The expense and value of out-of-print books

For those who do not think that books are of any value and that everything should be digital, I ask you to consider the backcountry adventure for a moment. You’re miles and miles into deep, thick forest in an attempt to reach the summit of a peak or the base of a crag to climb, seeking that ascent, and the nearest cell phone tower is miles and miles away. No reception. Now there’s bad weather setting in. What did that website say about places and methods of shelter again? Lightning flashes and thunder booms overhead as you rack your brain and try desperately to get a signal on your device. No luck. Suddenly, you don’t recognize the landscape — it doesn’t resemble any of the photos that you saw online. You pull out the few pages that you printed on your inkjet printer at home from the handiest website you could find, only to discover that the ink runs as the rain begins pouring down on it, wetting the paper and blurring the pictures, maps, and words. You’re lost in a storm and separated from your buddy. What do you do? You’re beginning to feel cold and panic raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Just then, your buddy that you teased for being a Luddite who buys the old books and the waterproof topo maps emerges and finds you huddled under a spindly evergreen tree. “Come on,” he waves you over, “I built us a shelter over here!” You know now the value of those expensive out-of-print books he bought. “See?” he holds one of the ancient texts up, “I told you this old thing would come in handy!” Hopefully you would be more prepared than that, but things like this happen all the time on adventures off the beaten path. I’m one of those Luddites and, although it’s nice to be able to look things up in a flash on the internet and have everything neatly contained within the confines of an iPad memory, there’s a time and a place for those old how-to books, that seemingly ancient knowledge, and a good physical map that won’t smear when you get it wet. Technology is great…when it works. In situations where it doesn’t, though, solid knowledge, a cool head, and “the old ways” often prevail over the panic that ensues over not being able to get a cell signal or internet access.

The reason that I say all of this and give the example situation above is that these out-of-print volumes of knowledge are getting more and more expensive because they are ever more valuable given that the internet is taking over and books may not sell as well in fair weather. I guarantee that a book is 1000% better by candlelight in a pinch, though, and I buy digital copies of books only as a last resort. We must keep physical books alive. Our guidebooks depend on sales of physical copies and you need a hard copy in the wilderness. The cell towers aren’t going to be of any use to you in situations like the one described above. The purchase of hard copies will also keep the price of physical literature and books down because they will not become a rarity. Besides that, you can drop a book and it’s still usable. Try smashing your iPhone on the rocks and using it…

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