Friday, October 15, 2010

A Book in the Hand is Worth Two on the Shelf

Cricket McRae

box of books

First off, greetings to all you Bouchercon attendees. Wish I could be there this year, but it didn’t work out. Enjoy and give us the lowdown on the convention when you get back, eh?

Before my Home Crafting Mysteries hit the shelves, before they’re even officially released, there are always a few available on Ebay. I’m not sure where they come from, though I suspect they’re review copies. Not uncorrected Advance Reader Copies, which go to the big reviewers like Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and Library Journal earlier in the publishing process, but the final printed products Midnight Ink sends to newspapers and certain online review sites.

Does the availability of used (though I doubt they’re very used) copies of my mysteries prior to their actual release bother me? A little, I’ll admit. But on the other hand, those books are getting into the hands of readers. That’s good.

Sure, I’d like to hit the big bestseller lists and make a gazillion dollars from writing. The IRS would probably like it better than the earnings shown on that return I e-filed recently, too. But that isn’t going to happen – to me or to anyone else – unless there’s buzz. And buzz comes from lots of people reading a book and liking it enough to pass on to their friends or recommend it to perfect strangers via sites like Goodreads and Shelfari and Amazon book reviews. I figure the more people who read my books, the better – no matter how they get them.

Is it a good and moral thing to buy used books? After all, the author receives no money from those purchases. Is it a form of piracy?

Or simply frugality? There are plenty of people who love to read and can’t afford to buy new all the time. I love libraries, but their collections can’t possibly encompass all the good stuff out there. In the current economy, it’s hard to fault readers who are getting their hands on material any way they can.

I do buy used. Not all the time, but sometimes. Books I need for research come to mind first. Plus, the independent bookstores in my town sell both new and used books. I’m more likely to try a new-to-me author at a discount. Then, if I like them, I’ll buy their other books brand-spanking new. And, with a nod to the karma gods, I gladly shell out full price for books written by friends.

Sometimes I pass those books on, however. After all, I know and like a lot of authors. I can’t keep them all on my shelves. Like Deb (see yesterday’s post) I recently purged my office. That meant books had to go, too. So I held a contest on my blog, and this afternoon will haul a big box of paperbacks to the post office. They’ll go to someone who’s truly excited about receiving them. That makes me feel good. My hope is that the winner might discover a new author or three – and might even pass those books on yet again, or recommend a few to others.

How do you feel about used books? Do you buy them? Feel guilty? And what about the trend toward electronic publishing? On one hand it’s harder to hand an electronic book to a friend, yet on the other it might open up a whole new arena for the piracy of intellectual property. Thoughts?


Lois Winston said...

Cricket, piracy of e-books is becoming a huge problem. If the publishing world doesn't join together to combat this the way the music industry did, we're all going to suffer. Publishers aren't in business to give books away. It is, after all, a business, and businesses need to make money. If they're not making money, they can't pay their bills and won't stay in business very long. And they certainly won't be buying new manuscripts from authors. If authors aren't getting paid for their work, they're going to stop submitting to the publisher. Bottom line -- no new books by favorite authors and no new authors to discover. Everyone loses -- authors, publishers, AND readers.

So whereas I have no problem with lending books to friends and people frequenting libraries and used books stores (not everyone has the money to buy new all the time, and that shouldn't keep people from reading), I have a huge problem with people who believe it's OK to steal an author's work and offer it for free on websites.

I also have a huge problem with the people who download from those websites. They have this idiotic notion that if it's on the Internet, it's free. They don't believe they're breaking any laws, but they are. However, until both the pirates and the end users are prosecuted, they'll both continue to steal.

As individual authors, there's not much we can do to combat piracy. We can monitor the sites and demand our books be removed when they show up, but they'll just pop up again on the same or a different site. In order to stop the piracy the publishers have to band together and strike hard at both the pirates and the people who frequent these sites. It's the only way to put an end to the piracy and insure that publishing survives.

Bet you didn't expect a rant like that when you asked for thoughts, huh?

Leah said...

I love libraries, used books stores and new bookstores. Because I love books!

It never occurred to me to feel guilty about buying used, until I read something about it. I do wish there was some way for the author to get a bit of that money.

On the other, there is no way I would buy the number of books that I buy if I could only buy new books.

And, it is likely that I will buy a new book by an author I like at some point...

Maybe we could think of the used book market as a sort of advertising for new books; advertising that doesn't cost the publisher anything.

I dunno. I still have mixed feelings.

Cricket McRae said...

Lois, thanks for your very instructive comment! You're spot on regarding the illegal posting of e-books online. It's a completely different animal than buying used books or passing on a book to a friend. There are a lot of parallels to the music industry -- but at least (some) musicians can make money from shows/concerts, while authors are being asked more and more to pay bookstores for the privilege of signing in them.

I have mixed feelings, too, Leah. But the last thing I want to do is make someone feel guilty for buying used books! I do kind of think of them as advertising.

Darrell James said...

Cricket- I believe an author wins (uin the long run) any time a reader reads and enjoys a book. So, I have no problem with used books or libraries. I use tlibraries a lot and still buy dozens of books new each year.

Electronic pirating, I think, is a whole other issue, and concerns me deeply.

Alan Orloff said...

I buy new books, I buy used books, I use libraries, I borrow books. As a writer, I'm with Darrell. As long as people are reading my books, I'm happy.

As for piracy, I have a feeling that those people who steal downloaded books wouldn't be paying for them otherwise. In other words, yes, it isn't right, but I don't think it "costs" as many sales as you might think.

Deborah Sharp said...

I'm with Darrell, too... Whatever spreads the 'brand' around is good with me. But I hate all those sites popping up that rip off the E-version!
Thanks for something to think about today

Alice Loweecey said...

Lois, that was an excellent answer!

Dru said...

This was a great post.

I buy books and also borrow from the library. Some of the books that I buy are a result of reading library books.

Vickie said...

I love books any way I can legally get them. I talk about the books I read on various sites and spread the word and like to think I am helping sell the books in my eensy way.
I do hope the book publishing world gets together and makes the piracy at least more difficult to do. The music biz has done a pretty good job of it, so I would think it could be done.

Cricket McRae said...

Thanks for all your comments. The consensus is that access to used books is a boon, which I completely agree with. And there's no question that piracy of any kind of intellectual property thoroughly sucks. I am curious, Alan, as to how many real book sales are lost due to pirated e-books.

Dru, I often buy books after I've read them at the library. Mostly nonfiction ... and cookbooks. ; )