The demise of printed books has been predicted since the dawn of digital, but like the jigsaw puzzle and the parlor game, books are a dependable distraction when the power is out and the WiFi is down. The pandemic has made the buying, selling and donating of used books more challenging, but the channels for moving books around seem to be flowing again.
The New York Times reported that printed book sales during the pandemic are up at least 10% and demand is actually outstripping supply. Supply is low because with the trend to digital media, printing companies stopped investing in book printing years ago. Also, Covid restrictions have slowed the process between accepting an author’s book for publication and actually printing it to a snail’s pace.
Amazon is pushing its Audible app hard, trying to veer readers from printed books to audio versions. Some bibliophiles enjoy audio books, but printed word afficionados aren’t going anywhere and their booksellers are a determined bunch too. To compete a little better with Amazon, some booksellers, like our local Bookmine, have recognized the role of audio books and have partnered with web sites like libro.fm to offer their customers the audio option.
Naomi Chamblin, owner of Bookmine, a used and new book store with locations in Napa and St. Helena, shared some information with me about book sales and her customers’ reading habits. People are reporting that the “to read” tower of books on the night table has been shrinking during the pandemic, and they are coming in to the store or going to the store website looking for something new to read.
At the beginning of the pandemic as people were madly organizing their homes to make them more work and school friendly as well as more comfortable to spend a huge amount of time in, bookcase organizing was one of the tasks most tackled.
Although Bookmine was not accepting books during the “dark months” last spring, many people dropped them off anyway. With most donation sites closed and places like retirement homes that sometimes take used reading material off limits, many of the books had to be recycled. There was just no place for them.
For some reason, to most people recycling a book is a horrible thought. But it’s really not as bad as it may seem. The web site earth911.com states that although books and magazines, which qualify as “mix paper” aren’t as valuable as newsprint and cardboard in recycling circles, there is a market for it and it’s also good for the planet.
According to earth911, each ton of paper recycled saves three cubic yards of landfill space, 380 gallons of oil and 17 trees, not to mention 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water. If a book or magazine is wet or dirty however, it must be thrown in the trash, not recycled. Check out the website for more information.
Paperback books can be thrown in the bin as is, but when recycling hardbound books, the cover and binding must be torn off first.
Friends of the Library (folnapa.org), with drop offs at county library locations, are accepting books again, but look up your closest branch and call first to get the latest information before loading up your give-away books. The thrift store Act Two in St Helena, which benefits Collabria Care, also has accepted book donations recently, but their donation hours and policies have changed since Covid.
The best bet is to call first before taking any donations to a charity. Pick up the phone, don’t just check the web site for information, since many charities don’t have the staff to change the website information as quickly as required as the pandemic situation shifts. It’s no fun getting turned away with a car load of stuff, especially boxes of heavy books.
Since they reopened in June, Bookmine has been requiring appointments for book trade-ins and has a strict two box (file or wine box size) limit. Because only new books are sold on the Bookmine website and people were shopping more online than in the store, the used book sections at the stores became packed and unwieldy for a while, but sales are finally beginning to even out.
In the cozy close-quarters of the Bookmine stores there is still a six person at a time limit, but that hasn’t been too much of a problem. Naomi reports that people have been understanding and compliant with wearing a mask in the store and maintaining social distance. She said, “Everyone is in the same weird boat so empathy abounds.”