Independent booksellers in Herne Hill, south London, have expressed their concern over an Oxfam bookshop which opened today (10th February). According to one local source "there's a lot of bad feeling in Herne Hill" about the shop, though criticism has been muted "because it's a charity".
Alastair Kenward, owner of Herne Hill Books which opened in November last year, said he had already visited the shop: "They've got some very competitive books in there - current and still selling." He said the shop's stock could be influenced by its location in an affluent part of south London. "It is a very bookish area and so the books that are going to be donated around here will be good."
George Hanratty, manager of the children's bookshop Tales On Moon Lane, said she was worried it would effect her shop, and also planned to visit the outlet once it opened.
Oxfam is now the third biggest bookseller in the UK, selling 12 million books a year and making around £20m in profit. Since opening its first dedicated bookshop in 1987, it now has more than 130 specialist second-hand bookshops. Last year book sales at the charity grew 7%.
According to a feature to be published in The Bookseller this week, the chain has been likened to the "Tesco of the second-hand book business". The charity has previously been criticised by the Provincial Booksellers Fair Association (PBFA), which represents 600 second-hand booksellers. But criticism from front-line booksellers has been less vociferous. Director of trading David McCullough told The Bookseller that he had never encountered any opposition from the publishing industry.
Oxfam said it planned to open more specialist bookshops, and has also been building its online books site, which brought in sales of £1m in 2009. In a statement the charity added: "A competitive book market is good for the entire book industry: we have never had and will never have a policy that aims to damage other booksellers. We usually open a new Oxfam bookshop in towns in which an existing Oxfam shop already has a good relationship with the local community, which allows us to raise as much as possible through their generous donations to fight poverty around the world. In addition, the main competition in terms of market share to booksellers comes from grocers and online outlets, not from Oxfam."
Kenward said that for now he regarded the competition as more "irritating than something that is going to be fatal".