Wigtown's Shaun Bythell shares further insight into the life of a secondhand bookseller.
Email from a customer:
Would you please elaborate on the "good" condition of this book. Is this a library discard? Are there any marks or writing in the book? Problems with the binding? Thank you.
This is irksome because it presupposes that we lack the competence to spot defects and note them when we are listing our stock online. One of the first rules of cataloguing secondhand books is that if a book has any defects, you list them so that the buyer is fully aware of what they’re purchasing.
Sandy the tattooed pagan, one of my regular customers, came in just after lunchtime. While he was here a woman came to the counter and asked if we had a copy of a book called The Encyclopedia of Fish Diseases. I vaguely remembered seeing a book with a similar title recently and suggested that she looked in the fishing section. She looked gobsmacked and - staring down her nose - replied haughtily: "It’s not about fishing. It’s about fish diseases". I replied that we don’t have a section on fish diseases, and in the absence of one any copies of book on fish diseases would be put in with every other book about fish, namely fishing. She came back 10 minutes later and told me that we have a copy of Diseases of Marine Fish but not the book she was looking for. She spent the subsequent 10 minutes telling me that she needs the book because it’s the only book she’s found that explains how to perform an autopsy on an aquarium fish, and that this is why she wants the book. Apparently her local library had a copy, but when it began to fall apart (quite why I’ll never know - it can hardly have been frequently borrowed) the librarian decided (wisely) to throw it out. Honestly, the reverence with which she spoke of this book would have you believe that it was a first folio Shakespeare rather than a book about how to cut up dead fish.
An elderly lady who’d driven over from Melrose with four boxes of books to sell turned up at 3 p.m. Fairly average stock, but not bad. Among them was a copy of my own book, The Diary of a Bookseller. This is the first occasion on which this has happened. It was inevitable that it would, but it still caught me slightly by surprise, and caused me to reflect further on the issue of royalties. As far as I’m aware, there’s a system in place in the art world where artists receive a percentage of any of their work which is re-sold at auction (above a threshold price), which seems fair, particularly if it is an early work which has sold for very little and then attracts significant value as their career progresses. I suppose it would be impossible to enforce with books, though, and in most cases the value falls significantly rather than rising.
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.