Credit: GG Illustrator Dorota Dziki (@drawing_dorota)

Are charity shops killing the publishing industry?

By Emily Menger-Davies and Hailie Pentleton

The importance of literary affordability v supporting your favourite authors.

Emily Menger-Davies: Charity shops aren’t killing the publishing industry themselves… but they aren’t helping

With Waterstones and Oxfam Books sitting opposite each other on Byres Road, it can be interesting to wonder whether their relationship is one of sibling-like affection or friendly rivalry. Is the attraction of having a coffee while you read and a Waterstones rewards card enough to keep people from the tantalising prospect of economically, environmentally, and socially beneficial reading? The benefits of buying books at charity shops are plentiful, but what are the effects on the publishing industry and on authors? 

When a book is born, it can live many lives through many different readers. I personally love the feeling of rifling through a second-hand book and seeing someone else’s underlinings and annotations. However, once it leaves the home of the bookshop, the part played by its original parents, the author and the publisher, comes to an end. The book is out in circulation living its life.

Making it as a writer is a tough business which, if your book is bought and resold 5 times and you only receive part of the profit for the first time, can question the extent to which the author actually benefits from their own creation (although by this reasoning, Dan Brown would be living in poverty as copies of The Da Vinci Code line the shelves of Oxfams country-wide). Of course, more people reading the book raises the writer’s profile even if they do not directly profit from it.

Cut to – it’s a hyper-capitalist dystopia and Waterstones is making books like Apple makes iPhones, they start to disintegrate after a year on someone’s shelf so that you have to go back and buy another copy. 

Is it our duty to support authors and the publishing industry if we can, or is it their responsibility to make new books more accessible? Then again, doing this at a time when sourcing sustainable materials and ensuring non-exploitative labour practices should be a priority is tricky. 

Of course, charity shops are not killing the publishing industry themselves. The much more likely culprits are online second-hand booksellers like Amazon whose social contributions in terms of tax are non-existent, as opposed to the beneficial work enabled by profits from charity shops. However, it is worth considering the price we put on literary production and how to ensure the survival of publishers, books, and authors in an increasingly digital age. For now, I think both the charity shop and the bookshop have a role to play in its survival and sustainability.

Credit: GG Illustrator Dorota Dziki (@drawing_dorota)

Hailie Pentleton: Charity shops are an asset to the book industry, and one we ought not to take for granted 

I’ve had many a serendipitous encounter between the stacks; with a leather-clad classic, a mysterious collection, or a well-thumbed toe-curler. There is something so exhilarating about rummaging around a second-hand bookshop, eager to find comfort or clarity amongst the pages of your next fix. I could spend copious amounts of time and money in my local Oxfam book shop, and quite often I do. Ignoring the dent in my bank balance, it seems that this after-class activity can do no harm, can it? 

Creators are having a hard time with it at the moment. There is no shortage of artists, but seemingly there’s a shortage of cash to support them. When a book finds itself amongst a sea of rehomed stories, it gives an author the opportunity to touch another life with their words. It does not, however, pay the bills. In the past, writers have drawn attention to this and suggested that consumers find ways to compensate for buying second-hand. 

While it would be ideal that authors were paid in full every time their works are published, this isn’t always possible. You don’t have to search far before finding a shady pdf or dodgy reprint of a bestseller online. It seems far better to encourage readers to purchase second-hand books that will have already paid full royalties than to ask them to avoid your work until they can afford to pay the full sticker price.

If you rely on charity shops for your reading material, the likelihood is that you have to be conscious of your spending. These shops allow students to access overpriced textbooks for a slither of the original spending price, introduce younger bookworms to a variety of genres without a high tariff, and allow avid readers to burn through twelve books a month without racking up any spender’s guilt. Buying second-hand books from charity shops allows readers to engage with books they may not have else discovered. In most cases, if I discover an author whose work I enjoy from a jaunt to Oxfam, I will follow them on social media, recommend them to a friend, or buy their work firsthand at a later date. Charity shops are an asset to the book industry, and one we ought not to take for granted.


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