January 4, 2009

Used Book Hullabaloo

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Oh my, oh my, who would think there would be so much controversy in the book blogging world? In the two years I've been blogging (2 years on January 2), I've seen faked memoirs, angry authors and plagiarism. Next up, used book royalties.

I was planning on writing about this issue after I read a tweet from Anika\Write Black linking to this article from Chris Meadows. Then more recently book blogger Molly was tsked-tsked for her used book bargains. Apparently, there is movement to make used book stores pay royalties. Now in this article it mentions books less than 2 years old but once you get a foot in the door, who knows where that will lead. Also, this is US law, but whither the US goes, so does Canada. An item whether book, CD, painting, basket, car, oven, stroller, etc, should be sold to the consumer directly once. Then it's yours to do as you please. We'll need Garage Sale Police next. Shesh!

This seems bizarre to me. Used book stores have been around since Adam was a little fella. They aren't new. What is new are the online stores on Amazon or ebay selling 'used' books in large quantities. I understand the frustration of authors and publishers on this one. How can a book be used if it hasn't even been released yet? Something's fishy there, but let's deal with that issue instead of painting all used book stores with the same brush.

Take my local book store. It is a hole in the wall filled to the brim with well loved books. It's the last independent book store in town. They also sell new local interest books but everything else is used. Some of these books are older than dirt. I'm sure the majority of them have been in and out of the hands of locals dozens of times but they do have some newish books. I have sent some of my newish books there as well. So, what do you do with these books then? Line the bottoms of bird cages or rotting in landfills? (Not me.) Most likely I'd pass them onto my circle of friends and family (a book can take 2 years just to get back to me!) who are also not paying royalties. That's dozens of non-paying readers right there.

I'm going to be honest here and tell you all I'm cheap. I'm also a stay at home Mom with one income. New books are a luxury. I might buy a new book for full price a couple of times a year and rationalize as I do it: "It's for bookclub, my birthday is coming." It's just the way I've always been. A new hardcover book in Canada can cost upwards of $30. I will wait a year to buy a paperback at a third of the cost, when it hits the sale table or I wait in the library queue for months. Buying used books helps me keep my sanity. I love to own books but just can't keep a library of brand spanking new books.

At one time books were for the wealthy who could afford the luxury. I'd hate to see the thrifty book buyer being chastized for how they buy books. Anyway, I'm not going to feel guilty about it. I'm reading. It's important that the literate keep on reading. Where would the publishing business be without readers afterall?

You all want to weigh in?

42 comments :

  1. I agree with you. It's wonderful to support authors and publishers by buying new books while you can. But if you can't, it's much better to buy books however you can get them. I think publishers forget that 75% of this country doesn't read more than 1 book per year. If this sort of law passed, it would make books further out of reach for us, and then we wouldn't buy used - we'd go to the library instead.

    Besides that, then they're reducing the used bookstore's profit margin. Many of these places operate on a very low profit basis anyway. Do we want to keep the independents or give all our business to big box retailers and put them out of business?

    It is a difficult question, but I really don't think that it should be valid. Used bookstores serve a very important purpose in getting people to read and buy books while keeping alive a very important place for book lovers. Besides that, they have existed for hundreds of years without such problems. The true problem, as you say, are dirt cheap internet sales and websites like PBS and Bookmooch. Lovely services for book lovers, bad services for authors and publishers.

    My take: we should buy new when we can, but always read above all. They shouldn't be making it more difficult for us to read unless they want to reduce the number who do even further.

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  2. I cannot afford to buy new books all of the time. And the public libraries near my home have nothing newer than 1999. I depend on used book stores to help me out. Used book stores are not the problem any more than friends who swap books. I agree with Meghan that they will reduce the number of people reading altogether, just as the music industry is currently reducing people listening to certain artists, and particularly new artists, altogether through the piracy laws. I don't see that this is a great move for the authors and publishers.

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  3. Used bookstores are good for the environment and good for the economy (because most are locally owned).

    I buy new when I can, but I'm not going to stop reading when the economy is bad or we're short of cash. Libraries and used books can be a godsend.

    I'm not even going to rile myself up with the other issues surrounding what one "is allowed" to do with one's cast-off goods.

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  4. The real problem as Ann of Booklorn says so well is that the times are changing and the publishing industry is struggling to catch up. (and seemingly relunctant to) I don't even blame online retailers b/c I think of all the books I've been able to find used online that have gone out of print that I might never have found. Not to mention, that if someone sells used books online via ebay or something they might use that money to buy new books.

    I have to say that I'm starting to land in the camp of it's not the consumer's fault...stop blaming us!

    Although I do encourage buying new books when it's possible for you.

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  5. This whole hullabaloo is very interesting to me, especially because I work in a big box bookstore. We haven't really seen our sales hurting because of used bookstores---there are people who have always and will always go to indie booksellers, buy used books, or use their libraries, and then there are people who really really really want their very own, brand new, pristine copies of books. Those people keep us in business.

    The sad thing about this argument is that it indicates that we're losing focus on what's really important, and that's literacy and keeping the written word alive however we can. Yes, bookstores and publishers need us to spend money so they can continue to stay in business....but they also need to examine their business models and make some overdue changes.

    Read, people! Just keep reading, however you can, and don't feel guilty about it.

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  6. I agree with you...what next? I don't like the idea of that become law either. Not only are the used book stores going to get hit, but what about all those people (mainly little old ladies) that sit at flea markets with their used book booths?? That may be their only source of income. I'm cheap too and I hate this because does that mean the libraries are going to have to start charging to rent books?? That would be just awful!!

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  7. I agree with you. I buy new when I can but we live on one income too and new books are a luxury or a treat.

    Also...I gave you an award:
    http://readingtoolate.net/?p=1406

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  8. You did a wonderful job of explaining my feelings! I agree with you all of the way. While I love to spend money on books, it isn't always in the cards. If this happens, what will happen to libraries? Will they have to pay a royalty? I think it is a very slippery slope.

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  9. I rarely buy new books at all. Unless I have a gift card (thank you, Christmas!). Otherwise, it's used, bookmooch, and libraries. What are publishers trying to do? Put themselves out of business?

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  10. I agree with everything that's been said, but for some reason my warped mind just thought of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, where book buys have been known to go wrong. What's next? Bookaholics selling/trading books out of the trunks of their cars? (I'll be in that maroon Lumina over there....)

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  11. I was reading about this the other day. Crazy stuff! I buy both new and used books, so I never felt guilty about anything. I think it is bad enough when the used bookstores charge you tax. Some around here do and some around here don't... If I want a book bad enough, I buy it new. Otherwise, I wait until I find it at the second hand store. It is as easy as that! I won't pay royalties....

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  12. To Rebecca, who wrote: "the public libraries near my home have nothing newer than 1999" -- Forgive my incredulity, but the libraries don't have any books published in the past ten years??? Even if their collection is limited, many libraries are part of a library system, so that you can request interlibrary loan books from any library in the system, usually online with your library card number. Hope that is helpful.

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  13. Meghan- I don't think my used book store makes much of a profit. It's run mainly on a trading system.

    Rebecca the 1st- 1999? That's pretty bad. Don't even get me started on music. I tried to move my licenses from my old computer to my new one with no luck :(

    Beth- We're a very wasteful society. It's sad. A book can last a long time if taken care of.

    Amy the 1st- I buy quite a few books from bookcloseouts. Again, those books would end up as mulch.

    Rebecca the 2nd- That's interesting. I have to agree. My book buying habits have not changed much. In fact I've bought more new books in the last couple of years than in the past.

    Kristina and Kristie- The library royalty question is interesting. I looked online about it but didn't find much except a couple of items from the EU. They do seem to pay some kind of royalty. I'll have to ask a librarian.

    Amy the 2nd- Thanks!

    Rebecca the 3rd- I wonder if gift cards have increased sales of new books?

    Cathy- Psst... (opens trench coat) wanna buy a book?

    Kailiana- I've found good deals at Value Village as well. Luckily, the used book store doesn't charge tax.

    Anon- I've never used that system but do know people who've had success with it. Thanks for the hint.

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  14. You know what? I'm finding it hard to believe that this is even becoming an issue. Some of us who read many books over a year get our hands on books in all sorts of different ways. We support buying new, buying used, and using libraries. I do buy some books new, but I also buy many books used. Publishers and authors should just be thankful that there are people like us around, voracious readers who will always manage to buy books in some fashion. Making it difficult to buy used books is going to simply drive many of us into using the libraries more, not necessarily buying new more. I do buy new, but I tend to buy new when I love the author and know I want to own the book.

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  15. I do buy used books. As with many others, I cannot afford to only buy new. However, I will spend the money for a nice trade paperback version of one I either got used and in poor condition or borrowed at the library and ended up wanting a copy.

    I know some say this hurts publishers and writers, but what about those places where I buy my used books? The library store that uses the majority of what it sells to help support their efforts of ensuring our community has a place where books, DVD's, music, access to the internet, and literacy programs are always available. The mom and pops that get those of us trading or buying used books and sometimes then perusing their other goods and perhaps making a spontaneous purchase of a new item. The publisher or writer may not benefit, but these people who are members of my community, trying to eek out a living do.

    This is such a tough issue. But for me, it comes down to what is more important, the profit made monetarily or the one made socially by doing all that we can to ensure our society and its future (our children) are always given ready and unfettered access to the written word.

    Literacy is one of the most important of human rights, because from this ability, we learn about each other and find that we all have more common among us than that which is different. In my view, compassion comes from knowledge and understanding. Fear and hate from the opposite.

    Thank you for engaging us in this very important conversation. Contentious as it may become, it must be dealt with - and from what I see here, it is heart-warming to see that we all feel similarly and that if we do disagree, it has generally been done in an agreeable fashion.

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  16. I love that “new book smell” but in this economy I’ve been unable to justify $26 every time a favorite author publishes a new book. I found http://www.bookins.com and I’ve LOVED every trade I’ve made there. I thought I would clear my shelves, and I do have more than 500 books listed to trade, but I’m finding new authors and basically am trading what I’ve read for what I haven’t. The only cost is $4.49 per item received and what I like about bookins.com is that you deal with them and they arrange the trade; other sites I looked at left it up to the traders to resolve any disputes. The website is beautiful and I encourage you to take a look. They also trade DVDs, which also has worked well, but I love finding new homes for books! It’s the ultimate recycling project!

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  17. Charlotte, how is bookins different from bookmooch (other than costing $$$)?

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  18. The problem with articles like this is that they rely on the assumption that those of us who buy used books could be buying new ones instead. We couldn't, because most of us can't afford them, and without used bookstores we wouldn't be buying books, period.

    I don't see how used bookstores or bookmooch are any more harmful than libraries. They keep books in circulation. They help them reach new audiences and keep on being read. Isn't that what every author wants? If people buy a book used and discover a new author they love, they're s big chance they'll buy their books new next time. Otherwise, they wouldn't be buying them at all.

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  19. As an author, I wouldn't mind not getting royalties off a used book, but I would like it to be counted toward my "sales" figures. If the book sells more than once, it should count, because that's one more reader, one more buyer. And with higher sales figures, I can prove to my publisher than I'm worth keeping around...

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  20. Lori- There are a couple of authors whose work I will run out and buy right away as well.

    J.C.- I totally agree with you on literacy. It's more important for us all to keep reading. It's something that will benefit us all much more than where we buy our books.

    Charlotte- Thanks for telling us about the site.

    Nymeth- "without used bookstores we wouldn't be buying books, period." Bingo! I think that's the point that's been missing. Used books sales do not mean we'd be buying new. You also bring up a good point about circulation. How often is a book republished? I guess it depends on the book but I would think most writers want to be read years down the road. A used book store is full of forgotten gems.

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  21. Karen- Seems like a difficult thing to do unless a used book store has some kind of computerized accounting system. I'm sure someone could figure out a way of doing it though.

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  22. I am a regular reader of Molly's blog. The person who did the tisk-tsk'ing did apologize for her comment. In any event, I left my comment on Molly's blog about what I thought about this. It's kinda ridiculous that the topic has gotten as large as it has. This is a free country based on a capitalist economy. If the book is good, it's going to make money... enough with the boo-hoo'ing.

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  23. Well I'm here to agree with you...and all those commenters who said literacy is what is important. I found myself chuckling half way through your post - all we've heard for what feels like YEARS is how reading is declining. Now, apparently, some people would like to see it decline more by putting used bookstores out of business and denying readers the option of buying a used book without paying an inflated cost so that the publisher/author can collect not just one royalty (when the book was bought new), but multiple royalties when the book is resold maybe dozens of times. Ridiculous. As you said - next will be the yard sale police (so if I sell a book at my yardsale for 50 cents, will I have to pay a royalty to the publisher now???!). I give away a ton of books to friends, family and other bloggers - most are used. For that matter, the publishers themselves give away free books to bloggers to review - oh, right...that's because it is free marketing *slaps forehead*

    Bottom line - we should be celebrating every time someone reads a book, not looking for a way to charge them their "fair share" of the royalties.

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  24. Not to mention the huge giveaways on the blogosphere (a lot from actual publishers and authors--has anyone actually purchased Matrimony??), AND the fact that ARCs should not be resold, but often are. I wish I had time to read through all the comments to see where mine fits in, but I was a little irked that Molly apologized on her blog for being thrifty. We are in a recession--if I bought all my books brand new, hubby and I would be standing in the soup line!! :) But another way that I look at it is that if I find a used copy of a book and really really like the book, I'll be more apt to seek out the author again...even in a shiny new copy.

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  25. And Salvation Army stores should start paying royalties to Wrangler Jeans, too.

    Puh-lease. Used books are suddenly evil? How out of touch and greedy have people become? Yes, those who have pointed fingers to music industry are spot on. This is not about a few small independent publishing companies or struggling authors get ahead, it's about publishing powerhouses losing 1/100 of a dollar. Give me a break.

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  26. Sheri- Thanks, I'm glad she did.

    Wendy- It hardly seems fair to have to pay a royalty for a book that's cover might be falling off, dogged eared and yellowed!

    Trish- LOL! Yes, I've seen that book being given away on multiple blogs. It gets around.

    John- I think the music industry has started something. I'm annoyed that I can only put music I bought legally on 3 devices. Hello, I bought it! Anyway... I wonder how this will translate into ebooks as they become more popular.

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  27. Rebecca: Sorry I didn't get to answer your question yesterday. Bookins.com is the only trading service I’ve found that helps you swap stuff with no fuss. There is no standing in line at the post office, and no need to follow-up with each member you exchange with. They provide the postage & mailing label, which you print out at home, they track all shipments, and make sure you get back items of equal value. They even provide replacements at their expense for lost or damaged items. It's the most hassle-free service I've investigated.

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  28. In response to John's comment

    This is not about a few small independent publishing companies or struggling authors get ahead, it's about publishing powerhouses losing 1/100 of a dollar.

    It IS about the author, not just the publisher.

    I'm of two minds on this. Yes, I want as many people to read my books and if they have to borrow them or buy them used, that's fine, but I'd like to know that this might lead the reader to actually buying one new at some point. It's a business. I don't make money if people don't buy my books. And what's worse, I don't get another book contract if no one's buying my books.

    Even though someone might get a book published once or even three times, it's no guarantee they'll get another contract...if their books don't sell retail. There's no guarantee you'd even get picked up by another publisher. Because they all have access to the same numbers. No one wants to take on a writer whose books don't sell.

    So all of you who love certain authors and you're buying their books at used book stores or for a buck at the annual library sale: If you really really like an author, buy one book retail by that author and maybe you can help keep that author published so you can read more of his/her work.

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  29. Most of my used book buying is for books that are reasonably old anyway and my budget knows that I spend far too much money on new hardbacks (that tend to sit in my TBR pile until I notice the paperback is out - argh!)

    But going after used bookstores? When bookstores rip off all the covers of unsold books and send the covers back to the publisher for a refund and the rest of book to the landfill? Wasteful, wasteful, wasteful.

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  30. Karen- Thanks for the author's take on this. I appreciate you posting your thoughts.

    Of course someone's buying new or it wouldn't end up in the used book store. I see tons of Maeve Binchy there. She must be doing alright.

    I bet this wouldn't have been newsworthy a few months ago. With the economy the way it is, everyone is twitchy. I just read an article that said some publishers were cutting their marketing budgets and telling authors to do more of their own promoting. I don't know anything about publishing, but isn't that what publishers are supposed to do? Will the authors do all the work and publishers reap the benefits?

    I guess I got off topic although it's all about money.

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  31. Crazy. And they wonder why the publishing industry is struggling. YOu see this with all different forms of entertainment that can't seem to adapt to new trends and technologies and if they aren't careful the publishing industry will find they've been the ones driving the nails in the coffin when book publishing dies.

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  32. Geesh, I think this is a big pile of crap. If a law like that ever came into effect it would probably drive all used bookshops out of business. Either that or create a an entire generation of non-readers.

    Next the government will be stepping in on libraries and charging rental fees :P

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  33. Chris, authors already do all their own promoting. I've set up mostly all of my own events, given my publisher little giveaways for bookstores at my own expense (they asked for them and would not pay for them), and even contacted the media and gotten on local TV and radio shows on my ow (well, my husband does press for our state attorney general so he knows everyone to contact about that). The publisher has sent out ARCs to reviewers. But so far, for me (and I think I'm the norm), that's been it.

    I did read in the NYTimes about how publishers are not offering spa treatments to sales reps anymore. Well, now, that's a relief.

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  34. Carrie- That's why I wait for paperbacks ;)

    Scribbit- The Kindle might change all that although I still can't get one in Canada (no carrier yet).

    Joanne- *shudder*

    Karen- Thanks for explaining. Sounds like a lot of work. Spa treatments: tea nearly came out my nose! Do they light cigars with dollar bills too?

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  35. If an author's publishing career is such that a used book store does it in, it probably wasn't that strong to begin with. With music, lesser known artists often give away free mp3s as a way of exposure-- if the listener likes it, they are more likely to buy it, promote it, etc. It's bands like Metallica that can't seem to get rich enough that are the angriest. With books it should be the same way. If I pick up a book by and up-and-coming author at a used booksale, I'm more likely to positively review it, recommend my friend buy it, and buy any future new releases. If the up-and-comers don't see it that way, I suggest they're giving into paranoia and the arguments of the already wealthy. That paranoia that will do more to hurt their fanbase than increase it. If you want to be read, support used book stores.

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  36. What an interesting bunch of comments!!! I'm like you, Chris. I've been a stay-at-home, by choice, for my entire adult life. I have to budget that one income carefully and I've never bought many new books because they're just too expensive. Instead, I'm very patient and wait for the titles I want to read to become available at an affordable price, show up at the library (our library sucks) or end up in our library's sale corner. For years, I got most of my books for a quarter each in the library sale because apparently there are other people in town who buy books the library doesn't carry. I donate and swap a lot, myself.

    We don't have any used bookstores, but we used to and both the owners told me they weren't in it for money. They sold used books because they loved reading, plain and simple.

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  37. My book buying habits are much the same as yours. For years I bought few (or no) new books, and staked out the line at the annual friends of the library used book sale.

    For me getting ARCs to review is a huge luxury, and even if they are paperback ARCs, they are also some of the only new books this house has seen (other than scholastic books for my boys).

    I think it's wrong for reviewers to sell their review copies since they are getting them for free. And I wish someone would deal with books being sold used on Amazon before a book even releases. When I'm done with my books they either go to friends, giveaways on my blog, or they get donated to the friends of the library annual booksale.

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  38. Although I almost never buy used books, I totally agree with you. I don't buy only new because of some sort of snobbery, it's just that the used book stores near me often don't carry to sorts of books I like to read. That being said, I don't see why an author "deserves" to get royalties on a book more than once. And the logistics of collecting royalties on used books would be a nightmare.

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  39. This is a really interesting conversation and I'm glad you posted about it. I like to get my books from all sources, used included. There is a market for everything, and fortunately used books are available to the masses.

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  40. I bought about 3 brand new books this year and about 300 used ones. So you can tell what my book buying habits are. I figure once you buy something, it's yours to do with as you please. Does this mean the clothing industry should get profits from thrift stores? Same thing. Once it's sold, it's sold.

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  41. my two cents is this...my library sells used books...does that mean the library will have to pay royalties as well. That seems wrong given that state budgets are used to buy books for the library and those budgets are in the red, leaving many libraries with little recourse but to sell used books and older books...to stay afloat.

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  42. After I saw Sassymonkey post about this on BlogHer, I'm planning to post my two cents on the topic sometime next week. (Can't do it this week, as have lined up a week's worth of Inauguration/President themed posts!)

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