Selling books is not as easy as you might think

Shaun Bythell is a bookseller in Wigtown in Scotland who is also involved in the town’s annual book festival. His second-hand bookshop is very large and he lives above it. Remainders of the Day is his third book giving us diary entries of his life as a bookseller. I listened to it on audio which was narrated by Peter Kenny. I have also listened to the two previous books – Confessions of a Bookseller and The Diary of a Bookseller which follow much the same format.

There is a certain attraction for an avid reader to read about bookshops and bookselling. I think that all of us who love books wish that we could spend all day with them and think that we would make excellent booksellers. Shaun’s diaries should disabuse us of this fantasy – being a bookseller in today’s economy is risky, hard work and often unsatisfying. It is also very amusing on occasion.

The diary follows one year (2017 I think) and details how many books are sold each day in person and online, how many customers he has as well as the shop’s revenue. It is interesting to see how that fluctuates during the year and also how few books are actually sold on some days.

The author then details the trials and tribulations of owning and running a bookshop. He has endless battles with Amazon, and, on occasion, ABE Books who sell books online for him and who cancel his account seemingly arbitrarily and don’t provide a way for him to communicate with them. He delights in telling us the quirks of his customers, some of whom are alarmingly rude or deluded. He talks about his assistants, the people who arrange the book festivals and his friends, all of whom seem eccentric. We learn about how he buys stock, what sells and what doesn’t, how prices have fallen over the years in real terms, his hatred of Kindles and what he does with the junk books.

This is all very entertaining and mildly amusing. The author offers no great insights and nothing terribly exciting happens. Despite this I very much enjoyed spending time with Shaun, his cat, his family, his customers and the inhabitants of Wigtown.

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