An excellent commentary from a reader of the Los Angeles Times named G. Llloyd Helm appeared in today’s edition:

The other day I was in Barnes & Noble and an ugly fact came home to me. I can’t afford to buy books anymore. I used to pick up a book every week or two and was never without a paperback book stuck in my back pocket. Now buying a book is a major purchase.

Hard-bound books are averaging $25 apiece, and paperbacks are often more than $5 each. If you are making minimum wage, that boils down to four hours’ work for a hard-bound book. …

The National Endowment for the Arts released a study in July that found the reading of literature over the last 20 years had gone down like an express elevator; only 57% of Americans read any book at all last year. Part of the reason is that there are thousands of young people graduating from high school who can barely read anything more complicated than “Dick and Jane.”

But even those who can read aren’t doing so, and it should be obvious even to those dunderheads in publishing that the price of books has something to do with that. When a kid, especially one who doesn’t read well anyhow, can go to a movie or buy a computer game for less money than it costs to buy a paperback, which one is he or she going to choose?

I almost never buy books anymore unless I absolutely have to. I have more books sitting on my floor than I could possibly read anyway. And even if a lot of books I see in Borders look enticing, their prices are an instant disincentive (and I’m not singling Borders out). This was true even when I wasn’t a poverty-stricken grad student. Tonight in Borders I lingered over the following books, but I would never have bought them at their list prices:

  • Augusten Burroughs: Magical Thinking: True Stories (St. Martin’s Press, $23.95)
  • Geoffrey Stone: Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from The Sedition Act of 1798 to The War on Terrorism (W.W. Norton, $35.00)
  • Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik: Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $34.95)

One more reason for the preservation of libraries. And, paradoxically, one more reason for publishers to hate libraries.