The seller makes a profit, the buyer gets a good deal, and the author/publisher gets no monetary compensation whatsoever.

Is the used book business tantamount to theft?

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Yes, my books are available on-line for a penny. That bothers me, but not much. I figure somebody will read them and love them.
Yes, but you are hopelessly romantic, optimistic and nice and must thus be disregarded by we pessimists.
I'm optimistic only about the books.
I am also bothered by the amazon scenario, but in general agree with JD and those who've said it's fair game to sell used books. The main thing that people have to consider about the amazon situation is that more and more authors are only being signed to one book deals, and publishers aren't in a position to grow authors through three or four books, so if that first book doesn't sell well enough there may be no opportunity for sales to be sparked on the next book. If someone put a gun to my head and said, "Libraries or used book stores, which are unethical?" then I'd go with used book stores in a snap. I pretty well don't buy used unless it's the only way I can get a book that's out of print, but I really don't have much concern with them. I'm not convinced they're always taking from author profits, in the same way I don't think libraries do. Many people wouldn't buy the books new no matter what, and if they can't borrow them or get them second-hand, they just won't read them. But anyone who reads your work can recommend it to others, and they may buy it new, and spark more word of mouth that will generate more sales.

The other thing to consider, though, is that as sales decline, book prices rise to compensate as publishers try to stay alive. It's like all things - volume in bulk means lower prices can be maintained. So in that respect, I do think the growth of book-swapping places has really hurt the business, as well as amazon's used book selling. They've just made it so much easier for people. For me, it's a 50 km drive each way to the nearest used book store, and I can't be bothered wasting my time and money going out of my way, but now it's nothing to order a used book right off the internet. I can imagine for others it's made it very tempting.

I pulled a few books from my shelves and was surprised to learn the retail price for hardcover fiction in the U.S. has been rock steady for a long time.

Dark Rivers of the Heart(1994) by Dean Koontz--$24.00

Persuader(2003) by Lee Child--$24.95

Dirty Martini(2007) by JA Konrath--$23.95

Pretty amazing, actually, when you consider U.S. gasoline in 1994 was $1.14 a gallon and a postage stamp was $.29.
You need to look at variables like book length.

Book prices have not stayed the same this side of the border. On the surface, many would look at a mmpb and not think much has changed, but the books have been priced at 70 cents to the dollar for years, and the exchange hasn't been that in ages. Books coming out right now maintain the same pricing, and when you consider we're being charged $35 for a hardcover here and the dollar is about equal (and has been in the 90 cent range for at least a year now) people are choked. And I have to say that at $17 for a 160 page book, my husband looked at Drive and nearly had a stroke. We ended up getting a review copy. Now Kevin might buy a new Sallis, but to try him cold at a subtantially higher price than longer books sell for? Perhaps we see more of the pricing discrepencies, but some publishers are consistently priced higher than others, and often for shorter books.

If the book business wants to stay competitive, it has to stay affordable, but that loss of profit comes from somewhere. What are the common complaints these days?

1. Publishers recycling stock photos for covers (maybe because they really can't afford anything else?)
2. Publishers not doing any promotion for the books, advertising in review sections to keep them alive, not sending authors on book tours
3. I know some publishers have reduced their royalty percentages paid to authors
4. Editorial staff being let go and then hired on contract basis so that publishers don't have to pay employee benefits

Right now, the hits are primarily being passed to the authors, but there will come a time when that's not enough.

Here's another monkey wrench in the dynamic - you buy a video, it's yours, you should be able to watch it with friends, right? Do whatever you want with it, according to the arguments put forth here. But if a library wants to show a video to a group of kids they have to get licensed permission to show it in public, and same as an individual. There really is a double standard with the movie business. The difference is, movie and music profits have taken drastic hits in the last few years because of the internet and they have clout to push legislation. It happens in the book business and people shrug it off.
I feel with you, Patricia. One of mine was offered for 1 penny. It was insulting. :) On the other hand, another sold several copies quite quickly at 50 bucks each.
What my girlfriend does is buy my books that are being sold at bargain prices on amazon and abebooks and then gives them away to coworkers who are unfamiliar with my work. She works at a TV station in L.A., so it's great exposure. Maybe I should join Bill Crider in the book optimists' corner.
I do this with Megan's books for the same reason. But the others, still in print, I buy through the more normal way.
Lucky you!
I hate the Amazon scenario and it perturbs me that they can do this - selling postage in the guise on one-a-penny books...not cool.

On the other hand, I bought my first Lee Child as a used book - immediately went out and purchased the rest of the series brand new. Those unavaialbein the brick and mortars (something relatively common in our small book market in Africa) I ordered on the web. Same with Robert Crais's Elvis Cole series. Had I not thought, "eh, small change, let's see what this guy's like," at the used book shop, I'd not have bought all their other books, nor would I have introduced them to several people who told other people who told other people, and on. So in my case, the one used sale has led to at least dozens of "legitimate" sales so I'm thinking, ethics or advertising? and leaning towards the latter.
There will always be some dealers in used goods who engage in unethical practices, but the act of reselling legally acquired tangible personal property is a legitimate business activity, whether we're talking about books, or cars, appliances, clothing or houses. And so the question is not one of ethics, but one of business. What do publishers and authors have to do differently to remain viable economically given the reality of easy availablity on the internet of cheap used books?


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