For the last eleven years, I have sold used books on the Internet. Sometimes rare books, sometimes not so rare. Never very quickly, but it’s made me a bit of money, and it provided a lot of enjoyment, just by virtue of getting to look at a lot of cool books.
Used books are a hard sell these days, though, and they rarely appreciate in value. One of the most difficult things for many used book dealers (who tend to be inordinately fond of books), is bringing one’s self to throw them out.
I’ve been facing the ordeal of getting about two thousand books off my premises and out of my life, just recently. These are books I failed to sell, and books I’ve culled from my private collections.
They sit around on a myriad of shelves, gazing at me reproachfully, getting dustier and sadder. I move them back and forth between sections from time to time – sections that I think I want to keep, sections I want to try to keep trying to sell online, sections to give to the thrift shop.
The thrift shop is a good charity, but they only have so much room for books, and even though they are very inexpensive, they can only absorb so many of my books any given week. The library has a book sale, but they only take donations for the books, and tend to net about fifteen cents per book – an awful lot of work involving hauling and storing and unstoring, for not much return. The thrift shop at least charges a quarter, or fifty cents, and sometimes even a dollar.
Some I do throw away. And occasionally I put a bunch in boxes out on the street.
I put about 400 books out in boxes on the street this Friday afternoon around two. Reasonable books. We’re not talking used romance novels here. Lots of science, household stuff, science fiction, eclectic items. I piled them up so people could see there were books. I made a big sign out of a scrap piece of sheetrock reading “Free Books” and tied it to the mailbox post.
I watched cars go by for awhile, maybe one a minute on this moderately trafficked sidestreet. Nobody stopped. Nobody even slowed down.
They drove by in nice cars and trucks, the kind that you spend quite a few thousands of dollars on.
I went to the store, came back around five. It’s a windy day, a few of the books were blown off the piles. Otherwise, everything looked the same.
As I went in the house, I saw a boy riding down the street on his bicycle, one-handed, waving a book in the other. “Look! I got a free book!” he was yelling to someone across the street.
Okay…that’s a start.
It is grueling, this business of giving away books. I’ve tried giving away books on Freecycle. I get very little response, and they don’t tend to show up. I had one guy show up who owned a bookstore in California who offered to buy all of my books, including some that I’ve sold for some money on eBay since then, for $100.
Stubborn to the end, I passed on his offer.
It’s Friday evening. People may be going around looking for yard sales, who knows? They do yard sales here on Fridays, and sometimes the evenings.
Maybe someone will take away some of these books.
Or maybe not. They could be out there till Sunday. It’s taken days when I’ve done this in the past.
These are not bad books. Some were in my private collection for years. I threw out the hopeless ones; the used text books, the overly damaged, the excessively obscure or specialized.
I know, they’re just books. Just paper. There are other copies around. You can get just about anything from Print on Demand these days, if you want it that badly.
I’ve always been all about books, though. They have been there for me so often, when humans have not. Even when I don’t read them, I like having them around. I like the look of several rows of books covering many themes of some subject I find of interest. Sometimes I even open one and look something up.
There they sit, though, with the wind blowing their pages, and me worrying about them. They’re not safe out there. Bad things could happen to them. Dogs could come around and pee on them. People could come by in the night and commit unspeakable acts. Throw them around. Set them on fire. You never know.
There is something terribly sad about it, this business where you cannot even find homes for your inventory without worrying about people setting it on fire. It’s like having extra puppies. Such nice books; surely somebody will like them? Surely there is a place for them, somewhere?
Meanwhile, what people *do* want is my pecans from my pecan tree. I’ve had five times as many requests this year as usual. These range from offers to “help” get the pecans down, to people showing up and gathering the ones off of the easement, to even in one case sneaking into my yard.
The pecans on the easement included pecans I’d put out there from last year, and second-rate pecans that have fallen, from whatever years. Cracked pecans, bird-pecked pecans, old pecans.
All those pecans are gone now. The ground is scoured.
I can see the failure in my strategy. I should have collected ALL the pecans, and put them in boxes with books on the bottom, and set *those* out on the curb.
It’s important to know one’s market.
Update: Now it’s Sunday evening, and 95% of those books are still out there. The sign has blown over; it’s a windy day and the twine broke.
The books have been moved from tidy piles to untidy piles. I don’t know how many people have looked at them.
But the writing is on the ground.