Used Bookstores–Author Friend or Foe?

Since authors make their money on initial sales of books (royalties), what should they think of used bookstores that sell books without authors receiving any of the money?

I understand the frustration authors feel about not getting paid anything when their books are sold second-hand, but I also  see value in having used bookstores and here’s why.

  • When a book goes out of print, a used bookstore may be the only place to find it. If your fans don’t discover you until your third or fourth book, they can only get your earlier works in second-hand outlets.
  • Used bookstores offer great research material. Yes, we have the Internet, but sometimes looking at old non-fiction books offers an excellent research option.
  • The investment is reasonable when buying books in a used bookstore. By that I mean you can take a chance on an author new to you for less money.
  • Used bookstores recycle books rather than dump them in the landfill.

As with any issue, however, there are two sides. Here’s why used bookstores are often frowned upon by authors.

  • No royalties are paid to the author on used books when they’re sold.
  • Not all books sold in used bookstores are old books. One used bookstore owner I know took her staff to the regional book show every year (where new releases are given out by publishers), and she and her staff loaded up on as many free books as possible to stock her store.
  • Used bookstores provide no accountability on books sold (except for their own accounting purposes).
  • To save money, bookstores often rip the covers off paperback books and send just the cover back instead of the entire book. Paperback books without front covers are reported destroyed, thus the publisher and distributor and author receive no payment. Some paperback books even carry the message of the missing cover in the front part of the book. At any rate, I’ve seen used bookstores sell cover-less paperbacks, which means they’re selling property that’s never been paid for.

The next time you visit a used bookstore, see it with new eyes and decide for yourself whether it’s an author’s friend or foe.

Happy writing!

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2 Responses to Used Bookstores–Author Friend or Foe?

  1. Jen says:

    I think the benefit of used bookstores, particularly in this age when we are seeing less and less printed books, far outweighs the down and dark side which isn’t so down and dark anymore now that authors also get royalties on ebooks. Used Bookstores are the first place I stop in any new city I visit. I love them!

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