by Craig Stark

#124, 30 June 2008

Banking Big Money on Banned Books
Issue #9

When I was studying Civil Engineering in college during the 1970's, a disturbing pattern began to develop in my freshman year: with each succeeding semester, I grew less, not more, engaged in my courses. I didn't understand why at the time. I thought perhaps it had something to do with engineering not being a good fit or my just being tired of going to school for so many years. However, some years later, and then only after I'd moved in a direction that couldn't have been more foreign to engineering, it become clear to me that my growing discontent had to do with something else altogether.

Early engineering course work was and I'm guessing still is focused primarily on theoretical matters - calculus, fluid mechanics, etc. - and to some extent clean, hypothetical application of the principles taught in these courses. As you progress to more specific course work, especially design of structures or highways, things that were crystal clear in theory (and hypothetical application) become at times blurred in real life application. Answers that could once be expressed with precise integers now become approximations. You don't design with certitude, that is, so much as over-design with an acceptable factor of safety. Guess (in an educated manner). To do well in courses like this, I discovered that it was necessary to memorize junk, case histories, etc., and draw on this more than principle when presented with real problems. Doing well, in other words, meant boring myself silly.

Well, maybe this is evidence of arrested growth or something, but principle has always interested me far more than application because if you truly understand a principle, you get lots of bang for your buck - you can apply it to so many things - whereas if you focus on applications, you can apply these only to the applications you memorize and perhaps a few others that bear an unusual resemblance to them.

It occurs to me that this kind of thing is also at play with flashpoints. There are some flashpoints that behave like principles in that they have wide applicability. There are others that behave like applications - are much more limited in how they can be applied. Knowing, for example, that just about anything you pick up with an Obelisk Press imprint will be a winner makes "Obelisk Press" a pretty powerful flashpoint, almost a bookselling principle. Knowing, however, that the first edition of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was published by Obelisk in 1934 could net you tens of thousands of dollars if you happen on a copy, but what are the odds of this happening?

When discussing flashpoints at BookThink, I try to be mindful of their relative applicabilities and concentrate as much as possible on those which can be used more broadly. In past articles I've used the term "expansive" to describe these kinds of flashpoints because they tend to expand in your mind as you use them. If you know a few e.f.'s, you can get very smart about books very fast.

Today's issue will have somewhat less than its usual helping of flashpoints because I'm going focus considerably more than I usually do on principle - namely, what it is that makes banned, censored, suppressed or otherwise challenged books so desirable for collectors, so profitable for booksellers. In my opinion, if you have a good grasp of this principle, it can stand you in very good stead in the coming years and ultimately behave as one hugely expansive and profitable flashpoint.

To learn more, purchase this back issue or a subscription here.

< to previous article                

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

| Forum | Store | Publications | BookLinks | BookSearch | BookTopics | Archives | Advertise | AboutUs | ContactUs | Search Site | Site Map | Google Site Map

Store - Specials | BookHunt | BookShelf | Gold Edition & BookThink's Quarterly Market Report | DomainsForSale | BookThinker newsletter - free

Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC

 Subscribe in a reader

Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment