The Future of Books

There has been a lot of discussion about the future of printed books. Since the advent of Amazon’s Kindle, the market for “e-books” has risen steadily, if not explosively. Some say that it will be the end of the printed book. I disagree.

The market for books is changing. But, the market is always changing. In today’s world, to operate your business the same as you did just six months ago may be the kiss of death for your livelihood. We booksellers today are faced with unprecedented market competition on one side and ever-rising overhead on the other side. What will happen?

I would like to offer up some of my ideas about where books and the business of selling them is headed. I have always been a great fan of Alvin Toffler and Thomas Friedman, two writers whom I would label as futurists. A futurist looks around the world as it is, then tries to predict what the world will become. Maybe I am a futurist of sorts too. So, here goes.

There will always be a demand for printed books. Especially those printed before the digital age, and especially those for whom there is a limited audience. Almost without exception, these will be scholarly works of nonfiction. Classic literature and popular works of any age will be available in a digitized format. Eventually, all books, fiction and nonfiction will be released in a digital version. However, there will still be room for the printed book. And there are still millions of printed books out there which will never be converted to a digital format.

Unless they rethink their business model. the large publishing houses will eventually wither and die for lack of demand for printed books. In order to survive, they will have to split their parent company apart into specialized houses serving a particular subject area. There will also be more companies specializing in better quality books. They will offer books with more durable bindings than is the case in today’s mass market world, where a book binding falls apart after one read. There will be more  better-quality books available. The mass-market paperbacks will still be be printed by the specialty houses, but in smaller runs.

There are some people like myself, for whom the feel of holding a book is part of the reading experience. Most of the younger folks who grow up using an electronic reading device may not be able to understand this, but I bet that there will be more and more converts going to the printed book for it’s feel of permanence, if nothing else. Yes, a printed book is, for most intents and purposes, permanent. Does anyone remember seeing Thomas Jefferson’s Kindle? And thankfully, Plato or Shakespeare did not save to a hard drive or to the internet cloud.

Technology itself is the Achilles Heel of the electronic book. Today, you may have purchased several hundred books for your electronic library. However, your reading device can only hold a few at a time. The rest are kept in that electronic limbo called the cloud. If you disable your reading device by dropping it, leave it on the roof of your car as you speed off to work, drop it in the water or fill it with sand at the beach, or the battery is drained, you will have what amounts to an expensive paperweight. And you will be unable to read any of your books until your device is repaired or replaced. True, a book will not emerge unscathed from such treatment either, but it will most likely survive in a readable condition. Last, but not least, your e-book is yours and yours alone. You cannot sell it to anyone else, and you cannot take it to a bookseller to sell or get trade-in credit. You are stuck with it. You can’t even donate it to the local library for a tax deduction.

The electronic reading devices themselves are still evolving. I have looked at some of the reviews for various devices and have read about the litany of problems of the devices themselves: Battery life, battery charging problems, problems connecting to the internet and other devices, delicate screens and other hardware as well as cranky software which cannot be repaired by the user. The e-reader is just one more device needing constant maintainance in today’s electronic world.

So, I think that even though digital books are a major presence in our world, booksellers should take heart. The printed book will outlast any form of electronic media, and is in no danger of extinction.

2012 Summer Bookfair ~ Floorplan of Exhibitors

The VABA Summer Bookfair is less than two weeks away! To date 41 exhibitors have signed up.  If you are a book or ephemera seller, there is still time to register for a booth by contacting Garry or Karen Austin at or 802-464-8438

You can view the floorplan of the fair and the list of this year’s exhibitors by going to the following link —

See you at the fair!

The Country Bookshop ~ Radio Ad for Classic Vermont 101.7

Ben Koenig at The Country Bookshop runs an ad on the Vermont radio station  Classic 101.7 – a celebration of Vermont living, Music, and BOOKS!

You can listen to Ben’s song by clicking on this link – turn up your sound, and enjoy!

The Country Bookshop

Ben Koenig
35 Mill St
Plainfield, VT

[Image from ehow mom]

c2012 VABA

Yea! ~ Real Books at Monroe Street Books in Middlebury

Here is a great YouTube from Monroe Street Books in Middlebury Vermont – who needs ebooks, nooks, or kindles when there are REAL books to collect, read, and savor!


Monroe Street Books
Route 7 North [just north of downtown Middlebury]
Middlebury, VT 05753

c2012 VABA News Blog

Austin’s Antiquarian Books Blog ~ not to be missed!

One of the best reads on the internet is Austin’s Antiquarian Books new blog. Here’s a recent article by Garry on one of the grand old shops, Whitlock Farms of Bethany, Connecticut ~

Memories of Whitlock Farms ~ by Garry Austin [posted 6-13-2012]

Browsing a bin at a paper show I discovered two letters written on Whitlock Farms Book Shop stationary. They were from the 1920’s and were written to an attorney in New Haven regarding a financial matter. They were signed by the proprietor who was the father of the Whitlocks that I had known, Gil & Everett. I bought them and sent them down to Bethany as a gift.  Memories of Whitlock Farms began to flow.

When I was young and knew everything about the old book biz, I was a frequent visitor to the “Farms” in Bethany. In rapt anticipation I would drive there on my way to, or home from Atlanta or some other of the endless number of shows that I exhibited at. Making my way to Whitlock’s was an adventure, an exploration. As I approached up the road, (it was all dirt then), I felt I was the only person who would be there, it seemed so isolated. As I rounded the corner I was always amazed at the number of cars in the lot. I never knew what to expect but I was rarely disappointed.

Sets in leather were my standard fare then but that shop had so much more. I would ask for entry to the cases and the “keys” would appear. My purchases were mostly curtailed by my lack of knowledge and financial restraints. Still, I took some chances then, leaps of faith, believing that I could move these new pieces and at a profit besides. My faith was always rewarded.

Some times I would get there early in the morning before opening and wait. There was a stray dog that was always about the place then. I would sit outside in the yard, enjoying a cup of coffee and that dog would settle in at my side. He was waiting for the Whitlocks too knowing he would be fed. When that blue Volvo station wagon arrived it was time to go to work. I would be the first customer of the day, I would have the first choice.

Whilock’s maintained two catalogue lists; East Coast & West Coast. You could subscribe to either but not both. When that mimeograph catalogue arrived, one read fast and dialed the phone even faster. Many times I would call and was more often than not disappointed, but occasionally …….

I remember fondly once when Gil allowed me to go into the “Morgue”. This was a high honor. The “Morgue” was a long narrow closet that ran from the main aisle to the eaves at the end of the main shop, just before the shipping area. It was filled with catalogue treasures and special books. Gil let me have the run of it that day and I bought more than I could afford I’m sure.

Whitlock’s was that rarest of book shops. It’s operation spanned generations but with the same family ownership.  That is very uncommon in the United States.  Both Gil & Everett are gone now and so is the book business as they knew and loved it. Whitlocks continues under new ownership. It was purchased by a man who loved it for what it was. He retained the staff and the feel of the place is the same. What also hasn’t changed is that there are still individuals that are captivated by the printed word. Whose intellectual curiosity compels them to seek out and find an author’s work. Who love to hold a bound book closely and feel a warmth that can hardly be described.  There are those that would rather browse 10,000 real books in a drafty old chicken barn on a New England hillside than 10 million virtual records on the internet databases. For them Whitlock’s remains a special place.

About a year or so ago I stopped there on a quiet Sunday. There wasn’t much that I found that demanded I buy it, but there is always something in a shop like this. What was really wonderful was what transpired while I was there. A middle aged woman led a small group of college age people walking in from the road. There were only about a dozen or slightly more. The woman was a Professor and neighbor and this was her class. She spoke of Whitlock’s and how it had been there for decades and what a lovely old book shop it was. I wanted to interrupt her and tell her of the importance of this shop to the community at large and to the trade specifically, but I didn’t interrupt. She encouraged the kids to browse. That’s when the magic began. I would watch them look at books. Picking something out, they would share it with their friends. They became excited, animated in conversation. They had become captivated by the book.  They were seeing old things in a new light. What happened next was encouraging. Several of these young browsers bought books. I hope they will remember Whitlock’s fondly. I hope they will return again. I also hope they will visit an old O.P. shop near where they live and not come to believe that all books come from Amazon and are delivered to a Kindle.

So a belated thanks to Gil & Everett and to all the staff of all the years at Whitlock’s Book Barn. They helped me become a better bookman. I owe them more than I can repay.

© 2012 Garry Austin