News

Indie booksellers concerned by latest Oxfam Bookshop

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".

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

By posting on this website you agree to the Bookseller comments policy. Comments go direct to live please be relevant, brief and definitely not abusive. Report any "unsuitable comments by clicking the links"

Another dodgy newspaper article though with lots of inaccurate information.

The 20 million annual profit they make includes income from all their shops not just books. I don't think they distinguish what element of the figure relates to books but I would imagine its only about 25%.

Also, their figures will probably include all online sales.

still wouldnt want on eon my street.

Oh that's right...Assisting Third World nations in the process of over-breeding themselves into oblivion is far more important than insuring a couple of local bookseller's jobs. Starving little Africans make for better press than starving little booksellers (Border's debacle already forgotten by the media...Blink and you would have missed the coverage!). I wonder if Oxfam is as good at distributing their donations (Haiti hmmm?) as they are opening up bookshops?

Gave up donating books to Oxfam long ago; I give to the Trinty Hospice and suchlike. Oxfam is now just a huge multinational

I live in that area. They have Herne Hill Books, Tales on Moon Lane, the Dulwich Bookshop, The Dulwich Village Bookshop, Sydenham Bookshop, Bookseller Crow on the Hill, and presumably others that I haven't found yet. Every time I go in any of these shops they seem to be pretty busy. They are a 12-minute train ride to Bromley with its massive Waterstone's, British Bookshops and WHSmith; they are close to the Sydenham Sainsbury's which has a book section so big it was featured a Bookseller article on supermarkets with large book sections; and they are a 15-minute train ride to the centre of a city packed full of hundreds and hundreds of book shops, most of which are very easy for local residents to shop in since a large number of them are commuters. I'd venture almost of them are internet savvy enough to order books from Amazon. And one Oxfam store is going to stop them? Seriously? These are fantastic shops that succeed because they understand their customer base very well indeed and provide excellent, friendly, local service. Oxfam does fantastic work and doesn't deserve to be picked on like this - independent shops have far bigger rivals to worry about.

The comments from 'By' reflect a more accurate picture of the financial truth of Oxfam sales and profit.
Following a career of 35 years in High St bookselling -WHS, Sherratt & Hughes, Waterstones - with or without HMV I fell into Oxfam as a bookshop manager.
The success of the shop that I manage is dependent on a volunteer team giving their time for free, generous donors who donate an incredible volume, range and quality of stock - with the express intention that the shop makes the most money for the benefit of others, to work towards eliminating poverty in the world & of course our customers. They appreciate the time, care and effort the team make to sort, price and present a unique and changing range of books, they make the final piece of jigsaw.
If we are lucky enough to have books that are pristine it could be because donors wish to give them to us. You might be surprised how many have booksellers/supermarkets stickers on them with 3 for 2 or silly big discounts that have devalued the worth of the 'book' to your average punter.
As for Haiti, now here is a thought, two of the Oxfam staffers working in Haiti died in the earthquake, many of our staffers lost family members. We have a big team in Haiti, it is one of the poorest countries in the world - you would expect us to be there.
We have had three aircraft full of kit shipped to Haiti, via the Dom Rep.
Some of this kit was simply buckets. Next time you go to the loo, flush it and wash your hands after - think where would you go with nowhere to go and what if the flush didn't flush. times that by 3 million homeless people.
Now here is another thought, fancy a glass of pure water - turn on your tap - but not in Haiti.........................................
Oxfam work in 70 countries around the world, including the UK

That's just mean.Stop blaming a charity which tries to help others and is supported by majority of people in Herne Hill. Oxfam would not be expanding if the local community did not support this. Bookshops need to look at the effect of internet shopping and high rents by landlords before blaming a charity.

If it were any other industry this would be reported in the press as: 'Greedy indies begrudge children in Darfour the shirts on their backs'. Do you hear anyone from the fashion industry bemoaning second-hand clothes sales by Oxfam? Mr Kenward seems to think he is a charity himself with his position on the highstreet a god-given right.

Could the second hand shops buy in books offered to charity bookshops?. What would happen to all the books gifted to Oxfam - landfill?

Another dodgy newspaper article though with lots of inaccurate information.

The 20 million annual profit they make includes income from all their shops not just books. I don't think they distinguish what element of the figure relates to books but I would imagine its only about 25%.

Also, their figures will probably include all online sales.

still wouldnt want on eon my street.

Oh that's right...Assisting Third World nations in the process of over-breeding themselves into oblivion is far more important than insuring a couple of local bookseller's jobs. Starving little Africans make for better press than starving little booksellers (Border's debacle already forgotten by the media...Blink and you would have missed the coverage!). I wonder if Oxfam is as good at distributing their donations (Haiti hmmm?) as they are opening up bookshops?

Gave up donating books to Oxfam long ago; I give to the Trinty Hospice and suchlike. Oxfam is now just a huge multinational

I live in that area. They have Herne Hill Books, Tales on Moon Lane, the Dulwich Bookshop, The Dulwich Village Bookshop, Sydenham Bookshop, Bookseller Crow on the Hill, and presumably others that I haven't found yet. Every time I go in any of these shops they seem to be pretty busy. They are a 12-minute train ride to Bromley with its massive Waterstone's, British Bookshops and WHSmith; they are close to the Sydenham Sainsbury's which has a book section so big it was featured a Bookseller article on supermarkets with large book sections; and they are a 15-minute train ride to the centre of a city packed full of hundreds and hundreds of book shops, most of which are very easy for local residents to shop in since a large number of them are commuters. I'd venture almost of them are internet savvy enough to order books from Amazon. And one Oxfam store is going to stop them? Seriously? These are fantastic shops that succeed because they understand their customer base very well indeed and provide excellent, friendly, local service. Oxfam does fantastic work and doesn't deserve to be picked on like this - independent shops have far bigger rivals to worry about.

The comments from 'By' reflect a more accurate picture of the financial truth of Oxfam sales and profit.
Following a career of 35 years in High St bookselling -WHS, Sherratt & Hughes, Waterstones - with or without HMV I fell into Oxfam as a bookshop manager.
The success of the shop that I manage is dependent on a volunteer team giving their time for free, generous donors who donate an incredible volume, range and quality of stock - with the express intention that the shop makes the most money for the benefit of others, to work towards eliminating poverty in the world & of course our customers. They appreciate the time, care and effort the team make to sort, price and present a unique and changing range of books, they make the final piece of jigsaw.
If we are lucky enough to have books that are pristine it could be because donors wish to give them to us. You might be surprised how many have booksellers/supermarkets stickers on them with 3 for 2 or silly big discounts that have devalued the worth of the 'book' to your average punter.
As for Haiti, now here is a thought, two of the Oxfam staffers working in Haiti died in the earthquake, many of our staffers lost family members. We have a big team in Haiti, it is one of the poorest countries in the world - you would expect us to be there.
We have had three aircraft full of kit shipped to Haiti, via the Dom Rep.
Some of this kit was simply buckets. Next time you go to the loo, flush it and wash your hands after - think where would you go with nowhere to go and what if the flush didn't flush. times that by 3 million homeless people.
Now here is another thought, fancy a glass of pure water - turn on your tap - but not in Haiti.........................................
Oxfam work in 70 countries around the world, including the UK

That's just mean.Stop blaming a charity which tries to help others and is supported by majority of people in Herne Hill. Oxfam would not be expanding if the local community did not support this. Bookshops need to look at the effect of internet shopping and high rents by landlords before blaming a charity.

If it were any other industry this would be reported in the press as: 'Greedy indies begrudge children in Darfour the shirts on their backs'. Do you hear anyone from the fashion industry bemoaning second-hand clothes sales by Oxfam? Mr Kenward seems to think he is a charity himself with his position on the highstreet a god-given right.

Could the second hand shops buy in books offered to charity bookshops?. What would happen to all the books gifted to Oxfam - landfill?