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Promoting Oxfam's bookshop bonanza on the web

25 September 2006

A new phenomenon which is closely linked to the rise of the second-hand book trade is the way that charities have now developed the concept of specialist bookshops and are using them as a major way of generating funds. In the UK Oxfam runs 112 bookstores and sells more than one million books each month. Its most recent new shop is a smart new place in the heart of Bloomsbury, near the British Museum, serving Londoners, students and visitors.

The new bookshop has a manager shared with its successful bookshop in Marylebone High Road and a deputy manager, but is otherwise staffed by volunteers, so, apart from rent, costs are low. Most books are sold at half price and Oxfam says that it raised more than £15.6m ($29.65m) from books sales last year. The charity operates a central depot, but most books are donated locally and the shops receive a wide range. For many people, donating unwanted books to an international charity which will use them to raise money is a good way of dealing with the stacks of books they are never going to read again. Supporting Oxfam makes them feel good too.

A recent Oxfam study showed that British households have £18 billion ($34.21 billion) worth of unwanted goods, 55% of them books, which could be donated to charity. The UK is typical of the West in that our houses are stuffed with goods we do not need but which can be recycled for good causes.

Oxfam sells books to the very people who donate them and also runs events, such as the poetry readings and cookery writers' evenings in the Marylebone High Street store, to attract book-buyers. In June Oxfam brought out the CD Life Lines, which can be bought online or from Oxfam shops. Featuring 69 British poets reading one poem each, this is not only fantastic value at £4.99 ($9.50), but also provides a great overview of the work of contemporary poets. All this and supporting Oxfam's work too!

As News Review has commented before, the second-hand book market has expanded exponentially with the web giving global access and huge sales through Amazon and Abebooks. Readers have always bought second-hand books. The success of the charity bookshops makes it easy for all of us to recycle the books we have stacked at home.