I’m an avid reader, especially of philatelic topics. I encourage all of my customers to read everything about stamp collecting. It furthers your knowledge.

Today I received my first book on a DVD disk. That’s right – it’s on a computer disk. It’s not a printed copy. This is the new age in philatelic publishing.

Philatelic books don’t sell well. They are not on best-seller lists. Many books sell in the tens of copies or the few hundreds of copies. Some general interest books like “How to collect stamps” may sell in the hundreds or the few thousands of copies.

Publishing a philatelic book is not about making a profit. How many people collect “Bicycle stamps from Panama, 1906-1932” (a fictional topic) or some other narrowly focused area of philately? A few dozen at the most?

Most scholarly philatelic books are written by a researcher in that field. These books are a labor of love. The author wants to capture all of the knowledge they’ve accumulated and share it with other collectors. They want to save that research for future generations so that it doesn’t die when they join the great stamp club in the sky.

Book publishing is expensive. It’s cost prohibitive to publish a book that is only going to sell in the tens or few hundreds of copies. There are fixed costs in creating a book and with so few copies produced, those fixed costs add a lot to the price of a single book. That’s why most scholarly books start at $30 or more.

Who buys philatelic books? There are 3 kinds of collectors. First is the collector who has an interest in that area. Second is the collector who likes to read about a lot of different topics, but may not collect that particular area. And last is the philatelic literature collector who wants a copy for their library. I’ll bet that the vast majority of stamp collectors have few, if any, books in their philatelic library other than a Scott catalog and maybe an old introductory “How to collect stamps” book they’ve kept over they years.

What’s the advantage of using a computer disk?

• The author can include color illustrations of the material at no additional cost. A full color printed book would cost in the few hundreds of dollars and be out of reach for many collectors.

• The author can make as many computer disks as needed to fill orders. Each disk is cheap to produce and mail. There is no worry about storing unsold copies of a printed book which can occupy a lot of space.

• If the buyer likes printed pages, they can print as many or as few pages as they want. It’s cheaper to print a few pages of interest from a computer disk than buying a whole printed book where most of the pages aren’t of interest to you.

• Computer files don’t wear out from use or turn yellow with age.

• The buyer can search for a word or phrase very quickly by letting the computer do the searching for them.

There are disadvantages too:

• Those without a computer will be left behind.

• If the author is willing to sell a printed copy, it’s probably going to be black-and-white illustrations. A printed copy will probably be unbound and on generic white paper.

• It’s easier to infringe on the author’s copyright by sending files back and forth over the computer. It’s much easier and quicker to copy a computer disk than to spend hours at a photocopy machine copying hundreds of pages from a book.

Due to the high production costs and low demand for philatelic books, I expect to see more books coming out on a computer disk only version, especially for very specialized topics. General interest books may continue in printed form. But eventually they too will be just another computer file.

The publication of philatelic books is another sign of how stamp collecting is moving more towards technology. A computer will someday be another indispensable tool for the philatelist like tongs, a perforation gauge, and watermark fluid.