I was in my local used bookstore last weekend perusing the stacks when I heard:
“This is the most expensive used bookstore I’ve ever been in. I could buy this new, from Amazon, for less than this.”
I ducked into the stacks feeling enraged. I wanted to say something to this silly person, something about the value of used bookstores. However only one thing came to mind: I love used bookstores.
This lack of a rebuttal left me digging for an answer. Used bookstores in Calgary have become increasingly rare, as they have in most places. When they close there is usually an enraged community left behind. Why is the community enraged? Why do I love used bookstores? Why do I, and said communities, think they’re useful? What is a used bookstore’s value compared to Amazon and new bookstores, independent or not?
I found a few hits on Google to help elucidate my own feelings:
1) Used bookstores are part of the community. Like any other part of a community, be it a general store, a local coffee shop, a community hall, church, or organization, used bookstores are places for people to gather, to talk, to share; in essence, to be a community. Used bookstores aren’t just businesses, they are places where people go to experience and create their neighbourhood.
2) Used bookstores allow us to touch the books. I’ve talked before on how human beings need to touch to fully experience. But more than that, used bookstores allow us to smell the books. Many people talk of how used bookstores smell or should smell — musty, old. There is an ideal conjured by the mere mention of a used bookstore: dusty, musty, mysterious, labyrinthine. They are like antique stores ought to be: places waiting to be explored. Used bookstores are not the sterile retail boxstores of the 21st century; they are relics of the past that need to be savoured. With each book, with each customer, used bookstores gain a patina that holds as much value as the business itself. They hold history in their shelves; history of a book title, history of an individual book, and sometimes the history of a person.
3) Used bookstores ARE generally cheaper than buying new. There is a perception that authors don’t support used bookstores because they don’t get royalties from the re-selling of their books. Frankly, any author I’ve talked to will say that, while money and royalties are nice, the end goal is getting people to read their books. Just read. Besides, if people really wanted to give back to the author, they’d buy a new hardcover and then talk about it to anyone who will listen 🙂 Used bookstores allow us to browse the stacks and discover new authors and new stories, and then allow us to purchase them because they are cheaper. Many a good story was discovered just by picking up a book.
4) Further to this economic value is the sustainable value: used bookstores are reusing books and they’re local. Even if the new book is cheaper somewhere else, buying new is engaging in an environmentally insensitive activity. And even if a new book is made of recycled materials, it’s still taking energy to recycle that material to make and transport that book to you. If you’re an incurable bibliophile, reducing your book usage is near impossible. The next step is to reuse. Used bookstores are experts as reusing books.
I am now attempting to shape all of this into a nifty nutshell rebuttal to spew out to silly patrons. Maybe once I do, they’ll see that there’s more than economics in value of community, browsing the stacks, and experiencing the wonder of used books.
Go out and support your local used bookstore today!
Biblio.com – Support your local used bookstores
Grey not Grey – Support your local bookstore
Neon Tommy – Used bookstores are becoming a novelty
SFFWorld.com – Buying used books and guilt