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second-hand bookshops a threat?

edited April 2006 in - Reading


  • I started a thread, a few weeks ago, on the topic of the 'best book you've bought second-hand.' At the bottom of a thread there was a posting by Jacey, who was interested in our views re an issue the Society of Authors debated.
    Here is a brief snatch of Jacey's text.
    " Apparently The Society of Authors debated the issue on how the increasing number of second-hand book shops might affect the sales of books still in print, and untimately the royalties received by authors."
    There is more, so do go and look at the thread, then come back here and continue the discussion, as Jacey and I hoped. Please.
  • Surely it's Amazon and the like that are the threat. If only royalties were paid on second-hand books!
  • I recently bought Jeffrey Archer's 3 prison diaries, secondhand. I did that on purpose because I do not feel he should be allowed to profit from the time he spent in jail - ordinary criminals are not allowed to do that, so why should he. I also enjoy browsing in secondhand bookshops for older books, which are probably out of print, but if I want something up to date I would go to Borders and buy new. I am something of a book fanatic actually, one wall in my house is floor to ceiling books, so hopefully a lot of authors will have received royalties from me.
  • Soneone's making a profit out of second-hand books - but it's not the author.
  • One of the joys of secondhand bookshops is that you can go in for a casual browse and find a real treasure - an old, out of print book that you weren't looking for but that's absolutely irresistible.

    Some years ago I spent £1.50 on the Royal Blue Book Court Guide for 1937. I open it randomly sometimes, just to see what turns up.

    There are details of the royal households, telephone numbers for people living in "better class private houses" in a specific part of London (eg Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier and Louis Mountbatten) and a street directory for the area.

    Of course there's no real point in knowing which rich people lived where in 1937 or who was a Gentleman Usher at St James's Palace, but it's still one of my favourite books to dip into.

    And it has some real gems among the advertisements, such as Pascal et Cie (Coiffures that are different) and Ethel Tollafield (artistic needlework) - not forgetting Fixol (Stickphast paste manufacturers)!

    Where else could you pick up so much outdated information for £1.50?!!
  • Oops - went off at a tangent there! That was nothing to do with threats to shops selling new books.
  • It may have been a tangent, but that is why I buy books like that, for that reason. If you were writing a historical set in that period, mixing in that type of society, then that book would be a gold mine.
    I agree with dorothy re Amazon and their ilk, but I still buy books in W.h.Smith and Waterstones etc.
    If you don't have a high income, then charity shops are a goldmine for readers.
    I think shops like these have begun to thrive because many books only get one printing, and unless you're J.K.Rowling, your book will be out of print or remaindered within a short time.
    I resent paying a lot of money for an old book, which might cost a fortune if I tried to get it through a search service.
    Any other views?
  • Thanks for starting the discussion again, Carol.  The Society of Authors were also concerned about the second hand sales on Amazon. 

    I've decided to donate the books I'm prepared to let go to the library.  At least then the authors have a chance of making some money on public lending rights, and those who have little money to spend on new books will still have access to them.
  • Second hand books are nothing new, as we know. At one time, places like Cambridge and York were  full of old book shops that seem to have disappeared. Today,s popularity of the second hand book outlets proves that the work of authors will live on, rather than fade away.
  • I think that is a very good idea. I know our Central Library in Nottingham has many demands on their budget, and it often means some general books don't get bought.
    In fact, they have an annual sale where they sell off books that they no longer have a use for, or it's an older edition, or very tatty, slightly damaged etc.
    Tho money they make is used to buy new books.
  • I use second hand bookshops every now and then. Especially if I can't find it in Borders (although they are very good). On Saturday, I'm going into Melbourne to check out my favourite second hand book fair, a secondhand bookshop and a mini writers' festival, so my day will be full of books, and I can't wait!
  • Have a great time, Kangaroo.
  • Yes, have a great time tomorrow Kangeroo.
  • It's a long way from Melbourne, but there's a fantastic secondhand bookshop in Petersfield, Hampshire!
  • Second hand book shops are struggling, too, and one of the main pressures on us is the growth of internet sales.  Most bookshops in Hay-on-Wye sell books on the internet, using abe, or their own websites, but the problem seems to be the people who set up in their own spare rooms, and so have no overheads like a shop does, and can undercut the shops.
    And the truly rare and desireable books are becoming rarer.
  • I left my name at a shop in Chichester for any books of Robert Burns stuff, and they called me once (years ago now) to tell me they had in a copy of the (now very rare) Merry Muses of Caledonia.  It was £30, with uncut pages, published by the Burns Federation in 1911, and was originally for members only and not for sale.  The Merry Muses, for those who may not know, are quite lewd versions of cleaner poems, which was why they were originally banned, and I'm so frightened of damaging it that I've only read a few of the poems.  But it's lovely to have.

    Since then, however, one of the staff in that same shop was extremely patronising towards me, bordering on rude, so I haven't been back since.  Booksellers should know not to belittle their customers, as most are more intelligent than to take that kind of treatment.

    As for ruining the trade, I have to say I do feel guilty about buying books second-hand, but some bargains are irresistible.  I did, though, buy an Angela Carter at cut price recently without feeling too guilty - it's living writers whose books are sold cheap that prick my conscience.
  • TafettaPunk - What a fantastic find that book was! But does the shop owner know why he/she lost a customer?

    One of our oldest books is the middle volume (just the one!) of a three-volume edition of The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker.

    It dates from somewhere in the 1780s, although the printers made a mistake with the Roman numerals and missed out one of the Cs, so it looks as though it was published in the 1680s.

    This would have been a clever trick by any author, because Tobias Smollett wasn't born until 1721!

    I don't know if all books of that era were laid out the same, but the dialogue is printed with quote marks all down the side of the page, instead of just around the spoken words. (He said) etc appears like that, in brackets.
  • They would be very similar I think, in layout, but there would probably be variations between printers. Their own house style I suppose.
  • Jenny, no, they don't know, as I've never been back in, though I suppose I should've written to voice my opinion - bit late, now.

    I suppose it doesn't matter that much, but I used to like going in there - I'm sure it was haunted :o)
  • Sal, and the rest of you on the subject of second hand books, my parents ran a first and second hand book shop. In fact, but for them, I would never have got thirteen or more John Buchan thrillers which I am making my way through now. In fact, Sal, I am trying to add to my collection published by Nelson to add to those that I have. Greenmantle, Prester John[I thought Mum had that but for the life of me, I cannot find it] Salute to Adventurers, A lodge in the Wilderness, The moon Endureth, Sir Walter Raleigh, The Path of the King, The Three Hostages, John MacNab, The Dancing Floor, The Gap in the Curtain, Julius Caesar, The Island of Sheep. I even got Catherine Burrows who is a paid worker for the RST interested, loaning her my paperbacks so I am hoping she will get her nose stuck into it this weekend and over Easter because she does not know what she is missing otherwise. I think second hand books are great for those who want to buy a book but do not want to spend the earth for since the end of Net Book Agreement, prices for new books have shot through the roof and this is sadly, not an incentive to get the nation reading and become literate and while some may feel that what I am saying now is a bit strong but I feel that it will be reminiscent of days gone by when reading will be regarded as a luxury, not a necessity and bar it from those on relatively low incomes and become something for the well off to enjoy. Look through history and you will see what I mean, it has a nasty habit of repeating itself.
  • Of course, the other thing about second hand bookshops is that they fill a need from the point of view of the person who wants to get rid of their old books but doesn't want to throw them in the bin.  What else do you do with Great Aunt Elsie's cherished collection of Abbey Girls and Chalet School books once she's passed away?  Someone else may be desperate to read them.
    It's another form of recycling.
  • Had a great time in Melbourne on my book filled weekend, saw many tempting books. I ended up buying  some homemade zines of poetry. (There was a zine fair at the Writers' Festival) And one of short stories)And I caught with friends as well. 
  • Yes Evaine, I agree. I hate to throw out books. Alot of work has gone into the writing of it. I like to give them to charity shops who make money for their charities for them and also they are available for people on limited incomes who are unable to afford full price books.
  • Have the prices of books shot up since the end of the net book agreement?  I thought losing the agreement was a bad thing for the publishing industry because prices are going down, due to discounting forced by the big chains, supermarkets, internet businesses and catalogue discount sellers. For instance, Tesco has most of the top 40 bestselling paperbacks at either £2.97 or £3.97, and the three-for-twos, bogofs etc make the prices of the main chains comparable.

    Am I wrong? Hope you'll let me know!

    I agree that secondhand book shops are wonderful places to find old and out of print books, and fantastic places to browse.  I'm sorry to hear that secondhand book shops are finding it a difficult time too.

    As a newly published author with my first textbook on Amazon, I am not looking forward to the day when cut-price second-hand copies are advertised alongside the new copies, tempting those readers who may have gone to the virtual shop intending to buy a new copy, which I would earn royalties on.  Does anyone else feel the same? 
  • Jacey, Tesco's apparently demand a 65% discount on bestselling books, which is something that deeply concerns me.

    Congratulations on your book, too :o)
  • This is the downside of losing the net book thing. Yes it made the books available in places like Supermarkets, when many of those people would never set foot inside a bookshop. But as mentioned, the discounts demanded will make a dent in what the author gets in royalties, and that may be fine for a best selling author, but trouble for a new or medium range writer.
    Is there a big business in reduced price text books? It's not something I've seen much of.
  • It seems there is a market for secondhand textbooks. Waterstones have announced they are closing all but a couple of their shops on University campuses, citing the ready availability of second hand books on the internet, coupled with the increased use of the internet for research.

    My book supports an NVQ course.  Many students following the course won't actually attend college, so previously would have been unlikely to come across someone with a secondhand copy of a course book to sell.  But now they can easily track one down on Amazon, which they may have visited intending to buy a new copy.  It's a bit disheartening.
  • I can see how this would badly effect your potential new sales. Clearly this is an area where it doesn't work to the author's benefit in any form.
  • Jacey, surely your Brave New World has already arrived? Don't Amazon do this already (advertise new and used together)?
  • Hi Jay, yes it does already happen on Amazon, which was the point I meant to make.  It is all a "brave new world" (as you describe it) to me though, because my first book has only just been published.
  • This is the way that I see it.  If you buy a DVD and donated it to a second hand shop, you wouldn't hear the film studio's complaining about not recieving their cut do you?.  Why should books be any different to any other product?.  Quite frankly, if one of my books were being sold in a store like Oxfam or Amnesty for Books, I would be proud that the money they raised may help other people.
  • Really it comes down to how the writer feels, are they altruistic, or rightly concerned about the potential loss. This is one of those issues where there is no right or wrong to produce a definitive answer.
    When publishers stop making money, then something will be done. After all, don't they sell off stock left over, eventually it reaches cheap bookshops. So they have a part to play.
  • Hi, Stirling. It's not the charity shops we're worried about - it's the companies like Amazon who're in it for the money. Why should they make money out of the same book twice, while the author doesn't? After all, authors now receive payment for books borrowed from libraries - this is surely similar to books being sold more than once.
  • Know what you mean Wolff and others about second hand book shops.  Likewise, when I was doing my degree course, I was amazed by the number of students who refused to buy books because 'they were available free in the college library'  days of the grants, I admit, but secomd hand book shops and charities, are not the only ones to blame for the impending 'decline.'
  • Who else is there Sal? Have we missed something else.
  • On the other hand, a book takes a long time to write.  I'll be horrified if I ever see one of my books, that have taken long hours and hard work to write and rewrite, on sale for 50p.  Whenever I think, 'That's too expensive,' I always think about the consequences of buying cheap.  Sometimes, the price is too high to ignore.  (A different, but very frightening, example of this is the plight of the great apes in the wild - commercialism, making our food cheap/'safe', etc, is costing these animals their habitats and thus their lives - that, I have to say, is more important to me than, for instance, eating an unhealthy bag of crisps.  I'd rather pay more for something else.)
  • Schools often sell off old text books and stock from the school library as a way of making money to buy newer stock (strangely, they rarely think of buying second hand books, though we have had a few school librarians in our shop who know that second hand does not = tatty).

    There are masses of Ladybirds out there that were sold off from schools when they were seen as old fashioned - and schools are now trying to re-buy them because the information in them is still good and well-presented.
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