Monday, May 16, 2016
Hooray for used books on the internet!
In my quest for research materials for future Western books, I've had great luck locating scarce, rare and hard-to-find books and information at Amazon.com and the individuals and stores selling through that portal. These are books that simply can't be had for love or money through local bookstores. Even many libraries have divested themselves of them, because there simply wasn't enough demand for them to justify the shelf space they were taking up. However, for writers and those interested in the period, it's a gold mine out there.
The latest example arrived this morning, accompanied by a dirty look from the poor Post Office driver who had to lug the (very heavy) box to my front door. It's the complete 26-volume set of 'The Old West' from Time-Life Books. (I've ordered the Master Index to the series separately.) Originally published in the 1970's, it's a pretty decent reference source for the period, not just in its text but in the hundreds upon hundreds of authentic photographs that show the reality of life in those days in all its grittiness. You can't get that anywhere else, not even on the Internet, without a heck of a lot of searching. The series concentrated it all into one convenient location, and I paid about $4 per volume! That's what I call a real bargain.
The same has applied to books on specific subjects (for example, 'The Gunfighter - Man or Myth?', 'Language of the Railroader', 'The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900', and so on). Many are available used for only a few cents per volume; others for a few dollars. Hugely expensive reference works such as 'The Value of a Dollar 1860-2014' ($155 for a new copy of the current 5th edition) can be had used for less than a third of that sum, and in an older edition (still perfectly usable for my needs) for just two cents!
I notice that many thrift shops all over the country, including branches of national chains such as Goodwill, are now using Amazon.com to advertise their used books. In many cases they'll offer them for just 1c apiece, trusting in Amazon's $3.99 standard shipping charge to make a dollar or two on each sale. Some individuals I know are thinning their libraries in the same way. Others are using web sites such as Abebooks, Alibris, Bookfinder, etc. When I can't find what I want on Amazon.com, I'll usually find it on one or more of those competitors.
I don't buy light reading or fiction in this way - I've spent a lot of time and effort cutting down my library to a manageable size, and I don't want it expanding again! I'll stick to e-books for light reading. Nevertheless, when it comes to reference books, this is a great (and very economical) way to gather resources. I'm having a lot of fun.