Mere Commentary III

I suppose I don’t HAVE to comment on everything. The phrase “no comment” is a useful one, and when you start going slightly grey (I won’t know about that for a few years yet) you can always pretend you didn’t hear the question. A lot of people, however, forwarded me the link to Michael Savuitz’s online column in October and asked me what I thought about it. It’s asking a lot of Uncle Blogsy to expect him to blog and price books AND think. But it should be facedm I suyppose. So with my heart in my throat and my keyboard on my lap, I will tell you about Michael Savitz’s column of October 6, 2010, on Slate.

Mr. Savitz wrote with feeling about his life as a seller of used books. This alone makes him a pariah to certain of my customers. But he is worse: he is a bookdealer with a scanner. He runs this dee-vice across the bar code on the backs of books as he works his way through church rummages and library book sales, making himself, he feels, the target of evil glares. Even evil words are used against him for conducting business in a place of books.

I have referred to this once or twice before. I have customers who loathe DEALers, and especially DEALers with SCANners. “They are so rude!” I’ve been told, “Can’t they shop at a time when real people aren’t around?”

There are, indeed, rude book dealers; they use maneuvers usually restricted to the football field to keep other people away from the books they think will pay their rent. And some people with scanners can be unbelievably thoughtless (have I mentioned lately the person who carried off our entire CD section on opening night and returned what wasn’t wanted at the end of the night, making sure that no one else got to buy CDs that night?)

But, and I am saying this as gently as possible, faithful blogreader, because I know you as a kind and gentle person, Not All Rude People Are Professionals. I have some mighty rude customers who buy books out of the sheer love of books…or combat. Mr. Savitz claims that he is as polite as possible as he works his way down the array of books, and is not elbowing other customers out of the way. I have no data on this, so I will have to take his word for his demeanor. At any rate, I believe it is POSSIBLE.

And, um, there is something else. You don’t want to hear it any more than I want to say it, buttered noodles. But the nasty old DEALer is spending the same kind of dollars the rest of my customers are. I would prefer to sell only to people who are buying books to read and cherish and pass them on to a most favored grandchild, but what you spend at the Book Fair is just as good for buying light bulbs as if you were taking the books home to pave the driveway at your summer cottage. Which a lot of the books Mr. Savitz buys are eminently suited for.

Bringing us to the other thing about his column. He confesses frankly that he does not read the books he buys. He does not need to know the author or the title. His scanner and the bar code tell him all he needs to know, namely “Is this book going to be a quick sell?” It is in his interest to work fast and buy high-demand books that are going to turn a fast buck, and which of us really needs to blame him for that? He says he makes about a thousand dollars a week at it, which is better than I was doing the last time I had my personal staff look into the question.

Books without bar codes? Pshaw, chutney chow mein: he hasn’t any time for those. If a book is of any value, it’s been reprinted in a new edition with a bar code and, if it hasn’t, then it is very likely going into the recycling bin after he leaves. This endearing Center of the Universe attitude is not unique to dealers with scanners, either. Like a lot of my customers, he suggests that his money is all that keeps us afloat. Like any modern businessman, he feels his is the only sensible way to run his kind of business. And like every good Book Fair customer, he seems to have nothing but contempt for the books he doesn’t want.

Which is why I don’t understand you other folks glaring at him. He’s buying textbooks and glossy bestsellers and leaving all the good stuff for you. 

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