Monday, December 21, 2009

Has anyone done a study of bookstores that sell second-hand titles versus those that sell new ones? Seems second-hand bookstores have grown healthier, and I wonder if this is due to chain stores carrying fewer backlist titles (and more candles, picture frames and greeting cards). But the healthiest bookstores seem to be the discount chains, who, in addition to buying remaindered books, buy selected new titles in large quantities and sell them below traditional retail mark-up (40%). I may be wrong on that, and if I am, I would like to know.

Last night I read George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories” (Fortnightly, 1936) and was amazed at how little has changed in the second-hand trade (though I have yet to witness “oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks”). Orwell, who once worked at a second-hand bookstore, spoke of the various "sidelines" such stores delve into -- like the selling of second-hand typewriters. In all the second-hand bookstores I visited in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, not once did I see a second-hand typewriter for sale. Second-hand other stuff, but not typewriters.

But imagine what that might look like, to walk into a bookstore and see the devices on which books are first drafted, the relationship between reading and writing. The thought brings to mind other relationships linking writing, publishing and retail. For example, What is the history of publishing houses and their involvement in the development of printing machines, and, more recently, software? The question is of interest, given that it is a retailer, not a publisher, who is now producing the thing that looks most like a book. That the retailer is without a physical presence is also remarkable, one that makes the retailer both a book and a store – but not a bookstore.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I wonder if "clicking and receiving" is just too darn easy to make anything seem really worthwhile. There's nothing that I need to do anymore to get anything. No matter how rare or hard to get something seems it should be . . . it isn't anymore. Even responding to someone's post that I have never met, nor will ever probably meet. Click.