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If it is a small press or a relatively unknown author - I will buy new. If it is classics or a famous author - whatever comes handy.
Don't pass up Goodwill and such, I found a copy of Tom Clancy's "Hunt for Red October" from the original publisher, now I alreadry had one but I was just checking the condition, there was writting on the title page - autographed - paid $.50, worth $300 to $500! My best used purchase ever.
At an average £7 a throw it would cost me a fortune to buy new books, as I read more than one a week.
The main reason I buy second hand is the mystery element of it. I go into a charity shop (there are eight in the high street of my town, and it's not a big town), taking each one in strict rotation (I'm a bit of a rules person) and the rule is that I have to buy one of the books they've got in that day. Even if none of them are the sort of thing I fancy, I've got to go for the one that looks the most hopeful. I have discovered some absolute gems that way, stuff I would never have looked at in a massive bookshop, some of which would never have found their way to being stocked there in the first place. Some absolute turkeys too, it has to be said, but it's all part of the fun. I have to be within 200 pages of the end of a book before I go out in search of another so have no TBR pile at all! I love the element of surprise. Not everyone's cup of tea but I'm a bit odd like that ;)
I have some great experiances in used book stores, the people who seem to work there seem to have a great passion for books. They will suggest more freely and joke with you and get to know you. A chain book store you have a chance of running into a teenage boy or girl who maybe possibly doesn't even read or has an even stranger taste in books that just doesn't fit you.
But on the other hand, I also do love certain types of old books, and books that have been loved to pieces. I think the wear that comes from the book being loved to death is different from the wear that comes from rough reading by many hands. My copy of Dune is old and was loved to death by someone else before being loved to death by me and it needs very careful handling to prevent the cover from disintegrating. I can't bring myself to replace it.
So while a brand new book is great, there is nothing like an old book that because of, not in spite of, all its flaws is unmistakably yours.
I think buying used is frugal and environmentally friendly. I like garage sales (which I hardly frequent anymore) and our Friends of the Library Sales.
When I buy online, if the new one is only $1-$2 more, of course, I buy the new one and generate revenue for the author. From about age 20-40 I purchased only new, so I think I've done my share to support the authors already!
For older books buying a new copy often means I'd be getting a reprint, and likely paperback... so I go looking instead for good deals on a first edition used hardcover. I always want hardcover when such an edition exists at a reasonable price. I'll buy paperback under only two conditions:
1. No hardcover edition exists
2. The hardcover edition(s) that exist and are available are all priced beyond reasonability.
Both of the above conditions happen more often than I like or would expect, so, yes, I do own a considerable number of paperbacks...
But this is unusual. In a more commonplace example, in papers left in a geology text, I found a folded paper with a prior owner's student notes. There was also a sum of about five numbers in the 60-85 or so range, and an average taken. That they were quiz scores looked likely. The fellow wasn't in real trouble, but he was going to need to study for his final, back there in the early 1950s.
In yet another, a collection of Milton's poetry, I found notes on very fine tissue paper made by a young woman in 1931 for a college course. I found myself wondering how her life had gone. The book was in very good condition; I'd guess she kept it with her, and now I have it. Of course I left her notes where she put them.
That's used books: besides the content, I get a "personal history" aspect that new books can't offer. Since the used book vendors generally price books with mark-up in them lower than clean, I even get a break there too.
As for family-run businesses I also avoid those.
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