ARE YOU BUYING USED BOOKS ON THE INTERNET?

Recently, my webmaster forwarded a request to me from an Internet used book outfit asking that their link be added to my website (www.johnmorganwilson.com). This was my reply:

No, Internet book sales have pretty much finished off my career writing books (after an even dozen). Because of used books sales, my publisher no longer brings out my books in paper, which is true of many other writers. Why should someone purchase our trade paperbacks when they can buy a used hardcover for less? Because of Internet used books sales, I probably will not get another contract to write more mystery novels, since used books sales, after killing off my paperback contract, have now started to eat into my hardcover sales as well. My income is down by half from ten years ago, and dropping, while I'm actually reaching more readers than ever. (Recently, my Edgar-winning title, originally published in 1996, was ranked #51 among Amazon.com's current top 100 gay men's mystery titles, and it has been out of print for seven years, meaning it continues to sell well, while I get no credit for those sales.) Unfortunately, they are buying used books rather than new, for which I get neither credit for sales nor royalties. It also makes getting older titles back into print very difficult, because, again, they are already available used, who what's the incentive for the publisher? Internet used booksellers are killing the golden goose, little by little, and don't seem to give a damn. The bestselling authors will survive and I guess that's all that matters.

Used booksellers argue that used books are a way for readers to discover new authors but the fact is that most of those readers will continue to buy that author's work used. The tradeoff of picking up a few new readers this way, who might buy new books, doesn't begin to offset the enormous loss and damage to our sales and careers that massive used books sales are causing. The last figure I saw was that used books now account for 12% of all books sales, a number that grows each year.

The point is, anyone who is buying used crime novels is hurting the authors. Are you?

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Well, in Canada a new hardcover is usually $35. We are finally starting to see fair play on the dollar, but that means the average hardcover will now be around $27 for us. CDs are far more reasonable. I remember a few years ago, I picked up some hardcovers in the UK for 10 pounds sterling, and came home to see the trade paperback versions being sold here for $25.

It's possible that it's used as an excuse by some, but the reality is that the profits produced from book sales are being spread amongst more authors now. The big take is limited to fewer bestsellers while more authors are cut after a few books, and without having a promotional budget behind them they never really had a chance. The only way to cut the costs is to cut the authors who aren't superstars. What readers have to look forward to is a future with less selection, dominated by formulaic, cloned books that are "guaranteed" bestsellers. I can understand the value of trying someone new used, although as has been mentioned (at least over here, I'm not going to wade in on the technicalities in other countries) that's what libraries are for. If people request books via the library it encourages them to purchase a copy, and then many people can enjoy it at virtually no expense, but there are financial benefits to the author (in Canada a royalty system is in place, and in the UK).

I don't have a source on this other than a conversation with Jan Burke a few years ago, when I was told that only 5% of authors make a living writing.

And someone shoot me now if the future is reading online.
Well, my publisher (Penguin) still is committed to quality and to allowing a series to build. I have, of course, never managed to make a living (in spite of the fact that my brilliant agents are selling foreign, and just now also audio rights everywhere. It's taken me 5 novels (the first two were practically ruined, and I along with them, by my first publisher's lack of commitment) but I'm finally getting there, I think. No idea if I'll be making a living. I'll just be happy if I can stop worrying.
I'm surprised that publishers put up with Amazon listing used books on the site. Certainly if five or six of the biggest publishers start to see a loss of income because of reselling they could try to do something about it.

The thing about the recording industry is that it isn't the music industry. Jon was right to call it 20th century -- it didn't exist before then and it won't after. What it means is that all musicians will have to get paid for performance -- rock stars will get paid the same way classical musicians get paid. You see it already where a lot of musicians are giving away new music with the purchase of a concert ticket. Madonna's (always a terrific business person) new contract isn't even with a recording company, it's with a concert promoter. they're going to put out new music by her, but they're not looking at it as the only (or even main) revenue producer.

But it seems unlikely many writers will make much money by charging for readings.

And, as for only 10% of writers making a living from writing, most arts are like that (Maybe all the arts). No one really knows in advance what books are going to take off and be big sellers. A lot of books get huge promotion but they don't all sell anywhere near the same number of copies. Sometimes books really do come out of nowhere and sell steady for years.

I think William Goldman said about the movie business (where you see a lot of hundred million dollar, hugely hyped flops) that, "Nobody knows nothing." It's all guesses and luck.

cheery, eh?
John, I think bands have responded very quickly. And there was the case in the US this year (can't remember the band) where they stopped selling CDs at concerts because it was eating into their t-shirt sales (off which the band took a much bigger cut).

One other thing, the music industry made the mistake of replacing something evocative and artistic (the vinyl lp) with something useful but not particularly collectable (CDs). That goes back to my point about books being attractive - I'm sure I'm not alone in buying and certainly holding on to books because they've been beautifully crafted.
The only reason to point out that only about 5% (not 10) of authors earn a living writing is that I've had several conversations where people have said, "Oh, I thought you got a publishing deal and you'd be pretty much rich then." And what was scary was, they really meant it. People never feel as bad about skimming an industry if they think people are raking it in.

The main issue I see is that authors are on the front lines in this, and really powerless to do much about it. And then we have people complaining about recycled book covers, poor editing, and that's the second tier as it hits. Book prices haven't risen much, but cuts do seem to be coming out of the quality.

Problem with that is, if the books aren't as good, people don't feel as willing to buy them because they aren't certain they'll be worth the money, and it feeds the cycle.

And a few years back when Alanis did her record deal with Starbucks for an exclusive, some retailers stopped selling her CDs. Things may have shifted further now, but there was at least the pretense of resistence. The music industry is different - artists can set up their own label and record their own music and still be considered for awards and played on radio and carried in stores. In the book business we call that self publishing. I'm not advocating for self publishing, I'm just saying that in music they can cut the executives at the record labels right out of the equation - as Madonna is doing - but that isn't an option for us. (And it isn't that I want that option. I 100% don't want the headache. But I would have made more money off SC if I'd self published, selling the book for less, and still ended up with the same level of quality because I did the original cover design, provided the photo and did all my own edits.)
Madonna and other established musicians have a built in audience, so they can live without a record contract. The band playing your local club has no better chance without some kind of corporate backing than does the self-publishing, unknown author. If Stephen King and James Patterson decided to cut out the middle man (publisher) and go direct to the public, they'd probably do fine. They already have enough name recognition to guarantee reasonable distribution.
Very good point. Of course, it's also a bit easier to get radio play to help you - or maybe it's more of a Canadian anomaly, because of Canadian content regulations on radio - but in the country music scene they do a pretty good job promoting the indie artists here.
John, I too am a full-time writer and this is not a "sideline or labor of love" for me, but in all honesty, I've seen no evidence of this impacting me yet. That's not to say I'm questioning what you've said - I have no doubt that you're on the front edge of a trend that will impact us all eventually.

On the other hand, it still doesn't concern me greatly and I think it's something we'll simply have to adapt to. I also think there will always be a significant enough number of people buying new to make it worthwhile being a writer.

Alternatively, if the publishers started to feel the impact severely they could introduce a returns policy, kind of like the way you used to get some money for returning empty bottles. Hand your book in for recycling, you get a dollar...
I occasionally buy used books at my library, and once in a great while in a used bookstore, though those are usually older, hard to find books. Online, I buy only new, unless it's out of print, or some piece of non-fiction I need for research that would cost an exorbitant amount otherwise. I am an ardent user of my local public library.
I buy new and swap around those titles I don't want to keep. That way I can try new writers and if I find they meet my needs, I buy new. But rarely hardcovers. I'll grit my teeth and wait until the paperback comes out.

I am aware that many of my readers come to me via used books or the free e-book my publisher gives away. At this stage of my career, the $$ aren't that substantial. I'm building readership. However, when I reach mid-list, I suspect my outlook may change.
I mostly buy new books. I love new books. I keep most of the books I buy (and have a flat which is groaning at the seams to prove it). If I love a book I will buy multiple copies to give to friends, or just to have a spare to lend someone, or simply to support an author whose work I admire. But I also buy used books. I snap up the old Gold Medal pulp paperbacks, I buy any scruffy old copy of a Richard S Prather Shell Scott novel I come across. But I also use it as a way of trying out a new author. Hardbacks in the UK cost between $25 and $40. If I buy 3 used hardbacks at $10 each and love Author A, like Author B, hate author C I will go out and buy Author A's next book in hardback (and probably also pick up their backlist)I will wait for Author B's novels to come out in paperback and buy them as they are published, and maybe a backlist one or two. And Author C I won't bother with. I have found many authors that way. Christopher Brookmyre I picked up first as a used book. I now buy the hardbacks the instant thy are published, picked up all the backlist in paperback (except one which I couldn't find and bought used), and I buy copies of both the paperbacks and hardbacks as gifts for friends. So, yes, I buy used books.
I agree with Jon, they need to put the prices of the titles at a reasonable level. I recently went into Barnes and Noble, and found a title that had a pretty nice cover...I read the synopsis, and had intended on buying it when I noticed it was $32.99!!!
300 pages, sure, but cmon!

I work in the printing industry...and the costs have gone up, but nothing near to warrant that kind of price..wow.

With that being said, I admit to buying a used book every now and then, but not on a regular basis. We have a used bookstore in town, but once I have picked over the selection, I am pretty much done with that place for a year or so...the stock rotation isnt that great. Also, I find that even though you can find new-to-you authors at these places, the prices they are charging for the titles in nearly half or more of the cover, and to me thats just too much for a tattered book. So I go and buy it new.

I have also started sharing alot of what I think are great books with friends of mine. I have made friends with a few authors, and I know how much word of mouth can help one of them in the sales department. Another new thing I have started to do quite a bit is to browse the authors page directly and see if I can't get the book there. I know one author that signs books for free when purchased from his site, and I am sure there are quite a few others that do as well.

So, I am guilty to buying used, especially if they are out of print. But I buy twenty to thirty times as many new books, so I have offset my nasty little deed.

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