That's why what this Houston Chronicle article describes does not surprise me in the least. Some bookstores are doing pretty well, others are suffering greatly. The difference? The ones doing well are primarily selling used books; the ones doing more poorly are selling just the opposite. With new hardbacks going for close to $30, on average, and quality paperbacks selling for $15, or more, is anyone surprised?
Sales at Dallas-based Half Price Books began to rise when gasoline prices soared during the summer of 2008 and again when the recession slammed U.S. consumers that fall.I generally read at least 125 books a year, and there is no way I can afford to buy that many new books. So, at least 20 years ago, I settled into a plan to buy used books as reading copies and hardbacks for those books I want to give a permanent place on my bookshelves. (That does mean I often buy the same title, in different versions, two times.) The used books, including paperbacks, are often used in trades or as resales that get me a few more unread books.
Both events drove more traffic to Half Price Books' 110 stores as Americans latched on to thriftier habits, said Kathy Doyle Thomas, the chain's executive vice president.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Half Price Books racked up a 5 percent jump in same-store sales, which compare year-over-year revenue at stores open at least a year. Same-store sales at its 11 stores in the Houston area were up 5.6 percent.
The story doesn't read as well at Barnes & Noble and Borders Group, as consumers shift to buying books online or reading digital books on electronic devices such as Amazon's Kindle.
Borders has had layoffs and recently launched an e-bookstore to compete with Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader.
I still, though, do shop for new hardbacks even though I cringe a little when I pay for them. I bought Mark Twain's Other Woman by Laura Skandera Trombley the other day, a book about the woman who played a key role in Twain's life during his last decade (after the death of his wife). The book sold for $27.95 and I purposely bought it from one of Houston's independent bookstores. Add sales tax and I paid $30.25 for the thing because I want it for my permanent collection and I try to buy from indies when I'm reasonably close to one.
I suspect that books sales are in trouble and that library usage will increase at about the same pace that bookstore sales decline. Sadly, this is all happening just when local governments everywhere are slashing their library budgets.