Jesus Creed

The posts last week about buying books at SBL spurred a bundle of questions. I’d like to answer this one today:

I thought I’d submit a possible topic that has interested me for years: what are the ethics of book buying as they relate to used and borrowed books? As I come to know more authors, and see the life of sacrifice that writing is for most, I feel a little uneasy about buying used books, or sharing mine with friends, or borrowing from individuals or libraries. I’ve even thought twice about buying ‘new’ books from places like , since I’ve heard that the are often slightly damaged copies which don’t register as sales for authors. Am I cutting into profits or royalties or recognition for my favorite authors when I buy used or borrow? (I realize that my question probably betrays a misunderstanding of the book business, and would love to be corrected).

And this from a former student! Now you have to love loyalty. The first thing is that I’m going to tell you how I buy books.
And it begins with this: 90% of the books I buy are new — and I get them at our local Barnes & Noble or online or at bookstores where I happen to see them. So, overall I support the new book trade. (And I don’t mind if you do, too! 8) )
Now on buying used books…
First, I have no qualms about buying used books. Since I was in college I’ve been a used bookstore junkie — it’s just now that I use a “used bookstore” called I usually see if the book I’m trying to purchase can be found there. I scan the price range, the condition of the book, and always try to buy from a dealer in the area if possible — just area loyalty.
Second, yes, when buying used books the author does not get a royalty. That author already got a royalty (most likely). (Royalties vary from about 10% to 20% of retail price — depending on how many copies sell.)
Third, here’s the truth: very few writers (and I’m not one of them) can make a living by writing. Very very few can. So, any hesitation about hurting an author should be only a slight hesitation.
Fourth, if you have extra funds, and you like an author, think about helping the author out by buying new — and if you really want to be kind, buy from a local bookdealer instead of a chain.
Here’s my only request: never buy a copy of a book that says “Advance Uncorrected Proof/Not for Resale.” Why? Those books were given away by the publisher to create a stir about the book, and anyone who sells such books is going contrary to fair trade principles. I got a book like this in the mail once, sent it back for a refund, and then called the bookdealer — who thought I was a Puritan from a strange planet. “We all do it,” was the response.

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