catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Vanity book buying

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While I am not convinced that Penguin Books is a vanity publisher, I have no doubt that they cater to the vanity book buying market. Some years ago I visited the shared apartment of a work colleague where, as I always do, I conducted a book collection analysis. Though small (‘most of them are at my parents’ place’, the standard excuse of the twenty-something renter) this looked to be tasteful collection of Penguin classics, and she was on her way to good marks. But there was a problem. All of them had the light green binding that Penguin had only recently started using, and their spines were suspiciously uncreased. Yes, as she admitted, this was a case of vanity book buying, novels bought not for the pleasure or interest of reading them, but to make her look good.

According to an article in The Grauniad this is surprisingly common.

Driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book “solely to look intelligent”, the YouGov survey says.

It finds one in every eight young people confessing to choosing a book “simply to be seen with the latest shortlisted title”. This herd instinct dwindles to affect only one in 20 over-50 year-olds.

I think one in three consumers in London and the south-east, an affluent and educated part of the UK, is important. This kind of snobbery depends on people actually knowing which books might signal intelligence. A couple of my relatives appear to have no books apart from the phone books. Are they going to be impressed by my collection of Hayek’s works? I think not.

It’s easy to make fun of book-driven status seeking, but I think it is a positive thing. It helps keep good books in print, so that they are available for the people who do genuinely want to read them. It gives good writers enough money that they can afford to concentrate on their next book. And, who knows, perhaps some of these books might actually get read one day.

(Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the link lead.)


Written by Admin

October 29, 2005 at 7:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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