I have a dirty little secret. No, it’s not the man I shot in Reno once just to watch him die. No, it’s not the "Mayonnaise incident." It’s much, much worse.
I buy secondhand books.
Of course, not all the books I purchase are used. When an author I like rolls into town, I always grab something new at the signing. Or when one of those books come along, one of those intriguing stories that I simply must read, I’m right there with my $25 bucks.
But just as often, I buy used. It’s not something I’m proud of.
It doesn’t matter that I’m a high school teacher or that my wife is going back to college or that we’re expecting a baby next month. I still feel guilty buying used books. I feel as if I’m betraying all those great writers I’ve met over the past few years. After all, according to both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers the promotion of used book sales, by Amazon in particular, "will cut significantly into sales of new titles, directly harming authors and publishers" (NY Times).
So when you buy a used book, you’re essentially picking the pockets of authors and publishers. It’s like stealing, right? I certainly don’t want to steal from writers. Hell, that’s what I want to be when I grow up–a working writer.
There is, however, another perspective.
At $25 bucks a pop, I’m unlikely to check out an author I’ve never read before. But if the same book is only $5 bucks, I’ll give it a whirl. If the novel isn’t for me, I’m only out a few bucks. I might even give that same author another chance. On the other hand, if I spend full price on a new book and it doesn’t scream to me, the writer goes on my black list. More than likely, I’ll never pick up another one of her books again.
What often happens is I take a risk on a used book then get hooked. Cost be damned, I’m not waiting for the next Lee Child to hit the used racks. That could be months. I need it right now!
According to the New York Times, the sale of used books might have another, less obvious, impact.
"The presence of a market for used books makes consumers more willing to buy new books, because they can easily dispose of them later. A car salesman will often highlight the resale value of a new car, yet booksellers rarely mention the resale value of a new book. Nevertheless, the value can be quite significant."
Furthermore, despite the comments from the Author’s Guild, I’ve never heard any specific writers speak out against the sale of used books. Most I’ve met support libraries. Why not support secondhand book sellers?
In the coming years, the novel will face competition like it never has before. Low priced DVDs (a new movie is already cheaper than a new hardback). Video games (which aren’t just for kids anymore). The Internet (too much stuff). Who knows what else is coming down the pike. In the bloody free-for-all for the entertainment dollar, secondhand book sales might just keep a few more readers out there from straying–a few we can’t spare.
So why do I still feel guilty about buying used books? Are all the points I’ve explored merely rationalizations?
To published authors out there: What’s your take on used book sales?
To the hardcore fans: Do you share my shame?