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Books as second-hand consumer items

26 April 2004

The rapid growth of book clubs and successful promotions such as The Big Read and Richard and Judy have stimulated book purchasing and library borrowing. They've also given a fresh lease of life to the charities' bookselling activities, which are now becoming a major source of income. Their staple has been second-hand clothes, but they are increasingly finding that books are even more attractive. Many of their donors have hundreds of books at home which they will never read again. So why not persuade them to give them to charity?

Books are a perfect second-hand item. Many readers consume them and then feel that because of space constraints they should get rid of them, but don't like to throw them away. There has always been a huge number of books being passed on to family and friends, so it hasn't been hard for charities to persuade people to pass unwanted books on to them instead or once they've been passed round the circle. A recent survey by Oxfam showed that 30% of respondents had an average of more than 500 books in their homes, but 35% said that they rarely or never picked up a book for a second time.

The charities are becoming more professional in their approach, running the bookshops with knowledgeable staff. Oxfam say that the most popular titles are children's fiction, SF, fantasy and crime fiction, travel writing and history. Georgia Boon, manager of the Oxfam bookshop in Reading, which sells 1,500 books a week, said that charities were becoming more serious about books. 'Everyone can remember when you were young and buying one book a week was extravagant but now it can be quite normal to buy two or three books a week because they are so cheap.' It's easy to see why this would create stockpiles of (perhaps unread) books at home which could be donated to charity, but perhaps less obvious why people should not just buy new books instead.

Perhaps the answer is that second-hand items have become more acceptable. Books are increasingly viewed as consumer items which can be disposed of once read. Paperbacks have long been viewed that way in the States and now, with increasing affluence and cheaper book prices, the same thing is happening in the UK and elsewhere.