Boom Time for Used Booksellers?

As PG was opening a couple of packages of hardcopy books for Mrs. PG (she does read a lot of ebooks, but, in some cases, used books are less expensive and some books she wants in hardcopy to share with family and/or friends), it occurred to him that Amazon has almost certainly given used booksellers an opportunity to reach a far wider group of prospective purchasers than were ever available to them in physical used bookstores.

Most of the hardcopy used books that arrive in the mail come well-packaged and most are clearly packed by more sophisticated equipment than a roll of stamps and a stack of envelopes.

So, is PG correct about Amazon and used booksellers?

Has the ability to sell to a much wider online audience affected the pricing of used books?

Has the used book business undergone consolidation with small used bookstores closing and selling their inventory to large, online-focused used booksellers?

Are there people who are paid by larger used booksellers to be scouts for large quantities of available used books?

10 thoughts on “Boom Time for Used Booksellers?”

  1. Locally our used book sellers are doing fine. No one has been bought out, all of them are selling online just fine. There are 3 of them selling used.

    One told me that since he’s in the used paper business, the dominance of ebooks will eventually hurt his ability to stock books. Limited new paper books means limited used paper books down the chain.

    It hasn’t hit him yet, as of a year ago, but he sees the issue coming.

  2. I think the used book market changed years ago with the advent of the internet. Before I’d go to towns to visit specific specialty bookstores, like the Military Bookman in NY City. Out-of-print Books could command higher prices because they were so hard to locate. That changed when you could locate a book with a few clicks of a mouse. I think this helped those bookstores organized to sell through the internet, but in general drove down the prices of specialty books. All generally good for the buyers, but some, like the Military Bookman, closed for this among other reasons.

  3. I agree with Uncle Jo (and his booksellers): the supply of used books is going to fall in the next few years.

    But otherwise (while the books are there), I expect there’s some swings-and-roundabouts going on. On one hand, you can reach far more customers than those who visit your shop; on the other, you’re now competing with a lot more used bookstores.

    Another advantage of online used bookselling, though, is that it’s much easier to find a specific book (or find a buyer for a specific book, if you’re on the other side of the transaction). I remember my husband paid a used bookseller quite handsomely to find a copy of a particular out-of-print book – and a copy was duly obtained, several months later. Nowadays, we’d choose a copy from one of the several sellers online (or, of course, buy an ebook).

    In the very longterm future, my guess would be that paper books will become collectors’/presentation/niche items (books for reading will be ebooks) – and so there will be fewer used booksellers, but their stock will be higher priced, towards the antiquarian/collectors market.

  4. Read The Diary of a Bookseller by Shawn Bythell. Seriously. It is delightful. In any case, he is the owner of the largest used bookstore in Scotland. He is most decidedly not a fan of Amazon. Partly there are all the issues all sellers have dealing with a capricious eight hundred pound gorilla. But even apart from that, the economics of selling used books through Amazon favor large high-volume operations. These aren’t used bookstores in the traditional sense, often without a storefront operation at all. Notice who the seller is when you order that used book and you will see the same few names over and over. This is great for the consumer, but isn’t helping traditional bookstores.

    Traditional used bookstores are doing OK right now, but I agree with the previous comments that there are clouds on the horizon.

  5. As a reader, I have to say that I haven’t purchased a paper book in about five years and don’t have plans to do so again. I once had a room full of books, but when we moved I sold and/or donated about 1,000 of them. We’re considering moving again, and I can see another purge on the horizon. I will always have (paper) books around, but only the few I can’t bear to part with, perhaps mostly non-fiction. I believe many other readers are experiencing the same process of purging, so there may be more in the used bookstores for a while.

  6. around here, sf bay area, a huge used bookstore closed a few years ago. It had taken over three storefronts on a busy street and been there for probably 20 years. Now.. Gone.
    I think the one in Palo Alto is gone, too, but haven’t been in that area recently to notice for sure. I think it was the web-booksellers that got them, but never heard for sure.

  7. I search for books on AbeBooks, and sometimes if I’m searching for multiple books I’ll click through some of the sellers and purchase only from them, which results in simpler packaging and shipping.

    Here is one I have bookmarked:

    By 2007, we began growing the size of our team and over the course of the next 6 years, we added and still maintain facilities in Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Reno. In 2016, we opened the largest facility to date in Chicago, IL. It is triple the size of our first facility in Auburn and handles 10 times the volume.

    — 10 times the volume would be 10,000,000 books. They have a christmas shot of some of the staff showing over 40 people, most of whom are people of color. This is a big business.


    Conversely, if you’ve just got a big barn of books and aren’t on the internet, times aren’t so great.

  8. It doesn’t seem to have done any harm to the enormous Half Price Books chain here in Texas. I get most of my paper books from them because they are usually cheaper than ebooks. They set up their own online store, but I haven’t compared it to Amazon yet. In my area, I am within an easy drive of 4 of their used bookstores.

    *** and they’ve started carrying new releases. And they let indie authors consign books on a local author shelf at the flagship store in town.

  9. Writers and their publishers don’t make money on used books. If one copy of a writer’s book is sold used a dozen times, the publisher doesn’t know that another dozen people were interested in that book so they may drop the author for not selling enough books. If you can afford a new book, then, for Pete’s sake, buy it new, especially if you are a writer yourself.

    Some paperback publishers are fighting used books by creating cheap physical versions of their books. I have friends whose books are falling apart when they get their author copies straight from the printer. Hard covers haven’t been printed on acid-free paper for many years, and the bindings are appalling. So, when ebooks totally dominate the market, their competition will be quietly flaking away.

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