When Kindles and other e-readers hit the market several years ago, terror descended on independent book shops and large book chains as well as book printers and manufacturers. They believed it was the death of The Book. If people can access thousands of books at low prices on one easy to handle device, surely they won’t give printed books a second look? And although sales of e-readers and e-books have indeed sky-rocketed, does this really mean the demise of traditional printed books?
A lot of articles and news reports recently have suggested that sales in large chain book stores have fallen over the last few years and many stores have had to close some chains in order to save money. On the other hand, many owners of second-hand book shops have reported a steady incline in sales. In fact, think about your local town centre. There is probably at least one second-hand book shop, and that’s not including the multitude of charity shops that sell used books. There are even scores of trendy little coffee shops that sell used books alongside their café lattes.
So, if more and more people are buying e-readers and downloading online books instead of buying physical printed books, how do we account for this growth in used book sales? Reading the comments on many news reports and blogs suggests that many readers still enjoy the best of both worlds. They love the convenience and price of e-books, but also the ‘feel’ and smell of a printed book. They relish holding the physical book, turning the pages, using a nice bookmark. If people really enjoy a book, they tend to buy both the printed and e-book versions. Let’s not forget that a Kindle won’t help people fill up their bookshelves at home, will it?
But what is the magic in second-hand book stores? Is it more than just the price? For me, I love spending hours trawling through piles and shelves of used books to find some obscure treasure I might not find in Waterstones or some other large book store. In used book shops you can come across an unheard of gem, an antique edition, or a tatty classic that you read in school and which brings a rush of nostalgia for childhood stories and the feeling of wonder you got from finishing your very first ‘proper’ book. There might be a book you’ve searched for on Amazon or scoured through shelves in the biggest book store you can find, which you suddenly come across tucked away in a dusty corner of a used book store.
Then, the discovery really begins when you take your stack of treasures home. There, you might discover some pencilled in annotations from a previous owner, or a few insightful observations in the margins of your favourite poem. You might find some secret notes or funny messages that leave you guessing as to whose hands this little book of pages has travelled through. There is no opportunity to feel inspired or sad at a personal foreword that you find written on the flyleaf of a used book in a brand new copy bought in the supermarket. Definitely not in your e-book. These copies are clean, untouched – with no secret memories or private inscriptions. If we stopped shopping in used book shops, who would find these hidden gems? Would they be banished to the local rubbish tip or the local church fête fundraiser?
Used book shops offer a window of discovery; a place where you can uncover stories and topics you would never have thought of before, or even considered reading. You can enrich your life with observations and ways of thinking that have passed by the mainstream and have been ignored by large book stores because they were never best-sellers. You can feed your soul with obscure poetry anthologies, discover books that suit your individual tastes, and flip through the pages of books that have memories and histories of their own. And secrets to share.
Read more on: the inflectionist