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BookThink Special Report

The Great Depression

by Craig Stark

#132 SR3, 2 March 2009

Why History Matters in Bookselling

There's no question that a comprehensive knowledge of history is a great asset for a bookseller. There are many reasons why, but perhaps one of the more important (and obvious) ones is that it empowers your instincts when scouting, enabling you to snag books that have value because they address or are contemporaneous with important historical events, people, periods, etc.

But knowing history can help you in other, less obvious ways as well. Everybody, I guess, has heard more times than once the expression "history repeats itself." And indeed it does. Essentially, history is a never-ending story of pretty much the same events cycling over and over and over again; in fact, educators often point out that history should be studied so that we don't repeat it.

And, for the most part, a fat lot of good that does. One of the more vivid memories I have of my college years was a rather animated statement in class (and I think a fist coming down on a lectern was involved) uttered by an economics professor that we would never, ever go through another depression because there were safeguards in place that were woefully missing on Black Thursday, 1929. Technically, of course, he's still right, but there aren't many among us now who don't acknowledge that another depression is very much possible because those so-called safeguards didn't really get at the cause, only at the mechanism.

Recognizing that history is cyclical and keeping your eyes open for present-day manifestations of history repeating itself can be profitable. I have no idea who the politician (or public figure) was who first uttered the word "depression" when describing the current economic meltdown, but, whoever it was, it could have been your wake-up call right then and there if you'd trained yourself to look for these things.

Though history hasn't yet repeated itself, there's no shortage of authors who are cashing in on the "coming" depression - how you can survive it, how you can profit from it, and so on. I've been watching Amazon sales rankings for now highly revered forecaster Harry S. Dent's The Great Depression Ahead: How to Prosper in the Crash Following the Greatest Boom in History, and it's been well under 100 for weeks. Find a used copy for a buck on your next outing, and you could probably cash $15 in, oh, 15 minutes. Bread-and-butter bookselling.

If you type the words "great depression" in the title box on an Amazon search page, dozens of pages of titles come up, most of them recently published - and absolutely not a single one of them selling for pennies, not even the stinkers. Many are in the $10 to $20 range, in fact, with impressive sales rankings.

And there's no shortage either of books about the actual Great Depression, some of them now selling at impressive prices. Much was written and continues to be written about this era, some if it collectible and becoming more collectible as our recession deepens. It simply fascinates. It's difficult for me to imagine a time when readers won't devour stories of survival.

So - it's not too late to get on board and make a few bucks on this niche yourself, but, as always at BookThink, the point I'm making is broader and deeper: If you don't know history, it can't hurt to start learning it - and, meanwhile, keep your trigger finger on the pulse of current events, watching for historical match-ups, and you too could survive this period of economic uncertainty and come out of it a better bookseller.

An aside: If you haven't seen the YouTube series of Great Depression Cooking with Clara, get started here ...

... and prepare to be delighted and perhaps ... enlightened!

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