Know Your Apples

There’s a market near me on a Saturday morning. The food’s a bit cheaper than the supermarket so I tend to go if I’m able. Actually, the price is irrelevant, not than I’m loaded. It’s more to do with the feel of the place. There’s something base and gross and human about markets that I’ve always loved the feel and smell of.

Maybe it’s a bit like olives, stilton and anchovies. Someone once explained to me that it’s these kinds of flavours, the ones verging on foul, teetering on the edge of rotten, are the ones that really get our taste buds cranking.

Markets do that for my other senses. Maybe it’s the lack of branding or pretense that other, more “sophisticated” vendors offer. Or maybe it’s nostalgia, having been dragged around markets all over the north west by my nanna. Either way, I’m hooked.

And this week, my faith in the market was reaffirmed by a conversation I heard between a bookseller and his customer. The bookseller is probably around 65 years old. He was talking about – not moaning – that it’s hard for him to make a living now. Though it had never been a doddle as an independent bookseller, he’d seen the big book chains rise and fall, and was now feeling the effects of e-books on his paperback trade and internet auction sites killing off his more prestige editions.

But this didn’t really seem to phase him. What was most painful, was that now, having massed a life time of information on the value of books, both in terms of money and quality, he said that people now perceive his knowledge as worthless. Today, if someone sees a book he’s selling, they will immediately google the price to see if it’s “fair”, then they’ll check a review to find out if it’s any good. Before, he

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said that people knew he wasn’t a cheap vendour, but they came to him because his price was fair and that his taste was impeccable.

I found it incredibly sad. Not for for him, because he

clearly had the awareness to realize that he hadn’t lost anything, it was all perception that had shifted. He still had the knowledge, it was just other people who had changed.

We talk about the worth of instant “knowledge” in the What Men Do guide. In our example it’s about apples. “It only takes a few seconds on the internet and you have learned that there are currently 7500 known varieties of apple. But you still don’t know which are worth eating. You know quantity, but not Quality.”

It’s not really any different with the book seller. Online you can see the ratings from thousands of people for different books, but not one of them has any idea about you. To get that, you’d need to engage with someone in

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a conversation. And who better than a man with a lifetime of love for books.

What have apples and books got to do with What Men Do? It’s all about value. Of course business will move on, replacing the previous ways of doing things. In this case it’s mass online retail replacing independent book sellers. It’s just good to be aware of what we’re letting go of when we accept the ways of doing things. Progress has a funny way of taking steps backward when it comes to being human.

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