Set, Upset, Reset | Newberry

Set, Upset, Reset

I’m still doing my best to figure out this new century of ours. Someone recently donated the entire run of the Raymond Burr Perry Mason TV series, and I showed this to a passerby. This passerby is a big fan of old black and white series, especially when, as with Perry Mason, the Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, and so on, you saw new characters in different stories in each episode, and you can spot a young Charles Bronson, say, in an early role. I was kind of hoping I’d get an offer for the whole bagful of DVDs.

He marveled for a moment, and then sighed. “If I bought it, I’d never watch it. It’s more random running into an episode on cable. I bought all of Twilight Zone and now, when an episode I really like turns up on television, I just say, ‘That was a good one’ and keep on changing channels. I HAVE it, so I don’t have to watch it NOW.”

“What about if you want to watch a particular episode and can’t wait for it to come on?” I asked, in my very best “You really want to spend money today” voice.

He stared at me. “I have a computer.”

It’s true, of course. You can go online and look up the episode you want or even just the scenes you liked best. If all you need of Gone With the Wind is the last three minutes of dialogue, you just press some keys and call it up. The NEXT generation may not get it, not having sat through the whole movie to get there, but you’ve SEEN it already, and your mind can put that scene into context. You no longer NEED to see the whole thing.

And people used to wonder whether music videos were ruining the attention span of the MTV generation.

This is happening with books, too. I mocked a lady who called in to ask me where she could look up the value of the W volume of her encyclopedia, but plenty of booksellers are doing such things nowadays. I can hardly look up rare nineteenth century sets of books online now. The dealers who sell online as a cash grab have realized they can get more money by taking a five volume set and selling each volume individually. (Easier to make a profit on shipping and handling that way, too.) If you want that three-volume Memoirs of Prudence Dalrymple from 1809, you need to scroll through dozens of listings of “Memoirs of Prudence Dalrymple, Vol. I” and “Memoirs of Prudence Dalrymple, Vol. II.” My wish for these people is that they wind up with a lot of leftover volume 2s. (They won’t care. All they count is the money.)

And, complain and sneer as I like, I cannot deny that this has made things easier for the lady with the W volume of the encyclopedia. Someone out there probably IS selling the volumes individually. Encyclopedias, long considered a drag on the market, are starting to come into their own. They’re designed to look nice on the shelf, so they are heaven sent for people who want a handsome wall of books as background in one of their rooms. And if your name starts with W, why NOT buy all 1954 World Book W volumes to run along the top shelf? You’re never actually going to read what’s on the shelves, so it doesn’t matter what’s behind those handsome volumes. You can spell out ‘WELCOME TO MY LIBRARY” in shiny gold letters on dark not-quite-leather spines. Dealers with storerooms packed with old encyclopedias would be glad to help you out.

(Old book collecting joke: the lady is showing her friend her newly-decorated library, and spreads her hand across shelves filled with rich, red leather bindings, saying, “And these are the Complete Works of John Galsworthy.”

The friend shakes her head. “No, dear. I have Galsworthy in my library, and Galsworthy is blue.”)

Anyway, that’s going to be my strategy in selling all these sets of television shows on DVD. We’ll have a sign that says, “Think how owning this will impress your friends. You don’t have to WATCH them.”

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