Queens Book Hoarder Smells a Market Beneath the Publishing Collapse
Some people are bemoaning the slow collapse of the book publishing industry. Other people are turning the collapse into a chance to speculate, hoarding books in the hopes that the coming "scarcity of print" will cause existing volumes to dramatically increase in value.

Woodside, Queens-resident Adam Spellman was let go from his job at HarperCollins last fall. He had been an assistant editor at HarperCollins for over five years, though he says he could see the end of his job coming the whole time.

"The only books we were buying were celebrity memoirs and political screeds," said Spellman. "You don't really need a professional editor to make sure that all your books are consistently at an eighth-grade reading level. There's a computer algorithm that does that instantly."

After Spellman was let go, he says he spent a few months just surfing the internet, researching the fall of the Roman Empire. He eventually found work as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic in Woodside.

"It's nice not to have to take the train anymore," said Spellman.

After spending an afternoon hanging out in Barnes and Noble and watching people "browse books that they would later order on Amazon for their Kindles," Spellman decided that the conventional book marketplace was doomed and that soon ink-and-paper books would be as rare and hard to find as old vinyl records.

"Out of print books always go up in value," said Spellman. "So what happens when all books are out of print?"

Spellman began collecting books in his neighborhood, digging through boxes left on the street when people moved away or converted their print collections to ebook form. He says he would take any book, as long as it was in reasonably good condition.

"One of my best friends in junior high school was a nut for comics," said Spellman. "He used to collect them and obsess over keeping them in mint condition. Everybody made fun of him for it, but that's how he paid for college. He started selling his comics on ebay and he made a small fortune."

Spellman says the difference between collecting books now and collecting books ten years ago is that the "rarity" of books no longer matters, because soon all books will be rare. He says that in many cases, the cheaper the book the better. He claims that when you are trying to grab up things that people will be nostalgic for later, the trick is to find the beauty in the commonplace.

"I like to get complete collections of series genre fiction," said Spellman. "I have a complete collection of all the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, for instance. I also have all the original James Bond novels. People don't realize it yet, but someday those tattered paperbacks are going to be worth millions."

Spellman finds books by scouring the used books sections in places like Salvation Army and The Strand.

"Yesterday, I bought a leather hardbound edition of the complete "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" for 25 cents," said Spellman. "The ebook editions would cost fifty dollars."

At first Spellman was storing his book collection in his two-room Queens apartment, but he says that his home quickly began to fill with books and that he had to get outside storage space.

"My sister would come over and threaten to burn them all," said Spellman. "She said they were a fire hazard and were keeping me from having a girlfriend or a social life."

Now, Spellman has over 3,000 volumes, more than many small bookstores in the city.

When asked about trends in books that people throw away, Spellman said that he has more mid-list fiction from the seventies than anything else. He said he has a soft spot for these novels, even though the themes no longer resonate with modern readers.

"The only fiction that sells these days is young-adult fiction," said Spellman. "Soon all books will be either young-adult fiction or adult-young-adult fiction, like Kurt Vonnegut."

Posted by miracle on Sun, 17 Oct 2010 20:43:52 -0500 -- permanent link

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