Rock Toews Wants Your Bad Books

IMG_20130326_153146Back Creek Books

MainStreets Annapolis Partnership Business of the Week

Rock Toews bucked the trends when he took his on-line e-tail book business to a brick-and-mortar book store and made that counter-intuitive transition successful.

Now, with his West Street shop filled with good books, including rare and collectible tomes worth thousands, he’s now hoping that his customers will bring him bad books.

This ingenious contrarian marketing ploy is already scoring well – it secured a feature article in last Sunday’s Capital and now has earned the MainStreets Annapolis Partnership business of the week spotlight.

“This came about because in this business (used, rare and collectible books), I’m always trying to find good books,” he explains. He recently visited another used book store shopping for books his clientele might buy. “I was looking around, and I was surrounded by wall-to-wall awful things,” he recalls. “I had this revelation that maybe it takes as much skill and discernment to amass a collections of books that are almost universally bad as it is does to build a collection of books that are good.”

He got to talking about it with his friend Eric Smith, a self-confessed bibliophile and former columnist and cartoonist with the Capital. “Eric reminded me that he used to do a contest for the worst post cards, and it went on from there. Shortly thereafter we went over to a book store near Chestertown, and one of the books there leaps off the shelf, I can’t remember the title, but it was something about pantyhose crafts, a stereotypical book from the 1970s with garish pictures.”

They decided that the ground rule would be that the book has to be unintentionally bad. “Not something that’s self-published, because there are far too many in that category,” Rock notes. “I especially like the ones that are more visually bad.”

There was one that sold recently, published the 1920s or 30s, called Lusty Ballads. “It brought to mind dirty limericks,” he notes, “but on the cover there’s a background illustration of a young girl with a big ribbon in her hair and rosy cheeks, which didn’t gibe with the rest of the book.”

Eric Smith, author Lucia Robson and Lucinda Edinburg, curator of the Mitchell Art Gallery at St. John’s, are the contest judges.

IMG_20130326_153206Rock launched Back Creek Books 17 years ago, working from his home in Eastport, and opened shop on the first block of West Street in 2011. “From the perspective of someone who’s shopping on line, there are tens of thousands of sellers,” he notes. “As a book seller, your chances of selling your particular copy are pretty low, so the way to get them to be visible again is to put them on a shelf in a store where there are a lot of feet walking by.”

He has high hopes for businesses like his. “Second-hand books are going to be around for many generations, unless we put them in a pile and set fire to them,” he explains. “They’re going to change hands, and it’s too labor intensive to sell a $15 book on line, so there will continue to be small book stores like this.”

As for entries, he’s only had one so far, Rock reports. “It’s a book by a guy who purports to have been friends with Hemingway, but there’s no mention of this guy in any of Hemingway’s papers.”

Your favorite bad book could win you a $25 gift certificate toward some of Rock’s good books. You can drop off your candidate at:

Back Creek Books

45 West St

Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 626-1363

www.backcreekbooks.com/

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Category: Businesses, LIFE IN THE AREA, Local News, NEWS

About the Author ()

MainStreets Annapolis Partnership is made up of local business owners,property owners, the City of Annapolis, lenders, real estate development professionals, residents and local business associations. MAP's five committees work to enhance the business communities Downtown, in Eastport, on Inner West Street, and in West Annapolis.