Original published November 3, 2005 (Updated June 22, 2016)
By Larry Rea
He’s written one novel (now three), had an article publisher in a magazine devoted to World War II, writes online mystery reviews and since 1998 has leased a books-for-sale section in a Cordova antique mall (online only since 2006 at www.billthebookguy.com)
To say Bill Webb has a passion for books would be an understatement.
“I was and am an inveterate book collector,” Webb, 49, said. “Until 1992 I had a ‘real job’ with a major electronics manufacturer, but I was on the road a lot. My wife and I decided that one of us needed to stay home with the kids, and lawyer (his wife’s occupation) trumped sales trainer so I was elected.”
Thus was born Bill’s Books, which made him the only used bookseller within ten miles whose business focuses on hardbacks, not paperbacks.
Webb, a lifelong Memphis who graduated from Christian Brothers High School, majored in Creative Writing at what was then Memphis State University, and he and his wife have two children (and now three grandchildren!).
Books have been a part of Webb’s life for as long as he can remember, especially used books.
“The used book market in the last eight to ten years has changed radically, unbelievably so,” Webb said. “Brick and mortar stores are having a hard time. And the reason is the internet. What the internet has done to book prices, it’s driven them in two different directions. The more common stuff, well, the bottom has just dropped out of it. The rarer, scarcer stuff, the price has gone up. And they’re both for the same reason – there are more buyers exposed.”
The internet, Webb said, has made it easier to locate even the rarest of books.
“If there are five copies of a book in the entire world, now you can actually find a copy,” he said. “Before the internet you might never see a copy in your life. On the other hand, if there are 500,000 copies, the price of that book is nothing because you can have any copy you want for a penny plus shipping. What happened is that brick and mortar stores are having a tough time.”
In July, 1998, Webb opened his store in the Cordova Antique Market, where he has two booths stocked with about 3,000 books, all hardbacks. He runs it like you would normally run a bookstore, except he’s usually not there.
“But that’s why it’s in the Market because they have people there,” Webb said. I’ve got a chair where you can sit down…the whole point was to sell hardbacks for about what you would buy a paperback.”
Webb recently gave 1,000 books to the Disable Veterans of America.
“Inventory has never been a problem,” he said with a laugh. “The reason is simple. The time to go through books and see what they’re worth, unless it’s your business, it’s not worth your time to do it.”
A book club edition usually isn’t worth much, but a first edition often is, Webb said. (11 years makes a big difference here!)
Webb said he is “getting close” to topping out on booth space with his current inventory of books. Plus, he’s got thousands more at his Cordova home.
Though he’s “always loved books,” Webb never expected to get into the book business. The way the store started was that his book collection outgrew his house.
“I finally decided that I had to get rid of these books or sell them,” Webb said.
Webb’s book collection primarily focuses on history, religion and mystery, though he sells every category of book possible, 44 to be exact.
“I’ve got a lot of science fiction, too,” he said.