Books

6 Strange Things I Learned Working in a Bookstore

I love books. I always have and always will. I have, at last count, something in the neighborhood of 7,000 of them, and a whole room in my house set aside for them. So when I got a job at a large chain bookstore several years ago, I thought I was in heaven. The pay was almost embarrassingly low, but at least I would be around books and the types of people who enjoy reading, I told myself. It'd be fun!

But as with every retail job I've ever had, I learned quite a few things working at that place. Some fairly surprising stuff, too.

6. People Steal a Lot of Books.

I was initially put in the Receiving Room, which, at that store, was the area where trucks delivered merchandise, and those items were sorted and stored until they could be put out on the store shelves. It was my duty to do all of that sorting and storing, as well as a few other things, and one of my jobs was to randomly place little magnetic anti-theft tags into some books. This policy was in place for a good reason. Something like 15 percent of the books that came into the store would eventually be stolen. With such a shocking amount of "shrink," it's no wonder that the store had me putting little alarm tags in every tenth book that I sorted. It also made me start looking at customers with a slightly cynical "Is he a book thief?" level of scrutiny.

5. People Steal a Lot of the Same Kinds of Books. There were a few guidelines on which books got the anti-theft tags. Anything over $50 got one, for the most part, but I was also told to distribute them more liberally in certain kinds of books.

The most often stolen books were in the religious section, something I found sadly hilarious. Bibles and religious books of all types were the most heavily pilfered items in the store, and not just that store, but chain-wide.

Following that category were travel guides. Turns out a lot of people don't plan on using them more than once and don't really want to pay for them. Or maybe they funded their world travel by stealing books, I don't know. Next were college prep materials and reference books. More on college kids shortly.

And then there were the pricey art books, followed by erotica, both of which were stolen frequently. I assume that most of the thieves stole books to get reading material without paying, but occasionally another store would call us to warn us that a small group of thieves had just left their store, and usually that same group would make their way to us later in the day. They'd basically fill up backpacks, so maybe there's more money in reselling them than I previously thought.

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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.