Booksellers complain about Oxfam

Posted on August 5, 2009


Who would win in a straight fight, a charity or a bookshop?  Of course, it shouldn’t come to this.  The notion of charity chuggers charging librarians in the streets of Hay is a curious one (though I suspect the chuggers would have it) but since it looks like that bout is currently on the cards, it seems I may need to take sides.

Or come up with a solution.

Because taking sides is incredibly difficult in this instance.  In fact, I can’t think of many examples of so well balanced an argument – not today at any rate.  Both parties have very good reason to fight their corner.  But there are a number of options that could be investigated:

  • Giving all donated books straight to libraries or schools is one idea.  It wouldn’t help either Oxfam or the PBFA but it would allow greater access to more people and help in the cause of UK literacy.  A natural drawback would be that libraries are not very well attended nor open during convenient times.  Perhaps co-locating second hand bookshops within public libraries would allow sales from one to lengthen the hours of the other.  Book exchanges may also be a viable bolt-on.
  • A second consideration might be that it would make more of a difference to developing economies to redistribute the books themselves rather than the profits from selling them.  At the risk of foisting English editions on all and sundry across the globe, surely the benefits of enhanced literacy in the developing world that Oxfam aims to help would far outweigh the pecuniary assistance in this instance?
  • Or perhaps the second hand book shops should simply buy any donated tomes from Oxfam and do a deal that way?  In this scenario, the bookshops get access to cheaper books and Oxfam takes some money from them, whilst freeing up vital shelf space for non-competing items.
  • The final idea would see dedicated charity sections in bookshops themselves.  Any books donated would be sold here and the profit go to the charity.  In return for the free shelf space, bookshops would see reduced competition and increased footfall, upping the likelihood of selling their own merchandise, even to those purchasing charity books.

Now, where’s that second hand copy of The Art of War?