Updates to Fear and Loathing.

Well, that was exciting. I’ve received a few emails of support from colleagues saying “Absolutely, good job.” etc. for which I am most grateful. I’ve received a couple of responses where people say “But it was so much better before we had to do all this.” which I sympathize with, but is quite frankly…useless.

Most surprisingly I have had two (count them: 2) responses from people saying that they like what I said, they agree, but they can’t publicly support me because they’ll get in trouble. Which is…wow…really? That’s a thing?

Not impressive, book trade, not impressive at all. What’s the point in hiring people to help you, if you aren’t prepared to help them? Presumably you want your business to be full of smart, adaptable people with a great breadth of knowledge? Well those aren’t usually qualities that go hand in hand with blind obedience or adherence to the party line… I hope.

In addition I received the usual smart and informed opinion from Brooke Palmieri, who is pretty much my go to benchmark for the veracity and sense of anything I say.  I also received this:

Erm, thank you Victorian Approval Wolf...

Erm, thank you Victorian Approval Wolf…

Which was nice.

The only other response so far has been from a book-dealer that under normal circumstances I have the appropriate amount of respect and affection for; but on this occasion decided for reasons of his own to describe the relationship between bookseller and abebooks as similar to “being a battered wife.”



*shakes head vehemently

Absolutely not.

Let’s not do this; let’s not take serious and traumatising real life issues and attempt to shoehorn them into our petty, often greed and personality based issues with the fact that we are no longer permitted to do whatever we please in our chosen profession. Not ever.

The general consensus seems to be that this is a time for everybody to be pooling their respective skills and intelligence and generally trying to salvage the situation. I shall obviously detail the best strategies for doing this in my upcoming book and lecture tour “Fallout Boy; or One Bookseller’s Adventures in Post-Apocalypse Bookselling.” (copyright; Jonathan Kearns…also available as an e-book).

I fully understand that abebooks and more remotely Amazon are not to the taste of every bookseller, but the bottom line is that they sell our books to customers we otherwise might not have been able to sell books to. Customers that then become ours. I am still totally at a loss why this isn’t considered to be a useful service, and a basis of opportunity that can be built upon.

Booksellers have always adapted swiftly and effectively to changes in their theatre of operations…the risky nature of bookselling in say, 16th Century Germany (as just one example) gave rise to many of the strategies that we still utilise today. Bookseller’s co-own stock, co-operate on shipping, printing and distribution, proxy for each other over large distances and blithely operate on lines of credit in a manner unknown to most modern businesses.  Traditionally our closest ties have been not with princes or great thinkers but with rag and bone men. One of Koberger’s most successful book selling outlets was not a printer’s front office or a pleasantly appointed shop, but the back room of a pub.

You can be sure that there’s a bookseller somewhere in Mos Eisley, there’s definitely one in the slums of King’s Landing, and I personally recommend the one on Tortuga, just don’t eat the long pig sandwiches.

The very nature of the objects that we deal in; their intransigent and stubborn individuality, is reflected in us as a trade. One the one hand this is a marvellous thing, it gives us a degree of autonomy, a fugitive scent of romance, the ability to pursue and promote our own areas of desire and obsession.

A bookseller, yesterday.

A bookseller, yesterday.


On the other hand it makes us counter-productively independent, willfully tunnel-visioned and imbues aspects of our trade with the unattractive and alienating aroma of narcissism, elitism and hubris.

A bookseller, yesterday.

A bookseller, yesterday.

All well and good, as long as you are selling books to your customers in a manner and fashion that they are comfortable and happy with.

Like the man who says “I don’t use email.” and considers it a stamp of his independence in an increasingly email oriented commercial universe (it isn’t, it’s rudeness, plain and simple…yes people wrote letters and telephoned before email, they also bled to death before blood transfusions and shipped everything by canal boats before the railways came…it doesn’t mean those were better ideas), booksellers need to consider not how they view their actions, but how their customers view them.

We had it our way for a long, long time and we carried barely post medieval businesses into the 20th century with us. Now in the 21st century those old business practices can no longer endure, and we have to adapt in order to keep on keeping on. In my opinion, it’s just that simple.



About bibliodeviant

This is the journal of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities, and all who sail in her. Information, updates, rantings, musings and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person's head. We welcome queries, comments and contributions of virtually any description, and in return we will attempt to rein in our multitudinous personality disorders and deliver wonders and joys beyond compare. At least that's the plan. View all posts by bibliodeviant

3 responses to “Updates to Fear and Loathing.

  • cardmon

    Reblogged this on Cardmon's Blog and commented:
    A very interesting article, and one in which I have to say that I agree.

  • steve liddle

    I’m with you JK. You have to adapt to survive as, I think, Darwin pointed out. Personally, without ABE et al, I would have been f**cked years ago. The ABA, PBFA and ILAB all had chances to get in on the ground floor of the internet revolution, and they all, to a man and woman, ballsed it up. So not a great place to look for guidance.
    And you got Adam Ant into a book blog. Respect!
    All best, as ever, Steve

  • Leo Cadogan

    Jonathan, I admire your intervention and I’m essentially with you. Posturing against Abebooks is I think a waste of energy and the victimhood that this sort of approach entails is counterproductive to bookselling. Most importantly, the digital marketplace is essential to many people’s businesses – and could help more. I do think there is no one size fits all. Booksellers are already making responses to the digital world, tailored to such needs as of their material and their clients. There are people I know who are making a commercial decision to keep their books off the internet, while keeping a close eye nevertheless on the internet. Some people keep their internet exposure mostly to publicity, often post-private sale. Some people only release info on their books on the internet via pdf list – rather than through internet market-sites. Plenty of this is valid. The important thing for booksellers in the digital world is not to be arrogant, victimlike or complacent.

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