greater. No one demands I.D. when you buy books and no one can monitor your reading habits. When I like a book I often loan it to a friend or two, and my reference books are always available to my friends. With Ebooks and Digital Rights, this wouldn't be legal or possible -- a big strike against the electronic readers for me. The Kindle loses out in a big way, at least in my opinion, to traditional books, in the totally subjective areas of look and feel. I love the feel of a finely bound book, and even the cheapest paperback is soft and warm in your hands. A plastic Ebook reader feels like, well, plastic, cold and impersonal and soulless. Yeah, I'm a nut. So what. So far this new era of Big Box stores and disposable lifestyles hasn't affected me or my business. I hope this trend continues. I coexist peacefully with the local book chains and we actually complement each other. They refer customers to me and I do the same to them, and many of their employees are my customers -- book addicts, like myself, who can't stay away from the printed word. Even in these tough economic times I am still busy, though it seems like I have more books moving in and out but a little less money in the till at the end of the day. People are trading more and spending less, and more people are trying to sell their books instead of trade them. I am encouraged by the children and young adults who still love books and seek them in here. It gives me hope for the future, and I am not just referring to the future of the used book business. TBC (Me)