I sell used books, and I am an English major.
One of these has taught me lots of useful things about American literature.
Here are some of them:
Old women drive the fiction market.
Plenty of people read fiction, and everybody should, so be it from me to generalize. But let me put it this way: I have never seen a young man come in with a 8 ½ x 11 list of titles for his book club, one of which is (always) Gone Girl. Somebody's grandma, on the other hand? Every day. What does this mean or matter? For one thing, women in general read significantly more fiction than men. For another thing, maybe you should start asking your grandma which new hardcover you should buy next. She's probably more in the know than you are.
National Geographics are heavy, and nobody wants them.
You could build a hospital in Uganda with the sheer volume of National Geographics I throw out in a month. I don't know if anybody's done a study on this, but I suspect NG's subscription rate might have taken a hit around the same time that adolescents worldwide discovered they could just google “nude pigmies.”
Nobody who knows anything about Fifty Shades of Grey actually buys it.
The typical customer who is looking to buy a used copy of this book (“used” in this case hopefully means “pre-owned,” as opposed to the more primitive sense) is not looking for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” They are looking for “Fifteen Grades of Stay” or “The Grey Shades Book” or “Eat, Grey, Love.” All they have are those little phonetic bites from the last time one of their girlfriends mentioned it. It always throws them for a loop when they hear it's in Erotica, but that doesn't stop them from buying it anyway, even if their kids are with them. Eww.
People like to pretend they are addicted to books.
Anybody who enjoys reading is bound to be totally irrational when it comes to buying books. Book-buying is one of those things you can feel good about sinking money into. Which means it is really easy to buy books you will never read. I am no exception. Part of this may have to do with people feeling really good about supporting print, as opposed to e-books (a source of romanticized paranoia for the book fanatic). Another part might be the unspoken, but widespread, belief that an unread book emits some vaporous form of knowledge that can be absorbed through the skin. Once you own a book, why bother reading it? Lots of people are willing buy a leather-bound Easton Press edition of Moby Dick. Not so many are willing to read it. Moral is, just having a full bookshelf doesn't make you well-read. Books don't work like they do in Minecraft.
They printed way too many paperback copies of Middlesex, and way too many hardcovers of Freedom.
Seriously. I could throw a ratty Danielle Steele into the recycling bin and hit a copy of Middlesex or Freedom every time. I understand these are both fantastic books. So what are they doing buried under The Last Song and The Host? One word: Oprah.
There are seven cookbooks, sixteen children's books, and two novels all written by one Crescent Dragonwagon.
Someone with this name must get book contracts thrown at them. “A Miss Dragonwagon to see you, sir.” “A miss who? First name?” “Crescent.” “Holy Ploughshares, get that woman a contract. And bring up that formatting we use for Patterson all the time, the one with the author's name ten times bigger than the title. Ahh, miss Dragonwagon, sign here please. Now, is that pronounced as in wrench, or do you prefer cresahhnt?”
Be nice to the people buying Tarot cards and Wiccan spellbooks.
Because you just never know.