Among bibliophiles, I think there’s a segment that are collectors at heart. It’s not so much the owning of books (whether brand-new or secondhand) that’s important but rather the act hounding books, scouring various bookstores and sales to find a particular novel or edition. I mean a part of me takes pride whenever I find a rare book or otherwise unavailable novel in the Philippines and there’s an even bigger part of me that wants to brag about it (unfortunately, only fellow fantasy bibliophiles can appreciate finding a copy of Stormbringer for example). The Internet I think has changed the way books are sold. I can’t imagine myself purchasing groceries online (because I value “freshness”) but I certainly have tried ordering books online. In certain ways, it’s simply more convenient for me to do so. I mean one problem with bookstores is that while you can place the order on a book, you’re not the person doing the ordering. It’s usually the salesclerk or the manager or the customer service rep who’s behind the computer, looking at his screen, eying the details of the book. With a site such as Amazon.com, I get to do that myself and even get a glimpse of the book cover (I once ordered a book called Shadow Game and instead of getting fantasy author Glen Cook, I get romance writer Christine Freehan). In other words, there’s the illusion that I have more control when I’m shopping online as opposed to an intermediary, such as a bookstore.
However, that’s obviously not the biggest advantage of online shopping. Perhaps the biggest draw of Amazon.com for me is the fact that it’s able to stock books that a brick-and-mortar bookstore couldn’t possibly have. It’s not even necessarily one particular book but the fact that it has an infinite selection. Gone is the excuse that this book is not available. What’s limiting me is my budget for books (and first-time online shoppers beware!) and how much I’m willing to shell out. Unfortunately, that fact might not seem like an asset to the collector. After all, book hunting seems easier and more convenient. Where’s the thrill of the hunt?
I don’t think that’s really the case though. As much as I’m pro-eBooks, most of the books I read and people read are still books printed on paper. And perhaps that’s one thing that’s limiting online bookstores: they’re still dealing with physical products. The Internet might have made shopping more convenient and to a certain extent, locating certain books but it doesn’t solve the problems of supply and demand, or that of a limited print run. Books that were hard to find before are perhaps a tad easier to locate these days but by no means is it a guarantee. Looking for a Jeff Noon novel? Guess what, it’s out of print! Sure, there are used copies that might be selling at online retailers but are you willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for one particular book? Better yet, there’s the online auctions where the scant few copies are on display, ready for fellow bibliophiles to purchase. Even in this modern age of online shops and widespread e-commerce, there’s still no guarantee that a rare book will accessible. We’ve merely traded the bargain bins for auction houses, street smarts for web surfing skills. You might be utilizing different hunting instincts but the Internet hasn’t put the book collector to rest. There’s still be books for bibliophiles to track down and eventually purchase (at an affordable price).