Bookselling is the commercial trading of books which is the retail and distribution end of the publishing process. People who engage in bookselling are called booksellers, bookwomen, or bookmen. The founding of libraries in 300 BC stimulated the energies of the Athenian booksellers. In Rome, toward the end of the republic, it became the fashion to have a library, and Roman booksellers carried on a flourishing trade.

The spread of Christianity naturally created a great demand for copies of the Gospels, other sacred books, and later on for missals and other devotional volumes for both church and private use. The modern system of bookselling dates from soon after the introduction of printing. In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries the Low Countries for a time became the chief centre of the bookselling world. Modern book selling has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet. With major websites such as Amazon, eBay, and other big book distributors offering affiliate programs, book sales have now, more than ever, been put in the hands of the small business owner.

Shakespeare and Company store in Paris
Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop in Paris
Księgarnia Szarlotty Seipeltówny przy ul. Piotrkowskiej 47 fot Włodzimierz Pfeiffer MZW
A bookshop in Łódź, Poland, 1935

Modern era

Bookstores (called bookshops in the United Kingdom, Australia and most of the Commonwealth apart from Canada) may be either part of a chain, or local independent bookstores. Stores can range in size offering from several hundred to several hundred thousand titles. They may be brick and mortar stores or internet only stores or a combination of both. Sizes for the larger bookstores exceed half a million titles. Bookstores often sell other printed matter besides books, such as newspapers, magazines and maps; additional product lines may vary enormously, particularly among independent bookstores. Colleges and universities often have their own student bookstore on campus that focuses on providing course textbooks and scholarly books, although some on-campus bookstores are owned by large chains such as WHSmith or Waterstone's in the United Kingdom, or Barnes & Noble College Booksellers in the United States, which is a private firm controlled by the chair of Barnes & Noble.

Another common type of bookstore is the used bookstore or second-hand bookshop which buys and sells used and out-of-print books in a variety of conditions.[1][2] A range of titles are available in used bookstores, including in print and out of print books. Book collectors tend to frequent used book stores. Large online bookstores offer used books for sale, too. Individuals wishing to sell their used books using online bookstores agree to terms outlined by the bookstore(s): for example, paying the online bookstore(s) a predetermined commission once the books have sold. In Paris, the Bouquinistes are antiquarian and used booksellers who have had outdoor stalls and boxes along both sides of the Seine for hundreds of years, regulated by law since the 1850s and contributing to the scenic ambience of the city.


Japanese bookseller from Jinrin kinmo zui
Japanese bookseller from the Jinrin kinmo zui (An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Humanity) from 1690
Bookshop in Much Wenlock
Bookshop in Much Wenlock, UK.

Greek and Roman booksellers

In the book of Jeremiah the prophet is represented as dictating to Baruch the scribe, who described the mode in which his book was written. These scribes were the earliest booksellers, and supplied copies as they were demanded. Aristotle possessed a somewhat extensive library, and Plato is recorded to have paid the large sum of one hundred minae for three small treatises of Philolaus the Pythagorean. When the Alexandrian library was founded about 300 BC, various expedients were used for the purpose of procuring books, and this appears to have stimulated the energies of the Athenian booksellers. In Rome, toward the end of the republic, it became the fashion to have a library as part of the household furniture. Roman booksellers carried on a flourishing trade. Their shops (taberna librarii) were chiefly in the Argiletum, and in the Vicus Sandalarius. On the door, or on the side posts, was a list of the books on sale; and Martial, who mentions this also, says that a copy of his First Book of Epigrams might be purchased for five denarii. In the time of Augustus the great booksellers were the Sosii. According to Justinian, a law was passed granting to the scribes the ownership of the material written; this may be the beginnings of the modern law of copyright.[3]

Islamic bookshops

Abbasid Caliphate in the east and Caliphate of Córdoba in the west, encouraged the development of bookshops, copyists, and book dealers across the entire Muslim world, in Islāmic cities such as Damascus, Baghdad, and Córdoba. According to Encyclopædia Britannica:

Scholars and students spent many hours in these bookshop schools reading, examining, and studying available books or purchasing favourite selections for their private libraries. Book dealers traveled to famous bookstores in search of rare manuscripts for purchase and resale to collectors and scholars and thus contributed to the spread of learning. Many such manuscripts found their way to private libraries of famous Muslim scholars such as Avicenna, al-Ghazālī, and al-Fārābī, who in turn made their homes centres of scholarly pursuits for their favourite students.[4]

There is a popular turn of phrase from the 1960s, "Books are written in Cairo, published in Beirut, and read in Baghdad".[5][6] One of the most famous and prestigious Arab publishers is Dar al-Asab.[7]

French booksellers

The first wave of French booksellers came soon after Johannes Gutenberg introduced his new printing technologies in Europe. The oldest known bookstore still opened in France (and Europe) is the Librairie Nouvelle d'Orléans. Its owner in 1545 was Étienne Rouzeau,[8] it now belongs to publisher Albin Michel. In 1810 Napoleon created a system by which, a would-be bookseller had to apply for a license (brevet), and supply four references testifying to his morality, and four confirmations of his professional ability to perform the job. All references had to be certified by the local mayor. If the application was accepted, the bookseller would have to swear an oath of loyalty to the régime. The application process was conducted to ensure that the new bookstore was not a place that distributed rebellious publications. The brevet process continued until 1870.[9]


The spread of Christianity naturally created a great demand for copies of the Gospels, other sacred books, and later on for missals and other devotional volumes for both church and private use. Before the Reformation and the introduction of printing, scribes and stationers who sold books formed guilds. Some of these stationers had stations built against the walls of cathedrals.[3] Besides the sworn stationers there were many booksellers in Oxford who were not sworn; for one of the statutes, passed in 1373, expressly states that, in consequence of their presence,

books of great value are sold and carried away from Oxford, the owners of them are cheated, and the sworn stationers are deprived of their lawful business. It was, therefore, enacted that no bookseller except two sworn stationers or their deputies, should sell any book being either his own property or that of another, exceeding half a mark in value, under a pain of imprisonment, or, if the offence was repeated, of forfeiting his trade within the university.[10]

Modern bookselling

Libreria San Gines
Librería San Ginés in Madrid (Spain)
13th century Dominican church converted into a bookstore in Maastricht, the Netherlands
13th century Dominican church converted into a bookstore in Maastricht, the Netherlands
Gare Metz décor 20
In many parts of the world, bookstores—like this one in the train station in Metz, France—are often found in transport facilities.

The modern system of bookselling dates from soon after the introduction of printing. Through the new mechanized process for printing, books became more affordable.[11] By the nineteenth century, the model of bookselling as we know it began to emerge. A professional group of booksellers in Leipzig decided to form their own association in 1824, and in 1825 the Börsenverein der Deutschen Buchhändler zu Leipzig became the first group to publish outside of the printer's guilds, leading to more people joining the profession without needing to be attached to a guild.[12] The earliest printers were also editors and booksellers; but being unable to sell every copy of the works they printed, they had agents at most of the seats of learning, such as Anton Koberger, who introduced the art of printing into Nuremberg in 1470. The most common types of books printed in large quantities were able to be cheaply produced like catechisms and almanacs and often not bound at all.[13]

The religious dissensions of the Reformation in 16th-century continental Europe and the English Reformation in England under Henry VIII and Edward VI fostered a great demand for books; but in England governments of both the Tudor and Stuart dynasties feared a free press and made various efforts to control the distribution of printed materials.[3]

The first patent for the office of king's printer was granted to Thomas Berthelet by Henry VIII in 1529, but only such books as were first licensed were to be printed. At that time even the purchase or possession of an unlicensed book was a punishable offense. In 1556 the Company of Stationers was incorporated, and very extensive powers were granted in order that obnoxious books might be repressed. In the following reigns the Star Chamber exercised a rather effectual censorship; but, in spite of all precautions, such was the demand for books of a polemical nature, that entrepreneurs and subversives printed many abroad and surreptitiously introduced them into England.[3]

In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries the Low Countries for a time became the chief centre of the bookselling world, and many of the finest folios and quartos in our libraries bear the names of Jansen, Blauw or Plantin, with the imprint of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden or Antwerp, while the Elzevirs produced - besides other works - their charming little pocket classics. The southern towns of Douai and Saint-Omer (both in present-day France) at the same time furnished polemical works in English.[3]

Queen Elizabeth (r. 1558–1603) interfered little with books except when they emanated from Roman Catholics, or touched upon her royal prerogatives; and towards the end of her reign, and during that of her successor, James (r. 1603–1625), bookselling flourished. So much had bookselling increased during the Protectorate of 1653–1659 that in 1658 William London published A Catalogue of the most Vendible Books in England. A bad time immediately followed. Although there were provincial booksellers, the centre of the trade was St. Paul's Churchyard. When the Great Fire of London began in 1666 the booksellers put most of their stock in the vaults of the church, where it was destroyed. The Restoration of 1660 restored the office of Licenser of the Press, which continued until 1694.[3]

The first British copyright statute, the Statute of Anne (1709), which specially relates to booksellers, enacted that, if any person shall think the published price of a book unreasonably high, he may make a complaint to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to certain other persons named, who shall examine his complaint, and if well founded reduce the price; and any bookseller charging more than the price so fixed shall be fined £5 for every copy sold. The complaint procedure prescribed in this statute was apparently never used.[3]

Modern book-selling has changed dramatically with the advent of the computer. With major websites such as Amazon, eBay, and other book distributors offering affiliate programs, book sales can be facilitated through an affiliate program.

Selling and publishing

Borders bookshelf
Books on a table in a Borders store in Georgia, USA. Borders stores started closing in 2010.

For later times it is necessary to make a gradual distinction between booksellers, whose trade consists in selling books, either by retail or wholesale, and publishers, whose business involves the production of the books from the author's manuscripts, and who are the intermediaries between author and bookseller, just as the booksellers (in the restricted sense) are intermediaries between the author and publisher and the public. The convenience of this distinction is not impaired by the fact either that a publisher is also a wholesale bookseller, or that a still more recent development in publishing started a reaction to some extent in the way of amalgamating the two functions. The scheme of The Times Book Club (started in 1905) was, again, a combination of a subscription library with the business of bookselling and it brought the organization of a newspaper, with all its means of achieving publicity, into the work of promoting the sale of books, in a way which practically introduced a new factor into the bookselling business.[3]

James Lackington is credited as the person responsible for changing this profession. His bookshop, known as "The Temple of the Muses," was in Finsbury Square in north London.

Specialty developments

Bookshop, Tokyo
Books in a Tokyo bookstore

During the 19th century it remains the fact that the distinction between publisher and bookseller—literary promoter and shopkeeper—became fundamental. The booksellers, as such, were engaged either in wholesale bookselling, or in the retail, the old or second-hand (now includes rare and very old books trade, called antiquarian books), and the periodicals publishing or retailing trades.[3]

Coming between the publisher and the retail bookseller is the important distributing agency of the wholesale bookseller. It is to him that the retailer and libraries look for supplies, as it is impossible to stock all of the books published. Paternoster Row, London, was for over a hundred years the centre of this industry, where retail booksellers, busily engaged in obtaining the books ordered by the book-buying public. It is where the publisher calls first on showing or "subscribing" a new book, a critical process, for by the number thus ordered the fate of a book is sometimes determined.[3] In the United States, Baker & Taylor is a major distributor.

What may be termed the third partner in publishing is the retail bookseller; and to protect their interests there was established in 1890 a London booksellers' society, which had for its object the restriction of discounts to 25%, and also to arrange prices generally and control all details connected with the trade. The society a few years afterwards widened its field of operations so as to include the whole of the United Kingdom, and it became "The Associated Booksellers of Great Britain and Ireland."[3]

Bookselling in the United States

The Tattered Cover is a bookstore in Denver, Colorado, and one of the largest independent bookstores in the United States.

The history of bookselling in the United States is of special interest. The Spanish settlements drew away from the old country much of its enterprise and best talent, and the presses of Mexico and other cities teemed with publications mostly of a religious character, but many others, especially linguistic and historical, were also published. Bookselling in the United States was of a somewhat later growth, although printing and bookselling was introduced into Cambridge, Massachusetts, as early as 1640 by Hezekiah Usher and by Usher in 1652 in Boston. Bookselling was happening in Philadelphia in 1685, and New York in 1693. Franklin had served to make the trade illustrious, yet few persons were engaged in it at the commencement of the 19th century. Books chiefly for scholars and libraries were imported from Europe; but after the War of 1812 printing-presses multiplied rapidly, and with the spread of newspapers and education there also arose a demand for books, and publishers set to work to secure the advantages offered by the wide field of English literature, the whole of which they had the liberty of reaping free of all cost beyond that of production. The works of Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and indeed of every author of note, were reprinted without the smallest payment to author or proprietor. Half the names of the authors in the so-called "American" catalogue of books printed between 1820 and 1852 are British. These titles were made available and affordable to the public. In consequence of the Civil War, the high price of labour, and the restrictive duties laid on in order to protect native industry, coupled with the frequent dealings with England, a great change took place, and American publishers and booksellers, while there was still no international copyright, made liberal offers for early sheets of new publications. Boston, New York and Philadelphia still retained their old supremacy as bookselling centres. Meanwhile, the distinct publishing business also grew, until gradually the conditions of business became assimilated to those of Europe.[3]

African-American Booksellers

Bookselling is a profession historically dominated by white Americans, but African Americans developed their own tradition of book selling, particularly in conjunction with radical political movements such as abolitionism, black nationalism, Black Power, and Marxism. The first documented African American bookstore was owned and operated by the abolitionist David Ruggles in the 1830s in New York City. In the years of the civil rights and Black Power era of the 1950s and 1960s, Lewis Michaux's National Memorial African Bookstore became arguably the most prominent Black-owned bookstore in the United States. In the 1980s and '90s, Clara Villarosa's Hue Man Books became the most prominent Black-owned bookstore in the nation, first in Denver and later in Harlem.[14]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Brown, Richard & Brett, Stanley. The London Bookshop. Pinner, Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, 1977 ISBN 0-900002-23-9
  2. ^ Chambers, David. English Country Bookshops. Pinner, Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, 2010 ISBN 978-0-900002-18-2
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bookselling" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 233–235.
  4. ^ "education", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008, retrieved 2008-09-30
  5. ^ "Plus de kutub, please". The Economist. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  6. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History (Second ed.). Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 182. ISBN 9781606060834.
  7. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 182. ISBN 9781606060834.
  8. ^ Herluison, Henri (15 March 1868). "Recherches sur les imprimeurs & libraires d'Orléans: recueil de documents pour servir à l'histoire de la typographie et de la librairie orlèanaise, depuis de XIVe siècle jusqu'a nos jours". H. Herluison. Retrieved 15 March 2018 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2009). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications. pp. 144–146. ISBN 978-1-60606-083-4.
  10. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  11. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History (Second ed.). Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 10. ISBN 9781606060834.
  12. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 138. ISBN 9781606060834.
  13. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History (Second ed.). Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 64. ISBN 9781606060834.
  14. ^ Davis, Joshua Clark. "Black-Owned Bookstores: Anchors of the Black Power Movement – AAIHS". Retrieved 2017-02-21.

Further reading

External links

American Booksellers Association

The American Booksellers Association (ABA) is a non-profit trade association founded in 1900 that promotes independent bookstores in the United States. ABA's core members are key participants in their communities' local economy and culture, and to assist them ABA creates relevant programs; provides education, information, business products, and services; and engages in public policy and industry advocacy. The Association actively supports and defends free speech and the First Amendment rights of all Americans through the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. A volunteer board of 10 booksellers governs the Association. ABA is headquartered in White Plains, NY.

Book town

A book town is a town or village with a large number of used book or antiquarian book stores. These stores, as well as literary festivals, attract bibliophile tourists. A number of the book towns are members of the International Organisation of Book Towns.

Books in France

As of 2018, five firms in France rank among the world's biggest publishers of books in terms of revenue: Éditions Lefebvre Sarrut, Groupe Albin Michel, Groupe Madrigall, Hachette Livre (including Éditions Grasset), and Martinière Groupe (including Éditions du Seuil). Other major book publishers in the 2010s include Éditions Gallimard.

Books in Italy

As of 2018, two firms in Italy rank among the world's biggest publishers of books in terms of revenue: Messaggerie Italiane (including Gruppo editoriale Mauri Spagnol), and Mondadori Libri. Other large publishers include De Agostini Editore.

Books in the Netherlands

As of 2018, Wolters Kluwer ranks as the Netherlands' biggest publisher of books in terms of revenue. Other notable Dutch houses include Brill (est. 1683) and Elsevier (est. 1880; now part of UK-based RELX Group).

Books in the United Kingdom

As of 2018, seven firms in the United Kingdom rank among the world's biggest publishers of books in terms of revenue: Bloomsbury, Cambridge University Press, Informa, Oxford University Press, Pearson, Quarto, and RELX Group.

Books in the United States

As of 2018, several firms in the United States rank among the world's biggest publishers of books in terms of revenue: Cengage Learning, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill Education, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Wiley.

Espresso Book Machine

The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) is a print on demand (POD) machine created by On Demand Books that prints, collates, covers, and binds a single book in a few minutes.

The EBM is small enough to fit in a retail bookstore or small library room, and as such it is targeted at retail and library markets. The EBM can potentially allow readers to obtain any book title, even books that are out of print. The machine takes a PDF file for input and prints, binds, and trims the reader’s selection as a paperback book.

Independent bookstore

An independent bookstore is a retail bookstore which is independently owned. Usually, independent stores consist of only a single actual store (although there are some multi-store independents). They may be structured as sole proprietorships, closely held corporations or partnerships (i.e. a small number of shareholders or partners), cooperatives, or nonprofits. Independent stores can be contrasted with chain bookstores, which have many locations and are owned by large corporations which often have other divisions besides bookselling.

List of book sales clubs

This is a list of book sales clubs, both current and defunct.

Book League of America

Book of the Month Club

Collins Crime Club

Folio Society

Junior Library Guild

Left Book Club

Literary Guild

Mystery Book Club

Quality Paperback Book Club

Scholastic Corporation

Science Fiction Book Club

Time Reading Program

Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft

List of independent bookstores

Independent bookstores are small bookselling businesses, usually with one or a small number of locations in a limited geographic area. They contrast with corporate or chain bookstores, operated by a larger company, often with many stores across a large area.

Nielsen BookScan

Nielsen BookScan has been a data provider for the book publishing industry, owned by the Nielsen Company up to 2016, though it is still in use via the NPD Group. BookScan compiles point of sale data for book sales.

Remaindered book

Remaindered books or remainders are printed books that are no longer selling well and whose remaining unsold copies are liquidated by the publisher at greatly reduced prices. While the publisher may take a net loss on the sales of these books, they are able to recover at least some of their sunken costs on the sale and clear out space in the warehouses.Copies of remaindered books may be marked by the publisher, distributor, or bookseller to prevent them from being returned. "Remainder marks" have varied over the years, but today most remainders are marked with a stroke with a felt-tipped marker across the top or bottom of the book's pages, near the spine.

Only hardcovers and trade paperbacks (paperback books, often larger than "pocket" paperbacks, sold "to the trade" or directly to sales outlets) are typically remaindered. Mass market paperbacks ("pocket" paperback books sold through a third-party distributor) usually become stripped books rather than remaindered books. A book that might retail for $20 will typically be purchased by someone specializing in remainders for $1 and resold for approximately $5.

Statistically improbable phrase

A statistically improbable phrase (SIP) is a phrase or set of words that occurs more frequently in a document (or collection of documents) than in some larger corpus. uses this concept in determining keywords for a given book or chapter, since keywords of a book or chapter are likely to appear disproportionately within that section. Christian Rudder has also used this concept with data from online dating profiles and Twitter posts to determine the phrases most characteristic of a given race or gender in his book Dataclysm.

The Bookseller

The Bookseller is a British magazine reporting news on the publishing industry. Philip Jones is editor-in-chief of the weekly print edition of the magazine and the website. The magazine is home to the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year, a humorous award given annually to the book with the oddest title. The award is organised by The Bookseller's diarist, Horace Bent, and had been administered in recent years by the former deputy editor, Joel Rickett, and former charts editor, Philip Stone. We Love This Book is its quarterly sister consumer website and email newsletter.

The subscription-only magazine is read by around 30,000 persons each week, in over 90 countries, and contains the latest news from the publishing and bookselling worlds, in-depth analysis, pre-publication book previews and author interviews. It is the first publication to publish official weekly bestseller lists in the UK. It has also created the first UK-based e-book sales ranking. The website is visited by 160,000 unique users each month.

The magazine also produces approximately a dozen specials on an annual basis including its Books of The Year and four "Buyers Guides". The Bookseller also publishes three daily newspapers at the annual London Book Fair, in April, the Bologna Children's Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair, in October.

The Day After (2017 film)

The Day After (Hangul: 그 후; RR: Geu-hu) is a 2017 South Korean drama film composed, written, produced, and directed by Hong Sang-soo. It was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

The Great Passage

The Great Passage (舟を編む, Fune o Amu) is a 2013 Japanese drama film directed by Yuya Ishii, starring Ryuhei Matsuda as a dictionary editor. It is based on the best-selling novel by Shion Miura. The film won several awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year, and also received several nominations. It was selected as the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but it was not nominated.

The Great Passage (TV series)

The Great Passage (Japanese: 舟を編む, Hepburn: Fune o Amu) is a 2016 Japanese anime television series produced by Zexcs, adapted from the novel written by Shion Miura. The series was directed by Toshimasa Kuroyanagi and written by Takuya Satō, featuring original character designs by Haruko Kumota, adapted character designs by Hiroyuki Aoyama and music by Yoshihiro Ike. The anime aired between October 14, 2016 and December 23, 2016 on Fuji TV's Noitamina block.

Used book

A used book or secondhand book is a book which has been owned before by an owner other than the publisher or retailer, usually by an individual or library.

Used books typically become available on the market when they are sold or given to a second-hand shop or used bookstore; they are usually sold for about half or three-quarters the price of what they would cost new, though rare books and others still in demand or hard to obtain might sell for more than this.

Some new book shops also carry used books, and some used book shops also sell new books. Though the original authors or publishers will not benefit financially from the sale of a used book, it helps to keep old books in circulation. Sometimes very old, rare, first edition, antique, or simply out of print books can be found as used books in used book shops.

A reading copy of a book may be well-used, may include highlighting or marginalia, and is suitable for reading, but is not collectible. This is a term used in the used book business, to indicate the lack of collectible value, while claiming that the book is in sufficiently good condition for a purchaser whose interest is primarily in actually reading the book. A reading copy is typically less expensive than a collectible copy.


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