Thursday, February 5, 2009

Marking Time Marking Down

May I just say how much I dislike marking down Used Books? The nature of what I do for a living necessitates a certain ruthlessness when considering the buying and selling of good books. There are good books I can not buy for the store because I know they will never sell. How do I know this? Because there are good books I did buy for the store, knowing they would not sell, and they didn't. I will do so again. I probably did so today. Two or three times a year, my mistakes come back to me. I hold them off as long as I possibly can; I lower the prices and hazard them again, I clean them up, I try them in branch stores, I give them another go on the Recent Arrivals shelves. No matter. When the Big Clearance Sale comes inexorably 'round again, as it does now in February, those responsible for keeping the store's inventory active, attractive and up-to-date, refuse my mistakes any more stays and to the the sad tables of clearance they go.

Being as fond of my unloved stepchildren as I was the day I foolishly took them in, this is a hard time for me. I refuse to let others oversee this final humiliation of unloved ones. The process of their exile is too tediously technical to bother describing, but the last, heartbreaking step is to "slash" the price tags with a red pen. Two slashes for 40% off, three for 60% and so on until such as have proven themselves truly impossible to place even at prices reduced to nearly nothing, the last of the unlovable, are boxed up and sent to a fate I shudder to contemplate: I'm told such orphans as are left after 75% or more off are "donated." I never ask where or to whom. My guess is to the same farm "out in the country" where small children are told their elderly pets have gone into retirement. Prisons would be alright with me, or even schools if it must be done, but I will never ask. I don't want to know. I can't look at the books as they're gathered, boxed and "donated." Poor things. God Speed.

Many of the books that are "clearanced" were once useful and handsome enough. These have probably just fallen on hard times out on the shelves. Many are old and perhaps a bit delicate before they even had a price-tag put . For these, I may sigh, but I understand. It was their time. No regrets, please. Go now and rest, good and faithful servants.

But books still in all but very good condition, seemingly in the prime of their usefulness and interest, to see these come limping back from the retail wars, never called for, never asked after, never read... A first edition in hardcover of Robert Stone's first novel, the pristine dustjacket without so much as a scratch on it's plastic cover? A Sanskrit dictionary thick with history, and a bit of dust? Books by E. B. White, Mark Twain, David Hume?!

Oh, the carnage of "clearance."

The worst of it for me of course, is that there is no sympathy to be had about this from anyone not working at the desk with me. Those in charge of the sections into which these dear duds fell, may feign distress as they add to the stacks to be processed and packed off, but I know they are glad enough to be rid of my unlucky buys. Need the shelf-space, you understand. I do. Damn it. And the customers? I'm glad to place these books in a good home, in some cases at any price, and I certainly can't begrudge anyone a bargain, not the way I personally shop for books. I don't even dislike the scouts that come to scavenge for resale. Perhaps the books they take will find a likelier place from which to be rescued and rediscovered.

I just wish I didn't have to watch them go. Not like this. And tomorrow? Another cart, the note attached reading implacably, " No Sales. Markdown."

Oh, the shame of it.


  1. Sorry, I love the Big Book Sale.

  2. I should hope you would, after I've slaved for days making all these good books more affordable! Buy cart-loads and end my agony.