The spread of Christianity naturally created a great demand for copies of the Gospels, other sacred books, and later on for missals and other devotional volumes for both church and private use. The modern system of bookselling dates from soon after the introduction of printing. In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries the Low Countries for a time became the chief centre of the bookselling world. Modern book selling has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet. With major websites such as Amazon, eBay, and other big book distributors offering affiliate programs, book sales have now, more than ever, been put in the hands of the small business owner.
Bookstores (called bookshops in the United Kingdom, Australia and most of the Commonwealth apart from Canada) may be either part of a chain, or local independent bookstores. Stores can range in size offering from several hundred to several hundred thousand titles. They may be brick and mortar stores or internet only stores or a combination of both. Sizes for the larger bookstores exceed half a million titles. Bookstores often sell other printed matter besides books, such as newspapers, magazines and maps; additional product lines may vary enormously, particularly among independent bookstores. Colleges and universities often have their own student bookstore on campus that focuses on providing course textbooks and scholarly books, although some on-campus bookstores are owned by large chains such as WHSmith or Waterstone's in the United Kingdom, or Barnes & Noble College Booksellers in the United States, which is a private firm controlled by the chair of Barnes & Noble.
Another common type of bookstore is the used bookstore or second-hand bookshop which buys and sells used and out-of-print books in a variety of conditions. A range of titles are available in used bookstores, including in print and out of print books. Book collectors tend to frequent used book stores. Large online bookstores offer used books for sale, too. Individuals wishing to sell their used books using online bookstores agree to terms outlined by the bookstore(s): for example, paying the online bookstore(s) a predetermined commission once the books have sold. In Paris, the Bouquinistes are antiquarian and used booksellers who have had outdoor stalls and boxes along both sides of the Seine for hundreds of years, regulated by law since the 1850s and contributing to the scenic ambience of the city.
In the book of Jeremiah the prophet is represented as dictating to Baruch the scribe, who described the mode in which his book was written. These scribes were the earliest booksellers, and supplied copies as they were demanded. Aristotle possessed a somewhat extensive library, and Plato is recorded to have paid the large sum of one hundred minae for three small treatises of Philolaus the Pythagorean. When the Alexandrian library was founded about 300 BC, various expedients were used for the purpose of procuring books, and this appears to have stimulated the energies of the Athenian booksellers. In Rome, toward the end of the republic, it became the fashion to have a library as part of the household furniture. Roman booksellers carried on a flourishing trade. Their shops (taberna librarii) were chiefly in the Argiletum, and in the Vicus Sandalarius. On the door, or on the side posts, was a list of the books on sale; and Martial, who mentions this also, says that a copy of his First Book of Epigrams might be purchased for five denarii. In the time of Augustus the great booksellers were the Sosii. According to Justinian, a law was passed granting to the scribes the ownership of the material written; this may be the beginnings of the modern law of copyright.
Abbasid Caliphate in the east and Caliphate of Córdoba in the west, encouraged the development of bookshops, copyists, and book dealers across the entire Muslim world, in Islāmic cities such as Damascus, Baghdad, and Córdoba. According to Encyclopædia Britannica:
There is a popular turn of phrase from the 1960s, "Books are written in Cairo, published in Beirut, and read in Baghdad". One of the most famous and prestigious Arab publishers is Dar al-Asab.
The first wave of French booksellers came soon after Johannes Gutenberg introduced his new printing technologies in Europe. The oldest known bookstore still opened in France (and Europe) is the Librairie Nouvelle d’Orléans. Its owner in 1545 was Étienne Rouzeau, it now belongs to publisher Albin Michel. In 1810 Napoleon created a system by which, a would-be bookseller had to apply for a license (brevet), and supply four references testifying to his morality, and four confirmations of his professional ability to perform the job. All references had to be certified by the local mayor. If the application was accepted, the bookseller would have to swear an oath of loyalty to the régime. The application process was conducted to ensure that the new bookstore was not a place that distributed rebellious publications. The brevet process continued until 1870.