Printed Books Are Luxury Items

ScreenHunter_71 May. 30 05.33


This is the response from the reddit I posted a few hours ago and it was another response to someone using Cracked’s post about how useless and disposable books are. I argued that the post use Lauren Conrad reasoning to back up how we should calm ourselves when people gut RM450 worth books just so they could use the spine and paste it on a storage container.

But in a place where you have higher purchasing power, you don’t really see books as we do here in our third world country. I guess this what you called the first world privilege. I don’t think I have addressed this issue before.

Education is a privilege. Learning to read and write is a privilege. Reading for leisure is a privilege.

If you have some disposable income to purchase books instead of food items, you are wealthy by proxy.

Yes, I do book hauls and stuff and I read books by bulk and indeed I always buy books every month. I am wealthy in that sense but I am not as rich enough that I could go into a bookstores and get to spend on everything I had my eyes on. I have my own limitation. I am frugal and I learn to save up and that’s reason why I read mostly ebooks which can be much cheaper than an actual physical book. I am content with what I’m doing right now because I get to do the things I love.

But books are luxury items. Even more so in Malaysia where an average mass market paperback was RM30-40 and average trade paperbacks was RM40-60 and average hardback was RM70-100. I live in the most developed state in Malaysia and it have some of its advantage as well such as concentration of bookstores within one mile radius. But we’re living in a country where RM50 per week doesn’t guarantee a good living, we’re at risk of various price hike and we have poorer local currency value which was an advantage for investors but not much for quality of living. One RM30 book don’t feed a family.

The last time I bought a real hardcover on retail price was Harry Potter the Order of Phoenix on 21 June 2003 and it costed me around more than RM100+ because it was on the published date and the price fell slightly a decade later. I remember because that was the first and last time I bought a book regardless whether I could use that RM100+ to buy three more average priced books and an ice cream. Every hardcover books I have right now came from second hand bookstores, BookXcess and Big Bad Wolf Sale. And trust me, its a gamble whenever you want to get overprinted books that you like. That’s why I call it treasure hunting, because it is.

Now, here are some definition,

luxury good is a good for which demand increases more than proportionally as income rises, and is a contrast to a “necessity good”, for which demand increases proportionally less than income.

Books tend to be in higher demand when the population can afford it. I won’t lie, I am in an average middle class family and yes, my reading habit is a class privilege and so was my education history. While there’s nothing wrong in the act of reading or being educated but here are some facts : We can live without books. Its just paper and ink. Its some of the earthly item we couldn’t carry into grave and etc. But reading and exploring knowledge does give you a better state of mind than others who don’t. We can learn more things easily from books than the time we spend learning by our own and staying alive on this planet. Civilization also tend to converge upon gatherings of intellectuals and developments and that’s the thing we’re currently in the middle of. These civilizations do get destroyed and destruction of intellectual properties like library and knowledge center tend to drive people to ignorance and dark ages. These inherited knowledge taught us to learn how to react when this happen and preserving knowledge tend to have higher survivability.

We can learn from that history through reading and other medium as well. Ideas and knowledge can be made durable with books and it survive through time as well. Even with the technology we get, we still depended on power source in which the medium and technology are still growing and constantly changeable.

My definition of books as luxury goods have nothing to do with market value demand and ebooks such as Slate graciously contributed about the rise of books being a luxury item do to the people who migrate to digital books.

Cheaper paper or not, books have been a luxury item throughout the history of mankind. The people who read and own books tend to be the wealthiest and its true. It gave prestige and title and intellectual confirmation. Politicians put themselves in front of bookshelves just to appear smart. Shelves full of books is a sign of prosperity. It was shallow but it work all the time.

That is why many are still resistant about the idea of books being downloaded and distributed and contained in barely several kilobytes. We digitize words and it rendered the value of words near worthless. That is why even with all the market and publicity you did, if you don’t have people reading your words, you’re basically worthless. (I reflected this with this blog as well… sigh)

So, really, it is offensive when luxury items such as printed books being seen more worthless by folks who don’t value it as such. No matter what your idea of affordability is, when you stop feeling the value of it, you stop seeing it as something significant to you. When you encourage it on others like Lauren Conrad, and see it as inherently vacuous as they are, basically you’ve dehumanized yourself to the very things that created our civilization. Words and knowledge are priceless.

And yes, this is the privilege we obviously took for granted. And I am disappointed that many are still blind by it.

Will you burn the book or not?



One thought on “Printed Books Are Luxury Items

  1. I could never burn a book that I bought or was given by someone – but I respect the rights of others to do as they please with the paper, even though I wished they’d just donate the books (especially good books like Lemony Snicket) to schools, orphanage, etc, instead. Furthermore, I think it would be easier and faster if Lauren Conrad just print out a label and ‘make’ a new book spine – all the cutting activities look exhausting! Phew!

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