drif field's Guide to Charity Bookshops
If the charity bookshops of London are failing it is not my fault. I am holding folding and ready to roll, but they are failing to tempt me. Most have taken to studying internet listings on Abe, Amazon and eBay and pricing their books accordingly. The trouble with internet research is that the bookshop managers don’t understand the importance of condition, edition, or marketing. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The purpose of having a bookshop is to get impulse buys and to get the customers to return. If you have books too cheap it is not a mistake as the buyer will return and buy something else. An example of over-pricing can be found at Chiswick Oxfam. In their window sits a set of eight large leather-bound volumes of Shakespeare for £500. There are thousands of sets of Shakespeare like this. The only ones you can sell these days are the very attractive smaller ones. Chiswick might eventually find a sucker who will buy their set, but it will take a long time, and that person will end up very unhappy when they see other, more attractive sets more sensibly priced.
Oxfam has the biggest chain of charity bookshops, but the number has severely diminished over the last decade. They opened them in areas where there were already second-hand bookshops. They soon discovered that even though they got the books for free, and the premises cheaply and the rates lowered they did not know how to make a profit. Anybody can sell expensive books, they are only that way because people want them. But it takes skill to sell the junk! It now seems that the shops Oxfam run are intent on getting the maximum price at all costs, when the best strategy would be to get the most money in now for their causes. After all, the ostensible object of Oxfam and co is to raise money for the hungry, not to get the highest price they can. If you wait until you get the best prices, then the problem of hunger will have been solved, the people you are meant to be feeding will all be dead.
A few years ago Oxfam, attempted to join the PBFA - the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association - which is the biggest organization of second-hand bookdealers in the UK. None of the bookfairies wanted Oxfam as a member. Many had had their struggling businesses ruined by Oxfam opening up their bookshops nearby. But as Oxfam had more secondhand bookshops and were larger than anybody else they could hardly be refused entry. However, one astute member of the application committee asked what they were going to do about discounts It is standard practice that a fellow dealer will automatically get ten per cent off and that books over £50 will be open to offers. Oxfam was having none of that, and their application for membership halted, at their own request. I have never liked the bookfairies, but I was very cheered when I heard that.
With regard to the book trade, it was not Oxfam alone that killed off the second-hand bookshop in London but they certainly put the boot in when they were down. Now is a great time to be a book collector, as long as you do not go to charity bookshops. If you have the cash and the space, the price of ordinary books is being forced down daily by the internet. But for the rare, oddball items, charity shops still offer surprises. The best charity bookshops are in the Home Counties, really. But I shall start with a tour of North London.
In the Red Cross shop in Palmers Green I was deterred from buying a book that seemed cheap because they had researched all their stock to death. I assumed they had done so with this one. After this fruitless visit, I walked from Wood Green underground station towards Turnpike Lane. I intended going on to one my favourite charity shops, RMVF. But before I got there I found five books in the Heart shop on Green Lanes. I snapped up the lot for £20. The advantage for shops of having a premises on a high street is that you can get impulse buyers. Of the five books I bought only two were really financially worthwhile and they will pay for the rest. But at the time it seemed like a good idea to buy them all.
The same day as I was visiting the two charity bookshops in Blackstock Road (see below), I bumped into another bookdealer in Second Chance. This is a charity shop further along towards Finsbury Park station. He told me he never goes into either of the two in Blackstock Road, and he lives in the area! But he was spending £20 on cheap books at Second Chance.
The following two shops are undoubtedly the best in London.
House of Hodge [see Map in Menu Bar]. This is undoubtedly the best stocked charity bookshop in London, and open to discussions. If only it was open more often, although it does claim to be so on a Sunday.
Animal Aid [see Map in Menu Bar]. Unreliable opening hours, but open to discussions about the prices.
Second Chance [see Map in Menu Bar]. Well worth visiting if you are in the area. Very reliable about opening hours but does not open Sundays. It regularly holds half-price sales.
From Finsbury Park station it is possible to get a bus to Crouch End, where you can find the Oxfam bookshop.
Oxfam Bookshop [see Map in Menu Bar]. It is reliably open but the stock seems to be declining. If anything I think the eight charity shops in the high road are more rewarding.
Oxfam Bookshop [see Map in Menu Bar]. Seems more commercially minded than other Oxfam bookshops, but can be expensive.
Red Cross Bookshop [see Map in Menu Bar]. This shop has a high calibre of books, and indeed looks more like a book fair, but it has similar prices to match. There are bargains to be had but you have to wade your way through several thousand very ordinary books first. All the books are in extremely good condition, a fact that becomes noticeable when you compare it to the Oxfam bookshop in Wanstead and you have to wonder what has happened to the books that are not deemed A1. (Charity bookshops are regularly turning down acres of books because they don’t have the space and yet they are all larger on average than most of the old style bookshops. But they make the mistake of filling their shelves with books that you can find on the internet at far lower prices.)
Oxfam Bookshop [see Map in Menu Bar]. Not exactly outstanding.
For THE REST OF LONDON AND THE HOME COUNTIES, please see the Map in the Menu Bar.
Article by drif field.