A casualty of ebooks?

This morning we spent about 45 minutes at the Friends Of The Library book sale. We have more than enough books already, but it’s our civic responsibility to go to this thing and buy more. Twice a year. All about supporting the community, that’s the Philangelus family.

Kiddo2: Mom, are we Friends of the Library?

Me: You have to pay to join Friends of the Library, but someone isn’t really your friend if they demand you pay them to be your friend.

Kiddo2: Really?

Me: And we’re just users anyhow. I mean, if the library had no books, would we still be friends with it?

So there we are, scoring a hardback copy of Harry Potter 7 (without a cover, but you don’t read the cover) and a haul of books for Kiddo3 who’s just realized books can tell him awful, tragic, heinous stuff about people dying (“MOM! Pompeii!!! And the Titanic! Are there any books about World War II?!?”) when I realized what was missing.

Category romances.

Usually at these things, you’ll find cartons upon cartons of Harlequin, Silhouette and other category romances, the kind that are about half an inch thick and you could read in an hour. Oftentimes those have their own section because people will buy them in batches, read them in batches, and donate them in batches. In the past I found them by subscription, even: you could sign up and get two or four a month. No one needs to keep that many category romances, so off they’d go to the donation bin.

Except not this time.

Now why would that be? I’m pretty sure the romance market is doing well, but it occurs to me that the rise of ebooks may be gutting the resellable paperback market. Every time you find a news article about readers, reporters see fit to mention that women like them because “other people can’t see the covers” if they’re reading romance (of any heat level) but I wonder if there isn’t also a censurability factor. It’s not a secret that if you buy a hundred books a year, you’re more likely to see the value of an ereader than if you buy six. And I know I’ve seen articles to the effect that romance titles sell especially well as ebooks.

So I wonder if that’s where all the category romances went: to digital. And if so, what’s going to happen over the long term to my Friends at the Library.


  1. Pat

    This makes me wonder whether the e-book was a factor in the recent demise of the only good bookstore within 40 miles of my home. Seriously – there is now exactly one bookstore, and it’s a plain vanilla chain with nothing in it that doesn’t meet the industry’s standard of so many hundred or thousand copies sold per year.

    It’s not just the libraries that are suffering; it’s all those used-book stores that pay the bills with hundreds of paperback romances so that someone can score a dimly-remembered childhood favorite or a beautiful volume of Tennyson’s poems.

    1. philangelus

      Many small local bookstores are victims of B&N and Borders (which itself succumbed last year) and Amazon too because no one can stock EVERY title…but Amazon at least lists them and allows third parties to sell them.

      The book-selling landscape is definitely changing. But it’s a bit sobering to think about how the secondary market isn’t really there. I can’t sell my digital copy of a book to anyone else, even if I’m never going to re-read it. I can’t (legally) give it away if my brother wants to read it (I don’t own a Kindle). My book The Boys Upstairs can’t be loaned out.

      This was the first time I saw the used-book effect firsthand, though. And like you say, what happens when those stores (or libraries) can’t stay afloat any longer?

      1. Ken Rolph

        Amazon only deals with books having a North American distributor. Try getting a copy of Dog Tales from them.

  2. capt cardor

    It’s funny to see this today, because we went to a big church “Yard Sale” and noticed that all the usual stuff was changing hands, but none of the book tables were doing any business at all. I spoke to one lady, (perhaps in her fifties) who said she has given up on books and only uses her Kindle. She was trying to sell much of her own book collection because they just took up space.

    Yes the world is changing, again.

    1. philangelus

      Constant change is here to stay? 😉

  3. Marie

    Does your library allow dealers in first? Most do in the area (Ten Miles Beyond is the exception I’ve heard). Perhaps someone bought them all up to resell?

    1. philangelus

      I’m not sure about that. (I’m on their mailing list for some reason and didn’t see a Preview Night. Actually, last night I think they had a fundraiser function, so probably no…good point though.)

      It’s entirely possible someone snatched up all the category romances and left the other stuff behind. Also possible someone bought them all at nine o’clock in the morning before we got there.

  4. blueraindrop

    actually…. ours doesn’t allow romances from the main companies anymore, oddly enough.

    nor do they allow any books older than 10 years unless they are rare and older than 1940.. and a number of other random arbitrary things that they have decided makes them less profitable per book and not worth the sales effort.

    which means i’ve stopped going to their sales… because the biggest things i’ve picked up from them in the past has been nonfiction religious books which are almost always over a decade old with no real loss of relevance, and classic kid/teen books for my kiddo.

    so since the individual books don’t sell for as much as they’d like, they lose my entire bag full of small purchases… that usually added up pretty fast.

    1. philangelus

      There aren’t any guidelines for ours except no encyclopedias and no magazines.

      I don’t understand the “older than 10 years” thing. Wouldn’t Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s(Philosopher’s) Stone fall outside that range? Are they going to chuck that one because clearly no one is interested in it? 😉

      Good luck to them, I guess.

  5. crescentgaia

    As someone who owns two Kindles – yes, I am reading all of my romances on it. Especially 50 Shades of Grey. But I live in a place where the cover of any book could get you talking with a person a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Later in the day, I don’t mind. First thing in the morning? Only if the caffeine has sunk in what good. 🙂

    Also, at the moment, a lot of romance novels are cheaper via a Kindle/Nook or even free to read. So that could be it too. I don’t know why they are, but that’s what I see when I go to find free Kindle books on Amazon.

    Aside from that, did you ask? I’m going with the fact that someone bought them out, especially if they’re the more popular series. At our library sales, they are the first to go, then sci-fi/fantasy, then teen stuff. But, again, my little community is a wee bit crazy. 😀

  6. Ken Rolph

    The second hand bookshop/book exchange market has definitely collapsed. My favourite older bookseller had to close up because lots of people wanted to give them books but no one was buying any. The only ones surviving are those dealing with expensive, rare or artistically constructed books.

    The two major categories that seem to have flooded ebook sites are romances and fantasy. These were formerly the bread and butter of book exchanges. People brought in old paperbacks and got new ones for about 50c each. It was like the old style circulating library. There used to be about 8 book sellers of various kinds in Blacktown. Now I can only think of 2.

    My local librarians seem to have gone mad. They are constantly getting rid of old books. This includes priceless insights into society written in the 1930s and earlier. They seem to want to serve a readers who can only imagine the latest popularly promoted book. The have sold out from under me about a dozen books which I was in process of referring to. The head librarian tried to tell me that she only got rid of books that nobody had read. When I pointed out that I had taken out these dozen books within the last 3 months, as the records would show, she then tried to tell me that those books were old and tatty.

    University librarians are under such pressure to find space in libraries (for cafes with wi fi hot spots) that they walk around checking out the dust on the books on the shelves. Any book which shows an accumulation of dust is put on a list to consider removing. Most of this ends up in land fill. Consequently, Sydney libraries are being invaded by students and academics bearing dusting cloths and brushes. University library shelves in Australia are the cleanest they have been for a long time.

  7. TGZ

    Hmmm. So, good reason for me not to get rid of my collection of unread books. I really like reading for content, but I also derive a lot of pleasure from the sensorial part of reading (book smell, paper texture, page flipping), and if e-readers mostly replace paper books this pleasure could become an expensive one.