Disappearing Ink

What will happen to all the books?

"It was always odd to me that the system couldn't figure out a way to better handle the books that didn't sell," Esparza says. "But there we were, booksellers ripping the covers off mass-market paperbacks and tossing them in the trash."

"I have no doubt that we're throwing away more books than ever before," says Robert Spindler, an archivist and head of the Department of Archives and Special Collections at Arizona State University. "And as a result, libraries are now racing to scan what we've determined are endangered books and preserve the information."

To determine a book's "endangered" status, librarians use a worldwide book database called WorldCat, which keeps track of what books are where and enables libraries to send the overflow to special storage (or the garbage can).

Claire Lawton
Claire Lawton

Guarded books are kept in rare collection rooms and climate-controlled warehouses to slow their deterioration, Spindler says, in case the technology used to preserve them fails.

Book fans also use technology to find each other. They create book clubs, sell books online and find donation programs (or artists who can use them as supplies) to help prolong the lives of their well-loved printed materials.

Sloan says that even authors are paying more and more attention to technology and how readers are consuming their content. And though he'll always have a soft spot for bookstores, libraries and physical books, he also recognizes the permanent object's ultimate impermanence.

"Maybe we've become too precious with the book," he says. "It's a sad realization that no one wants them, but maybe it's healthy that in the end, most of them get destroyed," he says.

"I've come to think of a book on my shelf not as a trophy, but something on a to-do list."

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I am going to write a fucking story for the Dallas Observer. You people know who I am. 

O.K. Theseus: Big roads (Interstates, Tolls High 5, eternal beltline) are how some dispersed cities manage "minority growth"


I still order books online and support the local secondhand book store when I go into town... A book I had been looking for since back in the mid 1990's became available as a down load for Kindle or a reprint by a Canadian company for $43... I chose to pay $73 for a first edition and in one week it had appreciated in value to over $200 and now only 3 months later is being sold for $400.59 dollars.... I wish my other investments were performing as well.   

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

It's pretty hard to get all teary eyed about zillions of pages of unsold Shades of Grey, Dean Koontz or Stephen King paperbacks heading to the shredder.

Probably the most noble use that paper-fiber will ever serve is cradling a dozen eggs home from the market for someone. 


As an author with a foot in both worlds--I write large illustrated coffee table books and work as an editor for an EBook company--I see some interesting issues.  For convenience and for books I just want to read, nothing beats an e-book. But you cannot share or loan an e-book. And it is hard (though not impossible) to autograph one.  I often want to share books I love, and cannot do that if I only have the e-book version. Thus I often end up buying two copies--one paper and one electronic--of books I really like. One to read and one to share and get autographed.