Are second-hand bookshops dying?
Since Covid-19, many shops have struggled to stay open, to maintain enough revenue to keep expensive store-fronts running. Such behavior not only affects small businesses but sends people online for their purchases. For book lovers, the ease of buying a book online, finding whatever exact book you want to purchase, and having it delivered to your doorstep is great. This is easier, even than going into a huge local Waterstones to find your book, searching through the many floors of shelves.
Now it is even easier than ever to buy a second-hand book online. Giant companies such as Abebooks and Amazon mimic the ease of searching for a book on Waterstones online, offering multiple options and price points to choose from. Amazon, of course, also offers a huge array of new books to purchase. And what’s more, they arrive on your doorstep the next day with Amazon Prime!
Amazon began as an online bookseller. Jeff Bezos began his company in his garage in Washington, opening in July 1995 as a website selling the world’s largest collection of books to anyone with access to the internet. Bezos’ success originated in the buying up and then the easy distribution of a huge selection of books that people could search for and purchase online. His company has, of course, since expanded, buying up and supplying several other products. Bezos’ start as a retailer of books reveals the consumer’s demand for easily sourced books delivered to their doorstep.
High-street bookstores are thus struggling, but second-hand bookshops' struggles are worse. Even before Covid, second-hand bookshops were rapidly closing down. The famous second-hand bookshop in Charing Cross, Francis Edwards, closed down a few years ago after 150 years. It now has a presence only in Hay-on-Wye. For Charing Cross, an area well-known for its streets of second-hand booksellers, this is a huge loss. It is also a huge loss for London’s book lovers, and, in a way, a loss of history.
This struggle for independent and second-hand booksellers has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. The habits of consumers have changed - they expect to be able to purchase exactly what they want when they want it, and the mindset of browsing a bookshop in person, of picking up a paperback and turning it over to read the blurb, of flipping through the pages to take a peek at the content inside, is becoming less common. Sometime soon, gone will be the days of taking a home book that has been used before, with its faint old-book smell, perhaps with a note left in the margin by a previous owner, or a bookmark found inside where someone had formerly marked their place.
It seems important to be mindful of our consuming habits. For book buying, specifically, to pay attention not only to independent booksellers that are struggling but to our local second-hand bookshops. We will miss them when they are gone.
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