March 10, 2010

Is There a Future for Book Collecting?

As someone who considers himself an avid collector of first editions, new changes in technology along with simple demographics sometimes makes me wonder about the long term future of book collecting. I’ve noticed many times at book fairs that most of the crowd is by far and away over the age of 40, if not 50. Then there was a recent stat I saw that stated there were only a handful of member book dealers of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) who were under the age of 40. That blends in with comments from over the years by longtime Civil War booksellers I know who see their oldest (and best) customers now liquidating the libraries they built over a lifetime, but that there are no new, younger collectors to take their place.

The founder of Americana Exchange, Bruce McKinney, takes on this troublesome issue of how book collecting is to survive if there is no one to mentor younger generations which rarely spend much time with printed books. Meanwhile, book collectors clubs, which have served this purpose for at least two centuries, have seen their membership numbers plummet in recent decades. Then there are the economics of the times we live in. As one collector noted, “I have half the money, books cost twice as much, and there are four times as many of them on the market.” Is the writing on the wall?


Anonymous said...

From the number of comments you have received, I painfully believe the answer is yes.

Paul Taylor said...

Indeed, but I'm prepared to admit that could be a result of the blog's topic rather than other factors.

Joe said...

I have the same worries. I an 42 years old and have an apartment filled with books. I have some great firsts, and worry that the money I spend to acquire them may never be recouped. But, I collect them because I love to own them. I feel that putting a technology (think PC's, and readers, etc.) between man and knowledge, is a mistake. What if the technology were to disappear? What about those who cannot afford to buy readers and keep up with downloads? Yes, I worry about book printing and collecting.

Anonymous said...

What is the future of book publishing and collecting? None of us can say for sure. I think less print media will be published as time goes on, and print on demand will be the norm in very cheap formant I fear. But you know, even that print on demand copies will probably be collectible.
The more important issue, I fear, is the inherent danger in putting a technology between 'man' and 'knowledge’. In the past, all a person had to do was take a book off a shelf and start reading it. There was nothing between the man and the printed page. You could happen upon books in the street, in others homes, in offices, wherever. In the future books will be hidden on disk drives, memory sticks, and memory cards. Not readily accessible. Not at an arm’s reach. We’ve put a reader, a computer, a phone, technology, between us and the printed page. If there is no power, you can’t read. If your reader breaks, you can’t read. If you cannot afford a reader or those downloaded books, you can’t read. That book won’t be sitting there on a shelf with the spines facing us with their titles; attracting us, interesting us. They will be on an electronic chip. Hidden and I fear even worse, unnoticed.