Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Authors Want Copyright Law Amended to Abrogate the First Sale Rule

Authors are advocating that used bookstores pay royalties for the books they sell. This would require an amendment to the Copyright Act which codifies the First Sale Doctrine. The First Sale Doctrine allows anyone who buys something the right to resell their property without permission of the original copyright holder. Requiring the reseller to pay a royalty on that item would require new law.

Because of limitations on digital copies, resale of digital purchases are not allowed. It looks like novelists want to impose similar restrictions on physical property. I hope that Novelists Inc. and other organizations move to require libraries to also pay a royalty for every book lent. I think that would really revitalize the publishing industry. //sarcasm off.


Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Cindy
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 21:00:20

    Talk about trying to wipe out a sector of an already damaged economy. And heavy book buyers (like me, when I have the money), will have to quit buying books when we run out of room for them. No one will try a new author at full price. And tell people who don’t have a lot of money (me, right now), that they’re not entitled to read anything.

  2. Julie
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 21:18:24

    I’m one of those authors who believes in the sale of used books. I could write a tome on why used book sales are a good thing.

    If it had to come down to one sorta self-serving reason, it’s that used bookstores give people the chance to find new writers without forking over a lot of money.

    Seriously, if used booksellers had to start accounting for royalties, the paperwork would be a nightmare, costs (and prices) would go up, and consumers would buy less.

    Used booksellers promote literacy by selling books to people who can’t afford them new. Yes, there are the thrifty who *could* afford new books, but honestly, I think the benefits to society as a whole outweigh the few extra dollars in royalties.

  3. Kat
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 21:27:00

    I think the Ninc arguments are looking at publishing and royalties from an old paradigm. They’d be better off concentrating on the emerging business models and how authors can benefit from those.

    Also, the propositions that if I can’t get a book secondhand, then I’ll buy it new, or that if I can get it secondhand, I will always prefer that to new, are not necessarily true. I buy books secondhand that I wouldn’t buy new. And I have a friend who is grossed out by the thought of reading a used book!

    With regards to compensating authors for secondhand books sold/bought, I actually think it would be great to see more PayPal buttons on author websites so readers can tip a nominal amount if they wish to (it can go to the author or a charity or some other purpose). Sometimes I buy books secondhand because I just can’t afford it due to the number of books I buy overall, but I still want some way of compensating the author for a job well done. I know this won’t sit well with some people, but PayPal tipping and donations are quite common for many other things that people can obtain for free online.

    As for libraries, in Australia we have the public/educational lending rights schemes in which authors are compensated for books kept in public libraries. It’s calculated per book, not per instance of the book being lent out.

  4. Nicole
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:01:55

    And anyways, used bookstores rely on people buying books new. I don’t know how it works out, but a certain number of people have to buy a book new for other people to be able to buy it new. Otherwise it’s never read at all. So yeah, used book sales may be growing, but unless people are reading older books, plenty will get bought new to keep up with the demand.

    Argh, it makes sense in my head, but not so much written down. I’d really love to know how many hands a book actually goes through in its life.

  5. Bob Russell
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:05:01

    Of course authors want to increase their revenues on sales. Any business organization or association should push for policies that are best for them. But what I hope, is that rather than pandering to a special interest or a business that provides campaign contributions, politicians will justly represent the best and broad interests of the general public.

    I understand, as well, that authors (along with corporations like Disney) really desire to have long copyright protections. Sometimes such need is hard not to feel, such as when authors need for revenues to continue to enable their decedents to have money to live on, for example. But is it really in the best interest to expand the length of a copyright to more than 10 or 20 yrs. The law is not supposed to “take care of authors”. Intellectual property rights are supposed to be in the best interest of all, and allow creation of content because there is some expectation of return. I.e. that it won’t be just given away freely.

    I would like, as would many readers I expect, that we see the opposite changes. That, in fact, we be allowed as customers to really own the content, and be allowed to share and sell it just like any other paper book. DRM, if necessary, should only be able to restrict to one owner at a time. Anything more restrictive should not be called a sale of the content. I could go on and on, but I’ll spare those who have been unfortunate enough to read this entire comment. :)

  6. Ann Somerville
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:08:08

    Authors retain the right of reproduction, same as an artist does. An artist doesn’t get royalties if their art is resold, however much profit the purchaser makes on it. I can’t see why authors should have their artistic creation privileged above any other original creator of an object.

    Maybe I’m just weird, but the idea of my books being passed around from person to person, loved and enjoyed and recommended, means at least as much or more than the royalties per copy. But then I put my stuff out for the audience more than the income, which is apparently totally unprofessional of me.

    I am against this proposal. Anything that discourages the love of reading and the discovery of new authors, is stupid and should be opposed.

  7. Ann Somerville
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:12:45

    @Bob Russell:

    The change Jane is talking about isn’t an extension in time of copyright, but an extension of reach. Authors retain copyright even in a used copy – it can’t be reproduced or republished without their permission.

    That, in fact, we be allowed as customers to really own the content, and be allowed to share and sell it just like any other paper book.

    I agree, but you need to stop reproduction – because the author does not and should not sign away those rights to the purchaser. The publisher pays a lot of money for the license to reproduce the copyrighted material.

    There are two issues being conflated here – royalties on second sales, and royalties on unauthorised copies. It’s important not to blur the lines between them as they’re very different things.

  8. joanne
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:23:50

    Maybe in theory I think the author should be compensated every time someone buys their previously read book — even if it’s been out of publication for years without a re-issue, I’m ‘iffy’ on that — but it is just mind boggling to think about how such a law could ever be put into action.

    The USB’s would have to implement some type of tracking system and even if they all complied who would police them? Who at these floundering publishing companies would do the bookkeeping and see to it that the authors received the royalty payments?

  9. Misi
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:27:42

    “The idea of my books being passed around from person to person, loved and enjoyed and recommended, means at least as much or more than the royalties per copy.”

    Because this isn’t the problem. A relatively small number of copies are passed hand-to-hand. Even brick-and-mortar used bookstores aren’t the problem. Their inventory is limited both in scope and accessibility.

    The problem is that used copies are sold side-by-side with new books, often for pennies, on Amazon. A huge percentage of new sales are instantly diverted. Any book you want can be found in a two second google search of brick-and-mortar used bookstores. The dynamic has changed. There is absolutely no reason to buy new in this market. Even if you want a pristine copy for you library, that is easily found. All sites let you sort for “New.”

    The value in a book is it’s content, not it’s physical form. When the original purchaser sells the book, they retain that value and pass the full value, undiminished, to a new owner. The author, the creator of that value, should be compensated.

  10. Ann Somerville
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:44:23

    Even if you want a pristine copy for you library, that is easily found. All sites let you sort for “New.”

    And where do those copies come from?

    The author, the creator of that value, should be compensated.

    They have been, in the first sale, which is all they are entitled to under the law.

    Look, you could in theory charge people who read over other people’s shoulders on the train too – how dare they get my words for free! – but it’s unworkable and stupid. Artists aren’t just revenue machines. What we do is partly about enriching humanity, and provided that enrichment doesn’t occur through theft – through unauthorised copying – then I think we as artists have to accept that dissemination through used sales is an acceptable price to pay for that enrichment.

    If an artist isn’t at least partly motivated by bringing joy, pleasure or thoughtfulness through their work, then they’re not truly artists. I don’t expect anyone to work for free, but greed isn’t a quality to encourage either.

    In any event, I guarantee you the authors would never see any of the income from this measure, just as the actions of the RIAA don’t benefit musicians and actors. All that would happen is that even more people would be driven to seek copies of books through download sites, and we would encourage piracy. In the long term – and in the short term – authors would lose much more income that way.

  11. MaryK
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 22:44:26

    Since I discovered the online reading community, my spending on new books has increased dramatically. Getting to “know” authors has made me sensitive to the fact that they’re trying to make a living with their writing, and my spending has come to reflect that. I still buy used books, but there are now authors and even genres that I always buy new.

    If authors succeed in interfering with my rights to dispose of my property, I will be pissed and I will not buy new books. I don’t think that’s the result authors are looking for. I doubt royalties on used books would compare to royalties on new books. Come to think of it, I have so many books on my TBR pile that I could easily put off buying even a used copy for two years without running out of things to read.

    A paper book is physical property and, once you sell it, it no longer belongs to you so lusting after resale money is totally inappropriate. If the issue is really about having used book sales factored in when authors negotiate new contracts, that’s a problem with the publishing system and is between authors and publishers. It should in no way interfere with my property rights. And really, you can’t tell me royalties on second-hand sales would solve that problem. Publishers aren’t going to care about a minuscule royalty compared to new sale profits; those will still be more important.

  12. Ann Somerville’s Journal » Blog Archive » If you have any braincells left
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 23:11:39

    […] Authors Want Copyright Law Amended to Abrogate the First Sale Rule […]

  13. MaryK
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 23:13:25

    @Misi: “The value in a book is it's content, not it's physical form. When the original purchaser sells the book, they retain that value and pass the full value, undiminished, to a new owner. The author, the creator of that value, should be compensated.”

    No. What you’re describing is rental of creative content. That could be achieved by chaining a book to the author’s desk and charging admission to read it. Or having the author read the book and charging admission to hear it.

    Of course a book’s value is its content, but the fact is that content is delivered through the sale of a physical form. Once you sell a physical form it no longer belongs to you regardless of its content.

  14. Keishon
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 23:18:34

    I must admit, the first thing I thought after reading this bit of news was: you have got to be kidding me. Pay royalties after I’ve paid for your book once already?

    What’s funny is thinking that these used bookstores keep any type of inventory. They couldn’t quantify sales for you, let alone tell you if they had even one copy of book A on the shelf without having to go look for it _physically_ on the shelf. I say good luck with this endeavor. I know these are hard economic times, but srsly?

  15. Patricia Briggs
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 23:33:20

    Used books help authors. With today’s books at $7-$8 each (paperback), many people are reluctant to try a new book by a new author. I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me they first picked up one of my books at a library, rummage sale or used bookstore — and then went out and bought the others new. These are people who would never have tried one of my books otherwise.

    Another way to think of it is that it might make people happier to buy a new book, too.
    Our local used bookstore sells both new and used. If you buy a new book there, they stamp it and will take it back whenever you want to bring it in. Knowing that if I don’t like it, I can at least get something back makes me a little more likely to buy new.

    They also never strip their new books and send them back because they can do just as well by marking them as used after six months or so. So they only help an author’s sell-through number.

    Used books help people who can’t afford to buy new. They also provide a way for us to get out of print books. Most used bookstores do not operate on the kind of budget that would allow them to do the sort of bookwork/record keeping that such a law would entail.

    And I would miss my used bookstores a lot.


  16. Patricia Briggs
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 23:43:47

    This argument reminds me of the story about the poor student in ancient China who lived above a restaurant. Every evening when he was eating his meager dinner of rice he would open his window so he could smell the rich food being cooked below him. One day, in a fit of gratitude, he told the owner of the restaurant this. The restaurant owner responded by taking him to court and demanding he pay for the smell of the food. The judge had the student take a few coins from his pocket and jingle them — declaring that the proper payment for the smell of food is the sound of money.

    If you want to make more money writing books: write more books, write better books — or even just get really good at promoting your books.

    Don’t tick off your readers by being stupid.

    Patty (still grumbling)

  17. Misi
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 00:07:41

    Well, one day there will only be e-books and all you’ll get is a license to read, not ownership, just a lot of software is now. You can’t even resell the disc (legally) under those terms. Well, you can sell the discs, but only if you delete the content.

    The current copyright law is outdated. Again, used bookstores aren’t the problem. It’s the online places that have changed the situation. The law should be changed to.

  18. Nonny
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 00:12:30


    Are they going to start charging royalties for every re-sold item? I’m sure that would go over well at yard sales. /sarcasm

    I’ve found so many authors I loved through libraries or used bookstores. I’ve been at points where I couldn’t afford new books, and I’m fairly certain that will be the case sometime in the future. When I can afford it, I buy new. But you know, I shouldn’t have to defend my choice to buy a resold item because some authors are whining that they aren’t getting paid twice. Go buy a used computer off eBay and tell me the original company is getting compensation for the resale? Why should books be any different?

  19. Brenna
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 00:21:25

    Sounds totally ridiculous to me.

    I’m thankful for the used book market in helping me discover new authors. I’ve been burned many times and paid for new books which turned out to be crap. The used book market helped me buy books which, if it turned out to be crap, I don’t feel guilty throwing good money for. For example, I heard of the In Death series many times in forums but did not want to try it in case I wasted my money. But I saw a donated book in OXFAM selling for $1.50, Glory in Death. I told myself, what the heck, it’s only $1.50 and it goes to charity. I can give it a try. So I bought it, read it, fell in love with it and ordered from Amazon books 1 up to Conspiracy in Death at that time. So, that one particular purchase has helped the author and charity in a small way. Same with Dorothy Dunnett books. I was intrigued by it but was warned that they could be difficult to read. Should I buy new and in trade paperback which is the available format at this time and more expensive than MMP? What if I didn’t like it? The library solved my problem this time. I fell in love with Games of Kings and I know I must have all of them and not just borrow from the library. And they have to be new. So I ended up ordering the whole 6 Lymond Chronicles trade paperbacks plus the Companion book with wholehearted excitement. If the author is that good, then he or she does not need to feel afraid of used bookstores nor think that he/she is losing income. It’s almost like marketing in a way. If used bookstores feel the pinch and closes down because of this idea, that would be too bad.

  20. Lorraine
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 00:22:24

    I love my local used bookstore…the musty smells, the closely packed aisles of books…it’s my idea of heaven. I go to the UBS when I want to try a new author. When I find a new favorite, an author who consistently writes books I love, then I make a commitment to her and will only buy her books new, even when I glom onto her backlog. It doesn’t matter if I can find them used. That’s my way of giving back to an author who has provided me with hours of reading pleasure. In fact, I make it a point to go out and buy my favorite author’s new offerings within days of release, thereby lending my support to help her reach a bestseller’s list.

    Anyway, my local UBS is owned by a woman who works there 7 days a week. She’s not even set up to track her sales, let alone royalties.

  21. MaryK
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 00:37:47

    @Misi: “Well, one day there will only be e-books and all you'll get is a license to read, not ownership, just a lot of software is now.”

    That is one of the main arguments against ebooks, the reason ebooks will never replace paper, and the reason I don’t buy ebooks if I can get the book in paper.

    Can you imagine the enormous risk in an ebooks only world? The tragedy in the “Time Enough at Last” Twilight Zone episode is nothing to what a cyber terrorist could do in an ebook world ruled by DRM.

  22. Nonny
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 00:41:14

    Lorraine, I’m the same way. When I find an author I truly love, I will buy her entire backlist new, and her current books. I’ve even bought books in a series I disliked because I liked the author’s other work and wanted to support her career. I’ll buy new authors if they’re a) highly recommended, b) a friend/someone I otherwise know, c) a whim or premise that just grabs me.

    My local used bookstore is also the same way. Very small affair, very cozy, and I suspect they would close if they had to manage royalties for secondhand sales.

  23. kirsten saell
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 00:41:21

    Look, you could in theory charge people who read over other people's shoulders on the train too – how dare they get my words for free! – but it's unworkable and stupid. Artists aren't just revenue machines. What we do is partly about enriching humanity, and provided that enrichment doesn't occur through theft – through unauthorised copying – then I think we as artists have to accept that dissemination through used sales is an acceptable price to pay for that enrichment.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. Although to me it isn’t so much a question of idealism, or artistry versus profit, or soul versus dollars, or whether used book sales help or harm authors or anything like that. It’s about the point where the rights of the consumer and the rights of the creator intersect.

    If I buy a painting from the artist, should I charge every guest who comes through my house and happens to glance at it, and forward royalties back to the artist? If I sell the painting, should I have to track down the artist and hand over a percentage? Do I have to do this with the vinyl LPs I have in my basement if I sell them to a collector one day?

    The whole idea of doing that is just stupid and pointless, and I can only imagine the bureaucracy that would be necessary to support such a system.

    As for whether sellers of new books should be allowed to sell those same books used for much lower prices? I’m not sure how I feel about that one…

  24. Angie
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 01:28:29

    As both a reader and a writer I think this is a completely ridiculous idea. Once a book is sold, the author gets a royalty and there you go, that’s it. Writers don’t “deserve” extra royalties for second-hand sales any more than an actor or director “deserves” an extra payment if I resell a DVD, or an artist if I resell a painting.

    Until the quality of hardcopy books increases about a thousand percent — and frankly it’s been decreasing over the last decade or two, not increasing — there’ll always be considerable value in a new book rather than a used one. I’m one of those fanatics who doesn’t dogear pages nor crease the spines of books; any book I’ve bought new could be put back onto a bookstore shelf without attracting any particular notice, no matter how many times I’ve read it. I realize not everyone is quite so picky [cough] but I know enough people who prefer new books that there’ll always be a market for them.

    And it seems some people are forgetting that every book sold at a used bookstore or a garage sale or on eBay or whatever was bought new at one point, and royalties paid. It’s not as though “everyone” is going to abandon the whole concept of buying books new, or could even if they wanted to.

    As others have said, a primary source of new readers for any writer is library loans, used bookstore sales, and hand-offs between friends. Any writer trying to halt or restrict that free flow of books, despite the lack of direct and immediate compensation to said writer, is frankly a short-sighted idiot who’s shooting him/herself in the foot.


  25. Anion
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 08:36:33

    I agree this is silliness, and essentially unworkable silliness at that. I don’t have an issue with used copies being sold. I love used bookstores, and there are a lot of books, long out of print, that I never would have had a chance to read if I hadn’t seen them at the Book Rack or whatever.

    The things is, though, and here’s where I get really annoyed, if there was more attention paid to and more of a crackdown on those fucking pirating torrent sites, I don’t think this would be an issue. The last time I found one of my books pirated, which was sadly not that long ago, the file had been up for two days and fifteen copies had been downloaded already. It makes me want to give up writing altogether sometimes, it really does.

    But finding new ways to squeeze pennies out of honest people who have every right to resell their own books is not the answer. Actually writing workable law that punishes those miserable little thieves–and actually enforcing it–is the answer. You can tell me all you want that those people wouldn’t have bought the book anyway, or would have bought used copies, or if they like the book they’ll go buy a copy in paperback, or whatever you want. You might even be right, about a percentage of them. But the rest are just stealing from me, and whether or not they would have bought the book anyway is totally irrelevant. I’m well aware that giving away free ebook copies of some books has increased sales; but you’re talking about *giving* away copies, to *honest* people. Not *stolen* copies by *dishonest* people.

    Arrgh. Sorry. But this is silliness. Going after honest people who have every right to sell their used books is ridiculous. Let’s focus on the people who are actually causing the problem, shall we? Why should honest people be penalized, but once again the dishonest ones get off scot-free?

    And how in the world is it possible to start making everyone pay royalties on the used copies they sell…but not possible to shut those fricking torrent sites down, or force the owners of those sites to actually be accountable for the way their members use their platforms to steal from people? If every forum or BB or whatever had just one employee whose job it was to watch for copyright violations, or one govt employee assigned to them to check such things, the practice would and could be stopped (and think of the jobs it would create!). So why not do it?

    Grrr. Now I’m irritated. Can we leave the honest readers alone please? They’re the people I write books for. I would rather not see them harrassed in this manner.

  26. Mireya
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 09:19:04

    Now that’s what I call an idiotic idea. ‘Nuff said. Looks like they want readers to boycott them… and bring the whole publishing industry crashing down. Good job!

  27. Courtney Milan
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 10:12:13

    The problem is that used copies are sold side-by-side with new books, often for pennies, on Amazon. A huge percentage of new sales are instantly diverted.

    I’m not sure how this is a problem. First, they’re never sold for actual pennies–even the books listed for one penny add a $3.99 shipping charge–and one that you can’t waive on Amazon, even if you go above their $25 limit, since it’s not being sent from

    So, factor in a penny for the book, and now you have a book that sold for $6.99 going for $4. It’s also a book where you’ll have to wait at least a week to read it, since it’s being shipped media mail by an independent seller. And finally, I seriously doubt this is a “huge” percentage of books. Amazon is responsible for a tiny, tiny fraction of books sold.

    This is just a stupid proposal on a whole new level. Not only is it just dumb, as others have pointed out, I don’t even understand what they’re talking about. I don’t even know how you could charge royalties on used book sales by statute. The royalties I get from my publisher are determined by contract. My contract provides for royalties on hard cover, paperback, trade, numerous jurisdictions outside Canada and the UK, audio rights, and even remainders. My contract is between me and my publisher–my publisher distributes; I get royalties.

    I don’t have a contract with any used book stores. The way this would have to work, is you’d have to create a new copyright right, the right of resale. And then someone–god knows who, maybe the publisher? maybe the agent? Maybe, god forbid, the author herself?–would have to go and negotiate with used book stores as to the appropriate royalties.

    What a monstrous headache.

    I think that the RIAA made people feel justified in pirating because they were total asshats about, well, everything. There’s no need for the book industry to go down the same route. Pirating, bad. Used bookstores and people loving books? Awesome.

  28. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 11:17:30

    Now that I’m a published author, I buy new books almost exclusively. As a reader, and a consumer, I love used books. Used book stores have been a haven for me since I was a child. My family could always afford used books. After I left home at eighteen, I often read a book a day (at least), and buying new would have beggared me.

    At one point, I even dreamed about owning (or just working at) a used bookstore, so I could sit and read all day. : )

    I hope readers buy my used books and enjoy them. I don’t feel entitled to any of the resale price.

  29. rebyj
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 11:32:26

    I’d love for authors to get a cut of used books but I gotta tell ya, I live off 500 bux a month total for food, shelter, clothing and extras. If used book prices go up then I’ll be a whiny gal. I have a 25 dollar a month book budget (which is why a TBR pile is a fantasy lol) . I buy new releases I really want and the rest goes to used books. If the new release I want is in hard back I hunt like a starving cave man till I find a good coupon or sale.

    Just the paperwork involved would hurt UBS owners. Price increases would knock out poorer people and retired people from access to affordable reading material.
    And now I’m depressed! LOL

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  31. Jeaniene Frost
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 12:16:59

    As an author, I would be saddened if used book stores (and/or libraries) were forced to pay secondary royalties. I’ve had several readers tell me that they tried my books used first, then bought the next one new, so I think used book stores are a vital part of helping the publishing industry. It’s legal, it doesn’t violate copyright, and it promotes reading and trying new authors. All good things, in my opinion.

  32. lisssa
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 12:26:17

    I understand and agree – to some degree, about the sale of new v used copies on Amazon. When faced with a choice of a more expensive new copy most consumers will opt for the cheaper, used copy – myself included. I have to say that I honestly never looked at it as taking royalties away from the author before this topic was brought up; I was just thinking I was saving money so that I could purchase additional books. My Amazon book-buying habits will be changing now. I would say that the Amazon policy of offering new and used side by side needs to be changed to protect author royalties.

    As for used book stores – for those copies the author has already been compensated and received their royalties. I see no need to impose additional costs on the used book seller or the buying public. I frequent used book stores for a lot of reasons – not the least of which is the ability to purchase more books for less money. Additional royalties on used books would change that habit as well.

    Bad idea, in my opinion.

  33. Susanna Kearsley
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 12:51:19

    Jane, please, please amend the wording of your post to read: “Some authors are advocating…” Because, as should already be clear from the comments above, Ninc does not speak for all of us.

    My mother owned a bookstore for a while when I was little, selling both new and used books, so I learned early on just what challenges booksellers face in the market (the major one for my mother being that her daughters hijacked half her inventory before she could shelve it…) In my fifteen years as a published author, I’ve never met a bookseller of either new or used books who was in it for the money — they sell books because they love books, it’s that simple.

    Secondhand booksellers already have a complicated enough balancing act to perform between sales and expenses, and a lot of them are struggling as it is. Forcing them to calculate and pay royalties would only, in my view, upset that balance to the point that many of them couldn’t make it work, they’d have to close their doors.

    And then where would I go to get that feeling that I get when I am wandering around a used-book store? To smell that lovely musty used-book smell? That thrill of discovery when I find a favourite author’s book in hardcover tucked almost out of reach on a top shelf? I love that feeling, and I wouldn’t want to lose it.

    As for secondhand books being available on amazon etc., if someone is already shopping online and they’d rather buy a used book than a new one, they’ll do it anyway, won’t they? If the link’s not there on amazon, they’ll just go to alibris or abebooks or somewhere else, so taking the link off amazon achieves nothing. Besides, in my case some of my early books have fallen out of print, or were never published in the US, and having the “Buy it Used” button on means that readers at least have a chance to find a copy.

    Readers aren’t trying to hurt authors. I think most readers here at DA understand that, to publishers, we authors are only as good as the sales of our last book; that if our sales figures fall or even stay level we’re going to get dropped by our publishers; that we have absolutely no control over what format a book is brought out in, or how it’s priced, or how it’s shelved, or…well, the list goes on. And so I’m grateful beyond measure when a reader buys my books new — not because it earns me royalties (which are at any rate less than 10% of a paperback’s cover price) — but because it means my sales might reach a level where my publishers will find it worth their while to buy my next book.

    But I understand completely that not everyone can buy a new book. Some will buy it used, and some will get it from the library, and I am just as grateful to the readers who do that. I found a lot of my own favourite authors that way.

    I’m afraid I just don’t see the problem with how things are now…but I do see a problem with what Ninc’s suggesting.

  34. roslynholcomb
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 15:43:13

    Goodness knows I need every penny of royalty I can get my grubby hands on, but I can’t imagine anything that would be more self-defeating. This would in all likelihood put UBS out of business. I’ve been reading romances for almost 40 years and when I was a kid, most of those were bought used. I would never have been able to afford those books new, and thus never would have become the rabid fan I am now.

    Many people, myself included, only try new writers at the UBS. I’ve been burned too many times to do otherwise. As for Amazon, I would never buy used from them. The best thing about Amazon is that I don’t have to pay taxes or S&H, but if I buy used, I do. I don’t see the logic of buying a book then paying $4 S&H for it. I would only do that if it were some author I can’t find anywhere else.

    IMO, this is not a time to be attacking a bookselling venues.

  35. ldb
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 18:13:23

    And what about lending a book, will I need to mail the author a check or send it to the publisher, how will that work? I’ve alwayd thought the UBSs were somewhat harmful to authors and the industry, mainly because I think it gives readers less of a voice, because the publishers don’t know what books UBSs sell and so they don;t get a whole sampling of what readers want, but as for royalties, I don’t see how it’s fair to get them twice. As far as I can tell a royalty is the authors cut on the product they were part of creating and the publisher sold. Only one product was made, so the publisher only sold it once, and the author, I don;t belive has a contract with the readers or booksellers, their contract is with the publisher, so why should anyone else pay them. But what is interesting is this, the book is a product, that’s what you pay for, it is more then the story it’s the cover, the blurb, the binding. All of these things the publisher contributed, so should we pay them too?

    I try to get new books, I like to tell the industry what I am reading. But if I’ve been burned by an author in the past I will not buy another new book buy them, so I’ll try something used. If there’s a new author I’m usure about I won’t buy them new if I don’t have much money, but if I see a used book I may try to read that. UBS help unknowns because they aren’t a risk.

  36. Cindy
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 21:19:39

    But on the other hand, the UBS is not really harming the author on backlist titles. They go out of print, they charge an arm and a leg online and you can’t even go into Borders and do a glom if you find a new to you author.

  37. Ann Somerville
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 02:54:58

    the publishers don't know what books UBSs sell and so they don;t get a whole sampling of what readers want

    Nothing stopping them finding out by surveys, is there? And surely used book sales will mirror new books sales to a certain extent – if anything, USBs hide the level to which an author fails to satisfy readers, because the publisher doesn’t have the unsatisfactory product returned to *them*.

    I can’t see how USBs hurt anyone, and I would staunchly defend their right to exist, and to operate exactly the way they do now. Why should they carry the can for the failure of the publishing industry to reform?

  38. DeeCee
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 09:53:27

    I manage a UBS for a retired couple. They can’t afford the software that would be required to track purchases. We can track overall sales, but not individual books. If we were to keep an inventory of what we had, it would cost us thousands and thousands of dollars, effectively bankrupting the owners and sending all of their employees packing. This idea would require more $ for the used books, more manpower, and more time in the day for small businesses, which would effectively kill our ailing economy.

    Because if they win, next would be used cd and used movie sales. Then used tshirts that have a copyrighted image or text…where would it stop? Even major retailers like Hastings would have to drastically raise prices since they make a huge profit on used goods.

    Selling a used book should never be illegal except for the jerks on Ebay that sell ARC’s (advanced reviewers copy) for major profit. No one but Ebay and the seller make money on that one. Not even the publisher.

    I know that half of my personal book collection wouldn’t exist without a UBS. I’d never have found them at the major chains, and certainly couldn’t have afforded them all.

    Besides, if that goes through, how about the UBS workers that hand sell a book? What would we get for providing the sale of an author’s work and the publicity for the author? Everyday I get asked “What would your recommend?”. I can’t begin to quantify how many sales I’ve had specifically because I had read and loved the book enough to tell the customer about it. And I know that many of my customers do by new, but can’t afford to buy 20 new books versus 3 new books and 17 used.

    The math:
    1 new book=$6.99
    1 used book=$3.50
    1 used book with a trade credit=$1.75


    And there is nothing as amazing as watching the little kids come into the store, and pick out a book and pay with their allowance. For the price of one kids book ($3.99) they can get four used books. And I would much rather kids pick up a book and read than sit there and watch mind numbing television.

  39. Mouse
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 10:07:52

    It won’t be just book buyers hurt by this if these associations get their way. The used video game market would go belly up as well. Stores like EB and GameStop have backlogs of old games you can’t get for new anymore, but they’d have to fork over money again to the game companies just as the book resellers would have to fork money over to the publishers and authors, wouldn’t they? Can you imagine the nightmare as well for used DVD’s and what not? Or renting DVD’s? Does the rental store have to give the movie companies royalties each time they rent out a movie?

    No, eliminating the first sale doctrine would throw the entire secondary market of selling goods into chaos and no one would benefit, not the stores, the resellers, or the authors.

  40. DeeCee
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 10:09:15

    Ann Somerville – if anything, USBs hide the level to which an author fails to satisfy readers, because the publisher doesn't have the unsatisfactory product returned to *them*. .. ..Why should they carry the can for the failure of the publishing industry to reform?

    I agree. If a book fails completely (readers hate it, and it sells poorly) the UBS will likely have 10 copies of it. And the same goes with major blockbusters. The Da Vinci Code was HUGE when it was new, and now that everyone and their grandmother have read it, we have a surplus. The UBS I work at has 20 on the shelf.

    Now, I’m probably wrong, but here goes. If UBS were to have to pay the author for selling their book, what about the UBS having 5+ copies in?
    1. We have to file them which takes a huge chunk of shelf space.
    2. We clean them which takes time and supplies (water, soap, washcloths).
    3. We have to box them up and put them in storage when we get an additional 20 copies.
    4. We handsell them to customers looking for something to read.
    5. We have to pay employees.

    So by my thinking the money that would have gone to the author for UBS royalties is now tied up in fees from UBS to stock and store the author’s books. And how would that help anyone but the USPS (for mailing the bills back and forth)?

  41. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 10:15:37

    I’ve got no problem with UBS, libraries, whatever.

    I’ve got enough of a headache dealing with people pirating my ebooks-I think authors in general would do better to focus on the illegal copies out there, explaining how that has a major impact and not just to the author’s income…but I’m rambling way off topic.

    Anyway, nope, I have no problem with UBS. While yeah, I think it would lovely if there was a way to earn something off the used copies sold, I’m not interested in doing it if hurts the book industry in anyway. It’s already on shaky ground and I’ve no desire to add to it.

    Bottom line, not everybody has the money to buy books new. They shouldn’t have to go without reading-that’s not fair. We want to encourage the love of reading, not discourage it. UBS get people to try out books they might have not tried new, and when they get hooked on a new author, they aren’t always in the mood to wait for a used copy-they want it, and they want it now, so they buy new. All of them? Nope, but that’s life.

    Somebody mentioned Amazon, and I do have to admit…I think it was really lousy of Amazon to put the buy it used option up right with the new books. I like how B&N and Borders do it much better.

  42. KristieJ
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 19:55:05

    Somebody mentioned Amazon, and I do have to admit…I think it was really lousy of Amazon to put the buy it used option up right with the new books.

    I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. I think it’s lousy too. But then if you do buy used, you still have to pay the S&H while if you buy enough new, you get free shipping so hopefully that helps balance things out.

    As for royalties at UBS, I don’t think it’s a good idea. While I can understand some authors wanting for all books sold, it for sure would put the UBS’s out of business if this were to ever come about. And as a number of authors mentioned, many authors are first discovered via the UBS. I know that’s how I did it for years. But I buy most of my books new now, but if I do find an author I particularly like and she has a large backlist with many OOP, I’ll search for them in UBS’s. I’d hate to have this source dry up.

  43. MoJo
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 20:57:34

    …next would be used CDs…

    Eh. Somebody by the name of Garth Brooks already tried that in the ’90s. It didn’t go over well then, either.

  44. Emmy
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 03:53:32

    How functional would this be, anyways? I go to UBS and use Amazon and B&N’s used sections, but can’t recall a single instance where the books I purchased were published within the preceeding two years. Everything I get used are older/out of prints. Either which way, the author would get nothing on the deal.

    Also, people sell ARCs on eBay?? Huh. I have whole shelves full of signed ARCs. Who knew I had a potential gold mine? Too bad I has possessive issues. Mine! No touching.

  45. Nora Roberts
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 06:42:53

    No, authors don’t want copyright law amended re the first sale rule. SOME authors do, and SOME members of Ninc do.

    I’m an author and I don’t want the law amended. I’m fine with used books. I’ve been paid, and consider the book the property of the person who bought it. That person is free to lend it, sell it, give it away–anything short of copying it.

    I’ve always considered used books an excellent way for readers to sample an author, or to find OOP copies.

    I do have a definite problem with Amazon’s policy of advertizing used copies on the new book page, especially when that book is still fresh.

  46. rebyj
    Dec 28, 2008 @ 19:59:26

    The above link from nytimes today is about used books vs new books. Interesting article. The article writer mentions some bookstore closings used and new and mentions books going for a penny plus shipping on the web.

    …editor, Dan Frank, said that the rise of resellers like Heather Blue meant that there was no longer a set price for a book at any one time. If you want it during those first few weeks when it is new, you will pay a premium. If you can wait, it might be only a pittance. “These cracks and fractures will only grow bigger,” he said.

  47. Ann Somerville’s Journal » Blog Archive » Cry me a goddamn river
    Dec 30, 2008 @ 02:24:55

    […] hard times? Used book stores. And some authors think that the best way to fix the situation is to change the fundamental right of first sale and charge royalties every time a book changes hands. You know, the way manufacturers get a cut […]

  48. RfP
    Dec 31, 2008 @ 11:13:49

    The problem is that used copies are sold side-by-side with new books, often for pennies, on Amazon. A huge percentage of new sales are instantly diverted. Any book you want can be found in a two second google search of brick-and-mortar used bookstores. The dynamic has changed. There is absolutely no reason to buy new in this market. Even if you want a pristine copy for you library, that is easily found. All sites let you sort for “New.”

    It may not be a “huge” percentage, though. One of my posts is here on Dear Author discussing evidence that people do still buy new. I agree that the dynamic is changing rapidly, but the basic economic logic isn’t; I would bet that of the studies I discussed, most of the findings still hold true. My article on DA:

    Read for Pleasure Makes the Case for Used Book Sales v. New

    In a nutshell:

    * In 2004, only 3% of general-interest book sales were used. In-store used book sales are flat, but online used sales have climbed.

    * One economic analysis that I discussed found that of all used book sales on Amazon, only 16% replaced new book purchases. (That’s 16% of 3% of total book sales. Half a percent.)

    * From that study: “The remaining 84% of used book sales apparently would not have occurred at Amazon’s new book prices.” In other words, 84% of used book sales represent an increase in readership.

    In addition, some well respected economists point out that Amazon would lose money if their used book sales displaced too many of their new book sales.

  49. The Not-so-deep Thoughts » Just a Thought on Used Books Royalties
    Jan 01, 2009 @ 13:46:52

    […] the United States somehow passes the WTF contender of 2009, the amendment to copyright law to require that used book stores pay royalties on books they resell f…, may I suggest that UBSs give away used books for free and simply charge a service fee.  After […]

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