The Diary of a Bookseller

The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

This was fun.  Shaun Bythell runs the Book Shop, a large used bookstore in Wigtown, in Galloway, Scotland.  Wigtown is the Scottish equivalent of Hay-on-Wye, and hosts an annual book festival.  Since a used bookstore needs as many revenue streams as possible, Bythell has also written a few books about bookselling, of which this is the first.  I get the impression that this book really made the Book Shop famous.

It's just a daily diary of bookshop doings in 2014, with anecdotes about strange or irritating customers, lamentations about Amazon, accounts of trips to pick up book collections, and endless stories about the batty clerk, Nicky.  Each entry also has the number of customers and takings for the day.

Bythell also talks about store programs like the Random Book Club, in which subscribers receive a monthly book, guaranteed in good condition.  It sounds like a lot of fun, and I suspect that this diary made it very popular, because it's currently topped out.  Then there's the Wigtown Festival, and all the work that goes into it.

Bythell himself sounds like a semi-grumpy kind of dude, which is what a lifetime of retail will do to you.  He has little patience for talkative customers, and dislikes librarians: 

A woman spent about ten minutes looking around the shop, then told me that she was a retired librarian.  I suspect she thought that this was some sort of a bond between us. Not so. On the whole, booksellers dislike librarians. To realise a good price for a book, it has to be in decent condition, and there is nothing librarians like more than taking a perfectly good book and covering it with stamps and stickers before – and with no sense of irony – putting a plastic sleeve over the dust jacket to protect it from the public. The final ignominy for a book that has been in the dubious care of a public library is for the front free endpaper to be ripped out and a ‘DISCARD’ stamp whacked firmly onto the title page, before it is finally made available for members of the public to buy in a sale. The value of a book that has been through the library system is usually less than a quarter of one that has not.

Well, neener neener to you too, dude.  It's true; librarians think much less about the monetary value of a book, and much more about things like universal access -- and we don't care much about preserving a library book's resale value.  It is pretty interesting to compare Bythell's attitudes about ebooks and scanning antique books with mine.  He's unhappy if a book from the 1800s gets scanned and becomes available for free on the internet, because that means that people who just want to read that book, regardless of format, will get it online and the antique copy will sell for less; only people who really want the old book itself will pay for it.  Whereas that makes me pretty happy; I, like many other readers, have almost no access to antique books. While I would happily buy them if I could afford them, I really just want to read them.  I prefer the whole package, but I settle for what I can get -- which is an epub file on the Internet Archive -- and part of my job is letting other people know that they, too, can get books/articles for free.

Bythell has other thoughts about what bookselling as a trade does to a person.  Like librarians, booksellers stop seeing books as semi-sacred artifacts, and start thinking of them as heavy things to lug around, but there's a lot more money involved.

A fun, light read.  I'll finish off with the video mentioned in the book: a Scottish rendition of Rapper's Delight, which is a bit difficult to understand if you're from California.


  1. I thought this was fun too though sobering when you saw the details of how much income was actually taken in the shop on some days. No-one is going to become rich by being a second hand bookseller clearly

  2. Yes indeed, the numbers were not that great. I did notice, though, that it was *just* the till count, and did not include other sales. Still -- used booksellers are lucky if they can live on their income.

  3. Fun (to me) note about the love-not-so-much for librarians (I am neither a librarian nor bookseller). I just came across a quote in my current read about librarians being surly or some such and I was shocked an author would state suck! (or their character, of course.) I thought everyone loved librarians!

  4. Sadly, there are grumpy librarians, though they are few and far between! But yeah, for the most part, we tend to get a lot of love (from everybody but the people who are supposed to fund us).

  5. Thanks for the bit about librarians. That's fun! And, as a librarian, not the least bit insulting since I really don't care about the dollar value of a well-loved book that's been in the system for a while.

  6. I know! Who cares what an ex-library book is worth? (Like most librarians, my own shelves are heavily populated with ex-library books in terrible condition. Yay, free books!)


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