Sustainability and saving money: Why you should buy books second-hand

By Victoria Bromley

If you get all your books brand new, you may want to rethink your book buying habits

Do you ever walk into Waterstones and leave with six new books and £50 less in your bank account? Sounds familiar. Whenever you decide to splurge your well-deserved cash on books to get that serotonin hit from a beautiful new cover and that fresh page smell, do you stop and consider going to a charity shop or second-hand book shop instead? No one is denying you your right to buy as many books to your heart’s content (after all, book buying is just as much a hobby as reading) but you don’t need to break the bank every time you want new books.

Did you know that 202 million books were sold in the UK alone last year? While this staggering number is brilliant for publishers, authors and readers alike, it also means more paper and printing. Yes, you could go and buy a Kindle and read e-books, but if you’re like me, nothing beats a physical book where you can feel the pages and use a bookmark to hold your place. So how do us readers help the environment and feed our book buying addictions sustainably? 

Browse the bookshelves of charity shops

You can find some real diamonds in the rough in charity shops! Whenever I go to a new town or city I like to venture into the charity shops to see if I can scout out any books which are on my wish list. Sometimes you can find books you had never even heard of and the blurb convinces you to spend the £1.50 to see what it’s all about. There can be a large selection of books on offer and many are still in good condition.

I even found, in pristine condition, Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, hardback, for only £5 instead of £20! 

By buying from charity shops you aren’t just giving a book a new home, you are saving money and helping out charities to support those in need. It’s a win, win, win situation. There is that frustration when you can’t find a particular book you are desperate to read, or when there is a coffee stain on the corner, but you get no guilt mentally or financially if you buy ten books in a charity shop.

Buy from second-hand book shops

Just like buying from charity shops, books from second-hand book shops are cheaper than buying brand new and it’s sustainable. The other week I went to Barter Books in Northumberland which is one of the biggest second-hand bookshops in the country.

Barter Books, Alnick, Northumberland

At first I was overwhelmed by how many books there were on the shelves, from classics, to non-fiction, to romance to translated books. The bookshop was renovated from an old train station so it was massive inside. There was even a train going around the top of the shelves in the main room.

From my trip to Northumberland, buying all my books second-hand, I came away with 12 books and saved around £90.

Borrowing books from friends

Not everyone who reads shares their passion for books with their friends. However, if you do have friends or family who like to read, and enjoy the same genres of books as yourself, asking to borrow their books can be a free way of reading. Even if your friends or family read different types of books to you, it may be interesting to venture into a new genre which you haven’t tried before. You’re not losing anything if you are borrowing books, (unless you lose them of course). 

While buying books second-hand can be a guilt-free, financially viable and fun experience, it can be difficult to find new releases. When your favourite author publishes a new book which you are dying to read, buying it brand new is often the only way. But if a book you have had your eye on has been out for a while, try browsing the charity shops and second-hand bookshops first. You never know, you may find a perfect copy for a fraction of the original price.

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