Buying books: new or used?

I read an article, I know, I stopped reading books to read an article…shame on me. But the article is relevant to some thoughts I’ve been having recently about my book purchases. I generally impulse buy books, rarely going to the shops to buy a specific book, rather I buy when I see the right book. That’s why I review a rather eclectic set of books as they’re books I’ve seen at the op shop or the second hand book shop, even occasionally when I’ve been in a new book shop I’ve seen the perfect book and bought it, but that’s more happenchance than deliberate. And I’ve been feeling rather guilty about this as I know how the system works, I know that authors are paid for every book that is bought and I also know they receive nothing for sales at second hand book shops. So, I buy used books and feel guilty…maybe I should stop the guilt, this article tells me why.

Don’t feel guilty about buying used books: Writers won’t see a dime of that sale, but it’s the long game that counts

It discusses a blog article written by Kristen Lamb on her very own blog. I’m not going to link to her article, if you’re desperate to read it you can follow the links…I reckon it’s just clickbait and while I’m doing my own rant I won’t give her another link.

Her theory is that as a writer she needs people to buy her books brand new and while the theory stands firm there are some slight gaps to it. She’s forgetting the price of books and that to take on a new author is a significant investment, what if you don’t like the book so you don’t finish it and you’ve spent $20 on it (hardcovers are significantly more expensive); you can’t take it back, bookshops very rarely take returns because you don’t like the book. I can’t see an author refunding your money because you don’t like it so it’s much cheaper to find a new author in a used book shop, if you find you like them so much you want more of the same you can always see if your local new book shop has them in stock and buy all of the author’s titles…they will be happy.

Then there’s the fact that many people can’t afford new books every week and buying second hand is the only way of doing it apart from borrowing from the library. I know buying new books is a better habit than drinking yourself stupid once a week or smoking your lungs out but it’s still expensive.

No, the way an author should be looking at making money is by having a back list. Write lots of books so that when someone discovers you by accident at their friendly used book shop they can then buy all of your other titles brand new. There are very few J. K. Rowlings in this world who manage to make a mint from their books so do yourself a favour and work on your back list.

2 thoughts on “Buying books: new or used?

  1. Jenny Jones

    I was thinking about this the other day and got as far as – every book bought second hand was purchased new once, so the author was paid for it; and – isn’t the point to be read, however the person gets hold of a copy? (And I’ll be taken to task here by writers who are actually trying to earn something from their books) – it’s a convoluted question I think with many pros and cons.

    1. mattling

      I’m just going to pinch Neil Gaiman’s words to reply to you.

      “[D]on’t ever apologise to an author for buying something in paperback, or taking it out from a library (that’s what they’re there for. Use your library). Don’t apologise to this author for buying books second hand, or getting them from bookcrossing or borrowing a friend’s copy. What’s important to me is that people read the books and enjoy them, and that, at some point in there, the book was bought by someone. And that people who like things, tell other people. The most important thing is that people read…”
      ― Neil Gaiman

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