Book store shoplifting

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Book store shoplifting is a problem for book sellers and has sometimes led stores to keep certain volumes behind store counters.

Shoplifters at book stores, also known as book shops, may be either amateur or professional thieves. Professionals target high-priced books and books that are easily resold, such as academic textbooks.

In addition to shoplifting, thievery also has been due to pilfering by shipping personnel and burglary. Book stores also are victimized by thefts of merchandise and other items aside from books. At Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California, someone attempted to steal a security camera. At the Boulder Bookshop in Boulder, Colorado, prints hung in the bathroom, and plants, have been stolen.[1]

Concerns of independent book sellers[edit]

Owners of small, independent book stores have said they find shoplifting particularly bothersome. According to Paul Constant, a Seattle book-store employee, "I know a few booksellers who have literally been driven a little bit crazy at the thought of their inventory evaporating out the door, and with good reason: An overabundance of shoplifters can put bookstores out of business. One local bookstore owner can famously talk about shoplifters with total strangers for hours, with the detail and passion that some people reserve for sexual conquests."[2]

"Shoplifting is a particular problem," said Patricia Van Osdol, owner of Wellington Books in Portland, Oregon. "It can be disastrous in a small store like this."[3]

Books frequently stolen[edit]

According to several sources, in the United States certain books, or books by certain authors, are much more likely to be stolen than others, although there are no hard statistics on the subject.[1]

Ron Rosenbaum, an author and New York Observer columnist, wrote in 1999 that Barnes & Noble had a list of these authors whose books are the most frequently stolen from that book-store chain (or perhaps the Union Square store in the chain, where his source, "a helpful clerk", worked): Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Georges Bataille, William S. Burroughs, Italo Calvino, Raymond Chandler, Michel Foucault, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac, Jeanette Winterson, but none more frequently than books by Charles Bukowski.[4][5]

In 2008, Constant gave this list, which he called "pretty much the authoritative top five, the New York Times best-seller list of stolen books": Bukowski, Jim Thompson, Philip K. Dick, and Burroughs, along with "any graphic novel". Constant wrote that other popular targets are books by Hunter S. Thompson and the Beats, Chuck Palahniuk, Haruki Murakami, and Mark Z. Danielewski, and the most-stolen books tend to be a steady group with little variation over time.[2] As of late 2009, Danielewski's House of Leaves was the most frequently stolen book from Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California, according to a store manager there.[1]

In the United Kingdom, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides was the most-shoplifted book, according to a January 2008 article in The Telegraph.[6]

St. Mark's Bookshop (which closed in 2016) in the East Village of Manhattan, like Barnes & Noble, used to move frequently-stolen titles behind the counter. At that bookstore, as of late 2009, the books behind the counter included works by Amis, Bukowski, Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo and Jack Kerouac. Sometimes the staff moves books back to the shelves with the idea that a book's popularity for theft may lessen over time. "Amis went out and came right back," a store manager told a writer for The New York Times.[1]

According to Rosenbaum, "[I]f you look at who's actually doing the shoplifting, they're not really down-and-out, lower-depths types but like to pose as being down and out, and shoplifting is part of the aura."[5] Constant wrote, "[F]iction that young white men read, and self-satisfied young white men, the kind who love to stick it to the man, are the majority of book shoplifters."[1][2]

In comparison with books stolen from public libraries[edit]

Public libraries have a much different set of frequently stolen books. In the United States, how-to books are more often the targets of thieves, as are books about witchcraft, the occult, UFOs or astrology, according to Larra Clark, a spokeswoman for the American Library Association, who asked members which books were most often stolen. Of the 70 libraries across the United States who responded to her query in 2001, none mentioned books by Charles Bukowski. An official from a prison library responded that dictionaries and poetry were the most frequently stolen types of books at that institution.[5]

Theft by professionals[edit]

According to Tom Cushman, a New York book-store manager interviewed in 2005, factors influencing book thefts included high resale value and whether or not the book was displayed in an area difficult for the store clerks to watch. When Harry Potter books were new and popular items in book stores, they were among the top targets of thieves, he said.[5]

Brian Zimmerman, associate general manager at the San Francisco State University book store, said thieves there were much more likely to be students, but professional thieves took more books and targeted volumes with higher prices.[7] Thieves have been known to take whole stacks of books at once.[5] According to a 1991 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, studies showed that the "casual thief", defined as "not a professional but more than a one-timer", accounted for 70 to 75 percent of shoplifting.[8]

In 1992, the Los Angeles Times reported that thieves were so brazen in New York City that just outside St. Mark's Bookshop, "sidewalk peddlers openly ply books – many of them still bearing St. Mark's telltale stamp – at half off the prices inside the store.[9]

In the early 1990s, book store owners in New York and California accused second-hand book stores of organizing theft rings to shoplift titles for resale. Drama Book Shop in Manhattan lost 533 books with a total sales price of $10,873 from January 1 to May 8, 1991. One thief told store officials that a ring organized by a second-hand store had been assigned to steal books from the Drama Book Shop, according to Rozanne Seelan, co-owner of the victimized store.[8]


Book stores at San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco train their employees who are examining books being returned or sold to the stores to look for price tag stickers, books that don't seem to have been used, and anyone offering to sell multiple copies of a single title. When store employees approach customers to ask whether they need help, they also discourage theft, according to Zimmerman.[7]

Reactions of authors[edit]

Jeffrey Eugenides and Paul Auster both laughed when journalists asked them about being some of the authors whose books are most shoplifted. "It's one of those things authors argue about" among themselves, Eugenides said, adding that he and Auster had discussed their status as authors of frequently stolen books.[1][6]

Abbie Hoffman wrote Steal This Book in 1970 and published in 1971. While largely about rebelling against authority, it includes a section on shoplifting.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Rabb, Margo, "Steal These Books", essay, The New York Times Book Review, December 20, 2009, retrieved same day
  2. ^ a b c Constant, Paul, "Flying Off the Shelves: The Pleasures and Perils of Chasing Book Thieves", The Stranger, February 26, 2008, retrieved December 20, 2009
  3. ^ Federman, Stan, "Book Shop Like Candy Store to Its Owner", article, The Oregonian of Portland, Oregon, April 9, 1992, retrieved December 20, 2009
  4. ^ Rosenbaum, Ron, "Shoplift Lit: You Are What You Steal", column, The New York Observer, September 26, 1999, retrieved December 20, 2009
  5. ^ a b c d e "Book Stealing" Archived 2010-06-13 at the Wayback Machine, segment transcript, On the Media, December 23, 2005, retrieved December 20, 2009
  6. ^ a b Brown, Mick, "Jeffrey Eugenides: Enduring love", The Telegraph, January 5, 2008, retrieved December 20, 2009
  7. ^ a b Codd, Nathan, "Theft an ongoing issue for bookstore" Archived 2010-07-01 at the Wayback Machine, SFXpress, September 16, 2009, retrieved December 20, 2009
  8. ^ a b Romano, Carlin, "The Problem of Catching and Booking the Book Shoplifters", The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 26, 1991, retrieved via, December 20, 2009
  9. ^ Rivenburg, Roy, "Thieves Rip Off Book Stores in Growing Volume", Buffalo News, "Lifestyles" section, p E1 (story reprinted from The Los Angeles Times), October 25, 1992; retrieved via Newsbank website, December 20, 2009