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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So, what is the answer for people on lower incomes? I know many people who love to read. But they must make a decision between using the $30.00 charged for a hardback of their favorite author or buying 2-3 cheap meals in order for their families to eat. This is a fact in this economy, not an exaggeration.

The same people buying used books, online or at the local UBS wait for the clothing sales at 75% off and two seasons out of date. Or buy jeans for their 5 year old at Goodwill because they cost $2.50, and the kid will never know the difference because he wears out the knees in a couple of months anyway. Or look for the cuts of meat just marked down 25% for quick sale because they are not quite as fresh as the ones just put out.

Is there anyone here, anyone at all, who can say that they have never walked into a used bookstore or clicked online at least once and bought a book when money was tight?

Books have always been resold throughout history. At times they have been left in wills as legacies. Lent out to families or given to friends. Where is the line drawn?

I hope to publish a novel one day. Fate willing, more than one. Making money would be a nice thing to. But I don't feel that someone struggling with where each penny should go, should have to suffer for their lack of income by losing a venue that provides them with a basic pleasure like reading.
Eloquently put; I agree completely.

As writers and avid readers, we sometimes forget that reading is a recreational activity for most people. Given finite resources, a person has a choice of making a commitment of $25 and several hours on a book, or $15/month to watch all the HBO he wants, in convenient increments of time. Compact disks, while expensive themselves, are cheaper than a new hard back book, and are much more likely to be listened to again and again than the book is to be re-read. Folks like this are far more likely to buy a used book, as they may buy several at a time so they can have one available should the urge to read strike them and the library is inconvenient (or closed) at the time. I want to get my novel published and make some money from it, too, but I can’t fault them for that.
I am consoling myself with an e-mail from a fan this very morning: She says she has bought all of my books, is keeping them, and hopes for more.

You see, if you attach value to a book -- as much value as to a tape, or recording, or film -- then you buy to keep. And don't you know that most people have sizable collections of music and films on tape but very few books, if any? Poverty is not the problem here.
Not that I want to get into an argument on it, but the artists' cut per CD is small? Uh, based on what model?

Since I have a cousin who's both a recording artist himself, and also an award-winning songwriter, I'm aware of some of the royalty structures. If you write a song you get royalties off every album sold - more of a distinction between country and rock, where artists tend to write their own stuff - but a few years ago another artist was talking about being in the running for one of the writing slots on a George Strait album, and he just missed it in the end as his track was one of the very last ones cut that wasn't recorded, which he said openly was disappointing because of how much money he would have made on that one song alone.

Complete aside - do your music artists get paid each time their song is played on radio, or is that just a Canadian thing too?
I certainly don't begrudge the person on a fixed income or in a financial crunch. For myself, anyway, my frustration goes more to people who have the money (and squander it on other things routinely without batting an eye) who complain about the cost...

But the price of books has been a HUGE issue in Canada lately because of the value of the dollar. I'm holding in my hand a paperback, just out for a few months now. Printed price on the back $6.99 US, $9.99 Canadian.

It's impossible to enter a bookstore without hearing people complain now. And yes, the response has been to charge the US price for Canadians in some retailers, but the very nature of the argument underscores the pricing problems that Jon touches on. And what do you do about backlist stock that was brought in when the exchange rate was different? That's something else casual readers don't understand. If the book was bought at 80 cents to the dollar, selling it now at US list means losing money for the retailer. But then how do the retailers make up that difference? Surely they're treating some of it as lost leaders, a common sales philosophy, but they have to mark up the extra on something else in order to recover the loss.

However, it isn't hard to see why there's so much leeway involved in the pricing/discount structure. One thing I was told to check on before signing with a publisher was their distributor, and the distributor for SC was (by all accounts) perfect. However, the fine print wasn't (and you should bear in mind that few authors ever see this agreement, or even find out about this, which is why it never gets talked about). What I learned is that with some publishers the distributors maintain the right to change the set retailer discount, and they pocket the difference. It's easy to understand why this happens. They do it to offer a cost advantage to their biggest clients, on both sides. The bigger publishers get the attractive price advantage, and the bigger retailers get the better discounts. The only reason I found out was because it was written in my contract that I took a substantial reduction in royalties if the publisher offered the book at industry standard retailer discount. When I found out the retailers weren't being offered that discount the publisher of SC had to pay me more money.

The plus from that was I learned a lot about the pricing and discount structure and how it worked. Doesn't change anything, though.
"my frustration goes more to people who have the money (and squander it on other things routinely without batting an eye) who complain about the cost."

I guess it all comes down to the individual's definition of "squandering." As writers, we must never presume the purchase of books to be a reader's primary use of discretionary income.
As writers, we must never presume the purchase of books to be a reader's primary use of discretionary income.

That isn't what's being done. What I'm pointing out is that when people have plenty of money and spend freely on many luxury items, then hit me with the argument that a $10 paperback is too expensive it isn't an argument that has much traction. The "real" flesh and blood people I know who fall into this category won't buy books for their kids either, but they've got the latest x-box games etc. etc. The point actually isn't that books are too expensive for them - the point is that books aren't important enough to spend their money on. And each person has the right to decide that for themselves, but it does derail the discussion. A better question to ask is how many people who don't presently buy books, or who only buy used books, would actually buy new books if the prices were reduced? And how many who buy used books would buy new if they had the money or it wasn't so easy to get used? The reality is, many of these people wouldn't buy the books new, no matter what. I don't know how to get statistics on that, but there is a certain percentage of the population that isn't going to buy books, no matter how many they read, no matter how much they cost. So if they wouldn't buy your book new no matter what, have you really lost a sale if they do pick it up used?

We were pretty poor when I was a kid, and I used to get smacked on the head if I was caught inside reading. I've been buying books with my own money since I was a child. They're important to me. I'd like to think that if people find authors they love and if the books are important to them, they'll buy new books on occasion. Most people I "know" out here in the "real" world won't. But it isn't because they don't have the money, and that's a big point to consider. Reducing the cost of books alone isn't going to boost book sales.
Umm, what we need here is a campaign to point out the dangers of reusing books contaminated by other people. "Do you know where that book has been???" With advice about washing your hands after every reading sessions. :) Used book stores could offer a bar of soap with every purchase.

Hmm. That could cut down on library use.
The reality is, many of these people wouldn't buy the books new, no matter what. I don't know how to get statistics on that, but there is a certain percentage of the population that isn't going to buy books, no matter how many they read, no matter how much they cost. So if they wouldn't buy your book new no matter what, have you really lost a sale if they do pick it up used?

Certainly true.

And ask yourself what happens with the money seller of used books earn. Most likely they buy books, most likely new ones (or they buy used books from someone who in turn will buy a new book, ect.). Would they not earn money with used books, they would have no money to spend on new ones. I am sure that overall authors are not hurt by used books.
Jon, has your agent looked into putting your backlist into POD?
Income is income, and if you have a fan base, they will always demand that your write more.
My (poor) favorites can't write fast enough for me. I always want more more more. There are a lot of options these days.
But since you've been burned, I wouldn't agree to help the fire starters.
Patg
I never buy used books on the internet, and only buy them in used bookstores when they are unavailable as new. I rarely use the library and prefer to purchase new books when available. If I really enjoy a book, I generally keep it in my collection. However, it is becoming a problem as I am starting to run out of room to store them.
John,

If your used books are doing so well in sales, you are acquiring a large following. Write them another-Brand New Title- They will purchase that. It's new money in the bank...

Dennis

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