Sunday, 31 October 2010

It was rather like those pictures

of people stampeding into shops at sale time. I have never been to that sort of event and, after yesterday's experience, I am quite sure I do not wish to attend a sale at opening time. There were people waiting to enter the church hall two hours beforehand. This was despite the fact that it was cold and wet. The threatened thunder did not appear but I wonder whether it would have made any difference.
I could recognise some of those waiting - book vultures. I have this uncomfortable relationship with second hand books. I try to buy them only if they are out of print. This is difficult for me as I have a very limited income but I know most writers have a very limited income as well. Even if I am not published I feel I should support my fellow writers. I justified, if it can be justified, yesterday's sale of books by telling myself that writers would approve of a programme providing support to teenagers. After all, if these teenagers do not end up as reasonably balanced and stable individuals are they going to read and go on reading? Is it looking after the reading clientele? I hope so.
But, the book vultures are another story. They make a living out of authors but give nothing to authors in return. Second hand books are their livelihood. They descend on garage sales, church fetes, charity shops. fairs and elsewhere. They rapidly pick the cream of the crop and leave the reduced fat for everyone else. They will tell you that life is hard, that there are less books around than there used to be, that their costs are rising and that they have to compete with cheap imports of remainder books etc etc.
I cannot sympathise. I have no objection to the dealer I know who deals only with out of print books. It is her speciality. She is aware that, rightly, people will sometimes need or want something that nobody has reprinted or is ever likely to reprint. She makes a steady income from this. I had put aside several books I thought she might interested in. She took them and gave me more than I asked. We understand each other quite well.
The vultures were another matter. An argument broke out between two and, even as they were arguing they were continuing to rapidly pick through the books. I know one will sell the books he obtained for highly inflated prices. He somehow manages to sell in print paperbacks for almost the same prices as new copies - and convince people they have 'a bargain'. I asked him once how he could justify it when authors get paid so little. He told me, "That's their problem." It is?
Later in the day, after the dealers had gone, I had another little problem. It had come to the point where we were anxious to deplete the remaining stock by as much as possible. A couple turned up and spent almost an hour looking through what was there. Each potential purchase was closely examined and dicussed in a language with which I recognised but do not understand. The woman, presumably the wife, was looking uncomfortable but her partner continued his minute examination. Finally he turned to me and asked, "How much?"
I told him. It was half the sum we would have asked earlier in the day. He then told me, "No, discount. I give you..." The sum was so small I said, "No. I have already given you a discount."
He looked taken aback. I knew precisely what the problem was - a woman had dared to argue with him. In his culture women, especially strangers like myself, are expected to do as men say.
Even inside that culture I expect he is not a pleasant example of the way men treat women in that country.
He said something to his wife which was clearly an order for her to tell me to do as he asked. She looked down. He picked up another three books he had recently discarded. "How much?"
I told him. This time I did not offer him a discount. I did not feel inclined to do so. He flung the books down and snapped an order at his wife. She paid me what I had asked for the other books and I thanked her -in her own language. It is the only word I can say with any confidence. It was enough. They left quickly. He looked furious and strode straight out. His wife, if that is who she was, hesitated just long enough to whisper her thanks in return.
I hope he did not take it out on her but he is not in his own country now and I think there are some things he should learn to do our way. One of those is treat everyone with respect.


Sheep Rustler said...

He probably did take it out on her, men like that (of all cultures) usually do. I know, I grew up with one. I am less ambivalent about secondhand books - I know the author does not get royalties, but I figure that if I enjoy a book by an untried author enough, I might then go and buy a new one by him/her. Or recommend them so other people might buy a new one. OR at the very least borrow some from libraries. (And I know PLR doesn't make most authors much money but it is a start). Our church fete every year has a big book sale which is very popular (and all the proceeds are split between about half a dozen charities, who are advertised at the church). By the last couple of hours of the fete they get so desperate to get rid of the remaining books that they start offering them by the bag load!

Ann Best said...

Interesting dilemma, isn't it, for writers--the used bookstore. But someone did buy the book originally or it wouldn't be in the used store (probably).

Unless a book is a bestseller, a writer really doesn't make much money on the book he/she wrote. I guess it's the way it is.

Sad story you tell him. I know many men, from different cultures, who treat women this way!

Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my Halloween House post. Hope you have a great Sunday!