Yesterday I was passing what is probably the largest secondhand bookstore in Dublin. They've got as much space devoted to SF and Fantasy as any other genre barring general fiction, and if you were looking for any of the major series then chances are you could pick them up in their entirety at this place for a fraction of their cost brand new. Equally, it's the place to go for imports and rarities that people have brought in to sell or trade, and because it's a fair size the turnover of books is better than in most stores- Usually a good amount of new stuff every week.
At the moment my backlist is pretty full up, although I'm making headway thanks to a decision to work through the stand-alones first and put some of the heavier series on the backburner. I wasn't particularly looking to buy anything new (hard to justify, especially with a huge credit card bill on the way after Christmas).
Still, I ended up going in. Because when it comes to second-hand bookshops you simply never know what you will find inside.
Sure, a lot of it will be crap that has been sitting on the shelves for literally years- The kind of thing that didn't sell when it was new, let alone a couple of decades on. And they're probably guaranteed to have seven copies of each of the major beststelling works you've owned for years.
But there's just a chance you'll find something totally out of the blue, and this has happened to me quite a few times. I'd have been planning to order a few books from Baen or someone else whose catalogue only sporadically gets onto shelves in the UK and Ireland. And then, lo and behold, I will look down a secondhand bookshelf and find exactly the book I was thinking of ordering, and sometimes for sale at a pauper's price.
Yesterday, for example, I found Timothy Zahn's 'Blackcollar' and 'The Backlash Mission' available in very good condition and costing only three euros each. Both of these have recently been repackaged as an omnibus costing four times that much and only available to me online. Nice score!
There was also a full set of his 'Cobra' novels, the omnibus of which I'd only recently received before Christmas.
I think there will always be a place for secondhand bookstores like this. Yes, while you might find the same volumes online more consistently, it's not quite as satisfying as coming across a bargain through pure good luck.