The Booksellers Association is calling for the end of tax and business rate concessions for charity bookshops, saying that they represent "unfair competition" to high street booksellers. The call comes amid claims publishers are being approached directly by charity shops for stock.
A spokesperson for the Charity Retail Association said 261 specialist charity bookshops were currently open in the UK and Ireland, and that an estimated 8,000 of the 9,450 charity shops in the UK sell books in some capacity.
Leading charity book retailer Oxfam made close to £20m profit in 2010 from its books sales. With over 130 second-hand specialist second-hand bookshops in the UK, it sells in the region of 12 million books a year, including book sales in its non-book second-hand outlets. Most of the 700+ Oxfam shops sell books.
BA chief executive Tim Godfray said it was unfair that high street booksellers should face additional competition, especially during such difficult economic times.
He said: "Trading conditions for high street retail booksellers are extremely tough in the current climate and unfair competition from charity bookshops is something our members do not need. If we are serious about protecting retail diversity on the high street, we need to review the strong tax and rate concessions given to charities that run shops."
Godfray asked: "If a charity shop sells new goods, why should it benefit from tax and business rate reductions?"
The Booksellers Association said its stance followed "strong concern from high-street booksellers", with one charity believed to have more outlets in the UK selling books than the largest speciality bookshop.
BA members had reported that The Healthy Planet, a new charity bookshop in Shepherd's Bush, west London, was now approaching publishers for stock. Godfray said: "BA members think that The Healthy Planet has strayed from its stated goal of dealing in genuinely unwanted titles and is now competing with booksellers on the high street."
However, Healthy Planet founder Shaylesh Patel denied the claim, saying its stock came from other charity shops and online dealers, such as those offering stock to the "Used" books section on Amazon. A one-off book supply from Octopus had come at the publisher's instigation, he added. But Patel said: "We'd love to [approach publishers]. We're looking to do more and more with publishers."
Charity shops are exempt from corporation tax,and have zero-rated Value Added Tax on the sale of donated goods, plus an 80% relief on mandatory non-domestic business rates. They are frequently manned by volunteers.