Farewell then, second-hand bookshops

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The Independent Culture

The days of whiling away an afternoon browsing through a warren of musty, book-lined walls may be a thing of the past. Second-hand bookshops, those havens for leafing through dusty, dog-eared and yellowing pages for a tome you never knew you wanted, are dying out at an unprecedented rate.

In three years, the number of second-hand bookshops has plummeted from 1,200 to about 600, mainly due to the rise of sales on the internet. But it is not all bad news. The trade in second-hand books is thriving in a market estimated to be worth upwards of £60m. And traders are switching from the high street to the web or operating at book fairs and from catalogues.

The Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire has traded for 87 years but Frank Westwood, who has run the shop since 1958, admitted the tough climate has made him consider giving up.

"We get people in the shop who say, 'Oh, I've seen it cheaper on the internet, I'll get it from there'," he said. "We're surviving but it's hard work. If it hadn't been for my two sons who want me to keep going, I would have given it up. We have been going through a bad time, but that is the case with the high street generally. I think it really depends on the stock we have. If it is good it will sell."

Trading on the internet involves few of the high street's rent, business rates and staff overheads. Websites such Abebooks.com - a network of independent booksellers - and Amazon.com have more than 70 million titles.

John Critchley, secretary of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, said: "It is terribly sad that you can no longer go and browse. But it is an inevitable side-effect of the internet being a much cheaper way to operate."