good work and are an important part of 21st century society ; however,
the manner in which charity shops, especially charity bookshops,
are mushrooming and eroding the traditional town centre retail base
has not until recently been fully appreciated.
years most charity shops were "low-key" shops, let often at a peppercorn
rent in order to keep the premises occupied : this is no longer
true. Many charity shops are now professionally refitted and wish
to be sited on the main street in town centres : charity shops are
seen as a "risk-free" tenant by landlords, much the same as estate
agents or building societies, and are now often paying premium rents.
press release: "Oxfam expands book chain as bookworms scent
This was not
palatable reading for me as a dedicated bookdealer in quality secondhand
books. Precised from the Press Release I learn that Oxfam who now
have 60 specialist charity bookshops, and will open a further 10
or 15 more next year ; the average take in such shops is £170,000.
Collectively Oxfam sold 12 million books in 2002, mostly through
their "general" charity shops ; sales are growing 20% per annum.
of the press release that I found offensive was, and here I quote
""Oxfam specialist bookshops will be a shock to people expecting
the clichéd image of dark, dusty second-hand bookshops selling scruffy
paperbacks," said [Murray] Winters. "The shops are bright, light
and well-designed, and offer a vast array of books, including many
specialist, rare, antique and unusual titles. Many books on offer
are no longer available from mainstream book retailers. Customers
appreciate that diversity of choice."
I suspect that
most traditional secondhand bookshops in the UK are far more inviting
than Murray Winters suggests, and also have far better stock than
his words infer. Much as most bookshops would like to professionally
refit, we generally pay a very fair price for stock ( subject to
constraints of needing to make a profit) and do not use volunteer
staff - not to mention the matter of having to pay full business
rate (charity shops receive mandatory 80% relief). - these all account
for a large percentage of our expenditure. In most districts charities
get free "trade waste" collection offered by council, while commercial
premises have to pay.
I look upon
myself as a custodian of quality books. In many instances books
that would be pulped by those less knowledgeable are rebound and
brought back into full service : quite often the book will be priced
merely to regain the bookbinding outlay. It has been suggested by
some within this industry that as traditional bookshops have closed,
the charity shops have "saved" books by offering a sales outlet
thus preventing many good books being pulped. There is no clear
evidence that any other than the obvious suspects have been shelved
in the charity shops : many books are pulped by charity shops, and
I wonder how many charities would get books rebound.
Slowly but surely
the traditional secondhand booktrade has reached crisis level. On
a month by month basis we see shops closing, unable to compete on
a level playing field with the charity shops. Some dealers have
moved solely to the internet, some dealers downsizing and only offering
specialist titles by mail order catalogue or at bookfairs. The trade
for general stock has all too frequently gone to the charity shops.
I have never refused to check any books brought to my shop door
for sale, nevermind how varied the quality. In many instances I
will purchase, however the sad fact is that with 7 charity shops
in Sherborne (7,500 population) that my sales for general stock
has fallen away rapidly in the past two years.
There are some
very serious questions that we should all be asking Oxfam.
1) Do they explain
or make any attempt to explain to donors the value of many books
that people wish to leave. Say that one book in a box is "worth"
£250 and another £500, will Oxfam staff point this out to the donor,
who might well not know this, and who quite probably has needs of
2) Do Oxfam
give free advice and valuations - most established bookshops will
do this, only charging where any research involved requires more
than a basic search ?
It is now for
others to speak up and be bold ; our future and very existence is
up for discussion. I relocate from Sherborne in 2004, will the Oxfam
bookshop appear in this town before or after my departure : Oxfam
have for three years been "threatening" to open one of their specialist
bookshops here ;
2 Tilton Court Digby Road
Sherborne Dorset DT9 3NL Website