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A Triumph of Absurdity over Common Sense

It’s the INPRINT bookshop’s twenty-fifth anniversary this year, so we are celebrating a quarter of a century of what a friend once described as, ‘a triumph of absurdity over common sense’.

Prior to opening the shop in 1980, I had been selling mainly paperback fiction from a stall in our local markets. It’s difficult to believe how many books I sold then - it wasn’t unusual for some customers to buy up to ten novels a week!

I had also built up a small stock of more interesting titles, which I sold from lists advertised in Exchange and Mart and later, through Book & Magazine Collector. (The arrival of Book & Magazine Collector would also greatly assist in the identification and pricing of a whole range of books and ephemera; as well as playing an important part in encouraging the huge growth we have seen in book collecting over the past twenty years). New markets were being created for material that had been largely overlooked by an older generation of dealers and collectors. For example, sales of pulp fiction, SF, popular entertainment and old magazines literally took off.

This suited me perfectly, as my interests at the time lay broadly within ‘pop culture’ – cinema, music and photography in particular. Coincidentally, the opportunity to rent a shop in what was then a run down area of town came up, and the rest, as they say, is history. My interests have since broadened to include the fine and applied arts, gardening and local history. These very broad subjects now form the core of our shop stock.

Five years ago my wife Joy joined the business as a partner, after many years running our booksearch service on a part-time basis. This experience, together with her interest and expertise in history, fashion and children’s fiction, has proved invaluable to the business. Together, we run the shop with the able and dedicated assistance of two part-time staff, Adam and Lynn.

Over the past two decades the secondhand and out-of-print book trade has changed almost beyond recognition, a process which has gathered momentum in the last five years. We no longer sell acres of paperback fiction - a market all but destroyed for us by the burgeoning charity shops - although we now sell paperbacks and general non-fiction cheaper than they do, from our dump bins on the pavement.

The internet has of course revolutionised our lives; although it has proved to be a double edged sword. Books that we once had a waiting list for are now plentiful on the net and prices of the more common titles continue to slide. On the other hand, the net allows us easy access to customers around the world and its transparency benefits competitive sellers. The internet has also had a noticeable effect on our buying, with some sellers expectations unreasonably inflated by the prices they see on line.

However, we remain committed to running an open bookshop, where it’s possible to enjoy the serendipity of real book browsing. For me, the feel and smell of old books will always be an inseparable part of the pleasure of book buying and selling.

This is more than amply demonstrated by the enormous folio volume I’m holding in the picture. Entitled: An Account of Roman Antiquities discovered at Woodchester in the County of Gloucester; it records the discovery of the Great Orpheus Pavement - the largest surviving mosaic in Northern Europe. It’s difficult to describe the thrill of opening such a book for the first time and it’s certainly not an experience that can be enjoyed online.

Mike Goodenough
21.11.05