Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New or Used?

By Joe Moore

When you buy a book, do you buy new or used? If your favorite author just released a new hard cover, do you snatch it up immediately or wait for the mass market paperback? And in either case, do you buy a used copy or new?

As writers, how should we look at used book sales? I'm not talking about out-of-print books where about the only way to get a copy is on eBay. I'm talking about the book you just had published a month ago. Do you look at used book sales as money lost? After all, neither you nor your publisher earns any revenue from used sales.

If you were lucky enough to have a book that sells well, but you started seeing hundreds of used copies for sale on Amazon, eBay and other sources, would you be upset knowing those were royalty-less sales?

Here are some random thoughts in no particular order for and against used book sales.

For: If someone buys a used copy of my book and they like it, they might buy a new copy of my next one.

Against: If my sales were approaching the point where the publisher considered a second (or third) print run, I may never get it because the used sales took the place of the additional run.

For: Used book sellers sometimes hand sell books that eventually help build a writer's career.

Against: The biggest used book seller in the world is Amazon and there's no hand selling going on there.

For: All used books were originally purchased as new so there's the royalty.

Against: For each new book sold, 5-6 people may read it as a used book equating to lost royalties.

For: Used books help perpetuate my "brand" and name recognition. It gets my name out into the market place to readers who can't afford the price of new books.

Against: Used books provide the same level of enjoyment to the reader as a new copy but with no return for my efforts.

The argument for and against is a polarizing debate. For every point in favor of used sales, there's an equally opposed view. What is your feelings on this? Do you get hot under the color when you see your books being sold used or do you rejoice that your name is getting out there to a new reader?


Mark Terry said...

When I was out of college and working as a research assistant in 1986/87 and making a whopping $8.75 an hour, used books were pretty much all I could afford except for the occasional mass market paperback and even rarer hardcover, which were usually reserved for Christmas or birthdays (which in my case are only 2 weeks apart). That financial situation really didn't improve that significantly for a few years despite a better paying job because I went on to purchase things like a house and all the accompanying things like furniture and lawn mowers.

It was only later that hardcovers or any book I wanted, pretty much, could fit into my income.

So I have sympathy for anyone who buys used books. I do note with some dismay the number of used copies of my own books are available on Amazon, but I suppose it would be even more dismaying if nobody bought those either.

I was a book reviewer for a major newspaper here in Michigan for a few years and my book buying shrunk considerably during that period because publishers sent me tons of books, far more than I could review. They still do even though I've told them I'm no longer reviewing. As a result, I buy books, but not as many as I would otherwise because the Book Fairy's still swinging by my house. I've got a good 50 or 60 books just waiting for me to read, and then, hey, your new book just came out and I haven't bought it yet, and I see Dick Francis has a new one out, and oh yeah, haven't picked up Marcus Sakey's novel yet, and the book about the Supreme Court that Jeffrey Toobin wrote sounds great, and...

Mark Combes said...


The thinking is (you can decide if this is legit or not) that used book buyers are a different segment of the market. A different customer than a new book buyer. Mark #1's experience is a classic one where cost is an issue. Others might want the newest and shinest. Much like buying a car I guess. Some have to have the latest bell and whistle and are willing to pay for it. While others, (uh, like me) much prefer someone else take the hit on the depreciation and buy a car that's a couple years old. You don't hear Ford or Toyota complaining about used car sales....But I have to problem slapping down $25 for a hardcover if I want it! My cheapness only goes so far....

Bill Cameron said...

I'm good with used. I think Mark 2's point that it's a different market segment is the critical one. In the end, used book sales are keeping people reading.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Old copies of my scrapbooking books do pop up on eBay and other remaindered sites. The good news is...someone pointed out to me I have a "strong Google presence." (

(Nuts. I was hoping for "a pretty face" or a "stunning figure." But...NOOOOO...I get a strong Google presence.)

Since all of those scrapbookers will be a potential audience for my Kiki Lowenstein books, I'm fine with the books being sold at rock-bottom prices. In fact, I even bought all my "old" stock because I'm writing a call on my chances of the "old" stock having MORE value when my mystery set in the scrapbooking world debuts Oct. 2008.

Am I right? Who knows.

I guess we'll see.

Mark Terry said...

I think I have a strong google presence, too.

As the saying goes, a strong google presence and a buck can buy you a cup of coffee (except at Starbucks, where a buck will buy you pretty much nothing).

The Imaginary Blog said...

I love new books. I like being the first person to open the copy--I like the crispness of the pages, the crackle of the spine when I open the book for the first time, and especially the clean smell of brand new paper and ink.

So I buy used only if that's the only way to get the book. (Plus I'm a bit sensitive to that royalty thing, LOL.)

I like hardcover or trade books best. I don't know what on earth has happened to the print in some of these new mass-markets. They're practically in microprint.

Ack. I'm ranting! Sorry. You've all just been exposed to my worst habit. Mea culpa.


G.M. Malliet said...

I confess I wasn't sensitive to this issue until I became a soon-to-be-published author. I don't think the average person realizes the author loses out on these sales.

The fact is, tho, if you buy used from Amazon etc., once they tack on the separate shipping charges, you might as well buy several books direct from Amazon and get the free shipping.

A related issue, however, is that I feel guilty buying online as I watch my local independent stores suffer and close. I try to buy from them where I can but economics does factor in. It's not so much that I'm poor as that I'm, shall we say, thrifty.

Keith Raffel said...


What about libraries? Dozens of people can read the same copy there. Let's shut them down! A little more seriously, in a dozen companies or so, there's a public lending rights scheme that pays authors when their books are checked out of the libraries. In Canada the maximum is under $4000 per year.

Joe Moore said...

Good question about libraries, Keith. Although you're right that multiple people can read a book a no cost, sales to libraries accounts for a large bulk of our books sales. Thousands of copies are sold throughout the country. And although anyone can read a book for free, no one can own it. If a book is really popular, many patrons may choose to go ahead and buy it rather than waiting for a copy to be returned.

Felicia Donovan said...

I think I'll have made it when I can find THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY in a bin at a yard sale under an 8-track tape of Charlie Rich singing "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World."

I really do buy most of my books at yard sales. I realize it's not contributing to immediate royalties, but if I find an author I especially like, I would consider buying new from them. It's also recycling and I'd rather my books get read and reread till the covers come off than someone chucking it in a landfill.

spyscribbler said...

I feel dreadfully guilty buying a used book, like some karmic evil is going to come and bite my career in the butt.

On the other hand, when I do buy used, it's not a choice between buying used or new. It's a choice between buying used or not buying at all. It's a choice between buying used or DH killing me, or buying used or the bankruptcy bus rolling down my street, LOL.

I do spend too much on new books, so it's not like I don't buy the majority of them new. I do! I swear! I've spent way more than I can afford and I really want to support every single author out there! It's just ... you know.