• Christopher G. Moore

Second Hand Bookshops in Chiang Mai

It seems anytime there is a convergence of three like things in Thailand, then that place becomes a “hub”. The latest candidate for hub status is Chiang Mai for its second hand bookshops.

The Thursday 9 March 2006 edition of Thai Day in an article titled “Stacking Up North,” says, “the best place to buy used English and other foreign language used books in Southeast Asia is Chiang Mai.” Unfortunately there is no link to this article on the Thai Day website. At least I couldn’t find it.

The three places to visit are: The Lost Book Shop, 34/3 Ratchamanka Road; Backstreet Books, 2/8 Chang Moi Kao Road, and Gecko Books, 2/6 Chang Moi Kao Road.

The Lost Book Shop is ten years old, and is a Thai/American joint venture. The owners Patrick Monnin and Narumol Pochanasrichai claim to understand the book needs of backpackers.

Backstreet Books is run by an Irishman named George O’Brien, who says Thais make up 15% of the customers for his store. O’Brien explains how he runs his business, “He personally evaluates each book and most go through a preparation stage before they’ve put on the shelf, which includes erasing markings, straightening pages, pressing books under weights to straighten the spines and make them tighter, and finally wrapping most books in plastic to preserve their quality.”

Gecko Books is run by American-born George Goldberg whose dream was to open a second hand bookstore. His three stores carry 60,000 books.

There has been an on going discussion in the book business about how the second hand book market has threatened the paperback publishing print runs. In pre-Internet days, after the hardback edition came out, a year later the paperback edition would appear, and how little competition as the hardback editions had ended its run. Of course, hardback editions could be found in second hand bookstores. But you had to find them and pre-ebay that wasn’t easy. Now the hardback editions are everywhere for sale at a fraction of the price of the paperback edition. One click away.

The instant access and cheap pricing offered by the Internet not only hurts the author and publishers, ultimately it means that second hand bookshops are on the endangered list. The owners have to invest in a large inventory. They never know for certain whether some of the books they’ve paid for simply won’t sell. The online guys keep the inventory and price to a minimum. That makes the second hand bookstores vulnerable. Whether such stores will be around in ten to twenty years is an open question.

Meanwhile, these three second hand bookshops in Chiang Mai continue the tradition of high quality second hand books at a reasonable price. If you find yourself in Chiang Mai, and buy a book or two from these stores.

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