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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Addiction or?

I’ve been musing about something, brought on by the reactions of my husband and my sister to some of my risk-taking behaviors in buying books (they’re horrified; wouldn’t dream of risking the amounts I do but have grown used to my ways and seem to now feel I’ll guess right 90% of the time–probably). Granted, most of the time, those behaviors have a ‘sort of’, halfway, educated guess behind them (maybe that ‘book sense’ Aimee spoke of), but some of my behavior is just flat willingness to take a financial risk on books.

I suppose some of you are just straight business-people and books ‘could be’ any other product. That you never buy without knowing ahead of time that you can make a profit on what you buy. But for many of us the main attraction to selling books is the fun of the hunt, the thrill of finding sleepers and, most of the time, learning something new about books or some esoteric subject. And we each have a personal threshold of risk tolerance that we’re comfortable with. For me, depending on the state of my bank account, the level is $500-$1,000. I’m willing to lose that much money if I guess wrong on book buys (yeah, it has happened). I’d be horrified to lose that much gambling in Vegas or betting on the horses though I operate much the same way with that type of gambling-decide ahead of time how much I’m willing to lose and come back grateful for the fun I’ve had and happy if I bring any money home. The levels are just much, much lower with the horses or Vegas.

But…with books, I guess that’s my personal form of gambling, my addiction. Even if I buy books I’d never personally read, I still feel like I have something with value-even if the market tells me differently. It’s not the same as buying artwork by unknown artists (which I’ve certainly done) just because the object pleases my eye or speaks to me; a slightly grubby book that I think is a jewel in the rough doesn’t have much visual appeal. In fact, much of the time, when buying books, I look for the obscure, the weird, the truly odd that may, in some cases, be personally ho-hum or even offensive. I do, of course, buy my bread-and-butter books, those I know I can sell and for what amount. But to stick to only those would soon become so boring I’d abandon bookselling-like I’ve abandoned other careers when they became boring.

So, what is it? Do antiques dealers have the same addiction? Do sellers of any object that has no absolute value have the same addiction to the hunt? Is this the same addiction people have who shop compulsively? Do we get an emotional ‘rush’ from the idea of finding that sleeper, or are we hooked on the buying, itself-and use books to channel that buying into an acceptable behavior? Or are we mental gadflys, who constantly need a knowledge fix and books are our route to that end?

And, for us online booksellers, I think we’re actually exposing ourselves-willingly-to two addictions. Do you get withdrawal symptoms if your computer goes down, or if your ISP goes offline for a day? I panic, no doubt about it. And that addiction has progressed (a bad sign in addictions!). So, not only am I addicted to buying books (or buying, period), I’m also addicted to the internet and my contact with other addictees (is that a word?) and access to the unlimited world of knowledge out there.

It seems to me that our addiction, at least in buying books, differs in a couple of important aspects from more traditional addictions. It doesn’t necessarily progress; we don’t necessarily (though I’m sure all of us at one time or another have done so) do without necessities just to acquire more books on a given day. We are also willing to let go of our ‘finds’ and to share knowledge among ourselves-knowledge that cuts into our own chances of making more finds (though perhaps that is to get others hooked?). Granted, we normally want money in exchange for that letting go, though most of us have been known to give away more than a few books, and most of us give away knowledge every day. So maybe it is just the excitement of the buy that has us hooked. Or the smell or feel of the books. Or perhaps it is the endless quest for knowledge.

As for my internet addiction, I don’t quite know what to say about that one. I like being able to reach at least semi-like minded people 24/7, I like knowing I can find almost any obscure information (notice I’m not saying I’ll understand it all) 24/7. I even like the speed at which I live now, though I gripe about it. The other side of the coin is that maybe, just maybe, some of us are better equipped to deal with people via the internet. We always have the choice of not answering emails immediately-who’s to know if we’re at our computers or not? So we don’t have the same instant demands made on us that interfacing with people in the ‘real world’ requires of us. Plus there is the attraction-very real for me, anyway-that we’re dealing with other people in a mind-to-mind direct manner. No physical, cultural, ethnic, age, sex, geographical or social considerations really enter into our internet relationships unless we choose to have them do so. Political and religious-yes, sometimes, but hopefully kept to a minimum just as they are in the physical world unless dealing with someone you know well. But if you find a person interesting online, do you stop to think of how old that person is, what they look like, whether you like their kids, etc.? Or do you just relate to that person’s ideas and intellect?

So, is it part and parcel of the type of people we are? Are we evolving or regressing as humans? Or have some of us oddballs just finally found a warm and fuzzy environment for ourselves? Or am I all alone on this??




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