Wormwoodania muses on The Rise of Secondhand Bookshops in Britain, and crunches the overall numbers with the aid of a 1984 Driff’s Guide and the current thebookguide.

“So we can see that there are indeed more second-hand bookshops in the UK than there were thirty years ago, in fact about 25% more.”

Interesting. Yes, given the general rise in UK tourism, and the increasing spread of that outside London, I can see how someone in a good position in a tourist town might have a worthwhile trade in secondhand books. Especially if they were a savvy buyer. I guess I was lucky to spend my teenage years in a tourist town which had no less than five large second-hand shops, all with good non-fiction and local interest stock. Plus a bookseller indulgent of impoverished teenage browsers, in the shape of Mr. Bailey and his partner who owned three of the shops. Birmingham was also a short train trip away, for science-fiction books everywhere from Rog Peyton’s costly Andromeda shop, to the 50p shop in the edge of the Bull Ring, to (if one was doing an adventurous circuit on the No.11 bus) Erdington market and various good charity shops whose non-fiction stock was topped up via the proximity to the university.

As for Wormwoodania, his figures admittedly includes 287 charity shops with substantial book holdings. The problem with even the larger charity shops today is the stock, in that they will siphon anything worth having off the shelves and onto the Web. What’s left is usually both over-priced and lowbrow. But it’s all been made rather moot, but eBay’s new alliance with Sainsbury’s for the convenient in-store collection of used books at their Argos collection points.

As for the historical shift in the used bookshop trade, I reckon it was the triple-whammy of the proliferation of charity shops (about 1987—) which took away many of the casual fiction buyers; then the spread of the ‘publisher’s remainders’ bargain bookshops in the High St. (1993?—); and then eBay + Internet (1997—) which changed the trade forever by taking away the niche collectors and scholars. There was also the brief golden age when one could get dirt cheap books posted from the USA via Alibris and other list aggregators, often with free or very low-cost postage, though that was effectively clamped down on by the early 2000s. Again, that must have taken away a small but affluent chunk of the intellectual non-fiction and fannish market. The general rise in shop rental costs and competition for prime High St. space in the boom of the late 1980s can’t have helped matters. The other factor was probably the decline in dirt-cheap jumble sales, ex-library stock sales at ’10p a book’, bulk sales of small local personal collections by widows at clearance prices. Which meant that bulk stock at a high quality / low price became much harder for a trader to get hold of.