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Thrifty re-gifters boost sales at used-book stores

Books aren’t terribly expensive, you can find just the right fit for everyone on your list, and they can be used and reused without getting used up. That’s why used-book stores report an uptick in business around the holidays; thrifty customers buy used books in “like new” condition they can quietly pass off as new.

While this writer is all for buying new books, there’s definitely a green appeal to their reusability. The Compact, a movement that encourages people to make a pact to buy nothing new for a year, approves of used books as gifts, as would Reverend Billy, of the Church of Stop Shopping. But would your intended recipient smile upon your intentions?

“It’s a little tacky, isn’t it?” said Amy Griffis, manager at Half-Price Books in Crystal. “But plenty of people do it. They’ll call us first and ask if the book is in ‘pristine condition.’ That’s a tip-off that they mean to give it as a gift.”

Karin Grimlund, a bookseller at Uptown’s Booksmart, says customers often buy used children’s books, presumably because younger kids can’t tell the difference. (And here, let me not share with you the things we have found between the pages of some kids books my family has checked out from the library.) “New or used, people know kids’ books are going to be loved anyway,” she says.

Tellingly, sales are up at used-book stores in the Twin Cities, even as most retailers suffer in a recession. The most popular used titles mirror the new bestseller lists. “We’ve been quite busy, and people are definitely buying for others,” says Griffis. She says most new trade paperbacks retail for $13.95, but at Half-Price they can be picked up at $6.98 or less.

But if that’s still not thrifty enough, visit the Paperback Exchange in South Minneapolis, which takes in used books and gives you credit toward a new — to you — stack of reading. “December is actually our busiest month,” says owner Andy Hersey. The store has been around for 33 years, and Hersey says his inventory includes the stock of stores that went out of business in recent years.

That’s the problem with the used-book business — from the point of view of authors and publishers. A used book sale nets nothing for them, and may even cannibalize sales of new books, contributing to the struggle of bookstores. That’s a heavy blame to stack at the feet of the re-gifter. But in this economy, who can blame someone for trying to save a buck? Just look between the pages before you wrap up that copy of “Twilight,” OK?

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