The biggest beneficiaries of the newfound popularity of secondhand books are obviously Internet players like Amazon.com, B&N.com, Alibris, Abebooks and eBay. But long-established used bookstores are, with a few qualifications, also riding the used book sale wave, even a chain that doesn't engage in e-tailing. (For more on how used books are shaking up the trade book world, click here.)
At Powell's Books, best-known for its huge main store, the City of Books, in Portland, Ore., where used and new copies of books are shelved together, "our basic business model has not changed much," according to long-time Powell's manager Miriam Sontz. But the company's "growth pattern" has slowed in part because of the "proliferation of new people participating in reselling books." That phenomenon has "changed how people value and look at used books," making the online bookselling world "much more competitive" and putting an emphasis on price, Sontz said. But the old-fashioned store has its place: many customers, particularly people interested in used books, want the "ability to hold a book, to look at it, to see it."
At the Strand in New York City, which recently expanded and plans to open a new store, the Internet, which accounts for 22% of sales, some of it rare and collectible, "has helped us a great deal," co-owner Nancy Bass commented. Bass said she believes the store's site has helped more people "learn about us" and led to the store acquiring "a lot of new customers."
At Half Price Books, which has more than 80 stores in 13 states and sells "everything recorded or printed except for yesterday's newspaper," according to president Sharon Anderson, high commercial real estate costs, particularly in the Northeast, are about the only limit on expansion. While Anderson noted that the stagnant economy helps sales, she said used books have a timeless attraction: "Even if people can't afford a movie or expensive dinner, they can always sit around and read a cheap book, which lasts longer."
Unusually, Half Price doesn't sell online; its Web site is informational only. Echoing Sontz, she said, "People still like to come in and hold and look at a book," adding, "a lot of people are probably buying online and reselling to us." The store makes an offer for everything, but often for "very little money." Unsalable books it either recycles or donates to organizations.
Feeling pricing pressure, Anderson says the company has held prices steady. The average hardback is $5.98 or $6.98.