Bookstore_(Eugene,_Oregon)I’ve just made my yearly pilgrimage to my city’s largest used bookstore.

For years I have been both buying and selling there, and the latest result suggests this may be my last trip there as a seller.

I have long maintained that the whole print vs paper argument is a false binary. I buy many e-books. But I buy paper, too, when looks matter more. My latest for-sale pile represented two genres where I feel this is so—cookbooks, and a handful of adult coloring books I over-purchased in my initial new-hobby honeymoon period.

The coloring books, at least, are a trendy category. I hoped to get about $20 for the whole stack. So, what was my net take?

Just $7. The clerk explained it to me as follows: assume the store is going to sticker-price it for 50-60% off the cover price, depending on the book’s age and condition. That brings most of my $10-15 books down to four or five dollars. Now, divide what’s left in half: that gives the store a buck or two per book to cover overhead, and the rest for profit—which he has to share with me. Now do I understand why he only offered me a dollar a book?

Now, let’s look at my financial breakdown on this transaction. Even if you overlook the price I paid when I bought the books in the first place, I still spent $6 on bus tokens to get myself there and home. There wasn’t even enough profit left to buy a coffee afterward!

So, what does this mean for my book-buying habits in the future? It means there is a big opening for the e-book crowd. I have to stop looking at paper books as tradeable, exchangeable commodities. At these prices, they are not. They are permanent objects that will be in my place forever. So I need to be sure I love them before I pay.

I guess it’s time to start looking at all those downloadable PDF coloring books they sell on Etsy these days. At least if I get stuck with a clunker from there, it won’t take up any shelf space.

Image credit: Here. That’s a bookstore in Oregon, not the one Joanna mentioned.

Related: Fifty Shades of unwanted e-books, by Chris Meadows.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. Used book stores paying low,low prices for used books? That is nothing new at all. Four-five years ago I took a box of used books [20 books ?] to Half Price Books. Having sold them books before, my prediction for the box of books was $5. Which is what they paid me.
    As over the years I have purchased a lot hardbound books there for $1- titles which are considered classics in either the history or literary genre- I can’t complain.

  2. I suspect that the turnover in used books is slowing down, probably due to the rise in the popularity of eBooks, and as a result books are staying on their shelves longer and the profit over time from each book sold is dropping. Many second-hand bookshops in my area have closed. In one shop that I visit every month or so the detective stories on the classics shelf have been there so long they have become old friends. Maybe a tenth of them are new from one visit to the next.

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