COEUR DALENELanny Ream says rockhounds are a dying breedliterally.
Hunting and collecting rocks and minerals was really a big thing after World War II because thats the first time people had money and time, he says. Our parents were rockhounds. Now theyre gone or soon will be gone and younger people arent taking up the hobby.
Despite their declining numbers, rockhounds are a devoted lot, which is why Ream has been able to make a living for the past 18 years writing and publishing guidebooks, reference manuals, computer software, and a monthly newsletter for mineral enthusiasts. His company, L.R. Ream Publishing, operates out of his Coeur dAlene home, and while his office is utilitarian, two big rooms nearby are stuffed with boxes of mineral samples hes collected in his lifetime, plus back issues of his newsletters and copies of his books.
Although he declines to disclose the ventures annual revenues, he says hes done well with it and has made a decent profit over the years, mostly through his newsletter, Mineral News. He sends that publication to about 900 subscribers worldwide, who pay either $22 a year for the print version or $12 a year for an online version.
Ream, who has both a bachelors and a masters degree in geology from Washington State University, says he discovered he liked writing while working for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, in Utah, and the U.S. Forest Service in the Inland Northwest.
I dont have a great vocabulary, but I write simple and direct, he says.
His first book, Gems and Minerals of Washington, was published in 1977, followed by a Guide to Mineral Laws & Regulations.
His bestseller was published in 1980, while he was working for the Forest Service, but it was a fluke that it sold so well, Ream notes wryly.
Hed conceived of the project, a geologic guide to Mount St. Helens, as a little brochure on vulcanology for tourists, he says. A friend, fellow rockhound Bob Jackson, persuaded him to turn the project into a book, for which Jackson obtained the pictures, and the two split the credit. The volume had been set to go to press on May 19, 1980a date that fell one day after Mount St. Helens erupted, becoming the subject of international news stories.
Ream says he and Jackson pretty much yelled, stop the presses!, added another few pages to the book about the eruption, and in the next month we sold 35,000 copies of that book. We made big bucks off of it.
He left government service in 1983 and dabbled in freelance writing for rockhound magazines, until he decided there might be a market for a monthly newsletter. He opened L.R. Ream Publishing in 1985.
Altogether, hes written eight books, some of which now are out of print, although others still are sold in mineral shops, through distributors, and on Amazon.com. A bigger publishing company, Gem Guides Book Co., of Baldwin Park, Calif., bought rights to his Gems & Minerals of Idaho guide, while Ream still updates and publishes the companion volume for Washington himself.
The books arent as profitable as the newsletter and software, however, so he now concentrates his efforts on those activities. His software, which is sold through the Mineral News Web site and newsletter, includes a database of the physical characteristics of minerals and an index of mineral periodicals. He says hed like to try publishing an electronic book because it would be so much less expensive than a print version, but has been slow to do so because, he confesses, I still prefer reading a book, holding a paper book in my hand.
Ream publishes, but doesnt often write for, his Mineral News newsletter. He accepts manuscripts from other mineral collectors for that publication, which keeps him in contact with his peers around the world, he says. A recent edition, for example, carried a Colorado collectors harrowing account of a mineral-buying trip to Pakistan, as well as a New York dealers roundup of new mineral finds.
Ream, 54, says hes been thinking lately about selling the Mineral News because hes tired of being tied down by the newsletters publication schedule. That would give him more time to indulge his true passionhunting minerals.
While he hasnt traveled the world, like some rockhounds, In the Northwest Ive gone to a lot of places and found localities (spots where particular minerals are located) that people didnt know existed.
He relates one story of tracking down a deposit of red beryl in the mountains of western Utah, a locality that a friend had told him existed, but which not many other people had seen at the time. He wasnt sure the claim holders there would grant him permission to collect any of the raspberry-colored mineral, but he told himself that even if they wont let me touch it, I just want to get up there and see it.
He found it, and the moment was memorable, he says.
To drive up that dry wash and all of a sudden the ground starts sparkling at youit was a blast.
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