What is the shelf-life of your Books?

There are billions of books in the world. Most writers give up their lives to produce their work, and some of these books have changed the world; but how long should a book last?

How long before your words go from this

Books in a Library

To this

Waste Books

What amazes me about books is how some people treat them. Where I live, many residents regularly throw books away. They just dump them in a nearby street, which is a well-known place for people who want to get rid of things they don’t need anymore. You can see everything from an aviary to a zillion other unwanted things.

Why are books treated differently from other media?

But, you never see used records or CDs. I’ve never seen a used video or DVD, or unwanted works of art, and never old photographs. But with books, almost every week there will be a collection stacked somewhere in this street. Even our local library has a bin of “Free Books” to take home and enjoy. I’ve seen many fantasy novels in these bins; I wonder if this is just someone’s particular choice, or do they have the lowest turnover. You wouldn’t think so by looking at the sales figures for fantasy books in Australia.

The City of Sydney Library has more than 400,000 books on its shelves, and on average, receives 200 new books per week from publishers. So how long does it take a book to fit into the category of the giveaway pile? Years. But I read that when a book is borrowed more than 23 times, it is replaced with a new one because it has begun to fall apart.

That maybe why there are so many fantasy books in my local library’s free bin; they have simply been read so many times.

Are books just another commodity?

With bookshops, almost all books have a life cycle and a shelf life. A bookseller might want to return the remainders of a book that has not sold well to the publisher, so they can make room on their shelves for new books.

A bookseller can return books for a refund, (depending on the publisher’s returns policy) and then the publisher might sell the returns to a bargain bookstore at a reduced cost, just to get something for the books. The bargain bookstore will sell them at a lower cost than the original bookstore.

But neither libraries nor bookstores just dump them in the street. There are many worthy causes you can donate books to, like the Footpath Library.

I don’t know why people dump books, especially considering the cost of most of them, but we continue to do this. I imagine the only thing worse than seeing a book you’ve written lying dead in a street, is to never see any sales at all – but maybe not.


  1. Hi Rob, I too don’t understand how people can throw out books! Whenever I have a clean out, I’ll drop by my local library and then Vinnie’s to make sure the life of my book continues beyond my bookshelf. To me, it’s this longevity that’s one of the awesome aspects of hard copy books. On the other hand, it’s also why I like digital. I can avoid the clutter. The one and only time I’ve thrown out books was when I was disposing of my rather dated university text books. Nobody would take them! However, they went in the recycling bin, not the rubbish.

    • Hi Belinda, I guess it has a lot to do with laziness, or is it slothfulness. The worst thing I ever saw, (relating to books) six year ago I moved out of my unit in Sydney. And someone else was doing the same thing at the same time. They had totally filled a large rubbish bin with what looked like all their books. I was gob smacked when I saw this. I rescued several. It was one of those 200 litre dark green bins; there must have been several hundred books in it. They didn’t even put them in the recycling bin. Yes, most books I buy now are in digital format, it just makes some much more sense, and it’s probably about 50% cheaper. Cheers B.

  2. Hi Rob,
    It sounds very odd to me that people throw out their old books. I can’t even imagine doing a thing like that.
    I consider every book I read, even the worst, to be a (small) piece of my life.

  3. I must admit I have picked up some gems from the pavement where people have left their books. But I would always find some suitable home for my old books. And, yes, I love my Kindle!

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