The above title was the winner of a competition to sum up man’s relationship to technology in six words, further trivia..if you have an iphone and you say that to Siri, the response is “Oh no, not again.” Which segues neatly into saying Happy Birthday to the Late Douglas Adams…late happy birthday in fact, but he is terribly missed.
Anyway, on with the show:
Isabelle Adjani, Eva Green and myself were in London on Tuesday night and we were desperately stuck for something to do. We contemplated trying on lingerie and having a pillow fight (which as you no doubt know, is what all attractive women get up to when there is nobody else around) but in the end, starved of culture, we decided to go to Senate House, at the University of London, to one of the fantastic lectures organised by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and listen to you talk about book collecting on the internet…
Apart from the obvious plus points that the lecture was delivered by none other than Dr. Justin Croft (who should totally be the next Doctor Who), and Simon Beattie (who should totally be the next head librarian at Hogwarts) and Natalie Galustian (who should totally be the next Queen of Booksellers, we’re sure that position exists)…but there was also yourself, which we initially thought was going to be a little disappointing but which actually turned out to be quite fun…expecially since you are quite funny and totally look just like Tom Hardy, who is dreamy. We had a good time.
The above is an excerpt from a letter which, quite obviously, I did not receive, and which exists only in my head.
So, they let me out of my basement! Normally this is not a good thing for the general public…I have to wear this:
In their infinite wisdom the ABA asked me to be part of a round table of young booksellers (only in this trade could a man of my obvious rapid rate of decay be described as “young”) discussing book collecting and the internet…you know; where to find books, what to look out for, methods of searching, does downloading porn interfere with meta-search results, the usual.
I’ll be clear…in comparison to the other people I was talking alongside, I am The Zeppo.
Justin Croft and Natalie Galustian both served apprenticeships with Simon Finch; a bookseller who should be admired for, if nothing else, his ability to create the first rare bookshop you could walk into without fear of contracting tetanus. Plus, Oh! The Books!
Simon Beattie did ten years learning book-selling at Quaritch ; which is a bit like saying you spent ten years learning bounty hunting from Boba Fett.
They are the new breed of rare and antiquarian bookseller; knowledgeable, very sharp and bristling with skills and style.
Natalie, for example, conducted the whole round table via skype…from the Caribbean…yeah, the rest of us were sitting in a classroom near Goodge street fanning ourselves with bits of paper…and she was complaining that she couldn’t show the view off her balcony because the sun was too bright…whilst sipping rum. I was quite clearly out of my league.
It being 2012, you’d think that books on the internet were fast approaching old news. No such thing. The room so generously provided for us filled very rapidly, until there were actually some poor souls standing up at the back. That’s one effect of the internet, you turn up at the dictionary definition of minority interest to find there’s no room for you. Bummer.
We were introduced by the generous and erudite Mr. Nicolas Barker, who put me in mind of the kind of man who, when faced by a horde of triffids in his front garden would say “Fascinating! I really must get a sample.” before postulating that really all that was needed was to reverse engineer “Baby Bio” into a toxic spray and mankind would be saved. “Take that vegetable menace! Next, martians!”
He suggested we were erudite, to which I took offence, until someone explained what it meant. After that little hiccup we proceeded to wow a room full of dealers and collectors with our cumulative knowledge.
Messrs. Beattie and Croft started the ball rolling with a run down of what the internet means to them, how they use it to buy and sell books and a couple of pointers of which sites and searching methods they recommended. They both came down in favour of the metasearch sites (book sites that search lots of other book sites and collect the results in one place rather than sites that hold a database of stock), these sites give you more results, more ability to compare prices and benefits and have the virtue of being largely more up to date than database sites.
While we’re on the subject:
I kind of wish we could move past this whole “www.abebooks.com is the enemy” business; it’s probably the best generally known place for book collectors to make contact with book dealers and get an idea of their stock, levels of knowledge and ability and purchase in a “secure” environment.
Yes, they charge commission (considerably less than the discount I give to trade purchasers). No, they don’t really know much about books (that’s not their job, that’s our job). Yes their ridiculous rating system is a silly tacked-on bit of pandering to current web fashions. They have a tendency to talk in grating marketese about “value” and the “strength of their offer”. It’s annoying, move on.
Well, we have a tendency to communicate with them in the manner of “Disgusted NIMBY of Cheltenham” whenever we speak to them. They have to put up with apparently professional book-dealers whom they are trying to assist saying things like “Life’s too short for me to take photos of my books!” and they handle it without publicly rolling their eyes, face-palming left and right and telling us to grow up.
But they sell a lot of books, for us and literally thousands of other book dealers around the world. They make a lot of customers happy, and a multitude of book collectors prefer the service they offer to alternatives offered by individual dealers and other sites.
That is the important bit; happy book collectors buying good books…anything else is secondary.
Could they improve? Certainly.
Could we? Oh Hell Yes.
Miss Galustian contributed some sage insights into the enduring appeal of bookshops in the internet age, and how one of the ways in which we can move forward is by using the internet as a method of reminding people that we have real bricks and mortar premises which smell of old book and contain aesthetically challenged genuine members of the rare book trade.
This is something that deserves emphasis…the internet is not merely for selling stuff on, a la Amazon. The internet is a place where people live, work, write, read, listen and comment. It’s our school, our main street, our pub and our public forum. If we don’t participate in these activities (and Tuesday kind of highlighted the fact that there are many who don’t, and won’t) then we as a trade could easily become the equivalent of one of those towns in the Midwest of America that just dried up and blew away when someone changed the path of the highway.
Which would be a shame, especially now that as far as I can see, small independent bookshops will be the only ones left in a few years, once the mainstream giants have discovered that they need to switch to digitized media to keep their margins up.
To be continued…