Penny for them?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, you’ve probably already encountered the strange beast that is the £0.01 book, found almost exclusively the digital world of online retailers.

On the face of it, doesn’t that seem like an excellent notion? Why go all the way to your local bookshop to spend £7.99 on a paperback when you can get one delivered right to your door for the measly sum of one pence (plus £2.70 postage)?

Unfortunately however, books are not supposed to cost one pence. It is simply impossible to produce a printed book for so little. And why is that, I hear you ask? Well that’s convenient, because I’m about to explain…

Pick up the book lying nearest to you. On the front you’ll undoubtedly find the title, and then the author. This just one of the many people who are trying to make a living by producing this book. Turn one or two pages in and you’ll find this:

Have a look. It will say ‘Published by, for example, Oxford University Press’.

The publisher can be considered an umbrella term, covering several people. The editors and editorial assistants who have beaten the author’s raw material into grammatically correct shape. The designers who came up with the cover. The new girl in marketing who wrote the press release and spent days sealing envelopes and sending out review copies.

Further down, you will probably find the words ‘Printed in… by…’ which covers the typesetter, the printer and the paper they used.

And then that’s it – for now. Once the books hit the shelves of shops, a whole new set of people are relying on selling that book in order to earn their living – namely myself, and the likes of me, the booksellers who arrange, display and point you in the direction of that book. And mostly, we do it because we genuinely love the book and think you should read it – not just because we’re trying to extract the 798 extra pennies from your wallet.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we forsake the second hand book. Some of the most exciting and interesting things can be found among the piles of old and long out-of-print titles that grace most second hand bookshops. But again, I would urge you to go in search of your local second hand bookshop, or indeed your local Oxfam bookshop. In buying from them you may not be supporting publishers or authors, but instead you are supporting your local retailers, and/or a whole myriad of people through the work of a charity.

But even for the most hardened anti-capitalists, there is still another, increasingly forgotten option open to you. Libraries are full of old classics and exciting new reads which can be yours, for two weeks, for absolutely nothing. Also, while you may not paying for these books, when they were bought, they were bought at a fair price.

So what’s my point? I am not saying you should all rush into Blackwell’s (although you’d be most welcome to!) to buy your books, or that you should only buy second hand books, or indeed that you need to buy all your books at all, when there are libraries full of free reading all over the country. However, what I would suggest is that you consider the effort of the many people that made them, and the people that are trying to sell them, or the people who bought them so that you could read them for free. 

The moment your £0.01 book arrives might be exciting… however for most die-hard booklovers, your first step into a room full of books, free or otherwise, is infinitely more thrilling, and full of possibility…






To try out the ultimate literary experience for yourself, why not visit:

Blackwell’s Bookshop

48-51 Broad Street



(second hand books on 3rd Floor)


Albion Beatnik

34 Walton Street




Oxford University Press Bookshop

116-117 High Street




Oxfam Bookshop

56 St. Giles




Or visit:

To find out more about libraries near you.


  1. I agree with everything you say, though I fear you might be (partially) preaching to the choir here: I guess, those who are subscribed to Broad Conversation already tend not to fo for £0.01 online book offers but rather bring their custom to Blackwell’s et al.

    The question now is how to engage with those who DO buy £0.01 books on a regular basis…

  2. Random thoughts include; the published book makes a great gift. Then there is the challenge of reading a novel for a short time borrowed from a library. Either way an outing from home base is involved, involving an instant change of scenery and a payment decision. ebooks help readers who are unable to amble outdoors or are too busy commuting on trains or planes to gain access to bookshops. Either way Oxford has an abundant selection of places to go to find a beautifully designed book worth every “penny.” Thank you for the link to the libraries, the oxfam bookshop and Oxford Uni press. I will note these and make sure they are in a future travel itinerary that involves plenty of healthy ambling!

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