In his Confessions of a Bookseller takeover, Shaun Bythell contemplates how charity shops impact on authors' incomes.
Email from someone who boasted that he’d found a copy of my book in a charity shop for £1. As a second-hand bookseller I have serious issues with charity bookshops, but this is the first time that I’ve been forced to examine my business from what is effectively the other side of the fence. If a book sells in a charity shop - or my shop - the author (in this case me) receives no royalty. It’s not as though I hadn’t given this any thought before - I have friends who make their living through writing who have pointed out that the second-hand book industry can be perceived as stealing bread from their mouths, but ours is such a financially fragile industry that I can’t imagine a way in which we could find a way to reimburse living authors for the sale of a second-hand paperback at £2.50.
Opened the shop at 9 a.m. and processed the solitary online order. My friend Zoe arrived at 10.30 a.m. to take over so that I could go to the bank then drive up to Galston in Ayrshire (60 miles away) to look at a library belonging to a postman who had called me last week.
The drive up there was as uneventful as it always is and I arrived at the house, a council flat on a fairly nice looking estate, and met Michael the postman, in his uniform even though it was his day off. He showed me around the small house, crammed with creaking bookshelves and boxes full of books. I estimated around 6,000 titles rather than the 12,000 he had suggested but all interesting and certainly not the kind of material you’d find in a charity shop. He explained that he needs to dispose of them all so that the council can come in and do some work on the place. He’d offered them to several charities, but none of them had got back to him. Although there was nothing valuable, there was a great deal of good shop stock.
He also explained that he’d had a tough couple of years, much of which was spent in bed when he wasn’t working, so I assume he was suffering from depression. He told me that with the help of his neighbours he was getting back on his feet again. As we talked, it became clear that, despite his unintelligibly broad Ayrshire accent, this was a man far more well-read and cultured than I am. I agreed to come back in a couple of weeks and clear the house and give him a fair price for the books. He asked if I could take a few boxes away with me, so we loaded about 15 boxes into the van. As we were packing them into the van he told me that he’s off to London on Thursday to visit his ‘wee pal’. The visit, he assured me, is going to be significantly enhanced by a trip to The Globe to see a production of Othello.
Said goodbye to Michael, and that I’d be in touch about clearing the rest of the books, then drove the uneventful road back home. Perhaps ‘uneventful’ is how you want your drive home to be, but in spite of this, it is a beautiful journey, following the rugged, then sandy coast and passing the dramatic volcanic plug of the island of Ailsa Craig, before winding up through the hills and following the river Minnoch as it drops back into the verdant lowland Machars pastures. Back home just after 6 p.m.
Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, and also one of the organisers of the Wigtown Festival. His first book, The Diary of a Bookseller, has been translated into twenty languages, including Russian, Korean and French. His second book, Confessions of a Bookseller, was published by Profile Books on 29th August 2019.
This diary extract is published as part of Shaun Bythell's FutureBook takeover. Read the rest of his Confessions of a Bookseller entries here.