The Pros and Cons of Second-Hand Books

14/11/2017 Discussions, Reading 21

The Pros and Cons of Second-Hand Books

I’ll confess: I’m a book-buying addict.

There’s really no point denying it when I’m writing this in a bedroom with books stacked high on every available surface, and with a bookcase stuffed full of more books downstairs in the hallway (and there are also books stacked on top of the bookcase too…as I say, I have a problem!). They’re literally everywhere, and I love it!

The only problem with my book-buying addiction is that it can be a pretty expensive habit: brand new paperbacks seem to start at an absolute minimum of £6.99 these days, and a hardback can go up as high as £20! And whilst I do have a full-time job, I have a lot of other more important things to pay for first (well… that’s what society tells me anyway!) like rent, and car finance and food etc., and so I don’t have endless money to spend on books.

Therefore I’ve had to find ways to get my fix of books for cheaper, and have spoken about my love for libraries and my newfound appreciation for Kindles and ebooks on this blog before. However, I still find that nothing beats the feeling of reading a physical copy of a book that’s all yours: a copy that you’ll get to put on your bookcase (or on one of your precarious book stacks!) after you’ve read and (hopefully!) loved it, as a memento of a great reading experience.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: second-hand books (yes, it has taken me three paragraphs to get to the topic of this post!). Buying second-hand is a great option if you want to own a physical copy of a book for cheaper, and they’re easy to get hold of through second-hand bookshops, eBay and Amazon, and even from charity shops and car boot sales.

However, I’ve also found a few drawbacks to buying second-hand books, so I thought I’d discuss the pros and cons here:


  • They’re cheap.

I think if we were all honest, most of us would prefer to have a shiny new copy of a book if possible, so the main attraction to buying second-hand instead is the smaller price tag. I’ve picked up second-hand copies of books I’ve really wanted to read for as little as 99p on eBay, which is £6 less than the absolute minimum I would have to pay for a paperback from Waterstones or WH Smith.

  • It’s super satisfying.

Most people love a bargain, and so there’s something extra satisfying about getting a book you really want for dirt cheap!

  • You get to feel good about recycling.

It’s kind of sad to think about old books being thrown out or just generally being abandoned and unloved, so when you buy a second-hand book you get to feel good about recycling, and giving an old book a new home!

  • They have their own charm.

Yes, they may have yellowed pages and odd stains (I’m getting to that…), but I do think there’s a certain charm to second-hand books. The thought of other people before you having read and enjoyed that same story is a nice feeling, especially when the copy of the book looks well-read and well-loved.

I also think there’s a definite charm about second-hand bookshops too: it feels a lot like hunting for treasure as you set off in search of bargains!


  • Weird stains and other damage.

The biggest con with second-hand books has got to be the condition: whilst a book that’s a little dog-eared or has a cracked spine is OK, coming across weird stains can be off-putting, and don’t even get me started on ripped pages or where people have actually written in the book!!!

This is especially an issue when buying online from places like eBay, as you only really have the retailers word for the condition. Whilst I’ve rarely had any problems when buying books described as ‘Good Condition’ or ‘New Condition’, there are no guarantees with second-hand books. I think the worst I’ve ever received was a supposedly ‘Good Condition’ book that physically didn’t look too bad aside from rather yellow pages and a battered cover, but that smelt horribly dusty when I opened it, which made it rather unpleasant to read (which is a shame, because I enjoyed the story!).

  • Potentially ugly covers.

Another problem with second-hand books is that they are usually old editions, and this means high potential for ugly covers! Especially if you’re like me and like a lot of fantasy, as old-fashioned fantasy covers are often pretty hideous.

Again, this can be a danger when buying online, as often the cover picture shown on the listing is the current edition, and not the edition you’ll end up receiving. I’ve also had a couple of odd occasions recently where I’ve bought second-hand copies of paperbacks online and received books that were not standard paperback size…they were absolutely huge! This made them really unwieldy to read, and they didn’t line up with all the other books on my shelves which was super annoying!

As I’ve said, there really are no guarantees when buying second-hand books!

So what are your feelings towards buying second-hand books? Do you love them, hate them, or make do with them? 

21 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Second-Hand Books”

  1. Helen C

    Such a lovely post to come across, I can relate to the buying second-hand books dilemma. Personally I agree with all your thoughts, positive and negative. Since about maybe last year or so, I’ve been buying nearly all my books second-hand, I like the idea of recycling, spending less, and the fun of searching for hidden gems in charity shops etc. On many occasions I’ve bought brand new, never been read books, in places like Charity shops. I recently discovered a free community bookshop in my local town, I often pick up books from there, and donate them back once I’ve read them. I find it disappointing more people don’t buy used books, I think the blogging community can be focused on overspending sometimes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic! 🙂

    Helen | Helen’s Fashion, Beauty & Lifestyle Blog

    • Laura

      I totally agree that the blogging community can be a little over-focused on spending at times. Buying second-hand is definitely a great way to save money though, as well as recycling, which is something I really like. The free community bookshop in your town sounds like a great idea! I’ll have to look out for anywhere that does something like that near me.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  2. Jen

    I love second hand books. I bought a few classics that were very cheap recently, they have more character if they are old. And I feel like I’ve saved them from the bin-some charity shops bin books! I had an issue with a book from ebay, a lot of highlighting and pages and pages of notes in the book which was meant to be in goid condition! Thanks to paypal I was refunded.
    I buy a lot of books from charity shops or fares but find cheap new books on ebay and in the supermarkets £4 for a new paperback! My biggest problem is The Works as it has new books ( new condition not just released) for £2 or 3 for £5! Or sometimes £3 a book if it’s a film or tv adaption. It’s so easy to find more books and add to my own stack of books.

    • Laura

      I like that with second-hand classics too – they just seem to have so much more character than buying newer editions. I’m glad you got refunded on that book off eBay though, especially when they tried to claim it was in good condition! That is one of the downsides of buying online, that you just have to take the seller’s word for the condition.
      I’ve definitely got some great bargains from supermarkets too, and I especially love how all the books in there are usually fairly new releases, yet they’re only about £4! If anything new comes out that I want, I do tend to check Tesco first, because they’re usually pretty good: like I got Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas from there very cheaply. I like places like The Works too, and there’s another discount bookshop near where I live that has some pretty good books in it for fairly cheap 🙂

  3. Katie

    I’m probably weird in saying this, but I don’t mind the musty smell too much! I find that it adds to the charm of a book, which I love about second hand copies. You can just tell that they have been well loved by their battered appearance. They were a godsend whilst I was doing my degree as I could pick up my entire reading list for a tenner, which would normally have only got me one book if I brought new ones! Also, it’s sometimes handy if people have written in them as it might make you see something in a different way that you hadn’t thought of, I know that happened to me whilst I was at University.

    Katie | /

    • Laura

      I don’t mind them being a little musty because as you say, it adds to the charm, but the one I got was a bit too musty for my liking! I’m a little bit allergic to dust, so it just kept setting me off sneezing! 🙂
      I definitely found second-hand books a godsend during my degree too, as some of my modules had a crazy reading list, and it would have cost so much to buy them new! For example, I did a Shakespeare module where I needed about 12 of his plays, so I just went online and got them all for about 99p, so it only cost me about £12 for all the books I needed 🙂
      Other people’s notes are definitely always useful too, and I think if I resold or donated all my books from when I was at University someone else would probably find them really useful because I was quite a note-taker! I don’t usually write in books, but it was kind of a must at university! 🙂

  4. Catherine

    Great post 🙂 I’ve been buying loads of second hand books lately and I kind of like the pre-loved feel of them. Or not, as the case may be – just bought a copy of the Princess Bride which has an inscription on the front page ‘Dear Susie, I hope you love this as much as I did.’ Obviously Susie didn’t (as she sold it for 48p…)

    • Laura

      Haha, oh dear. I love those weird inscriptions you sometimes find in second-hand books. Clearly, Susie wasn’t a fan of the Princess Bride (although I guess it worked out well for you, seen as you got it so cheap!)! 🙂

  5. Greg

    I love second hand books because I love trolling through used bookstores, and often if I really love a book and don’t want to crack the spine or whatever I’ll get a used copy as a reading copy. Plus you can find some really old SF or fantasy books that way, and that’s always fun.

    • Laura

      That’s a good idea to get a used copy of a book you love to actually read, then you can keep your other copy nice! I may have to do that with some of my favourites 🙂
      And finding old SF and fantasy books is always fun because I find the covers are usually really wacky! 🙂

    • Laura

      I love that with second-hand books too: if you don’t like the book you can just donate it without feeling like you’ve wasted loads of money.

  6. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I love this post. I have plenty of second hand books but I know not everyone loves them and since a lot of mine are bought online there is always the risk of the mystery condition/cover (since you don’t always get the one you’re expecting). For books that are quite old I kind of love the terrible covers you can get for them it’s quite fun. It does mean some books on my shelf aren’t as pretty as I might like, though.

    • Laura

      It is a bit like a lucky dip when you buy a book online, and whilst it is kind of fun to see what weird, wacky cover you’ve been sent, it can spoil the look of your bookshelves a bit if it’s an ugly cover! Especially if it’s a series because you can never guarantee that you’re going to end up with the same edition of each book when you buy online, and then they often don’t match.

  7. Laura Freestone

    I love the element of going to charity shops and car boot sales and not knowing what there. It like a mixed job of, are the books crap or are there any good ones? Plus they are cheap, so you don’t mind taking a risk on a book you wouldn’t normally try.

    • Laura

      I love that too with charity shops and car boot sales. Part of the fun is just in the looking because unlike a regular bookshop, you have no idea what’s going to be there. Maybe it’ll be good, maybe not, but either way, it’s fun! 🙂

    • Laura

      That is a big downside of second-hand books, and I can definitely relate to that. My books are a mix-up of second-hand and new, so the second-hand ones do look much worse by comparison! 🙂

  8. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    This is a great post! I really cannot get past stains and such, but if the book is in decent shape, I am definitely a fan of buying used. I buy used on Amazon sometimes, and half the time they seem brand new anyway. I do wish I had a local used book store because it would be SO fun to just rifle through all the old books! Then you know for sure what you’re getting 🙂

    • Laura

      I definitely find that a lot with Amazon too – the used books are often like new! eBay is where it can be a bit more hit and miss, I find. I definitely do enjoy the rifling through used bookstores for hidden gems though, and I’m lucky to have one really close by that’s about four floors of old books! It’s always fun for a visit 🙂

  1. Around the Blogosphere | Kourtni Reads

    […] Laura at Boats Against the Current talked about the pros and cons of second-hand books. I thought this was a really fun and quite thorough look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of buying used books. I personally love them, but even I have to admit that they aren’t perfect. […]

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