'Oxfam killed my bookshop'

Salisbury Journal: Marc Harrison and his dog, Mitchell Marc Harrison and his dog, Mitchell

A BOOKSELLER says competition from an Oxfam charity shop has forced him to close his store.

Marc Harrison closed Ellwood Books in Winchester Street, Salisbury, on Saturday having seen his takings slump by more than £2,000 a month.

He said when the charity opened its bookshop in Catherine Street 18 months ago, his income halved overnight.

“Within six months, two other secondhand bookshops had gone. It was only my Internet business which kept me going. But I can’t hold on any more,” he added.

“Oxfam is the Tesco of the second-hand book world. It is destroying the industry.”

Oxfam bookshop manager, David Taylor, defended the charity’s decision to make as much as possible from donated books, and blamed Internet sellers for the bookshops’ problems.

But Mr Harrison, whose bearded collie, Mitchell, was a familiar sight snoozing in his shop window, said Oxfam uses its huge resources to rent premises in a prime location and pay a manager.

Its staff are volunteers, and its stock is free. As a charity, it gets an 80 per cent reduction in business rates.

“It’s unfair competition,” he said.

“Half our business is rare old editions but, in a recession, people aren’t buying so many.

“We pay our bills from the sale of £2 paperbacks or hardbacks for under £5, and Oxfam has destroyed that.

“It opens up specialist shops and they are killing the trade. It targets towns which already have secondhand bookshops, because it knows there’s a ready market.”

Mr Harrison, a member of the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association, claimed there was no official help for small traders.

“I wanted to play Radio 4 in the shop but was told it would cost me £300 a year in performing rights payments,” he said. “The parking restrictions are terrible, and even the Christmas lights don’t extend beyond Brown Street.

“We’ve got a lovely landlord, who hasn’t put the rent up in years, and has let us go with six months still on our lease, and we are very grateful for it.

“But I am walking away with a lot of debts.

It’s the end of an era.”

He will continue his Internet business at www.ellwoodbooks.com and will also sell at local book fairs.

But he said: “I am going to miss talking to my customers. Mitchell will miss it too. He loves being here in the shop, and people bringing in treats for him.”

Mr Taylor said he had “a great deal of sympathy” for Mr Harrison. “Our lower costs do give us an advantage. But Oxfam got fed up with people buying books in its shops for 50p and selling them on for a profit. It decided to be more professional.

“And large chains do put small stores out of business. It has also happened to the new book trade. To single out Oxfam is unfair. It’s not really a local issue, but a national one.”

Mr Taylor claimed web sales were the real problem: “Internet sellers have no overheads, they can operate from a bedsit. They have brought prices down to less than 20 years ago.”

Comments (24)

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12:21pm Thu 30 Jul 09

writergreen says...

It's a real shame that Salisbury has lost it's bookshop.
I have however been aware of Oxfam's movement for some time and whole heartedly sympathise with the predicament Mr Ellwood found himself to be in. TO QUOTE OXFAM - 'Oxfam got fed up with people buying books in it's shops for 50p and selling them on for a profit' - Well, clearly Oxfam has lost touch in what a charity shop should be. The whole essence of buying from such a shop should surely be to seek a bargain whilst 'donating' money to charity?
I have made the decision to not support Oxfam due to their business strategy, which in my opinion is based on greed cloaked in the name of 'charity'.

It's a real shame that Salisbury has lost it's bookshop. I have however been aware of Oxfam's movement for some time and whole heartedly sympathise with the predicament Mr Ellwood found himself to be in. TO QUOTE OXFAM - 'Oxfam got fed up with people buying books in it's shops for 50p and selling them on for a profit' - Well, clearly Oxfam has lost touch in what a charity shop should be. The whole essence of buying from such a shop should surely be to seek a bargain whilst 'donating' money to charity? I have made the decision to not support Oxfam due to their business strategy, which in my opinion is based on greed cloaked in the name of 'charity'. writergreen

10:55am Fri 31 Jul 09

annie01 says...

I completely sympathise with Marc, as an independent retailer myself in Salisbury I know only too well how charity shops can kill trade. It has become one of my first questions when sourcing suppliers as to whether they actually supply goods to these shops and it would appear quite a few do! I was under the impression for a long time that charity shops take in donations and second hand goods but it would appear they are slipping under the radar with reduced rates and creating a business - this is not charity in my eyes.
I completely sympathise with Marc, as an independent retailer myself in Salisbury I know only too well how charity shops can kill trade. It has become one of my first questions when sourcing suppliers as to whether they actually supply goods to these shops and it would appear quite a few do! I was under the impression for a long time that charity shops take in donations and second hand goods but it would appear they are slipping under the radar with reduced rates and creating a business - this is not charity in my eyes. annie01

12:34pm Fri 31 Jul 09

Dave K Berry says...

Mr Taylor's sympathy for the small businesses he puts out of business doesn't seem to extend to wanting to play on a level field. If he accepts that Oxfam is now a large chain of shops, p0erhaps he would like to try and survive by paying 100% of his business rates and by paying his volunteers just the minimum wage. In these hard times for the small retailer we can look forward to a day when the only premises in town centres are charity shops or the small number that work on huge margins - coffe shops and estate agents perhaps.
I hope Marc manages to succeed on the interneat and with some bookfairs - and that all those with valuable libraries to sell can still find someone willing to buy them. Oxfam certainly won't pay for them!
Mr Taylor's sympathy for the small businesses he puts out of business doesn't seem to extend to wanting to play on a level field. If he accepts that Oxfam is now a large chain of shops, p0erhaps he would like to try and survive by paying 100% of his business rates and by paying his volunteers just the minimum wage. In these hard times for the small retailer we can look forward to a day when the only premises in town centres are charity shops or the small number that work on huge margins - coffe shops and estate agents perhaps. I hope Marc manages to succeed on the interneat and with some bookfairs - and that all those with valuable libraries to sell can still find someone willing to buy them. Oxfam certainly won't pay for them! Dave K Berry

3:33pm Fri 31 Jul 09

N.Hamilton says...

Customers at my own comparatively young, and yes, rather struggling Botley book shop have always encouraged us to stick with it, using Marc's Ellwood as an example of what enthusiasm and great customer care achieves. Sadly, even these pros, (and in Marc's case the superlative stock),and even with a good landlord, the disadvantages of city locations with their attendant business rates etc are unforgiving when one's trade faces a quite unprecedented assortment of encroachment. Although, we in the sticks are not immune - I was sitting outside the nearby coffee-shop reading and a woman nudged me "If you like reading you should pop into the hairdressers next door, you can get a free paperback!". A sorrowful wail escaped me and someone else muttered "she's from the bookshop." to her. Ah Well, booklovers will miss his shop, but one hopes keep contact with Marc who will, I am sure, continue to offer sensational stock elsewhere. Very Best wishes to all at Ellwood
Customers at my own comparatively young, and yes, rather struggling Botley book shop have always encouraged us to stick with it, using Marc's Ellwood as an example of what enthusiasm and great customer care achieves. Sadly, even these pros, (and in Marc's case the superlative stock),and even with a good landlord, the disadvantages of city locations with their attendant business rates etc are unforgiving when one's trade faces a quite unprecedented assortment of encroachment. Although, we in the sticks are not immune - I was sitting outside the nearby coffee-shop reading and a woman nudged me "If you like reading you should pop into the hairdressers next door, you can get a free paperback!". A sorrowful wail escaped me and someone else muttered "she's from the bookshop." to her. Ah Well, booklovers will miss his shop, but one hopes keep contact with Marc who will, I am sure, continue to offer sensational stock elsewhere. Very Best wishes to all at Ellwood N.Hamilton

9:27pm Fri 31 Jul 09

MichaelofFareham says...

Oxfam are hypocrites. They make much of Fair Trade and yet they use the same bully boy tactics in the UK that they condemn abroad. I wrote to them a while ago about how they were killing off Salisbury bookshops using the tactics that Marc Harrison condemns. Oxfam showed no concern, using the "business is business" argument.

For shame for their lack of ethics from an organisation that claims the moral high ground.

Part of Salisbury's charm are the small, independent traders that makes travelling to the town worthwhile to spend money.

If Oxfam wants to play the corporate game, then as Dave K Berry says above, they should play on a level playing field and stick to their principles.
Oxfam are hypocrites. They make much of Fair Trade and yet they use the same bully boy tactics in the UK that they condemn abroad. I wrote to them a while ago about how they were killing off Salisbury bookshops using the tactics that Marc Harrison condemns. Oxfam showed no concern, using the "business is business" argument. For shame for their lack of ethics from an organisation that claims the moral high ground. Part of Salisbury's charm are the small, independent traders that makes travelling to the town worthwhile to spend money. If Oxfam wants to play the corporate game, then as Dave K Berry says above, they should play on a level playing field and stick to their principles. MichaelofFareham

6:17pm Sat 1 Aug 09

pompeyduchess says...

I'm disgusted and saddened by this story. It's sad to see an independent shop go out of business. And it's disgusting to see that so called 'charities' are behaving in such an unethical manner, akin to the sharp practicies of the corporates. Mr Taylor's comments about internet sellers doing the damage due to low overheads is frankly laughable - how many overheads does he have with free stock, unpaid staff and virtually no business rates? I for one will immediately stop donating or buying from Oxfam. Thank you for publishing this story and making the true position clear. Charity begins at home and Oxfam's behaviour in this is anything but charitable.
I'm disgusted and saddened by this story. It's sad to see an independent shop go out of business. And it's disgusting to see that so called 'charities' are behaving in such an unethical manner, akin to the sharp practicies of the corporates. Mr Taylor's comments about internet sellers doing the damage due to low overheads is frankly laughable - how many overheads does he have with free stock, unpaid staff and virtually no business rates? I for one will immediately stop donating or buying from Oxfam. Thank you for publishing this story and making the true position clear. Charity begins at home and Oxfam's behaviour in this is anything but charitable. pompeyduchess

7:09am Sun 2 Aug 09

AnneWiseowl says...

I like to shop in Salisbury because it still has the small independent shops that have been killed off in Southampton by the chainstores and high rates. It would be a great pity if the same were to happen to salisbury. These shops are part of the charm that attracts tourists and shoppers to the city and if they go, then salisbury will be the poorer.
I think it's disgraceful that planners can allow Oxfam to open a store in direct competition to established businesses, but not have to pay the same running costs as those businesses. Surely the outcome was inevitable?!
It's one thing to accept donations and sell them from a charity shop, but toopen a specialist shop with the intention of captuing the entire market in that commodity (in this case, books) is dubious practice and not at all Fair Trade! Fair Trade is for British Traders, not just those in the developing world! They ought to be ashamed of themselves. I hope the fair Trade association takes note! If this is happening here, what is the impact nationally? If we want used books, will whave to go to Oxfam?
I like to shop in Salisbury because it still has the small independent shops that have been killed off in Southampton by the chainstores and high rates. It would be a great pity if the same were to happen to salisbury. These shops are part of the charm that attracts tourists and shoppers to the city and if they go, then salisbury will be the poorer. I think it's disgraceful that planners can allow Oxfam to open a store in direct competition to established businesses, but not have to pay the same running costs as those businesses. Surely the outcome was inevitable?! It's one thing to accept donations and sell them from a charity shop, but toopen a specialist shop with the intention of captuing the entire market in that commodity (in this case, books) is dubious practice and not at all Fair Trade! Fair Trade is for British Traders, not just those in the developing world! They ought to be ashamed of themselves. I hope the fair Trade association takes note! If this is happening here, what is the impact nationally? If we want used books, will whave to go to Oxfam? AnneWiseowl

8:52am Mon 3 Aug 09

Trevennor says...

Dear Sir,

It seems that Oxfam was the final straw here, and yes we too have declined to donate to them in recent years because of their overly aggressive fundraising tactics.

However, I think most of us should put our hands up for a share of the guilt. If I want a second hand book now, I buy it online, I don't go looking in actual bookshops as I would have done in the past. If I want shopping I don't go to the increasingly anti-car town centres, I look for an out of town store, or perhaps somewhere like Devizes which is at least a little car-friendly.

It's a slow trend, with many causes, but it's a fact that small specialist shops are ceasing to need physical shops and becoming purely online retailers. Our town centres, and perhaps our shopping experience, will be the poorer for this, and those who do not have Internet access will lose out heavily. However, we the majority of customers are making this happen by changing our buying habits, and the town planners, with their desire to over-control traffic and parking are doing their part. The Charity shops, pound shops etc are simply filling the void left behind and - as Marc has described - delivering the final blow to remaining specialist shops such as his. It's a great shame, but things move on.

Alan Trevennor
Dear Sir, It seems that Oxfam was the final straw here, and yes we too have declined to donate to them in recent years because of their overly aggressive fundraising tactics. However, I think most of us should put our hands up for a share of the guilt. If I want a second hand book now, I buy it online, I don't go looking in actual bookshops as I would have done in the past. If I want shopping I don't go to the increasingly anti-car town centres, I look for an out of town store, or perhaps somewhere like Devizes which is at least a little car-friendly. It's a slow trend, with many causes, but it's a fact that small specialist shops are ceasing to need physical shops and becoming purely online retailers. Our town centres, and perhaps our shopping experience, will be the poorer for this, and those who do not have Internet access will lose out heavily. However, we the majority of customers are making this happen by changing our buying habits, and the town planners, with their desire to over-control traffic and parking are doing their part. The Charity shops, pound shops etc are simply filling the void left behind and - as Marc has described - delivering the final blow to remaining specialist shops such as his. It's a great shame, but things move on. Alan Trevennor Trevennor

9:11am Mon 3 Aug 09

TheJanetAnalogy says...

Trite, reactionary, wilfully ignorant piffle.

"writergreen" - the whole point is that Oxfam runs a business to plough money into other ends- the bookshop isn't the end in itself and I'm afraid that the purpose of its charity isn't to give away books to the blue rinse shires.

"annewiseowl", you clearly don't understand planning, the Oxfam shop would not have required planning consent given what was there before and no material change of use having taken place. In any case it isn't the job of planning to step in and defend vested interests.
Trite, reactionary, wilfully ignorant piffle. "writergreen" - the whole point is that Oxfam runs a business to plough money into other ends- the bookshop isn't the end in itself and I'm afraid that the purpose of its charity isn't to give away books to the blue rinse shires. "annewiseowl", you clearly don't understand planning, the Oxfam shop would not have required planning consent given what was there before and no material change of use having taken place. In any case it isn't the job of planning to step in and defend vested interests. TheJanetAnalogy

11:44am Mon 3 Aug 09

writergreen says...

"TheJanetAnalogy" - QUOTE 'the whole point is that Oxfam runs a business to plough money into other ends'

AND THAT 'END' YOU SPEAK OF IS IN QUESTION - READ ABOVE!

"TheJanetAnalogy" -QUOTE - 'I'm afraid that the purpose of its charity isn't to give away books to the blue rinse shires.'

CLEARLY...!! THOUGH ITS THE 'BLUE RINSE SHIRES' YOU SPEAK OF THAT 'FEED' THEIR LUCRATIVE BUSINESS IM SURE.

Now reactionary??? Hmmm....
"TheJanetAnalogy" - QUOTE 'the whole point is that Oxfam runs a business to plough money into other ends' AND THAT 'END' YOU SPEAK OF IS IN QUESTION - READ ABOVE! "TheJanetAnalogy" -QUOTE - 'I'm afraid that the purpose of its charity isn't to give away books to the blue rinse shires.' CLEARLY...!! THOUGH ITS THE 'BLUE RINSE SHIRES' YOU SPEAK OF THAT 'FEED' THEIR LUCRATIVE BUSINESS IM SURE. Now reactionary??? Hmmm.... writergreen

11:52am Mon 3 Aug 09

ritajacob says...

People who donate books to a charity shop opt to support a worthwhile cause rather than sell the items for monetary gain. Those who buy make a similar choice; prices in car boots and discount stores often being much lower than Oxfam's or Mr Ellwood's. In other words, no charity can force customers through its doors; only Mr Ellwood's previous clients being able to specify the real reason for their desertion!
Moreover, in launching an attack on a comparitively soft target, Mr Ellwood has missed an excellent opportunity to address the real villians behind his business failure. Charities do not set the extortionate business rates that cripple small businesses. Nor do they create the traffic systems and retail parks that draw trade away from city centres. In fact, without the numerous charity shops, Salisbury streets would have even more empty premises!
Mr Ellwood should write more letters but this time direct his grievances to those who are really responsible for his financial woes; starting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer!
People who donate books to a charity shop opt to support a worthwhile cause rather than sell the items for monetary gain. Those who buy make a similar choice; prices in car boots and discount stores often being much lower than Oxfam's or Mr Ellwood's. In other words, no charity can force customers through its doors; only Mr Ellwood's previous clients being able to specify the real reason for their desertion! Moreover, in launching an attack on a comparitively soft target, Mr Ellwood has missed an excellent opportunity to address the real villians behind his business failure. Charities do not set the extortionate business rates that cripple small businesses. Nor do they create the traffic systems and retail parks that draw trade away from city centres. In fact, without the numerous charity shops, Salisbury streets would have even more empty premises! Mr Ellwood should write more letters but this time direct his grievances to those who are really responsible for his financial woes; starting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer! ritajacob

12:01pm Mon 3 Aug 09

TheJanetAnalogy says...

writergreen, I'm afraid that caps lock doesn't compensate for a weak argument.

Yes, a charity shop has to make a profit (demonise that or call it lucrative if you will) so that the profit pays for whatever cause the charity supports, whether a cat's home, medical research, or in Oxfam's case, ending global poverty. If you are uncomfortable with this then either don't shop there or come out with your real views, presumably 'i don't give a *** about ending global poverty'.
writergreen, I'm afraid that caps lock doesn't compensate for a weak argument. Yes, a charity shop has to make a profit (demonise that or call it lucrative if you will) so that the profit pays for whatever cause the charity supports, whether a cat's home, medical research, or in Oxfam's case, ending global poverty. If you are uncomfortable with this then either don't shop there or come out with your real views, presumably 'i don't give a *** about ending global poverty'. TheJanetAnalogy

6:59pm Mon 3 Aug 09

Bardling says...

I think the point being made, was that for bookshops at least, it isn't recession or rates etc: which are causing problems, but unfair competition from specialist charity shops (not general ones - but the specialist ones such as Oxfam).

To respond to JanetAnalogy - it is not fair to accuse Writergreen (and No I don't know who they are) of not caring about ending global poverty. Having an issue with the way a specific multi-national business (sorry did i say that - I mean charity of course) is not the same as not caring. In fact, wanting a better service for service users of a charity is a sign of caring more - not less ! Or is it just not PC to dare disagree with a charity ?

In fact - one could be forgiven for thinking that Oxfam is the one who is disinterested in actually ending poverty. Take a look at their own accounts - published on their own website - so little money goes from the charity shops to the good causes that it beggars belief. The turnover of "Oxfam retail ltd" (which is the trading arm) seems to be eaten entirely by their (largely unnecessary) costs. The pittance that remains is then subjected to Oxfam's 15% admin cost, and 15% "money spent making money" (marketing to the rest of us).

Few would deny that Oxfam do very good work in the third world - but it is done with grants from govt. The amount of money from the shops is so small, that one can only draw the conclusion that they are merely a PR exercise - ensuring that Oxfam stays big and in the public eye - to ensure that government keep using them rather than one of the many other charities doing similar work for less money !
I think the point being made, was that for bookshops at least, it isn't recession or rates etc: which are causing problems, but unfair competition from specialist charity shops (not general ones - but the specialist ones such as Oxfam). To respond to JanetAnalogy - it is not fair to accuse Writergreen (and No I don't know who they are) of not caring about ending global poverty. Having an issue with the way a specific multi-national business (sorry did i say that - I mean charity of course) is not the same as not caring. In fact, wanting a better service for service users of a charity is a sign of caring more - not less ! Or is it just not PC to dare disagree with a charity ? In fact - one could be forgiven for thinking that Oxfam is the one who is disinterested in actually ending poverty. Take a look at their own accounts - published on their own website - so little money goes from the charity shops to the good causes that it beggars belief. The turnover of "Oxfam retail ltd" (which is the trading arm) seems to be eaten entirely by their (largely unnecessary) costs. The pittance that remains is then subjected to Oxfam's 15% admin cost, and 15% "money spent making money" (marketing to the rest of us). Few would deny that Oxfam do very good work in the third world - but it is done with grants from govt. The amount of money from the shops is so small, that one can only draw the conclusion that they are merely a PR exercise - ensuring that Oxfam stays big and in the public eye - to ensure that government keep using them rather than one of the many other charities doing similar work for less money ! Bardling

7:15pm Mon 3 Aug 09

writergreen says...

Dearest TheJanet Analogy. I had in fact anticipated your cap lock annoyance. Sorry to rain on your parade, it was merely to distinguish 'YOUR QUOTE' from mine.

Back to topic - I have no underlying view i'm afraid on global poverty. My decision to not back Oxfam's book shop came some 2 years ago.

The 'charitable cause' is actually being done an injustice morally - certainly not in a financial sense!!

The objective of this charity is?
...Perhaps your world is that of dog-eat-dog?

Dearest TheJanet Analogy. I had in fact anticipated your cap lock annoyance. Sorry to rain on your parade, it was merely to distinguish 'YOUR QUOTE' from mine. Back to topic - I have no underlying view i'm afraid on global poverty. My decision to not back Oxfam's book shop came some 2 years ago. The 'charitable cause' is actually being done an injustice morally - certainly not in a financial sense!! The objective of this charity is? ...Perhaps your world is that of dog-eat-dog? writergreen

10:32pm Mon 3 Aug 09

TheJanetAnalogy says...

Writergreen - sorry, I hadn't appreciated that you were psychic, although that power of observation doesn't extend to noticing the 'quote' function, which can be selected by clicking the 'quote' buttons beneath different posts ..

Bardling- an interesting post with some good points, I will go away and look up the accounts.

I'm not convinced there's a fundamental distinction between specific and generalist charity shops, though. If we accept that there is a legitimate role for charities to fundraise through retail then why should they not segment that income stream if it helps to increase their revenue (whatever is done with that revenue, and clearly there is disagreement over Oxfam's management and administration costs).
Writergreen - sorry, I hadn't appreciated that you were psychic, although that power of observation doesn't extend to noticing the 'quote' function, which can be selected by clicking the 'quote' buttons beneath different posts .. Bardling- an interesting post with some good points, I will go away and look up the accounts. I'm not convinced there's a fundamental distinction between specific and generalist charity shops, though. If we accept that there is a legitimate role for charities to fundraise through retail then why should they not segment that income stream if it helps to increase their revenue (whatever is done with that revenue, and clearly there is disagreement over Oxfam's management and administration costs). TheJanetAnalogy

12:08am Tue 4 Aug 09

writergreen says...

Jan, thats ok apology accepted. Thanks for the QUOTE button advice.

Good luck for the future Mr Ellwood.
Jan, thats ok apology accepted. Thanks for the QUOTE button advice. Good luck for the future Mr Ellwood. writergreen

9:23am Tue 4 Aug 09

bridmac says...

Mmmm - read this article and the e-comments with interest, and would like to present a middle view. Since becoming semi-retired, there isn't so much money to go round, so I don't buy so many new books now. But I do frequent second hand book shops, charity shops, and the internet, buying books from all three. I also sell books on the internet, I swap books on the internet, and then.... I take a bag of books I have read to my favourite charity shop - which isn't Oxfam. I think we can all do our little bit for charity and the world, but I am always sad to see small businesses go under. I wonder if we had had the chance to e-comment when Beaches Bookshop in the High Street turned into an Italian restaurant, what the comments might have been?
Mmmm - read this article and the e-comments with interest, and would like to present a middle view. Since becoming semi-retired, there isn't so much money to go round, so I don't buy so many new books now. But I do frequent second hand book shops, charity shops, and the internet, buying books from all three. I also sell books on the internet, I swap books on the internet, and then.... I take a bag of books I have read to my favourite charity shop - which isn't Oxfam. I think we can all do our little bit for charity and the world, but I am always sad to see small businesses go under. I wonder if we had had the chance to e-comment when Beaches Bookshop in the High Street turned into an Italian restaurant, what the comments might have been? bridmac

10:32am Wed 5 Aug 09

bigaldublin says...

I would suggest that the agressive pricing of the major bookshops both on the high street and Amazon online is much more pertinant to the demise of smaller bookshops than Oxfam.

Oxfam changed the charity shop mould from stuffy linen and frock filled wee-holes to shops that more people want to shop in. Especially men. By selling books Oxfam shops have increased their customer base, and therefore their profits. Fair play to them. Oxfam shops pumped over £20m profit to their international work last year, and that takes a lot of hard work by a lot of volunteers.

People had the choice to sell their books to second hand book sellers but instead chose to donate them to Oxfam. That's their choice.

I would also argue that Oxfam isn't complacent about the 80% rent relief gifted to them (oddly) by the Conservative administration. They already had hundreds of profitable shops and would certainly be planning shops with the knowledge that the rate relief could be removed at any time.
I would suggest that the agressive pricing of the major bookshops both on the high street and Amazon online is much more pertinant to the demise of smaller bookshops than Oxfam. Oxfam changed the charity shop mould from stuffy linen and frock filled wee-holes to shops that more people want to shop in. Especially men. By selling books Oxfam shops have increased their customer base, and therefore their profits. Fair play to them. Oxfam shops pumped over £20m profit to their international work last year, and that takes a lot of hard work by a lot of volunteers. People had the choice to sell their books to second hand book sellers but instead chose to donate them to Oxfam. That's their choice. I would also argue that Oxfam isn't complacent about the 80% rent relief gifted to them (oddly) by the Conservative administration. They already had hundreds of profitable shops and would certainly be planning shops with the knowledge that the rate relief could be removed at any time. bigaldublin

2:36pm Thu 6 Aug 09

Freonie says...

Bardling:

Re your comment: 'The turnover of "Oxfam retail ltd" (which is the trading arm) seems to be eaten entirely by their (largely unnecessary) costs.'

On what basis do you believe that Oxfam's retail costs are 'largely unnecessary'? This vitriolic comment board has been full of people complaining that Oxfam shops are staffed by volunteers (presumably forced into slave labour rather than willingly volunteering their time for a good cause) and that they pay lower rates. It doesn't then figure to claim that Oxfam is spending money unnecessarily running the shops. There are inevitable very high costs associated with running charity shops as people often use them as a convenient dumping ground, leaving the shops to pay for recycling and disposal of items which cannot be sold. All credit to Oxfam for managing to make money despite not being able to pick and choose the donations made to them. This highlights why Oxfam and other charity shops have to sell books and other items at competitive prices, not virtually give them away at rock bottom prices which is what some people seem to think charity shops exist for.

Charity shops (not just Oxfam) employ some people (so providing valuable jobs), give a wide range of volunteers the opportunity to get valuable experience which often helps them get paid work later, and make money for projects in countries where there is most need. This surely is an ethical business model, not some cut-throat corporate entity as some people seem to imply.

£20 million ploughed into Oxfam projects should not be sniffed at, it's more than PR!
Bardling: Re your comment: 'The turnover of "Oxfam retail ltd" (which is the trading arm) seems to be eaten entirely by their (largely unnecessary) costs.' On what basis do you believe that Oxfam's retail costs are 'largely unnecessary'? This vitriolic comment board has been full of people complaining that Oxfam shops are staffed by volunteers (presumably forced into slave labour rather than willingly volunteering their time for a good cause) and that they pay lower rates. It doesn't then figure to claim that Oxfam is spending money unnecessarily running the shops. There are inevitable very high costs associated with running charity shops as people often use them as a convenient dumping ground, leaving the shops to pay for recycling and disposal of items which cannot be sold. All credit to Oxfam for managing to make money despite not being able to pick and choose the donations made to them. This highlights why Oxfam and other charity shops have to sell books and other items at competitive prices, not virtually give them away at rock bottom prices which is what some people seem to think charity shops exist for. Charity shops (not just Oxfam) employ some people (so providing valuable jobs), give a wide range of volunteers the opportunity to get valuable experience which often helps them get paid work later, and make money for projects in countries where there is most need. This surely is an ethical business model, not some cut-throat corporate entity as some people seem to imply. £20 million ploughed into Oxfam projects should not be sniffed at, it's more than PR! Freonie

4:03pm Thu 6 Aug 09

sarum61 says...

This seems to me to a totally misdirected attack on a charity. Oxfam started the first ever charity shop to help raise funds for the developing world (Broad St in Oxford) - so they actually defined what a charity shop is and the purpose is still to raise money people in poverty including the 1 billion non-literate adults in the world who currently cannot even read a book.

According to ook industry reports in The Telegraph earlier this year, Some of Britain's biggest second-hand booksellers have reported "significant" rises in sales while the market for new books has slumped in the last six months. The results appear to be the latest evidence that consumers are downgrading to cheaper alternatives as they try to stretch the pound in their pocket. Amazon and Tesco are still taking big chunks of market share and consumers seem reluctant to pay the full-price for any book Discounting is becoming more aggressive as retailers fight to win customers

I have asked and Oxfam bookshops ‘do not buy in’. their bookshops rely totally on donations
from individuals and sometimes companies who donate new books that would otherwise be pulped. I think we should all support small booksellers, but we should ask who are the real culprits? This is a long-term problem as mall shops everywhere are struggling to survive when pitched against huge retailers and on line sales.
R James Somerset
This seems to me to a totally misdirected attack on a charity. Oxfam started the first ever charity shop to help raise funds for the developing world (Broad St in Oxford) - so they actually defined what a charity shop is and the purpose is still to raise money people in poverty including the 1 billion non-literate adults in the world who currently cannot even read a book. According to ook industry reports in The Telegraph earlier this year, Some of Britain's biggest second-hand booksellers have reported "significant" rises in sales while the market for new books has slumped in the last six months. The results appear to be the latest evidence that consumers are downgrading to cheaper alternatives as they try to stretch the pound in their pocket. Amazon and Tesco are still taking big chunks of market share and consumers seem reluctant to pay the full-price for any book Discounting is becoming more aggressive as retailers fight to win customers I have asked and Oxfam bookshops ‘do not buy in’. their bookshops rely totally on donations from individuals and sometimes companies who donate new books that would otherwise be pulped. I think we should all support small booksellers, but we should ask who are the real culprits? This is a long-term problem as mall shops everywhere are struggling to survive when pitched against huge retailers and on line sales. R James Somerset sarum61

7:10pm Fri 7 Aug 09

hullbooks says...

OK so would everyone who thinks that there is nothing wrong with Oxfam taking a bookdealers living away please read this.

When I asked the area manager who had just opened a bookshop up the street from my shop why it was right that they should put relatively poor people in Britain out of work to help absolutely poor people in other countries. She actually lost her temper and shouted "how dare you" at me. She said I had food and water and should be grateful for that. I pointed out that she and the shop manager were getting paid and was told that that was different basically because they were doing goodly deeds and I was not. When I argued with the regional manager and asked her if their actions were right she used the matra that they would do whatever was in oxfam's interest and legal. (does that remind anyone of the attitude of large corporations)

Now you may agree with all of that that but what if your proffession was deliberately targeted by a charity? supposed oxfam were to set up cafes food shops gift shops (Oooops) a newspaper, whatever it wanted, deliberately targeted your business and ruthlessly eliminated competition. if they did this by using well educated well meaning, talented, people who gave time for free and said when you objected ,your income is not as worthy as ours, we have higher aims and no sympathy.

I opened a bookshop in Hull in 2002 as bookshops go it was sucessfull It kept three people in full time employment. In 2005 I got wind that Oxfam were going to relocate their city centre bookshop to my street. I made enquiries and was verbally given a "catagorical reassurance" by the area manager that this was not going to happen. Because of this I signed a new lease on my shop and Oxfam opened within a week of this. I struggled on for 2 years until my landlord offered a lease surrender because he had a better offer.

Now at this point you can say well this is just the workings of a capitalist market with the charity given a deserved advantage. But isn't this exactly what Oxfam is campaigning against? They have seen a market and acting in the manner of a corporation they have ruthlessly persued it regardless of the social and economic consequences to the people who made their living in it.
How can behaving as a corpoation be in keeping with the charity's aims?

I would point out that not everyone can afford endless purchases and donations. We bought and exchanged books making them more accessible to the poorer customer. We gave free advice as we were genuine experts. We gave a haven to the usually excentric bibliophile and browser and selected stock that we knew interested our customers rather than just taking what came in. We never lost those people, the ones we lost were the regular paperback buyers. Oxfam acts just like Tescos, by taking the meat out of the specialist market without providing the service.

How much of your spend end up on a frontline project? Oxfam shops are lavishly fitted. Managers and area managers and regional managers and national managers all have to be paid for. Their area manager told me that oxfams city centre shop in Hull did not make a profit. Thousand of man hours millions of donations and not a penny spent helping anyone.

I still deal in books but work 7 days a week for a pitance. After 19 years I am not qualified for anything else and not wanted.

My sympathies to Mr. Ellwood and all other victims of this aggressive business minded coporate entity.

OK so would everyone who thinks that there is nothing wrong with Oxfam taking a bookdealers living away please read this. When I asked the area manager who had just opened a bookshop up the street from my shop why it was right that they should put relatively poor people in Britain out of work to help absolutely poor people in other countries. She actually lost her temper and shouted "how dare you" at me. She said I had food and water and should be grateful for that. I pointed out that she and the shop manager were getting paid and was told that that was different basically because they were doing goodly deeds and I was not. When I argued with the regional manager and asked her if their actions were right she used the matra that they would do whatever was in oxfam's interest and legal. (does that remind anyone of the attitude of large corporations) Now you may agree with all of that that but what if your proffession was deliberately targeted by a charity? supposed oxfam were to set up cafes food shops gift shops (Oooops) a newspaper, whatever it wanted, deliberately targeted your business and ruthlessly eliminated competition. if they did this by using well educated well meaning, talented, people who gave time for free and said when you objected ,your income is not as worthy as ours, we have higher aims and no sympathy. I opened a bookshop in Hull in 2002 as bookshops go it was sucessfull It kept three people in full time employment. In 2005 I got wind that Oxfam were going to relocate their city centre bookshop to my street. I made enquiries and was verbally given a "catagorical reassurance" by the area manager that this was not going to happen. Because of this I signed a new lease on my shop and Oxfam opened within a week of this. I struggled on for 2 years until my landlord offered a lease surrender because he had a better offer. Now at this point you can say well this is just the workings of a capitalist market with the charity given a deserved advantage. But isn't this exactly what Oxfam is campaigning against? They have seen a market and acting in the manner of a corporation they have ruthlessly persued it regardless of the social and economic consequences to the people who made their living in it. How can behaving as a corpoation be in keeping with the charity's aims? I would point out that not everyone can afford endless purchases and donations. We bought and exchanged books making them more accessible to the poorer customer. We gave free advice as we were genuine experts. We gave a haven to the usually excentric bibliophile and browser and selected stock that we knew interested our customers rather than just taking what came in. We never lost those people, the ones we lost were the regular paperback buyers. Oxfam acts just like Tescos, by taking the meat out of the specialist market without providing the service. How much of your spend end up on a frontline project? Oxfam shops are lavishly fitted. Managers and area managers and regional managers and national managers all have to be paid for. Their area manager told me that oxfams city centre shop in Hull did not make a profit. Thousand of man hours millions of donations and not a penny spent helping anyone. I still deal in books but work 7 days a week for a pitance. After 19 years I am not qualified for anything else and not wanted. My sympathies to Mr. Ellwood and all other victims of this aggressive business minded coporate entity. hullbooks

7:22pm Wed 12 Aug 09

Liverpool11 says...

Until fairly recently individuals could make a comfortable living buying used books to sell on for a profit, not a huge deal of skill was needed. Though quite hard work, it was easy to find books, for not much money, from private individuals, auctions, charity shops, junk shops and jumble sales etc.

The internet has led to an explosion in the numbers of people selling used book, and many charity shops, individuals, junk shops etc have learned that books they once sold for pennies they can now sell just as easily for a few pounds instead. As a result there are more dealers wanting to buy the same books which are being sold much less cheaply.

At the same time, increased competition on the internet has driven down the prices of higher priced collectible, rare and antique books. Couple this with the current economic downturn where people are more interested in finding a bargain and less interested in supporting their local independent booksellers, and you have the real and fundamental reasons for closures of 2nd hand bookshops who are losing sales volume at both high and low price ranges.

To put things in perspective, the UK has at least 1,900 2nd hand bookshops and regular bookstalls in markets and antique centres all over the country. Some are small, others quite vast. There are inconsistencies - Birmingham is almost devoid of such shops, Suffolk is teeming with them. Apart from these shop or stall based sellers there are at least another 3,000 UK companies and individuals who sell books on the internet only. From home based individuals selling just a few items to mega-traders who have millions of books in stock. Yet Oxfam has less than 100 bookshops and less than 60 of those list on the internet. In other words Oxfam are very small fish in a very big pond.

Unfortunately it is in the nature of things that people like to have scapegoats, and for no good reason many booksellers are seeking to blame Oxfam for all the ill winds blowing their way. As a bookseller, I have come to the defence of Oxfam on the ABE bulletin boards for dealers, but have received only the most absurd and ill founded criticism as a result. One, dealer using the nickname ‘Ellwood', even goes so far as to suggest the only possible reason I could have for defending Oxfam is that I worked for them, which is not the case at all.

Instead of all this selfish and unfounded whining about Oxfam, dealers having trouble making ends meet should instead be looking at the real reasons for their decline and seek more positive ways of improving their lot. Supposing these dealers are successful in their campaign to close all the Oxfam bookshops (which seems to be the only solution to their problems as they see it), none of the real problems outlined above would disappear. So who would be their next scapegoat? Public libraries perhaps?


Sincerely

John Arnold
Until fairly recently individuals could make a comfortable living buying used books to sell on for a profit, not a huge deal of skill was needed. Though quite hard work, it was easy to find books, for not much money, from private individuals, auctions, charity shops, junk shops and jumble sales etc. The internet has led to an explosion in the numbers of people selling used book, and many charity shops, individuals, junk shops etc have learned that books they once sold for pennies they can now sell just as easily for a few pounds instead. As a result there are more dealers wanting to buy the same books which are being sold much less cheaply. At the same time, increased competition on the internet has driven down the prices of higher priced collectible, rare and antique books. Couple this with the current economic downturn where people are more interested in finding a bargain and less interested in supporting their local independent booksellers, and you have the real and fundamental reasons for closures of 2nd hand bookshops who are losing sales volume at both high and low price ranges. To put things in perspective, the UK has at least 1,900 2nd hand bookshops and regular bookstalls in markets and antique centres all over the country. Some are small, others quite vast. There are inconsistencies - Birmingham is almost devoid of such shops, Suffolk is teeming with them. Apart from these shop or stall based sellers there are at least another 3,000 UK companies and individuals who sell books on the internet only. From home based individuals selling just a few items to mega-traders who have millions of books in stock. Yet Oxfam has less than 100 bookshops and less than 60 of those list on the internet. In other words Oxfam are very small fish in a very big pond. Unfortunately it is in the nature of things that people like to have scapegoats, and for no good reason many booksellers are seeking to blame Oxfam for all the ill winds blowing their way. As a bookseller, I have come to the defence of Oxfam on the ABE bulletin boards for dealers, but have received only the most absurd and ill founded criticism as a result. One, dealer using the nickname ‘Ellwood', even goes so far as to suggest the only possible reason I could have for defending Oxfam is that I worked for them, which is not the case at all. Instead of all this selfish and unfounded whining about Oxfam, dealers having trouble making ends meet should instead be looking at the real reasons for their decline and seek more positive ways of improving their lot. Supposing these dealers are successful in their campaign to close all the Oxfam bookshops (which seems to be the only solution to their problems as they see it), none of the real problems outlined above would disappear. So who would be their next scapegoat? Public libraries perhaps? Sincerely John Arnold Liverpool11

8:04pm Thu 13 Aug 09

MichaelofFareham says...

Liverpool is surely right in his analysis of the increased competition amongst booksellers.

But the fact remains that Oxfam has an unfair business advantage in donated stock, volunteer staff and cheaper business rates.

What galls me (I'm not in the book trade) is that, at the same time, Oxfam flies the Fair Trade banner against companies using exactly the same advantages elsewhere.

It seems odd ethics to play even a small part in driving a perfectly legitimate business under without the same advantages - particularly while loudly condemning others for doing exactly the same thing.

I am not alone in not using some "commercial" shops because of their unethical practices abroad. I am now reluctant to use Oxfam because of how it apparently trades unethically here.
Liverpool is surely right in his analysis of the increased competition amongst booksellers. But the fact remains that Oxfam has an unfair business advantage in donated stock, volunteer staff and cheaper business rates. What galls me (I'm not in the book trade) is that, at the same time, Oxfam flies the Fair Trade banner against companies using exactly the same advantages elsewhere. It seems odd ethics to play even a small part in driving a perfectly legitimate business under without the same advantages - particularly while loudly condemning others for doing exactly the same thing. I am not alone in not using some "commercial" shops because of their unethical practices abroad. I am now reluctant to use Oxfam because of how it apparently trades unethically here. MichaelofFareham

12:26am Sat 15 Aug 09

Liverpool11 says...

Why is it an unfair advantage to have unpaid volunteers? Is it wrong for people to volunteer their free time to Oxfam? Must they be obliged to refuse their help? Must they refuse donations and only purchase goods from companies with shareholders? Of course not .. . it would cut to the heart of all that is meant by human charity and no sensible person would stand for it.

The business rate tax break is a relatively trivial amount - it rarely exceeds £30 per week per shop, and then only for very large stores in high rent locations.

Booksellers who have previously done well selling cheaper books had the good luck to be in the right location at the right time to do this. But things change.

In my early days of book selling I did well as the only one in a large market with hundreds of stalls. My obvious success soon attracted other booksellers and my takings decreased. I lamented my lower profits to anyone who'd listen, but it never crossed my mind to prevent other booksellers renting stalls, I would have been laughed at by the landlords.

Later on I had a specialist arts bookshop which made my life comfortable for 20 years or so, but in the late 90's the rise in competition from the internet made it difficult to pay the rent, so I got into the internet myself to make up for lost sales. It's been a struggle ever since, but that's the same for most self-employed people, whatever their field, and it's a sight better than the dole queue.

I don't expect special treatment from the public because I am an independent bookseller, nor am I sure what form such treatment could even take. I sell books, if I don't have ones customers want, or can't sell them cheaper than a neighbouring shop, why should they spend money with me? Can I expect them to avoid a competitors shop, be it charitable or commercial, should I ask for donations for my rent or weekly food bill? I don't think so.

Things might be different if we were not living in a largely capitalist based economy. I can only imagine some type of socialist model as alternative, but I sincerely doubt the majority of people who complain about unfair competition from Oxfam bookshops would be at all happy with that.
Why is it an unfair advantage to have unpaid volunteers? Is it wrong for people to volunteer their free time to Oxfam? Must they be obliged to refuse their help? Must they refuse donations and only purchase goods from companies with shareholders? Of course not .. . it would cut to the heart of all that is meant by human charity and no sensible person would stand for it. The business rate tax break is a relatively trivial amount - it rarely exceeds £30 per week per shop, and then only for very large stores in high rent locations. Booksellers who have previously done well selling cheaper books had the good luck to be in the right location at the right time to do this. But things change. In my early days of book selling I did well as the only one in a large market with hundreds of stalls. My obvious success soon attracted other booksellers and my takings decreased. I lamented my lower profits to anyone who'd listen, but it never crossed my mind to prevent other booksellers renting stalls, I would have been laughed at by the landlords. Later on I had a specialist arts bookshop which made my life comfortable for 20 years or so, but in the late 90's the rise in competition from the internet made it difficult to pay the rent, so I got into the internet myself to make up for lost sales. It's been a struggle ever since, but that's the same for most self-employed people, whatever their field, and it's a sight better than the dole queue. I don't expect special treatment from the public because I am an independent bookseller, nor am I sure what form such treatment could even take. I sell books, if I don't have ones customers want, or can't sell them cheaper than a neighbouring shop, why should they spend money with me? Can I expect them to avoid a competitors shop, be it charitable or commercial, should I ask for donations for my rent or weekly food bill? I don't think so. Things might be different if we were not living in a largely capitalist based economy. I can only imagine some type of socialist model as alternative, but I sincerely doubt the majority of people who complain about unfair competition from Oxfam bookshops would be at all happy with that. Liverpool11

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