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Today I found myself floating around a bit and ended up tagging along with my mum to her secondhand bookshop where she wanted to exchange some books. As we were browsing whilst the books were being valued I noticed a sign which said that due to the current climate in bookselling, she was no longer offering held credit. This piqued my interest and so I wandered over to talk to her about what she and her business were experiencing in the wake of ebooks.

She told me that times were hard, that she thought they’d be able to ride it through but that she’d had 4000 books in and no books out – I didn’t ask her specifically what timeframe that was but she clarified that she’d really been feeling it in the last 12 months. On probing, she felt that it was the ereader that was the main factor. She said that people were coming in and telling her they were getting rid of all their books and would never buy a paperback book again. I thought that was interesting and wondered aloud to her as to whether that would be a long term, permanent thing, noting that I had heard that (particularly in Australia) a lot of people were getting a Kindle and then downloading the free ebooks online and not much else. I have read elsewhere that classics are being downloaded the most because they are free and the Kindle offers a nice way to get that “should have read” reading done but that other parts of the book industry were not feeling it as much. She also told me that some people were coming back and citing that they missed reading physical books. She told me that the worst problem was that she felt people were cleaning out all their books at home, racking up like a $200 credit with no intent to ever by a book from her in exchange at all. That she felt like she was being used as a dumping ground.

It was a really sad conversation. Her secondhand bookshop is small but has always been a good one. It’s the one my mother frequents  – she’s a voracious reader and was bringing in some really good condition, recently released books to swap. And the owner of the shop was well read and wandering around recommending books and answering questions – I threw a few at her as well. And there were some great customers who came in and shared a few recs and talked to me a bit about a few writers too. It’s a great little bookstore.

It’s easy to talk about the predicted future of the book industry and how brick and mortar stores and secondhand bookshops will die but it’s another thing to look at an experience that you genuinely love and realise that that too will go. Secondhand bookstores are a great meeting place, a great place to find recommendations and to chat over books and writers. And I know online you can get forums, and reviews and recommendations, and it’s not like I don’t buy books online or find my way to new titles via online means (or run a reviews website for that matter). But I don’t want one to be at the total expense of the other. I love bookstores too.

I bought some books – she has a pretty good Australian science fiction/fantasy section. And I made sure to push our expenditure over the required credit usage. Because I don’t want bookstores to die.

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  • By Thoraiya on 5 May 2012 at 7:58 pm

    I don’t want bookshops to die, either.

    And I had a real “You’ve Got Mail” moment the day before yesterday when I went into one of the bookshops we frequent, and the owner’s wife was able to tell me exactly which kids’ book I was trying to think of but whose name I’d forgotten, and which other picture books by Australian authors appeal to fans of insert-some-other-author, and I thought: GoodReads does this for me, an adult reader who puts in enough ratings to get some pretty spot-on recommendations, but it can’t do it for a 3 year old girl, and if it could, would I want it to replace this beaming, bosomy woman whispering beautiful bookish secrets in the Small one’s ear?

  • By AlisaK on 5 May 2012 at 8:01 pm

    I love that movie and the plot of the corner bookstore … And I love all the books she recommends in that movie.

    There’s something *personal* about a live person interacting with you on your likes and dislikes that is not there online. But that said, I totally ALSO love sitting in bed at 11.30 pm and clicking on recs from Amazon and impulse buying. I hope there is a place for both in the future.

  • By Tansy Rayner Roberts on 6 May 2012 at 9:31 am

    I find it interesting what this says about the value of books and the way people value them differently – the idea of discarding your life’s library freaks me out, and yet I’m desperate to rid myself of several layers of extraneous books.

    I was first aware of how the 2nd hand book industry is changing when I went hunting comic books (like, Peanuts and Garfield type comic books) for Raeli only to discover that my memory of 2nd hand bookshops overflowing with the things was 10 years out of date. They are a rarity now, and only sold through ebay, the rather sour (understandably) woman behind the desk said to me.

    And wow, do they COST.

  • By Sean the Bookonaut on 6 May 2012 at 5:38 pm

    This is at odds with the experience of my favourite Second-hand book store. The proprietor told me she’s enjoying her fifth year of better than expected trade. Mind you she knows her stuff and knows how to offer service, more than can be said for some franchises in the same town.

    I would think there’s still a place for specialist second-hand or indeed combination stores. Meg’s books in Pt Pirie does both.

  • By AlisaK on 6 May 2012 at 9:25 pm

    I also felt a bit guilty because I too am currently looking to cull unwanted books and truthfully, those kind of books noone really wants. She is looking for the kind of books that are fresh, and new and currently in high rotation so they will come in, and go out, and come back in again.

    I ended up just taking the rest of my culled books in queue to go up on ebay to the local charity bin. Where I then wondered if they would be annoyed too when they find them there.

  • By AlisaK on 6 May 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Because I think, as we’ve said often in other places, the evolution of the publishing and book industry will not be one of homogeneous change. I do not believe all books will go to electronic and I do not believe that all readers will want the same thing – we don’t all read the same genre for a start. I think it’s very believable that there will be second hand bookstores and independent bookstores that survive. And as I stood there talking to this owner, I felt sad because I genuinely realised that her version of the secondhand bookstore won’t make it. Not without her making a serious change in her approach. And my feeling was that she probably won’t. I expect eventually her store will close which is such a shame – it’s such a landmark of my childhood. And even whilst we were in there, so many people came in and said Hi to my mum.

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