Monday, May 28, 2007

Burning Books for Fun and Profit

In one of those moves so twisted it makes your brain sweat just thinking about it, Tom Wayne, a Kansas City, Missouri bookstore owner, has been setting fire to his stock in order to protest what he sees as society’s diminished interest in books and reading. According to AP:

“This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today,” Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn't have a permit for burning.

Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply -- estimated at 20,000 books -- is exhausted.

Does anyone else think this is just twisted? At least a little like a restaurateur protesting slow business by dumping food into the gutter, or a liquor store owner pouring booze down the drain. Can you imagine if Wal-Mart tried this particular tactic? Home Depot? Bloomingdale’s? But they don’t. And why not? Because it’s counterproductive, counterintuitive and -- I’ll just say it -- plain goofy.

Wayne said he has seen fewer customers in recent years as people more often get their information from television or the Internet. He pointed to a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, that found that less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, down from almost 57 percent in 1982.

OK, so let's get this straight. Wayne is suggesting business is down? That fewer people are venturing to his store in order to buy books? That fewer people are reading? And his response is to... destroy his stock? Maybe if he read the marketing books in his store instead of burning them, he could buy a clue that burning inventory is not a textbook response to a changing business environment.

Meanwhile, some customers are responding to the blaze with their pocketbooks:

The idea of burning the books horrified Marcia Trayford, who paid $20 Sunday to carry away an armload of tomes on art, education and music.

“I’ve been trying to adopt as many books as I could,” she said.

4 comments:

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Burn your books if sales are down. Yep. That'll learn 'em.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I spent the whole day thinking about it, and my ultimate 2 cents:

Here's what I don't get. He tried libraries and thrift stores. What about hospitals, prisons, schools, ESL programs?

This goes back to the history of the printing press and the first Bible reproduced for the common folk to read: What threatens people about the written word is that they lose control. Control of information, the ability to mislead, brainwash, to influence thought. It makes me think of Nazi Germany, and of religious fundamentalists burning Harry Potter. No matter what the reason, burning books bothers me.

Whatever his real intent - protest, publicity stunt, stupidity, boredom - I'm prepared to say that the message he's sending is that books aren't very important, because he's certainly saying they don't need to be cherished and appreciated. If he wanted to just get rid of them and didn't care how he'd donate them to street people for their fires so they could stay warm at night, at least.

(Sorry, I had an oops in there...)

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

It strikes me as being somewhat of a temper tantrum. There are always libraries or schools in desperate need of books. If his inventory wasn't selling, he could probably have donated a lot of it and gotten a tax write-off. I'm sure wouldn't come close to covering his initial investment, but it's still better than torching all those books. He didn't prove a point; he got some attention by acting like a baby.

Linda L. Richards said...

Great points you guys. And here's another thing: somehow there are several significant outfits on the 'Net making great whacks of dough selling used books. And lots of smaller companies doing likewise. Like a lot of industries, the selling of used books has undergone serious changes in recent years. It's still a business, but it looks a lot different than it did 10 or 15 years ago. So -- again like a lot of industries -- you start doing things differently, or you perish. (Said the classically trained graphic designer who knows how to use a rapidograph, spec type by hand and still owns a waxer. Big whoop.)

I love your street fires point, Sandra. It's a good one. I mean, if you're going to burn them, at least have them doing something positive.

And PSB makes a great point about the temper tantrum, too. I mean, it has to be, right? "Look at me, aren't I pitiful?" He got his 15 minutes. Maybe that's all he cared about?