Friday, June 01, 2007

Books Held Hostage

I am reluctant to give Prospero's Books more publicity but their marketing techniques really, really offend me. If I were in Kansas City, I would make it a point to avoid the store just based on what I've seen from them in the last few days. By now most of us know of the fake book burning that the store owners used to bring attention to the fact that they have some 20,000 books in stock that they can't easily move. In some misguided attempt to place blame for their excess inventory on someone other than themselves, the guys decided to point the finger at a reading public that is somehow letting them down by not reading or appreciating books to the degree that the owners think they should.

So Prospero's decided to burn a few books and to threaten to continue the process unless buyers showed up to take the rest of them off their hands. It's all our fault of course, so we should feel guilty enough to rush to the rescue. After all, are there any book lovers out there who don't shudder at the thought of a book burning? I doubt it.

Now we have Prospero's hawking the books this way on the store website:

Save a Book

For $1 a book (+ postage), you can save these books from the flame. We will not take these dollars as profit, but will use them to publish new books.
1. email these stories to your friends
2. call your local TV, radio, newspaper, blogs, etc. and tell them what is going on
3. For $1 a book (+ postage), you can save these books from the flame. We will not take these $s as profit, but will use them to publish new books.

Many of you have great ideas regarding what can be done with these books that's better than burning them - we agree with you, and encourage YOU to get involved in sharing the gift of literature. For $1 a book + postage, you can support your local school, prison, etc.
In other words, pay the ransom or the books burn.

How disgusting.


  1. i'm offended by what you have written. you've clearly missed the entire point, after claiming in a previous post that you understood. the dollars collected are going to publish local authors. the point of the bookburning was to start a discussion - in kansas city - about declining literacy in america. it has spread farther than we ever imagined.

    as per your previous post of yesterday, you're talking about how book sales are down - which is why the bookburning occured in the first place - not so we could turn a profit - but to raise awareness that 50% of this country said they don't read unless it is required of them to do so... you're completely confusing me. all the while, it appears that you're calling for a boycott of an indy used bookseller, prosperos, in the hopes that it will fail. very sad, indeed.

    i invite you to my blog to read something i posted yesterday - which goes into more of an explanation. if you still want to hate prosperos after reading it, so be it, but i had to try.

  2. by the way - bookstores and libraries regularly throw away the books they can't sell, after holding them for ransom on their shelves - or marking down their prices. but the dumpster isn't going to start a discussion, is it?

  3. Supergirlest, making the point that the percentage of people who consider themselves to be readers is down is fine. It's probably true. What bothers me is the attempt to extort the ones of us who DO read into ponying up cash to a bookstore that threatens to burn books.

    Yes, you say that the funds will be used to publish local authors. If so, that's great. But why not say right up front that all of this book burning was simply symbolic and that it was a one-time thing to get some attention to the problem? That may not have garnered quite as much press but it would have been more honest since that now seems to be exactly the plan all along.

    When I said that I "understood," I meant that I understood the problem but not necessarily the method being used. The more I thought about all of this, the more it bothered me.

    I would never call for a boycott of any business. That's not something I care to do, nor do I flatter myself by thinking that I could make a boycott happen, in the first place. What I said was that I, personally, would avoid the store. I still feel that way.

    I'd love to read your post but I can't get the link to work. Is it complete as you posted it here?

  4. You obviously haven't read some of the old posts made here and in other blogs where people have said what a shame it is that so many library books end up in dumpsters without first being offered free of charge to library patrons.

    I can recall two or three posts on that subject here already in 2007, in fact.

    Also, most of what is being junked that way by libraries is truly useless out-of-date material that no one needs anymore. I pull a few books from the dumpster of my local library every so often that I think deserve to be saved, but most of the ones I've seen tossed out are not worth the effort. In fact, just last week, I pulled a decent copy of the Bible from the dumpster...

    Your analogy about libraries holding books for ransom on their shelves is a real stretch when compared to someone standing over a bonfire of books and letting people search through candidates to keep the fire burning. No way that the two are comparable.

  5. sam - thank you for responding...
    first, i have to say we had no idea that the response would be what it has turned into. none. we thought the local paper might carry it, that a few people might show up and salvage some books. again - we were hoping for a dialogue to begin. it was said up front that the bookburning was symbolic. i'm not sure what you have read that said otherwise...

    they tried for years to give those books away locally, in every place imaginable.

    i'm sorry that we won't meet if you're ever in the area. and i don't even know that there will be another burning at this point... we've all been so taken aback by the the response, we've barely had time to sleep. i'm not sure what you mean by "the plan all along."

    i can assure that the bookstore is not making a profit. the money is going towards publishing poets. at least something positive can come from burning the few books that day. the entire point was - if no one is reading them, it is essentially the same as burning them.

    extortion? what is illegal about buying a book for a dollar? no one is forcing you to... are we thinking of the same definition? "Illegal use of one's official position or powers to obtain property, funds, or patronage." the argument could be made for paying taxes, i suppose...

    the libraries around here have sales twice a year - sales in which they sale books. i know several librarians in town that have told me they are throwing away books by the dumpster full. and not just antiquated books... readable, new editions. even classics. the bookstores do the same. i know that publishers also trash them by the droves. people should be equally as upset about that. i'm new here - found you through a search, so no, i'm not aware of any prior postings. mea culpa.

    but to get back to the point - the burning served as a catalyst for change and discussion. why aren't people reading anymore? what does it mean to each of us? why are there people throughout the world starving for books they can't get, while there are millions of americans that can read and choose not to? books saved me! that is what should be the focus...

    i'm sorry the link didn't work - it didn't all come through, i see. you'll have to skip my post of today, but you can find yesterday's post beneath it - and my own love affair with books is the one before it. we aren't bad people, i promise.

  6. Supergirlest, I appreciate your willingness to discuss all of this.

    We obviously share a passion about books and reading. I'm not at all surprised by that, just as I'm not surprised at the reaction that you guys got. I can well imagine that it was a much more vocal one than anyone there expected.

    I'm very concerned about the apparent decline in reading (I'm not always sure that the numbers are correct, statistics being what they are), but I assume that the reading rate is stable at best, and likely to be slowly dropping.

    The book burning has certainly brought attention to the discouraging trend. But I hope that you can see why some of us have doubts about all of this. We can only judge motives by what we see, and what I saw led me to believe that this was not necessarily what it appeared to be.

    Our hopes and our goals appear to be the same. I don't question the message at all, only the package in which it came. I know that we are coming at this thing from different points of view, but I hope you understand a little better how this looked through the eyes of a book lover sitting in Houston.

    BTW, I backtracked that link and was able to read the post you referenced. Interesting stuff...

  7. i do, i do! thank you for giving me a chance to speak... we are are on the same "side."

    if you get a chance, do read the NEA study sometime. really frightening stuff. i can easily say that 1/2 the people i talk to about reading say they don't read... :( i simply can't get my brain around it.

    i hope i didn't come off too harshly, i'm just incredibly sleep deprived in trying to keep up with the response, in addition to my two year old. folks are calling our house at all hours, still... not everyone is yelling at me, though. :) i hope this turns out to be a positive. i think it can.

    all best,

  8. Kara, I've always heard that it is a small percentage of the population that buys all the books sold in this country, something way less than 50%, in fact. I find it incredibly sad that so many people don't read, that they don't even know what they are missing, that they find reading to be a chore and not a pleasure. And it does seem to be becoming more of a trend in that direction. What to do?

    Get some rest and, when you're up to it, please come back and let us know how all of this works out. with a two-year old and all of this going on around you, your world is going to be hectic for a while. Good luck.

  9. thanks, sam! yes, it is scary... it is amazing to me, my little guy brings me 20 books a day to read - many times, he likes to read them twice or three times in a row! i think the answer may lie with getting children excited about reading, at a really young age. as for the older crowd - all it takes is one book. "the one" that has the ability to change what reading means for them. i wish i had the magic wand...

    i also want to say that i really like what you're doing here, in your blog! i'll be back! i have you bookmarked.

  10. Oh for heaven's sakes there are countries all over the world who wouldn't mind those books symbolically burned to publish a few local authors. If you couldn't handle the shipping fees it would at least have been worth it to ask local charities to help fund it, along with institutions in the countries receiving it. It never even occurred to them to try the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? Guatanamo? What about frickin' New Orleans -- there are dozens of libraries in Louisiana that are begging for books.

    I don't know. Maybe it's because I work for an international charity that it all seems ridiculous. Oh and I have terrible critical thinking skills.

  11. Imani, I'm still at the point where I think their message is a good one but I'll never get all the way over the hump to agree on burning books for any reason other than that they are worthless because of being out of date or they have become so damaged that they are no longer readable. Just can't get myself there.