Dealing With Information: Why I’m Back To Physical Books.

RandomBooks0Before the Internet, I remember when Hypertext was first covered in Byte Magazine back in the 1980s. I thought that hypertext would be awesome since it could link to relative terms, as Wikipedia does now, and a teenage version of me was floored by the potential.

It didn’t go quite the way I thought it would.

The Internet came around, and we now had this ability to link to pages of seemingly infinite length. Anyone who has seriously researched the Internet on just about anything found themselves getting easily sidetracked by some interesting tidbit elsewhere, which was a real tyranny before tabbed browsing.

Forward, back, it also links here, click a different link, back… Tabbed browsing saved us from that only to give us a plethora of tabs that we leave open, some forgotten, and sometimes one of them will suddenly start making noise and we have to track down which it was…. but now we can mute tabs, so that’s not so bad if we’re organized.

Enter the electronic book. What I had hoped for was being able to have my own little library where I could scribble notes here and there, sort of like a Wiki but with my books in it. It’s a grand idea, I think, and one I have taken stabs at more than once when I had this thing we call ‘spare time’. It never quite worked out. Truth be told, I’d have rather been reading and cross-pollinating ideas in my head.

In 2007, I was one of the early adopters of the Amazon Kindle – that first generation. I’d end up giving that one to my mother when I upgraded, and she seemed to like it, but I noted that she did what I did – she still accumulated physical books much to my chagrin. When she moved around during that period, I was the beast of burden who often asked her why she didn’t collect lighter things. This is beasts of burden should not be sentient.

I upgraded again, and again… I presently have 3 kindles, and they have all been nice to read one book at a time, but I’m not a one book at a time sort of person. I flit between books and scribbled notes, as well as the Internet and even emailing authors and experts (which is really, really cool when they respond – thank you!). I’m looking for ways to understand the world, as we all are, and the more it doesn’t make sense, the more I research. It’s a Sisyphean task.

Then books started getting removed off of electronic devices without warning or recourse, and it ends up when you buy a book from a store like Amazon for your reader, you don’t have as much control as a physical book. Besides being unable to scribble archaic thoughts in the margins and even pointing to other things in other books… you don’t actually own the book. You have this ‘license’, of sorts, that doesn’t really permit you to lend your friend a book, or for a friend to lend you a book.

You can’t gift a book to someone that you’ve already read, which admittedly isn’t the way perceive gifts. You can’t wander through an old store filled with used electronic books and pick up some eccentric titles from yesteryear, aside from what good projects like Project Gutenberg do.

Organically, unconsciously, I once again became a closet physical book user, with little sticky notes and the omnipresent pen at the ready.

And as I write this, I have a stack of books ordered to be picked up hopefully this week.

Why is it this way? Because people are more interested in selling books than sharing knowledge? I don’t know. I do know that in the age of electronics, I’m reading on paper still and I find it better for my needs.

The Reading Tax: Trinidad and Tobago.

The last copy I'm buying. Too many given away or stolen.While we live in an era where digital books are prevalent, and I have many of them, there are certain books that I like to have physically. And I like to have them in hardcover because, if a book is worth having physically, it’s worth having the hardcover.

So I ordered the book on the right through Amazon.com- the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. It’s somewhat rare as seen, so it ended up costing me $58 U.S. from a third party vendor through Amazon.com. I got it today, after Aeropost covered customs for me – which cost an additional $24.39 US (or $164.35 TT).

All in all, this specific book cost me $82.39 US, or $555.18 TT. It’s something I’m willing to pay for; it’s an important book for me.

Still, that is a little pricey, isn’t it? If it wasn’t important to me, I wouldn’t bother.

I recalled that Nigel Khan’s bookstore used to do special orders years ago, and I thought maybe it would be worth exploring – they do, after all, import books. So I wandered into Southpark and asked the lady about it, and she said ‘yes’. I provided her a few titles I wanted in hardcover, English translations… and started off with ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (Paulo Freire).

She dutifully tapped away at her keyboard, then asked me to come around and choose which edition I wanted. When I wandered around, my mind’s internal jaw dropped.

I was staring at Amazon.com’s page search for ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.

Still, this was an experiment and I wanted to see where this would go. Maybe they had a better deal for me. Maybe it would be something worthwhile, maybe there would be some value added to me somehow. So I chose the 50th year anniversary hardcover of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, which I saw was clearly was $64.47 US.

And we worked through the other book – Musashi’s, “Book of Five Rings”.

Then, she whipped out her calculator – because no one uses the calculator on the computer they access the Internet on (there’s money down the tubes) – and she started working out the pricing.

Now, I paid about 30% markup on the Douglas Adams book myself, which is pretty steep for any book – but let’s work with a 30% markup. So, at $64.47 US, I should be looking at about $84 US to bring the book in. That’s about $566-570 TT.  In my head, I averaged roughly $575 TT, which wasn’t too far off as I write this.

That solar powered calculator had other numbers in mind.

It spoke with the woman’s voice and told me $1200 TT/$180 US.

For a $65 US book. For something I could bring in myself for roughly $84 US.

What?! For one book? That’s effectively buying the same book almost 3 times and getting only one copy. I buy the government a copy they don’t get, I buy the bookstore a copy they don’t get, and I get one.

I’ll bring it in myself when I’m ready. Or, at those prices, maybe I should fly to the U.S. and bring in a suitcase of books.

Everybody knows it.

But people in Trinidad and Tobago, largely, know this. And this is one aspect of living in small economy with little purchasing power, subject to pricing necessary to maintain a business presence in Trinidad and Tobago based on importation. I can get screwed by the government alone by bringing it in myself, or I can get screwed by the government who subsequently screws a business that’s screwing me.

Yet not everyone can order the books off of Amazon – foreign exchange is a commodity unto itself in Trinidad and Tobago. So if you want a book and you can’t get the foreign exchange together, which is just about everybody these days, you get charged about 3 times the book price for a special order.

And can everyone afford that? No.

Reading in Trinidad and Tobago seems to have become a luxury. We live in a global information economy, and these prices for books in the Trinidad and Tobago Information Fiefdom do not bode well for the future.