Blog 79: Two Years In A Bookshop.

January 1, 2019

Happy New Year!

So it has been just over two years since I first started working in a second-hand bookshop, and as a follow-up to my blog ‘One Year In A Bookshop’, I thought I would write another blog to update you on my experiences and see if anything has changed. As many of you will already know, I work in a large second-hand bookshop which stocks over 70,000 books over two floors. We are offered more books than we can take and we have visitors all year round as we are a destination bookshop. We are open every day except Christmas day and we have appeared in the Guardian’s top ten independent bookshops.

There are three main things that I have learnt in the last year…

1] Customers are messier than ever.

2] Physical books are becoming more popular again.

3] Brexit doesn’t really seem to be affecting the book trade (yet).

Ok, so maybe that isn’t everything I have learnt but they are the three that jump to mind right now. Customers do appear to be messier than ever, I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had to sort out shelves because customers can’t be bothered to put the book they were looking at back in the right place. It seems to be getting worse too, customers might think that bookshop staff are there to sort out the shelves all day, but we do have a lot of other tasks to do too, you know!

Physical books do seem to be growing in popularity again. When the first e-readers and e-books came out it looked like they might threaten the sales of physical books, but this year that hasn’t been the case. If anything we have seen a small rise in physical book sales in 2018, which is encouraging, but I can’t speak for all bookshops. I think this is due to a number of reasons, one being that older second-hand books are not available as e-books so you can only get these books as physical books. Another reason I think physical book sales are on the rise again is because e-readers can be a bit taxing on the eyes after awhile and some of our customers have told us they now prefer to switch between physical books and e-books. Lastly, I think people like to collect physical books and display them on their bookshelves. It is a personal thing, but people often dream about having their own personal libraries and studies, filled with books on bookshelves. There is a sense of achievement knowing you have read and own the books you have and also a way of displaying your interests and tastes in a physical format.

Brexit, I’m sick of this subject. Whether it happens or not, the threat of Brexit, so far, doesn’t appear to have negatively impacted the book trade, yet. My personal feelings is that if Brexit does happen, it will have a negative impact on all businesses for at least ten to twenty years, but I can’t say for sure. Yet if the public do have concerns over Brexit, it hasn’t translated negatively into book sales, yet. As I said before, we have seen a small rise in book sales at the bookshop where I work for 2018, but I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens in 2019.

So what else have I learnt? A great deal, though I struggle to remember everything. The beauty of working in a bookshop, particularly a second-hand bookshop, is there is always something new to learn. My employers have been working in the book trade for years and have vast amounts of knowledge on all sorts of topics, authors and books, and I’m lucky enough that they share all of that knowledge with me on a regular basis. There is so much to learn that I have taken to writing things down in a little notebook, just so I won’t forget.

Recently I have learnt that nicely bound, hardbacks of 19th Century Austen’s and Bronte’s can be worth a lot of money. I learnt that John Fell was an important man in developing different ‘types’ for the book printing press in the 17th Century. Thomas Kuhn was an important philosopher in the 20th Century and introduced the term ‘paradigm shift’. Julia Donaldson and Michael Bond are still massively popular children’s flats. Earlier versions of ‘The Origin Of Species’ by Darwin are different and collectable because Darwin continuously made changes to the book. Stan Barstow was a sixties author who wrote a popular book called ‘A Kind Of Loving’ though the book isn’t as popular today. Greeting cards are big sellers and Terry Pratchett practically flies out of the shop. I could go on but you get the point, there is so much to learn when you work in a second-hand bookshop.

My tasks at the bookshop are varied, I hoover, clean, restock shelves, take phone calls, help customers, man the till, update the social media accounts, update the computer systems, restock the coffee machine, sort books for ABE and Amazon, package and post books bought online, carry boxes of books, buy books and more… I do what I’m told to do, act on my own initiative when necessary and help in any way I can.

I love working at the bookshop, but I realise more than ever that it is physically and mentally hard work. This doesn’t dissuade me though, as the thought of working in an office in a job that I don’t really like everyday makes me shudder. Being in the bookshop is exciting, you never know what someone might bring in or what you might discover hidden in the pages of an old book. There isn’t any time to sit and read, but you get to meet new people and learn new things. Inevitably you get the odd awkward or rude customer, and customers have an uncanny ability to be in the one section of the bookshop that you’re trying to sort out, but the atmosphere is generally relaxed. I find myself on my feet most of the time, or busy with a task, and before I know it hours have passed and it is almost time to close up. It might not be for everyone, but I feel very fortunate to be able to work in a bookshop.