Bookbanter Column: The Book Dump, or What People Are Reading (January 11, 2013)

From February through July of this year, a good solid six-month period, I worked in the book department at Dimple Records in Sacramento.  Most of my job consisted of unboxing, sorting and shelving thousands and thousands of books that had been purchased for the company through their used book buyback program, available at all of their retail stores.  There were literally boxes and boxes of books coming into the warehouse each day from the various stores, and it was my job to organize them and get them put on the shelf in the right sections.

Raiders of The Lost Ark, Alex C. Telander

Another warehouse consisted of many rows of shelves all sectioned and organized by subject and genre.  For the first few months I quickly filled up these shelves, and then when they were full and all set to go, the books and shelves were taken to the Citrus Heights store location, which was remodeled and organized to accommodate all these new books.  There were approximately 15,000 used books made available at the Citrus Heights store.

And then my work began again from scratch, as I began filling up all news shelves for what would eventually become the first (of hopefully many) Dimple Books book stores which opened its doors in July.  At this store there were over 30,000 used books.  In my time with Dimple I sorted through and organized over 50,000 books.

Alex C. Telander, Used Books, Bestsellers,

In the six-month period I became an observer as well as a book worker, noticing what titles, authors, names, genres kept appearing and reappearing; who are the bestsellers of the used book world, and what are people reading most when they buy books, be they new or used.  I collected my rough data together and below are the interesting results.

They are organized by genre and subject and are roughly in order of most copies of books by the same author and/or most multiple copies of the same book by an author.

  • Fiction: Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, Jonathan Franzen, Sara Gruen, Khaled Hosseini, Kathryn Stockett, Barbara Kingsolver, Tim Lahaye, Anita Shreve, Mitch Albom, Alice Sebold, Alice Walker.
  • Mystery: James Patterson, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwall, John Sandford, Janet Evanovich, Michael Crichton, Iris Johansen, Charlaine Harris.
  • Romance: Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Mary Balogh, Danielle Steel.
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy: Piers Paul Anthony, Orson Scott Card, Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert/Brian Herbert, Robert Jordan, Anne McCaffrey, J. R. R. Tolkien, Star Trek series, Star Wars series.
  • Children’s Books: J. K. Rowling, Brian Jacques, Lemony Snicket, Eoin Colfer.
  • Young Adult: Stephenie Meyer, P. C. Cast, Ann Brashares, Christopher Paolini.
  • Biography: Elizabeth Gilbert, Frank McCourt.
  • Politics: Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly.
  • History: Tom Brokaw.
  • True Crime: Anne Rule, John Grisham.
  • Religion: Sylvia Browne, Rhonda Byrne, Rick Warren.
  • Psychology: Jack Canfield, Phil McGraw.
  • Animals: John Grogan.
  • Health: Kevin Trudeau.

The question perhaps remains as to whether it is a good thing that there are so many multiple copies of the same book, and so many books of a particular author; or whether it is a bad thing.  On the one hand people ultimately bought these many books and helped make said book and author a bestseller, they presumably enjoyed the book and recommended it to friends and family; perhaps bought copies as gifts.

But on the other hand, they also chose at some point to get rid of the book they didn’t consider worth keeping.  Was it a book received as a gift that they had no interest in reading and got rid of; was it something they started reading and didn’t enjoy?  Or did they finish it and felt they had no need to keep it or to read it again, and got rid of it?

Alex C. Telander

When one brings books in for buybacks at Dimple, one can choose whether to receive cash, or store credit, which one can use to either buy more books, or anything else that Dimple sells (except gift cards).  This is simply part of the world of used book buying and reading: when one is done with the book and doesn’t want to keep it, they sell it back at a used bookstore for credit or money to buy more books.

So perhaps all these copies that were bought back were just part of this used book buying and buying back cycle.  But this then possibly adds fuel to the question of whether these books can truly be considered “bestsellers,” since many of them ended up at the Dimple used bookstore.  And one will see the same if they go to other used bookstores, with large sections of many of these authors, as well as at thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army.

These books became a bestseller by the selling of a certain number of copies in stores and online as tracked by the particular publisher.  But when so many of the copies were not kept by the owner for not being enjoyable enough or worth keeping for any particular reason, it seems that while they may have been bestsellers at the time of release, they weren’t necessarily deemed to be very good books.

Perhaps at a future point in time in addition to the tracking of book sales and determining whether they are bestsellers or not, there will be a contrasting tracking system used in bookstores as well as online tracking to record just how many of these “bestsellers” ended up being bought back at used bookstores, and how soon after said book was released, and applied to a different kind of scale that determines whether the book deserved to be a bestseller for either being a genuinely good book, or one with a popular author listed on the cover that simply sold a lot of copies.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

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