Where should I buy my books? Part 1: Books on the high street (UK)

If you’re anything like me, you cannot resist buying books. No matter how many library books you’ve loaned and loved – you will still have books that you just want to own. Whether it is because you want to read them in a bath, leave pencil marks all over them, or just read them twenty times over – occasionally you will want to buy a book.

But there are all sorts of considerations to be made – even if you know which title you want to buy. How much money are you willing to pay for it? How much of the profit do you think should go to the author? How quickly do you want your book to be in your lap? Who owns the bookshop anyway?

Many of us bookworms occasionally wonder: what is the cheapest and morally least ambiguous way to buy a book?

In the first post of this series, I will investigate the pros and cons of some of the main high street bookshops in the UK. I am not affiliated with any of them – and I have bought books from every single one of them, so I should know what I am talking about. I’m also a publisher… so I’ve seen a bit of the inner workings of the trade.


Charity Shops


If you are concerned about the environment, this is hands down the best way to buy a book. It’s basically like taking in an animal for a shelter – the books in the charity shop are homeless and need love. It’s a good deed, right?


  • Cheap
  • The Money goes to a good cause
  • Environmentally friendly (the book has been produced for the benefit of more than just one owner and reader)


  • A specific book can sometimes be hard to find (unless you’re looking for 50 Shades of Grey…charity shops have asked people to stop bringing those in as they have too many copies and it’s getting impossible to sell them…)
  • No profit from the book goes to the author. This is fine to ignore if they lived in the 19th century or are J.K. Rowling – but remember, an average author’s salary in the UK is £11,000. Which is a bit sad, to be honest
  • No profit from the book goes to the publisher. Again, this is fine to ignore if the book is published by a massive international publishing corporation (cough- Penguin Random House, cough) but you might want to support independent publishers such as Faber and Faber.

Verdict: A great place to buy the classics and copies of international bestsellers.






Waterstones has over 280 stores in the UK and is a visible presence on the high street. It is owned by Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut ( his net worth is 2.4 billion according to Forbes, and he has recently acquired 2 of the biggest cinema chains in Russia) and run by James Daunt, the founder of the independent bookshop chain Daunt books. After years of loss-making, Waterstones has finally made a profit in 2017. However, it has recently been announced that Mamut is planning to sell the business….


  • By spending money at Waterstones, you are supporting the presence of bookshops on the high street. The good influence of James Daunt means that staff are usually enthusiastic about the books they are selling and offer recommendations.
  • Money from the book goes to the author
  • Money from the book goes to the publisher


  • Usually expensive, Waterstones hardly ever discount prices that are given to them by the publishers. The “buy one get one half price” offers can be quite good though.
  • It’s rated 2.9 stars out of 5 by employees on Glassdoor – they don’t seem to be too happy there
  • Waterstones actually charge bloggers who want to advertise their bookshop. Yes, you heard that right. Whereas Amazon will let bloggers earn a little money if they give a link to the Amazon site, Waterstones will charge bloggers for the privilege of doing this
  • Probably not very environmentally friendly

Verdict: Well, if there’s no other bookshop available on your high street….





To my understanding, Blackwell’s is run an employee ownership model, rather like John Lewis. This means that Blackwell’s staff have shares in the company’s profits.


  • Regular 3 for 2 offers on books in the Oxford and Cambridge flagship stores
  • Blackwell’s seem to be a nice employer – they’re rated 4 out of 5 stars on Glassdoor
  • Money from the book goes to the author
  • Money from the book goes to the publisher


  • If the books are not on special offer they will often be sold without any discount
  • Probably not very environmentally friendly

Verdict:  I really like them, and I always keep an eye out for special offers. Their book recommendations have not failed me yet.



Independent Bookshops

Pip and Posy Bookshop RGB The Bookseller


  • Supporting your local high street
  • The people working in them are usually super passionate about what they do
  • Money from the book goes to the author
  • Money from the book goes to the publisher



  • High Prices – although occasionally friendly publishers will give bigger discounts to independent bookshops, so this is beginning to change…
  • Probably not very environmentally friendly


Verdict: By all means buy there if there’s any next to you and you can afford it. Honourable mentions for particularly great stores in this category include Foyles in London, and Topping & Company in Ely.





The bigger supermarket shops will often offer books at incredibly low prices. Why? It’s simple – the publisher will offer a supermarket a big discount if they buy lots of books. However, recently there’s been a lot of talk about this being an ethically dubious practice, as the authors gain hardly any profit from the sales of those cheap books. (See here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/04/philip-pullman-leads-writers-condemning-pernicious-book-discounts)

The problem is, of course, many people could not afford to buy these books if they were not incredibly discounted – Tesco has deals where you can buy two books for 7 pounds and I am pretty sure many people buying those can’t actually afford to go to a nice bookshop and pay the full retail price.


  • The books are often incredibly cheap
  • Money from the book goes to the publisher


  • Authors get very little money from those book sales
  • You’re not really supporting the local high street
  • Probably not very environmentally friendly
  • You’re not supporting bookshops

Verdict: Avoid. Unless there’s something really cheap and new by an incredibly well-known author who is definitely not starving in a garret. In which case you might want to consider waiting a year or two and picking up a copy in a charity shop. I know, I know, I want it now too….


Image sources: 

All of these images are used for review purposes only.

Oxfam: German Wikipedia

Waterstones: Wikipedia

Blackwell’s: Wikipedia

Independent Bookshops: The Bookseller, drawing by Axel Scheffler for the “Books are my Bag” campaign

Tesco: Wikipedia

Featured image: pixabay.com/Pexels



3 thoughts on “Where should I buy my books? Part 1: Books on the high street (UK)

  1. I love second-hand shops! I volunteer at Oxfam and I get most of my books from second-hand bookshops all over. I just find it kind of pointless to buy a book new if there are used & cheap copies available! When I’m looking for a book that is very new and hard to find second-hand, I tend to go indie x But Waterstones is really nice too, especially for course books 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And there are such lovely hidden gems in charity shops too! Books you’d never think of looking for on purpose, but they just somehow magically appear in a charity shop as if they were drawn to you…


      1. I always find books that I’ve had on my radar for ages but never expected to find second-hand. Gotta love used bookshops!

        Liked by 1 person

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