I love second-hand bookshops. Whenever I go on holiday, one of the first things I do is go to the nearest Tourism Information outlet and get a list of the local used bookshops.
So, what do I like about them, and what does this have to do with ebooks?
The first thing I like is the anticipation of perhaps finding a real gem. I don’t necessarily mean a first edition of something that will make me rich when I auction it for several times the price I paid for it. I am referring to long lost and forgotten tomes that, perhaps, were best-sellers in their day.
For example, I have picked up books on writing written a quarter of a century ago, and over half a century ago. Surprisingly, though maybe not so surprisingly, the advice given in the latter is still pertinent today. Indeed, the only thing that has changed is the description of sending photographs to an editor. These days, you would probably just use Dropbox.
A book on public speaking written 60 years ago omits any mention of PowerPoint, as one would expect – and is all the better for it!
The second thing I like is the sheer pleasure of browsing. I enjoy this to some extent while trawling through Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal or this month’s Nook sale, but it’s not the same.
The third thing I like is seeing the handwritten inscriptions that sometimes appear just inside the book.
“To Bob, on your 16th birthday, from Harry, 1948”
I start to wonder: who is (or was) this Bob? Why has this birthday gift left his possession only to lie around in a second-hand bookshop waiting to be discovered by someone he never knew, and who never knew him?
Second-hand ebooks don’t exist in the usual sense of the word. You can borrow ebooks in some circumstances, so perhaps in that sense they are used books, but it’s not really the same.
I’m no Luddite; I love my ebook readers and the fact that I can carry around several thousand books with me without breaking my back in the process. But looking in an online ebookstore is a poor substitute for the thrill of the chase in a second-hand one!
See also: The biggest bookshop in England