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Buying Books As Gifts

November 23, 2014

I’m planning several gift guides to come out over the next week, but first I wanted to talk a little about the etiquette of buying books for someone. This is not going to be the Emily Post or Miss Manners version. This is just my personal take on the matter from years as both a book seller and a book consumer.




Hardcover vs Paperback
There seems to be a conviction among the gift buying populace that hardcovers are inherently better. I cannot tell you the number of times someone has come to the store, asked for a specific book, and then turned their noses up at the paperback because, “It’s a gift.”
Guys, it’s a book. It has the same content in the paperback as it does in the hardcover (unless we’re talking about a special edition and that’s an entirely different critter all together.) If your friend/family member/coworker/secret santa is judging you on whether you spent $26 or $15.99 then there are bigger problems in that relationship than I can help you with.

Let’s take a quick look at some industry facts:



1. Hardcovers are not forever.
If you’re coming in looking for a book that’s more than a year or two old it probably isn’t available in hardcover anymore. There are exceptions (there are ALWAYS exceptions) like classics or remarkably popular books. I can still get you The Kite Runner in hardcover, but that random Jan Karon book from five years ago, probably not.

2. We don’t keep the hardcovers forever.
Generally, once the paperback of a book comes out we all (big box stores included) send the hardcovers back to the publisher. We can usually get one back in for you, but we need a couple of days lead time. This is why, if you come in and ask for a three year old hardcover that you need for a party in an hour we’re probably just going to blink at you for a second.

The only reasons to really insist on a hardcover is if type size is an issue. Hardcovers traditionally have larger type than paperbacks, although the trade paperback size can be pretty close.
There’s also the argument that you want to get the newest book. That can work, but there are also great paperback original releases that you might miss just buying hardcovers.

signNew vs Used
But Sara, we can’t buy someone a used book as a present!
Bull. You totally can. Maybe the book you want to get them is out of print. Maybe your budget is a little tight. Maybe you want to get three books for the price of one and give them even more hours of enjoyment.
There is nothing wrong with buying someone a used book as a gift. Yes, some used books look really ratty, but many of them are barely read. And what’s more important; that you get someone a book you truly think they will enjoy or you get them one that’s shiny?

Gift Card vs Physical Item
I honestly don’t think it matters. If you have no idea what someone would like, get them a gift card. It’s not rude, it doesn’t show a lack of thought or foresight. Some people are just hard to shop for. I’m pretty sure my Dad and I would both have been much happier if we had just exchanged gift cards instead of constantly trying to find something the other would like.

What other issues do you have when it comes to buying books for people? Anything else you’d like to see me address?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2014 1:06 pm

    Thank you for addressing these things. I’ve often felt weird about buying a used book for someone, but I’ve never appreciated a used book less as a gift than a new one. Because YAY BOOKS!

  2. November 23, 2014 9:35 pm

    I have some very thoughtful folks in my family that always get me books. But there is one downside – one of them price clips and the other marks through the cover price with a marker! I would like to encourage all gift givers to please don’t do this!!! I now have two signed 1st editions that have been clipped and three books with red streaks from where the marker on the covers rubbed against the others. I’m not ungrateful, but man would I like to have those signed 1st eds. in pristine shape. I wish I was closer to the gift givers so I could nudge them in the right direction, but it’s awkward. So I’d just like to encourage all book gifting folks to please don’t clip or mark over the cover price.

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