Are We Cheating Other Authors by Buying Used Books?

Old Open Bible

This debate featured back in 2016 by Nate Hoffelder on The Digital Reader about the vice and virtue entailed in buying used books—knowing full well that the author receives no compensation—resonated for me because I’ve been feeling guilty about my own Half-Priced Book purchases. I’m not sure I’m feeling less guilty, but at least I know that some defend the practice. The short argument is that used bookstores are where readers are created when they “discover” authors they come to love.

A couple of personal observations:

I’ve long been a fan of Dick Francis (and every horse person and most mystery readers should be as well, IMHO). I reached a plateau where I had overdosed on his formula and quit reading his new ones, and at some point I lost/gave away/never owned copies of his early books, among them some of his best. Off I went one day to my local B&N to pick up new copies and rekindle the relationship. NOT. B&N had none. Not even a recent title, for example those co-authored or authored by Francis’s son Felix in the writer’s final years and after his death.

So off I went to HPB. I was able to find copies of Dead Cert, Nerve, For Kicks, Flying Finish, and many others. Now I often find more recent titles for my bedtime reading and find that Francis is as entertaining as I remember him.

I guess I could buy these on Amazon. Not from Kindle—I hate reading online at bedtime. But am I cheating Francis’s estate, or his son? In my defense, often the earlier titles are available only from third-party sellers, usually used booksellers themselves. What’s more, checking on Amazon for this post, I found that some of the older titles are being released only on Kindle, with all print editions relegated to third-party sources.

I do use HPB and other used bookstores to “discover” authors I might like. I often feel that my reading is too limited and that I ought to be more up to date with what EVERYONE is reading. Every time I venture into the store, I pick up a book by an author I’ve not yet sampled,  sometimes by authors I’ve never heard of, or by authors who have been declared the Next Great Thing. Just to see. If I’m going to toss a book to the floor after forty pages, I’d rather it be a book I paid $3.99 for rather than $29.95.

Will I then pay full price for the next title of an author I like? Hmmm. I did pay full price for a new title by Sarah Waters and might again. But I must confess, I tend to search at HPB first.

I missed this debate when it was supposedly “raging,” but it seems to me worth continuing.

What are your views on Used-Book-Buyers-Remorse?




Filed under Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, business of writing, Marketing books, Money issues for writers, writing novels

2 responses to “Are We Cheating Other Authors by Buying Used Books?

  1. T Francis Sharp

    No, I do not. Just as I don’t feel guilty getting a book from the library. Back in the late 70’s early 80’s my sister and I used to go to an annual book fair. Those purchases make up the bulk of my non fiction library. I have an eclectic range of obscure knowledge that has served me well over the years because of it. I know what motivates Russian geopolitics thanks to a tome published in the 30’s called Why They Behave Like Russians. I also am aware that there was a serious intellectual push to reunite the United States with the British crown back in the 30’s as the only way to combat the rise of totalitarianism. I also, thanks to a 10,000 page monstrosity, can pull up every treaty made by the Unites States up until 1974. None of these books would have been available to me without used book venues.
    But it hasn’t always been limited to non fiction. I was/am a big Michael Moorcock fan. He was a prodigious writer whose full library was never available at the bookstores. I have 47 of his books and perhaps a dozen came from used book stores simply because they were not in print at the time I wanted/needed to read them. Me and my friend would, and I still do, check the bookstore every time we saw one to see if some book we didn’t have had returned to print. A few years ago I had the hankering to reread The Cornelius Chronicles. Sadly my purchased book was in pieces from excessive handling and I didn’t have all the pages. My Niece has friends who own a used book store and they were able to locate a copy for me. I could have bought the E book on Amazon but I wanted a hard copy to die with.

    Liked by 1 person

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