How many times have you heard an aspiring bookseller ask how to get started in bookselling? In forums, more times than you can count, right? And how many times have you seen this answer (or something similar): "There's a wealth of information about bookselling already available here in past threads - a complete education that you couldn't possibly get anywhere else. Do your homework!" Almost as many times? I have, and what always strikes me as peculiar that nobody ever questions it.
Maybe it's not questioned because the very assertion that every basic question about bookselling has already been answered has the welcome effect of a collective pat on the back for those who have patiently endured and answered every basic question - or think they have because the same ones keep coming up again and again.
But is this really so? Surely there's some useful bookselling information posted in forums - and occasionally some fantastically useful information - but we all know that major forums especially are little more than major repositories for the some of the most meaningless drivel ever uttered by mankind. Filter out the drivel (if you can), and what are we left with? On most days not much more than an answer to this: "Who's got the best price on bubble mailers?"
I'm not putting forums down. They are what they are, and they can be fun - a great place to take a break from work and occasionally pick up something useful. But in the context of learning the trade, I think there's danger in the assumption that all the answers can be had in them - or even very many answers. Just because the same questions come up over and over doesn't mean that these are the best - or even good - questions. By extension there's a similar danger in the assumption that, if answers can't be had in a forum, certainly Google will deliver the goods.
In search for my own answers over the years, I've been disappointed so many times with online resources that I've since taken a step back; returned to - believe it or not - books. And the more I return to them, the more astonished I am at how consistently helpful they are at providing me answers.
Maybe an example would help clarify this. Here's a sample section from one of my reference bookshelves:
Have you read these books? A few of them? One of them? I would estimate that less than 1% of the information contained in them is available on any major bookselling forum. I would also estimate that less than 10% of it is available online - anywhere. And aren't we teaching an entire generation of kids that you can find anything online?!
I'm writing about this today because Chris Lowenstein has contributed an article on educational programs for booksellers. She quietly but convincingly makes a case for learning the trade - and guess what? She doesn't send you off to study forum archives or Google your way to success. Instead, she sends you to schools that use books - real books - to teach you the things you need to know to make bookselling work for you.
At this time, maybe a class isn't possible, but books are always possible. Buy one today. Study it. And cherish the knowledge you couldn't have found online.
To repeat what Chris says in her last line:
"If you want to be taken seriously in the business ..."
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