Book trade conversations

Book trade conversations

Tuesday, Jan 16, 2024

Late last year I took part in a rescheduled meeting – more than twenty years after the original meeting date in the early 2000s. At that time, I was visiting London after attending an ILAB meeting and I had been asked by Sheila Markham if she could interview me for her series ‘Conversations with the Antiquarian Book Trade’. Unfortunately, a family illness caused Sheila to cancel our meeting.

In 2022, soon after becoming ANZAAB President, Brisbane bookseller, Dawn Albinger, approached Sheila to ask if she would undertake a series of interviews with ANZAAB members, as a lead-in to ANZAAB’s fiftieth anniversary in 2025. Sheila agreed and, to my delight, I became the first to be interviewed – thus fulfilling that original appointment, albeit via the internet.

One of Sheila’s questions to me concerned my thoughts on the way in which the book world has been changed by technology and whether electronic devices are replacing the book as a physical object. In reply, it occurred to me that evolving technology has always been part of my many decades in the book trade. In the late 1960s I started issuing catalogues using a manual typewriter and printing them on a Gestetner copying machine. Technological advances brought me the electric typewriter – with features progressing through word processing versions using the golf-ball and daisy wheel mechanisms. Throughout these changes I continued to type and issue book catalogues, which I posted to collectors throughout the world. Then came the breakthrough of computers and the ‘ease of communication’ they offered which, in fact, eventually brought an end to our printed and posted catalogues, thus demonstrating the pros and the cons of the question.  

On whether the book is being replaced as a physical object, we both agreed that it is disconcerting to see very young children with iPad in hand, and we hoped that they were also being introduced to the magic of seeing print and image on paper. However, I suggested that many were at least reading words in one form or another. And only that day I had a customer who bought his wife a first edition of a book by an author she had discovered on her Kindle.

As a major benefit of modern technology, Sheila admitted that her discovery of the ‘virtual interview’ via platforms such as Zoom has been the greatest boon for her, allowing her to add booksellers from all over the world to her repertoire.           

Bibliophile, book historian and great book trade supporter, Nicolas Barker has commented on Sheila’s amazing collection of ‘conversations’:

An invaluable mine of fact, anecdote, memories, few lies and no statistics. Thank God for all the persons that Sheila Markham has immortalized, and all the rest that she has yet to reach.

Sheila Markham in conversation can be found at https://www.sheila-markham.com/