Colin Stephens, founder and director of Sunrise Books in England, was thumbing through a charity shop’s bookshelf when the manager told him how much she’d come to hate used books. Every few days, she complained, she would have to load the trunk of her car with the shop’s excess donations and shuttle them to the landfill, in her own spare time and at her own expense.
Back then, Stephens happened to be out of work; he had long enjoyed buying and selling books on eBay, and suddenly saw an opportunity to turn his hobby into a full-time job. He told the manager that he would come by once a week to take the books and find them a new home. She was thrilled.
“The next day I got a call from one of her friends who manages another charity shop,” Stephens told me by phone, “and then another, and another.” He started selling these orphaned books online, out of his living room. Ten years later, Sunrise Books has four warehouses to its name, and is about to take over a fifth. “We have two vans out on the road every day that go around to charity shops on set runs,” he explains. They take in upwards of 20 tons of used books each week.
I love this story. Tablets and e-readers may be reducing book sales, but this shows technology having a positive effect on the book too. This is the power of the internet: if you own a bookshop with one copy of a book on an obscure topic, where are you more likely to find someone to buy that book: in your town or online? And if you’re looking for a book on an obscure topic, where are you more likely to find it: online or in your local bookshop?
And all for a penny plus shipping.