This an edited reposting of an earlier piece with an added bit on online selling. The bookshop mentioned has closed (forever.) So many bookshops have closed that the type of seller depicted here is fast becoming an endangered species...
'Bookselling is easy', someone said 'you buy a book for a dollar and sell it for two.' That's pretty much it + a pencil, rubber, laptop, battered Volvo and a supply of books, boxes and tape. In my experience books are very easy to buy but less easy to sell. Money is the scarce and rare item, so it is difficult to understand why some booksellers make it so hard for customers to buy books from them. Money is what we want. Money to buy more books. However when a bookseller is not shooting himself in the foot, he is usually punching himself in the face.
In the comments field several people mentioned the much hated bookshop on Love Street in San Francisco, where customers were routinely demeaned by petulant staff - a typical scene being a young woman who found a dozen books she wanted to buy and as she made her way through the shelves to find a few more, she was informed by an assistant - 'this is not a library'. She put the books down and left the shop forever (after.)
Dylan Moran said of his great curmudgeonly creation, the bookseller of 'Black Books'- "There is a guy in a Dublin bookshop who provided the image of Bernard Black. He looks like he’s swallowed a cup of sour milk and peed himself at the same time. He has this green bilious expression, years of displeasure have shaped his face. In fact he looks like every other second hand bookshop owner I’ve seen. It seems to go with the job - being miserable....He’s still there now seething in his ash-smudged cockpit, daring somebody to buy a book".
Here are some useful guidelines.
1. Price your books so high that they will only sell to the rich or deranged.
2. Make sure your shop looks as if it is closed so that no one comes in. Poor or sparse lighting can help and a stiff unoiled door is a bonus.
3. Post a lot of notices around the shop 'No Mobile Phones' 'Thieves will be prosecuted' 'No returns' 'All sales Final' etc.,
4. Greet the customer with a glower, a scowl or a look of deep mistrust. If you are feeling generous a frosty 'Good Morning! will suffice.
5. Ask them exactly what they want and if you do not have it be sure they leave before they can look round. If you have a specific book that is requested deny its existence but double the price when the customer leaves.*
6. If they don't buy anything follow them with your eyes to the door and plant an imaginary dagger between their shoulder blades and bid them a joyless and sneering goodbye.
7. Refuse all offers on books with a snort of utter contempt and only give a discount (10% absolute maximum) when explicitly requested by long established booksellers who are spending at least £100.
8. Calculate the discount to the nearest penny even if the amount is many hundred of pounds. Thus £112 becomes £100. 80 not £100. In some cases, say in California, sales tax (8.5%) can be added thus reducing the discount to a more acceptable 1.5%.
9. If you must take credit cards charge an extra 5% to cover expenses. Refuse Paypal and wait 2 weeks for checks to clear.
10. Always close exactly on time no matter how many customers are in the shop or how much they are buying. Close on all holidays including President's Day, Michaelmas and Saint Swithin's day.
11. If a customer puts a book aside give them 24 hours to decide but put the book out 24 hours later to the minute (at a greatly increased price.)
12. If another dealer buys an expensive book have a searching enquiry as to what went wrong; if it was priced by a member of staff fire them immediately.
13. If someone dares to phone you offering you a collection of rare books treat them with great suspicion, if any titles are mentioned dismiss them as common and undesirable. If they insist ask them to bring the books to the shop. If they intimate that the books are of very high quality, but they want nothing or very little for them, pick them up in your Volvo when you are in the area.
NEW ONLINE RULES
14. Do not give the condition of any book unless it is fine, in which case call it 'mint.'
15. Demand extra postage on any book that is a gram overweight and charge heavily for materials and packing time.
16. Ignore all requests for pictures of books, these come from time-wasters. If they persist inform them that the camera is broken.
17. Describe all books where there are less than 20 copies available as 'rare' if less than 10 'very rare.' Any book over 20 years old can be described as 'good for its age.'
18. Pack books unwrapped in a (used) jiffy bag, they have sufficient protection in themselves.
19. Fight any attempt to return a book. A statement that all books must be returned within three days of ordering will suffice.
20. Always state if a book is ex-library but don't forget to call it 'fine' ; most are without the stamps, labels and perforations.
***Driffield used to have a good response to the question 'What are you looking for?' His reply was: 'A thousand pound book priced at less than a hundred.'