When I first began pondering the future of the bookstore, my initial prediction was that used bookstores would be the first to go. I suppose I was imagining the next generation of readers (you know, kids who think iPads and Kindles are old fashioned and who have really bad allergies because they never go outside to play in the dirt anymore because there’s now a Wii program for that) browsing the dusty, mildewy shelves of faded paperback novels and suddenly all dissolving into asthmatic fits of coughing and wheezing, which would inevitably lead to all used bookstores nationwide being closed down for health code violations.
But now, after having visited a few shops and talked with proprietors, I’m not sure I’m entitled to such a cynical view.
Used Book Prices
For a start, used books are cheap. In that sense, they offer the only price competition against ebooks and Amazon of any traditional route out there. True they don’t often carry new releases and therefore can’t really tap into the media hype surrounding trendy reads, but then again, that’s not really what used bookstore shoppers are looking for. Besides, I often want to keep up with the new releases, but inevitably I fall behind. (Case in point, the books on my nightstand right now: War & Peace, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and Anthill by E.O. Wilson).
Richard of Book Buyers in uptown Charlotte makes this point:
“Here in the Plaza Midwood area, we have couples and parents who bring their kids here to browse in the evenings. It’s an outing, something they can do with the whole family. It’s hard for them to do that on the internet.”
According to Richard, these family browsers almost always purchase something, even if it’s just a childrens book. This system of browsing and spontaneous buying works well for Book Buyers, as they get a lot of foot traffic where they’re located in Plaza Midwood. What’s more the demographics of the neighborhood seems to include individuals who value shopping locally and supporting independent business.
Life’s harder for the folks over at Book Nook in Cornelius, NC, where the only foot traffic they get is from people on their way to and from the Dairy Queen next door.
“Used books has never been a lucrative business, but this is the first year we felt like we were struggling,” said Allison, who attributes the slump to their location and the boom in ebooks.
It’s not all ebooks’ fault, though. What I’m coming to realize these days is that, for many people trying to get by in the current economy, books are a luxury commodity. When the government takes half your salary in taxes and you’re left with only a small sliver from your budget to devote to entertainment, what would you rather pay: $2:00 for a used book from a local store, $.99 cent (plus $199 for your Kindle) for an ebook, or $24.99 for a hardback copy of Bossypants? Yeah, probably not the hardback. Sorry, Tina. When the economy finally does improve, it will be interesting to see whether anyone will be willing to pay that much for a book. We are so used to everything being free and cheap nowadays, I can’t imagine ever going back to the old system of pricing books. But then, what will happen to booksellers? Writers? And that evening family stroll to your local used bookstore?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject: Do you shop at used bookstores? Have you noticed a change in how much you’re willing to spend on books?