Sunday, September 27, 2009

Disposing of books is a serious matter

It isn't just one of your everyday games.

I give away a lot more books than I used to. Marriage and the essential storage limitations of a two-bed flat made me bite the bullet, and anyway, if I really can't see myself reading it again - or at least not for another 20 years or so, in which case I might as well just buy a new one - then it's my duty to release the poor thing back into the wild. So, every couple of weeks sees two or three books sedated, put into a bag and carried up the road to a handy charity shop.

Generally we give our books to Helen & Douglas house, which is both a good cause and local. Best of all, it has a darned good secondhand books section - an alcove the size of a small room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on either side. As the book section of far too many charity shops is essentially a small shelf between the Menswear and Broken Toys sections, I judge our books have the best chance here of finding a new home.

But! Yesterday's giveaway selection posed a condundrum. Included in it were a book on edible plants in Alaska, and Master of Hawks by Linda E. Bushyager. The former is left over from research for some hack writing. The latter I read because the author is our vicar's aunt and the black sheep of the family. "Dark," he says - well, darkly. I wanted to research whether she really is channelling the dark forces in an effort to oust Christ and place the Evil One on the throne of the universe, or whether she is in fact just a really quite differently good writer. As I couldn't get past about the third chapter, I incline towards the latter. (If it's the former then the fact of the latter makes it a really bad own goal for the forces of darkness.)

One of those titles has a distinctly limited interest and is unlikely to find an avid reader in Abingdon through Helen & Douglas. The other I had to buy from a specialist online reseller who handles these rare and OOP titles. So, H&D wouldn't really do it justice either.

Oxfam on the other hand, I gather, have a burgeoning secondhand book business nationwide and so I thought might also have a bibliographic mechanism capable of giving these books their due. So, those two went to Oxfam.

That did however give me further pause for thought, because I learnt of Oxfam's burgeoning secondhand book business nationwide from this article in the New York Times about the tribulations of a secondhand bookshop in Salisbury. I've no idea why the affairs of a bookshop in a provincial English city should attract the attention of the New York Times, but it happened. The contention of the article is that Oxfam is actively putting secondhand bookshops out of business, quite possibly as a deliberate strategy. Which would be a real shame, not to mention a cultural crime. So, was I indeed aiding and abetting the forces of darkness?

It's a minefield, I tell you.

I went with Oxfam (a) because we don't have a secondhand bookshop in Abingdon anyway, and (b) as an Oxfamite fairly points out in the article, "if someone's business model is so marginal that an Oxfam shop opening nearby decimates it, then we are not the problem."

I am not remotely obsessive about this.


  1. Anonymous11:57 am Is this correct? When I type it in I get an error message. "Windows cannot find check the spelling and try again. If it makes a difference I am in Canada.

  2. Anonymous12:01 pm

    oops, a correction Is this correct? When I type it in I get an error message. "Windows cannot find check the spelling and try again."
    If it makes a difference I am in Canada.

  3. Huh? What are you typing it into? That is indeed my email address and any email client in the world should be able to understand it. It's not up to Windows to search for it.

  4. I think there is a lot of antipathy towards charity shops on the high street at the moment from other retailers, usually along the lines of "they don't pay business rates, or proper taxes, and are putting me out of business". I don't think that's the case, either with the 'shelf of broken toys' end of the charity shop spectrum, or the Oxfam end which is distinctly upmarket (particularly the excellent Oxfam shop two doors down from us).

    Having said all that, I did visit an Oxfam bookshop on a trip down to Swanage this weekend, and the store was very impressive. If Oxfam really *are* developing a chain of secondhand bookstores (and don't forget their excellent website as well), then their undoubted retail savvy and strong brand might well spell trouble for secondhand bookstores already badly wounded by 10 years of eBay, Abebooks and Amazon Marketplace.

    The high street is going through an incredibly traumatic period of change at the moment, and the jury is still out on whether large numbers of independent retailers will be able to survive. It's worrying - but I do believe there is still a niche for good independents, it's just that you can't keep doing the same thing as you did ten years ago...


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