Page last updated at 08:56 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 09:56 UK

Booksellers complain about Oxfam

An Oxfam Bookshop
Oxfam raises much of its funding through its network of bookshops

Booksellers have complained that Oxfam is damaging independent bookshops by taking away their business.

The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA) says there is ill-feeling among second-hand booksellers towards the charity.

The PBFA's John Bonham said Oxfam had "a very good start on us" and had many advantages over bookshops.

But Suzy Smith, Oxfam books project manager, said it was not operating for private gain, but to eradicate poverty.

The PBFA represents almost 600 bookshops, which Mr Bonham said did not have the kinds of advantages afforded to Oxfam.

"Their books are donated by the public, they get very advantageous rates for their property, their volunteers - except for their managers - are unpaid, and they get charitable status as far as tax is concerned, which of course is a great help when you're running a business," he said.

I would be grateful if Oxfam wouldn't position their shops very close to any of our second hand bookshops
John Bonham, PBFA

Mr Bonham said internet book sales had also "caused a lot of book dealers a fair amount of grief" and stressed he was "all in favour of Oxfam".

He added: "But on the other hand I do feel there's no level playing field here. If only there could be one, I think that booksellers wouldn't whine about it.

"There's two things that could possibly happen. One, I would be grateful if Oxfam wouldn't position their shops very close to any of our second hand bookshops. Try to choose towns where there are no bookshops.

"Second thing, it would be nice if there would some possibility of rate relief or tax relief for second-hand booksellers... because the government has made it quite clear that they'd like to see the literacy level higher, and second-hand bookshops are one of the greatest ways of doing it."


Jeff Towns, owner of Dylan's book store in Swansea, said he and his colleagues in the book trade cared about relieving hunger and poverty, but they "also care about our profession".

He said Oxfam's shops were "smart, rather bland and soulless compared to the sort of bookshops I've always enjoyed going into.

"But they're going to change the townscape that we have, and Oxfam will be the only bookshops we'll see, and the great eccentric buildings that used to litter our provincial cities will disappear," he added.

Contributing factors

Ms Smith said Oxfam needed to raise funds in order for it to help people who were living in extreme poverty.

"There are a billion people living in poverty around the world, living on less than a dollar a day, no basic water and sanitation, no access to education and obviously that's Oxfam's main priority," she said.

Ms Smith admitted the recession was making things "very, very tough" for businesses such as independent booksellers.

"But there are other factors which have a greater effect than Oxfam that are involved in the change in the market for second-hand books.

"Online retailing, for example, grocers such as... Tesco, other things such as the increase in private rents and energy bills, that we also have to pay.

"Also we're in a market and in a business where it's high volume for low profit, so the recession's making that very, very difficult," she said.

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