Not too long ago, I was reading a wonderful article on MousePlanet written by Disney historian and all-around cool guy Jim Korkis; in one of his columns, Jim talked about the substantial collection of books in Walt's "working office" and what these books said and didn't say about his interests. (The article can be found here if you're interested.) Jim's comments about Walt's love of books got me wondering: Is it easier or harder to be a bookworm now than it was in Walt's time? Let's consider a few facts:
* Thanks to the Internet, it's easier and cheaper than ever to find a book. Amazon.com is practically a bibliophile's dream come true; type the name of a book you've heard of into Amazon's search bar, and if it's in print (and in many cases, even if it's not), you'll be able to find and purchase a copy and have it shipped to you. If the book's not yet in print, you'll be told when it'll be available. And that's just one website; if you're not having any luck at Amazon, there's bn.com, half.com, powells.com, eBay, Craigslist... I could name dozens of places online to go looking for a book.
* Thanks to the Internet, it's harder than ever to find a bookstore. Amazon and its sister sites are a bookstore owner's nightmare. It's hard to keep a bookstore open when a good percentage of your customers can come in, find a book, and then put it back on the shelf because they know they can go home and buy it cheaper online. It's even harder when potential customers never come into your store in the first place, or come into your store to grab a cup of coffee and use the store as a substitute for a public library. It doesn't matter if we're talking about big chains (anybody remember Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Borders?) or Mom-and-Pop independents - the brick-and-mortar bookstore is dying a slow death; many brick-and-mortar options that remain (like Costco and Wal-Mart) may only have a few best-sellers of you're lucky, while others are busy restocking their shelves with toys and knick-knacks instead of books(Barnes and Noble, I'm looking at you). And if you're hoping to find a brick-and-mortar store with a good selection of books on more unusual topics like, say, the Disney theme parks? Forget it.
* The Internet has made finding used and out of print books a lot easier. When I was a kid, if you wanted to find a rare or out of print book, you were going to spend a lot of time searching or were going to need some luck. I foumd the oldest book in my collection, a book on monorails, at a thrift store back in the mid-1970's, and it just a case of the right book being in the right place at the right time. A few minutes ago, I searched for that same book on abebooks.com and found 13 copies in a matter of seconds; with a few clicks, I could purchase a copy of that book from a store in a city I've never been to, and have it in my hands in just a few days. If I really want an out-of-print book, I could probably find it and get it pretty quickly.
* The Internet has taken all the fun out of finding used and out of print books. It's also taken all the fun out of searching for new books, for that matter. Any collector will tell you that one of the best parts of finding something to add to their collection is the thrill of the hunt, and books are no exception. I don't know how many afternoons I've spent browsing bhe shelves in big and small used and antiquarian bookstores, hoping to find something I didn't already have; when I found a new book for my collection, I really felt like I'd found something special. I've never gotten that same feeling from searching on a website.
* There are more options for authors looking to get their books published. In the last few years, I've discovered a lot of great books about Disney written by first-time authors - more so than probably any time ever. There's a good reason for that - there are a lot more options available for self-publishing; thanks to the Internet, it's easier and cheaper to put together and publish a book than it's ever been. That means a lot of folks with stories to tell will have a better shot at telling them.
* There are more obstacles for authors looking to get their books sold or distributed. It's never been easy for the author of a book to get noticed or get picked up by a major publisher, but these days, it seems like it's even more difficult. With so many books being published by online publishers, and with online bookstores being the most viable option for book sales, it's harder for a first-time author to get the attenton of a major publisher. Consolidation among the media companies means that there are fewer big publishers available to publish a book in any case, and the few remaining big publishers are less willing to take a chance on an new author, no matter how good the book is or how much buzz it's generating.
* Disney appears to be making more of an effort to get books about things Disney published. I've noticed that in the last couple of years, Disney's made more of an effort to get books of interest to Disney fans - and not just to kids - published. In the last couple of years alone, Disney has published several new books and revised editions of classic books on animation, Imagineering, architecture, and details in the Disney theme parks. Many books feature a D23 imprint on the back cover - I'm not sure if it's D23 and its members that are helping to spur this or if it's just a gimmick to get D23 members to but these books, but if it helps to get Disney to publish more books, I'm all for it. That being said...
* Disney appears to be making less of an effort to get souvenir books on the Disney parks published. I love collecting the hardcover souvenir guides to the Disney theme parks. They do a wonderful job of capturing a moment in Disney park history, the photography's always wonderful, and many of them share some great concept art and behind-the-scenes stories of the theme parks' classic attractions. But the last hardcover souvenir book about Disneyland was published in 2010, and the last one about Walt Disney World appears to have been published in 2008. I think we're more than overdue. Several of the new titles with the D23 imprint are thin softcover books - they're cheap and they're quick to read, but you're out of luck if you want more information.
So, it it better or worse to be a collector of books, specifically books on the Disney theme parks, in 2012? I'd have say that the answer's an unqualified yes. :) In some respects, this couldn't be a better time to love to read and collect books; in others, things couldn't be worse, and it doesn't look like things will get better anytime soon. In the end, we readers have to take the good with the bad, enjoying the great opportunities and the wonderful reading out there, and hoping that some of the negative things will improve. But that's my opinion - what are your thoughts?