This evening I talked with Irv Coats, owner of the Reader's Corner used bookstore in Raleigh, to get his take on how used bookstores are faring in today's economy.
Able to spare a few moments between logging internet sales and heading for home, Irv--sitting at his desk in the back room of the Reader's Corner--started out by telling me, "The conventional wisdom has always been that used bookstores would thrive in a bad economy. Well, the experiment is now testing the hypothesis." In his own case, the hypothesis is being proven correct, as his store is doing well.
I asked Irv if the bad economy was driving people to sell off their book collections. Irv said, "I'm not seeing that so much as people trying to sell a handful of books. They'll call and I can hear the desperation in their voice. They'll say they need something to eat or they need to buy gas. It's truly very touching. Selling a handful of books isn't going to get them by, though." As far as collectible books go, Irv says that they won't bring in much cash except for the very best items--"the Crème de la Crème."
The new bookstores are hurting. "The book business has never been a high-profit industry. Car companies like GM in the past have had to conceal their profits--no book business has ever been forced to do that!" Irv put on his jacket to go home for the evening and I walked with him from the back room and into an aisle of his store. "The typical used book sells for ten dollars," Irv told me. "A store can't make much of a profit on a ten-dollar book." Before he said goodnight, Irv added, "Internet sales are really putting the squeeze on the brick and mortar people."