When my kids were in high school, I lived in a small Pennsylvania coal town, we had an excellent library. Why? Because a lot of kids of the coalminers wanted to go to college, and so the beloved “Library Lady” would try to keep up on textbooks, classics, encyclopedias, and other literature needed by the students with tight budgets. (this was a time when the internet was in it’s infancy, so few used the internet).

So when I lived there, I didn’t need to buy a lot of books.

However,  most of my life has been lived in other rural areas where libraries were basic, book shops were few, and my budget was limited. So when I would travel to “the big city”, I would make a trip to the used book shops near the universities and splurge.

Then came the internet, and Amazon. Instead of waiting a month for “interlibrary loan”, I could order the books I wished. It improved even more when they allowed folks to sell their used books using their service. So my personal library grew.

Since few of these books were “new”, I always wondered who was getting the profit. Not the authors, certainly. And I suspect like most things, most books remain unsold and therefore the companies might overprice them to make a profit.

But the result, the overpricing, meant a lot of us couldn’t afford them, so we bought them used…which of course didn’t give them a profit.

Awhile back, there was an idea of “printing on demand”. I wish such thing had been pushed quickly, because with ebooks, the real loser will be those who can’t afford an ebook reader: those with limited budgets, those of us living overseas etc.

Right now, I have a huge library of old fashioned books.

When I came to the Philippines, I brought about half of my library with me, via the “MBag” book rat. Alas, the US has eliminated this cheap way to send stuff overseas.

On the other hand, our sleepy little town is expanding. We now have a mall, with a book store (with new books I rarely can afford) and a used book kiosk that has best sellers and often classics and trade paperbacks. The kiosk is a gem: mainly romances and stuff similar to what you can get in a US grocery store or airport, but they also include overstocks and older used books that seem to have been in someone’ s library for years.

If you look carefully the selection is good: not only Janet Evanovich but Nevil Shute, Not just Eileen Goudge but Elizabeth Goudge, and I’ve even found history books, and Homer and Jane Austen and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books there too.

See that part above about “MBag” postage? It was stopped a few years ago, and although they insisted it was a cost cutting measure, I suspect it was because they instituted it as a charity and too many “used book” sellers abroad were using it to increase their profit.

Horrors. Profits on donated books.

Yet here in the rural Philippines, it is the used book sellers that keeps the students and growing middle class able to read books. A “new” paperback might “only” be ten dollars US, but in our “dual economy”, that is a lot of money. Better to pay one to three dollars for a used paperback. (40 pesos/80 cents is the average).

This brings me to “E Books”. Theoretically, most folks here have access to computers, if only in a “computer cafe” (where schoolboys poll their allowance to spend their lunch hour playing games on line and logging into facebook at 50 cents an hour).

And now, local libraries may find that they can’t “lend” these books. From the LATIMES:

In late February, HarperCollins announced that its ebooks could be checked out by library patrons 26 times, after which a library would need to re-purchase the ebook in order to lend it out again to its patrons (again, for a maximum of 26 times). That 26-checkout limit begins today.

Hmm…wonder what the library lady will do.

And I wonder if, five years from now, the “used book” kiosk will be empty, and those of us with limited budgets in foreign lands will have a shrinking supply of things to read.

Maybe by then, prices on ebooks will fall, and I’ll be able to get cheap ebooks on line.

But right now, trying to download films or audiobooks from the US usually gets me a “your country is blocked due to copyright issues”. So it’s useless for me to buy a kindle for new books, although there are a lot of classics and pdf files out there I’d like to read without using my big bulky computer.

One of these days, I’ll invest in a Kindle, but I wonder why the ebooks are so expensive. They don’t need paper, or to pay printers, or paying postage or shipping, so why are the best sellers more expensive as an “ebook” than a good used copy?

But there is another problem with ebooks: if you forget the password, you can’t open them.
I find it ironic that the only books that I brought here with me to the Philippines that I can’t use are the ebooksI legally bought and brought with me on my computer.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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