These days Jeff Morris fields more calls from people wanting to sell used books than buy books.
"It's almost always been half a dozen calls a day from people asking about selling their books," said the owner of Wilson's Book World at 2394 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg. "Now it's at least 10."
Morris has a certain amount of capital set aside for buying used books even when sales are down so he continues to stock his shelves.
"I used to buy books because I like them. Now I buy books because I love them," he said, laughing.
It's a similar story at Haslam's bookstore, where hopeful sellers line up behind the store at 2025 Central Ave., waiting their turn for owner Ray Hinst Jr. to evaluate their books.
"We're seeing more of it in the last year or so. The economy is still not good," Hinst said. "I kind of take informal surveys and they tell me they needed a little added revenue. A lot of people are downsizing or relocating."
As readers across the country are looking to make a deal in tough economic times, used books are in strong supply nationwide as well.
"We have more books coming online constantly," said Richard Davies, spokesman for online retailer AbeBooks.com. The company started in 1996 and accrued an inventory of 3 million mostly used books within a year.
"When 3 million came to the site they had a party," Davies added. "Now we have 140 million. It's pretty healthy for us at the moment."
AbeBooks sells books that are supplied from used book stores and individuals with large or unusual inventories. For the casual reader who just wants to clear out a bookshelf or make some extra cash on a few boxes of old paperbacks, eBay or Craigslist are the way to go. Online booksellers account for more than two-thirds of sales of general interest used books.
Nicole Easter, a 35-year-old senior at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, swears by Half.com, an eBay company specializing in textbooks, books, games and movies.
"I am a master of selling used books," she said. "There's a lull at the end of the semester before the financial aid kicks in. Getting cash for your books can hold you over. I spend $300 or $400 a semester on books, and that's pretty low. For some people that's rent money you can get by selling your books."
She sells and buys textbooks as well as books she reads for pleasure.
The number of days Hinst meets sellers behind Haslam's has decreased in recent months because when he does buy he acquires so many books at once.
"My wife (Suzanne Haslam Hinst) and I do the buying. We're seeing so many books that getting through them and cleaning them and organizing them, and pricing, it takes more time and energy," he explained.
Judy Fish, owner of Books to the Ceiling in Madeira Beach, said she hasn't noticed a recent increase in sellers, but added that this is a slow time of year at the beaches. Her store is in the process of moving to Dolphin Village shopping center in St. Pete Beach.
"More people do want to bring in their old stuff even if they are just trading it," said Amy Schmaedeke, owner of Book Bank USA in the Largo Mall at 10500 Ulmerton Road. "We can see that people are hurting definitely."
Her store, which opened in 1992, offers trade credit, not cash, for books. Book Bank USA sells new and used books and gifts but it's the used book sellers and buyers who are her best repeat customers.
Depending on the place, the condition and age of the book, and the supply or demand for it, used paperbacks can fetch a few cents and hardbacks can fetch a few dollars.
AbeBooks ranks the top 10 most popular categories of used books as fiction, history, antiques, children's fiction, religion, art, cooking, crafts and hobbies, science and music.
So what are booksellers ready to part with most frequently?
"Probably your pop bestseller," Hinst said. "The John Grishams, those are the kinds of things we see all the time. And In The Kitchen With Rosie, you see that in every third car. Oprah was very effective as a reading prompter. Her recommendations tend to show up more frequently than others."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785.