Thursday, 10 March 2011

The end of second hand bookshops

Are we seeing the final death throes of second hand bookshops? I've touched on this before, but my eye was caught today by this elegiac piece in the Guardian by an academic and former part time second hand book dealer.

Anyone who reads books has spent time in one or more second hand shops. It is like a rite of passage - especially for those of us in our late 30s-early 40s. When I went to University you didn't dream of buying everything new - you headed for Glasgow's Voltaire and Rousseau and scrabbled around the dusty, overloaded shelves looking for serviceable copies of Norton's Anthology or Lermentov's Hero of Our Time.

No wonder such shops are celebrated by authors - in Louise' Welsh's The Cutting Room, for instance, or Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind.

Amazon, the big bookshop chains and the scrapping of the net book agreement, and with it the inexorable rise of the discounted paperback, has seen off a great many of these treasure troves. Oxfam book shops, as the Guardian piece sets out, seem to be finishing off the rest. Those second hand stores that aren't coffee shops, cafes or arts centres will almost certainly die out with their current proprietors.

But let's not get too nostalgic. The publishing landscape is changing. Paperbacks are no longer worth the £4.50 some of the second hand stores try to charge (especially when you can get a new copy for less on Amazon). Dusty shops stacked with old Penguins might be a feature of our past, but so is the LP, smoking and TV with just three channels. No one is calling for them to be saved either.

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