Better World Books: What other dealers can learn from the new model
Cultural Strip Mining
Many of us have been to mining country and seen what the physical landscape looks like after the miners take off the top of the mountain. My reservations related to BWB are similar to my reservations about strip mining, only transposed to a cultural context.
To be truthful, my bone-to-pick is not so much with BWB as it is with their client libraries. If the unwanted parts of the collections of Brooklyn, Ithaca and Cleveland, to name a few I saw during my visit, are going to be shipped off en masse to be sold fast and cheap and the leftovers pulped, then I hope that the people making the decisions to send ALL these books away have a solid criteria to support their actions.
I hope that the decisions to dump thousands of volumes from academic libraries has a rationale behind it that is more substantial than the limited revenue stream these books may eventually generate and the space their absence will make for newer and more recent acquisitions.
I also hope that the decision-makers inside those distant libraries have informed their own universities, towns and cities of their intentions to dispose of huge numbers of books at rock bottom prices by sending them to a far away place. I truly hope that the "ALL" that's going to BWB is only the "ALL" of what is not wanted at home. But I have a gut feeling that this may not be the case.
I do not have a problem with disposing of thrift store rejects or outright gifts from individuals. But when it comes to libraries, especially academic and scholarly libraries, most of these titles were acquired with public funds or with funds from gifts and endowments. As such they represent cultural resources of those communities.
Such books are not just recently acquired cultural resources, but the accumulation of many years standing. I hope the people inside those libraries are qualified to make a fair estimate of the value of what they're throwing or giving away, because the young people at BWB - whose primary orientation is reading for enjoyment and whose notion of value is based heavily on a post-ISBN mass market world - are perhaps not the folks to ultimately entrust with that task.
They're learning, they're smart, but there are very few intellectuals in this crowd. They are learning, but even the fastest learning curves have limits. I would hope that some of the AE Monthly readers and dealers in cities where BWB does business will know who decides which books are leaving and who gets to review the de-accessioned titles before they're packed up and shipped out the door forever?
My other reservation is the tipper.
The tipper is a front end loading dump mechanism that raises the Gaylords to a height of about 8 feet and then spills the contents onto a waiting wheeled bin for sorting. Not only is it hard on the books, it's hard to believe that anyone who seriously cares about books-as-books (as opposed to books as a stand-in for aluminum cans or plastic bottles) would use a tipper. Perhaps another method would be more costly, but it would also be more respectful of the product - the books.