Book-related deaths are everywhere and seem to be multiplying. Book stores are closing, book review sections in newspapers are vanishing, and the only paper magazine about collectible used books has gone to digital heaven. This spring in Nassau County on Long Island, it appears antiquarian book shows have been put on the critical list.
Evidence of this was seen recently at two such book fairs. The first was the Long Island Antiquarian Book and Paper Fair, which was held in the multi-purpose room at Hofstra University’s Student Center on the last weekend of March. This show was sparsely attended and about two-thirds of the area that had displayed shelves of books at similar shows held at the same venue in prior years, was empty.
The second book fair, the Spring Long Island Vintage Paper, Book and Advertising Show, was held two weeks later in the St. Paul’s School Field House in Garden City. The show held itself out as “one of the premier events in America” for dealers, collectors, scholars and students, and promised event goers “amazing finds.” As it turned out, the cavernous field house, which in past years had been filled with dealers selling books, was practically empty! There was only a handful of sellers displaying a pitifully small number of books for sale. The event had more of the feel of a funeral than a book fair.
Where have the dealers gone? Where have the books gone? What has happened?
Economic answers jump to the fore. For many people, printed books have become a luxury item and former buyers have chosen not to purchase them as often any more. In addition, the contents of many collectible books, including illustrations, is available free, online. And if the book is not online, the digital version of it can be purchased for considerably less money than the printed version. For example, let's say a buyer wanted to purchase a used copy of the four-volume religious text, the Philokalia, for reference purposes. In paperback, it can be purchased for $53.99 to $80.95 per volume, or in hardcover for $142.86 to $261.51 per volume. However, all four volumes can be purchased for $1.99 in the Kindle version and for $2.99 in the Nook version!
Another economic fact of life that may be a reason for the lack of book dealers and poor attendance at these antiquarian book shows is the decline in U.S. home ownership. The rate of ownership has fallen for nine consecutive years according to reports based on U.S. Census information. As the number of renters grows, more and more people may be deciding not to fill up their living spaces with paper books. After all, books are heavy and expensive to pack up and move when their owners relocate.
Also, tastes are changing. Anecdotal reports indicate that more and more modern households, especially those occupied by people who are under 35 years of age, no longer display printed books—or CDs or DVDs, for that matter. In addition, attention spans of people of all ages have diminished and long-format books are losing ground to short-format Kindle Singles or Apple Quick Reads (aka short stories and novellas, from the paper era).
|Herbert Putman, Librarian of Congress (1899-1939)|
John Huckans of Cazenovia, NY, the editor of the now all-digital Book Source Monthly, has suggested in a recent column that in years to come, physical books may become scarce which in turn will result in more demand for the remaining books. Huckans added that he had heard “reports that younger booksellers are quietly buying up collections and stocks of retiring booksellers at distress-sale prices, with an eye to the future.”
Is the suggestion that antiquarian book shows are on death’s doorstep greatly exaggerated? Or has our culture posted a “do not resuscitate” order on them? Perhaps the next Long Island Vintage Paper and Book Show which will be held this coming November 1 and 2 will provide some answers.