Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The bottom falls out of spontaneous human combustion, some reflections on secondhand bookselling.

I have just discovered myself possibly guilty of a crime, in my bookshop we are very careful about buying uncancelled library books, this is harder than it sounds. Over the years I have bought the book collations – often posthumously with a frission of resentment from the departed – of vicars, bishops, policeman, politicians, nearly all of them contained a few uncancelled and therefore apparently stolen library books.

As you see from the pictures, I found on for sale on the shelves of my bookshop an offending item, having now discovered that the club and so presumably its library has closed, I have decided that this counts as the ultimate cancellation and put the book back on the shelf.

For a while there I visualised a day of name calling and other discomfiture, it would begin with someone I don’t know calling me mate, escalate to someone who is no friend of mine calling me friend and find its zenith with a policeman calling me Michael in the most condescending of ways.            

My long task of taking all of the books of the shelves in my bookshop, checking the prices against the internet, looking at the code that tells me how long they have been on the shelves and using the information in most cases to reduce the price of the book continues. There are over 100 bookcases in my bookshop and it takes about a day to do one and a half of them, so this is no mean task. I am – at the moment – in the middle of the “Mind Body and Spirit” section and away with the fairies in more senses that I would like.

I have done the medical part of this section and for the most part I don’t think that reducing the books in this section will help them sell much, these days if one has an ailment – embarrassing or otherwise – the internet is where one enters ones symptoms and not a book.

What of dream interpretation? The bottom has certainly fallen out of dream interpretation books, price wise, whether this is because Pharaoh has been buying them cheaply online or just Googling “fat cow thin cow” I don’t know.

I don’t think I need to explain why the bottom has dropped out of books about feng shui but I have to admit I had expected books about spontaneous human combustion to hold their prices, you don’t normally see that many.

For the most part books about alien encounters have held their prices, I guess if I encountered an alien I would possibly be reticent about telling the internet I had done so. The more esoteric stuff seems to have held its value fairly well, I guess there is a credibility factor for any witch or wizard using a Kindle, tablet or laptop instead of the conventional book of spells.

The pits however is astrology, what do you do with a book on your children’s astrology, which seems to relate to giving birth at an opportune moment for them, where the dates of birth finish in 1982, 5p seemed optimistic to me. Natal charting books on the whole seem to assume that no one will be born after their date of publication.          
I may ramble on here.


  1. I have another group for you, Michael, well out of date Antiques & Collectibles Price Guides along with bygone Writer's & Artists Yearbooks. I have some of these sitting on my bookshelves, several cost good money new yet one wonders what is their point now. Are they even collectable? Furthermore, would anyone now buy an Idiot's Guide to Windows XP?

    Must say I find it very difficult to throw books away, but if they just sit there gathering dust, never to be referred to again, would they not be better pulped to make new books?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Somewhat bizarrely the same comment appeared twice so I deleted one.

  4. William we sell the old antiques price guides at £1.50 each and they are very slow as cheap as that I think 99p may be just around the corner for them, the ones on individual types of antiques, say prices of Wade figures sell for quite a bit more and the Arts price guides for about £5 I think.

    Generally I try to make sure our prices are cheaper than you could get the same book on Amazon or Ebay, including shipping.

    I would say that about 95% of books are available on Amazon for either 1p, which effectively means £2.81 including shipping and now considerable numbers are appearing on Amazon Prime, which includes the shipping cost at much less.

    We are fast moving into a position where the vast majority of secondhand books are available for a price including P&P which is less than it would most people to post them.

    The upside of this from my point of view is that in most cases people get considerably more for their books selling them to me, than they would realise by putting them on Ebay.

    My advice to anyone trying to determine the value of their books online is to look them up on ebay and then check the sold listings box, as well as looking them up on Amazon.

    There are online firms including Amazon that will buy your books and pay the shipping to them, but the amounts they pay are very small indeed. The cheapest that we sell individual boos for is 5p each and they work in that sort of ball park.

  5. How many books do you think you have in your store Michael, and how many in %age terms would you expect to turnover every year (if that's not a huge commercial secret of course) always wondered that whilst exploring the depths of your store.

    1. John around the 25k on the shop shelves mark I would think, about another 25k that you can’t see, partly to do with mostly having only one copy of each title out in the shop and needing to replace Great Expectations when I sell it and partly books that are not suitable for shop stock. If you want a 15 vol agricultural book published in 1920 I may well be your man, but you would have to ask for it.

      I would say about a third of what’s on the shelves sells from the shelves in a year and a fair amount more gets shifted around in other ways.

      The primary objective isn’t necessarily profit, which makes the whole thing a bit difficult to explain in terms of other shops where the primary objective is profit.

  6. Looking for colouring books were you?

  7. I was anon 1:02, but sadly they were WAY to advanced for poor ole James, so I left them for any other FORS member or their carer to make use of :)

    I always wondered what turnover of books you managed to achieve, certainly the books I buy often change, and some great great finds over the years, and most of my family find their xmas pressies for me from your place! I've got a couple of collections that I am fairly sure nobody else would have ever bought, nor anyone else would have stocked lol.

    I think I understand your motives, as enjoying what you do is a HUGE part of quality of life, indeed that is partly why I do what i do.


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