Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Stripper Bookstores and the License to Read

I don't want to misled anyone. This is not about strippers running bookstores. This is memory about an old bookstore and news vendor practice. On my other blog, Create Video Notebook, I was explaining about being willing to learn when you know nothing about a topic.

As a teen I really wanted to know about photography but outside of looking at Life Magazine there wasn't the information explosion that is occurring now. There were photography books at the library.

Most of those books talked about chemicals, processing charts or lighting concepts. I didn't understand a word or the multiple charts that were in those books. There were art books about photographers. Karsh, Diane Arbus, the photographers on the WPA project. It did not matter I went through those books like a house on fire.

I wanted to do what they did but I couldn't make the connection between their work and the technical photography guides. It was a secret closed language.

I don't know about the rest of the country but on the east coast there were bookstores and magazine stands. A lot of them. They did good business but not everything sold.

What the newspaper and bookstore vendors were supposed to do with unsold items was to strip off the top portion of the cover of a magazine or the full cover of a book and send it back to the distributor or publisher. This would indicate that this item was unsold and disposed of.

I guess there was some kind of credit in place, I don't know.

The reality was that instead of throwing perfectly ok materials in the trash there was usually a back room or pile where you could pick up said items for 25 cents to $1. Being a broke person who generally only had 50 cents to a $1 at a time this was a win-win situation for me.

I could buy the photography magazines. I could buy Harlan Ellison and fall in love with his rants and some of his fiction. I picked up cooking magazines art and design books, Philip K. Dick and whatever else I could put my hot little hands on.

I had to decide between Dirty Duck and Pudge, Girl Blimp. It was stressful because if you didn't pick it up on Friday afternoon it might not be there when you got back to the store on Monday. I had to go with Pudge, that girl was whacked.

Now as long as one or two of them where doing it on the down low there wasn't much of a fuss. When people were opening full scale stripped bookstores is when it got out of hand.

It was understandably from an author and publisher point of view a nightmare. The publisher sells 10 magazines to the bookstore, sells six and loses money on four of them only to have the bookstore make hand over fist money at 25 cents per book or magazine.

I'm not condoning theft. Nope. It was hurtful in the short term view of things.

Except I and many other people were able to sample a variety of content that we might not have risked money on. Because in time I did pay full price for Harlan Ellison's books, photography magazines and other types of reading materials.

This goes back to the HarperCollins 26 e-book lock down being proposed. A library has the ability to expose readers to new content. Placing a license lock on that content restricts access to those who might want to read it.

Maybe that is the point. I don't know. But books and information can't really be sold like a pack of Ding Dongs.

I think the old newspaper and bookstore folks were on to something. It wasn't just the old discounted stuff that sold. Some people bought new books and magazines as well as the discounted items.

Unrestricted access does produce paying readers.

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