Monday, December 29, 2008

When you're broke--and even when you're not--buying books used looks like the smart thing to do. But it's hurting publishing, book stores, and the author, none of whom get their fair cut: click here.

And if you plan to be a published writer someday, then you need to feed the business that you want to feed you.


Flynn said...

I strongly disagree with the premise that used book sales are killing the publishing industry. I buy new books when I can, but I rely pretty heavily on libraries and online used booksellers to feed my reading habit because I have no choice. And I refuse to feel the least bit guilty about it. I can't afford to buy every book I read new.

Blaming the consumer for the publishing world's problems is a page right out of the music industry's playbook and it's bullshit. The publishing industry's problems are manifold and, like the music industry, it began when publishing houses sold out to multinational corporations that gamble the well-being of their imprints on crap. You can't convince me that buying used books is anywhere near as detrimental to publishing as paying Charles Frazier an advance of $8.25 million for his 2nd book (based on a 1-page proposal!).

The publishing industry has been stuck in denial about the changes in media culture for too long, and now they are paying for it. Unfortunately, a lot of good book industry people are being hit very hard, including writers, and that sucks, but attacking the used book industry is not a solution--especially during a major economic recession.

Readers are the solution to the publishing industry's problems, not the cause. Instead of blaming the hand that feeds them, maybe the publishing industry should pick up on the hints readers have been giving them.

Diana said...

I agree that there are ridiculous advances (though those are the exceptions rather than the norm) but I stand by my belief in buying books, new and in hardcover. The writer deserves to be paid for his or her work.

Flynn said...

I'm not opposed to writers getting paid, and I do believe in buying new books when possible. But I think a writer's (and publisher's) primary goal should be to reach readers. If a person buys a used book (or checks it out of a library) they are still exposed to the writing. I think that's more important than anything else. As with music, when a consumer finds an artist/writer who he/she connects with, it usually leads to purchases of new CDs/books and recommendations, which will also lead to sales.

Yes, advances the size of Frazier's are the exception, but they are indicative of the problems in the industry, I think--as are the contracts given to flash-in-the-pan celebs like Joe the Plumber. When you add up all those ridiculous millions of dollars, it isn't insignificant. Instead of maintaining a strong & consistent industry, too often the few corporations that control the industry rely on huge bestsellers to reach their profit goals, just as the music industry has w/ Britney, etc. The problem becomes predicting who the next Dan Brown or Charles Frazier or Britney will be. When they guess wrong, after throwing millions in advances and publicity after their guess, it's other writers who suffer from lack of publicity $$. A much bigger problem than online used book sellers is the power wielded by B&N and Amazon. They're the elephants in the room, but it's much easier to attack frugal readers and faceless used booksellers who banded together more effectively than new booksellers to utilize the Internet.

There are now more possible revenue streams available than ever before, but the mainstream pub industry has fought them to its detriment. More and more writers who have given away their work online have seen sales improve as a result. I suspect the same has always been true w/ used bookstores and libraries, but there's never been a way to track such an effect.

thelifemosaic said...

I think more than worrying about buying used books, buying small press magazines and supporting outlets for young writers may be more important on the "support scale" to me.

One of The Simpsons writer/producers, Matt Selman, wrote about a related conundrum - when to buy a book online for cheap at Amazon or for full price to support an independent bookstore:

Regarding the specific issue, my favorite contemporary writer, Neil Gaiman, had this to say on the subject in his blog last April:

"Authors don't get paid anything for books in used bookstores -- but then, we've already been paid for them. Someone bought them once, and I'm happy for them to be resold. (As I said in Wired (full reply by me here) and repeated in this journal,

'If you buy one of my books (or are sent it to review) it's yours. You bought it (or were given it). You can sell it on. I don't have any more of a problem with Amazon listing the used copies than I do bookstores having used book sections. It's their store.

You can buy a book new, buy it in hardback or wait for the paperback, find it used or as a collectible. I don't mind. What I care about most is that people are reading.

As I said when I discussed this at length in the piece I put up on this journal that was quoted in Wired last month, books don't come with single-end-user licenses, and I think that's a good thing.'

And six years on, I've not changed my mind."

This guy's a millionaire and all he's ever wanted is for people to read his work. He is the darling of the librarian community, promotes websites like, and definitely paid his dues in terms of starting from scratch to where he is now.