Further Thoughts On Free Books

July 28th, 2005 · 5 Comments
by Booksquare

We have simples rules for buying used books: the author must be dead or the book must be out of print or unattainable through normal retail channels. While we rarely borrow books, we do loan them, having learned that all it takes is matching the right reader with the right author for future happiness. In our spare time, we fiddle on roofs.

We do fully realize that our rules don’t work for everyone.

As noted in recent comments, we believe that most readers do not understand the publishing business model. For some, there is a notion that they’ve purchased the book and can do whatever they wish with said book. This is essentially true, though with copyright issues and whatnot, ownership is an odd thing.

In the past, authors have seen used book sales as a necessary evil. In today’s world, used books are often available, in large quantities before or concurrently with the moment a book officially goes on sale. That affects everyone’s bottom line.

Susan Gable noted that it is important to educate readers about how publishing works, and we agree, though we’re not sure how this can be accomplished. The first step, we suppose is stating that we can’t get behind the concept of the Paperback Book Swap, especially since the group is contemplating charging members to share books without considering the impact this has on authors. And Newsday reporter Andy Rathburn deserves a slap on the wrist for not discussing the bigger picture. Report, Andy, report.

Don’t get us wrong — sharing books is a good thing. Likewise, there are valid reasons for purchasing used books, including financial ones. But creating a system that deliberately undercuts sales leaves us with a bad feeling.

File Under: Square Pegs

5 responses so far ↓

  • Dolen // Jul 28, 2005 at 8:49 am

    This paperbackswap.com is certainly problematic in the “Napster” sense. And I fully understand your concerns about undercutting the publisher-profit model. This could most seriously affect the small to mid-size publishers. But how different is this from a library? Also, I’ve watched the prices for books go up dramatically over the years. These days, not only do you have to have the leisure time to read but you also have to have the “leisure money.” Is reading going to become the pursuit of the bourgeois once again?

  • Dan Wickett // Jul 28, 2005 at 10:27 am


    I asked authors in the EWN last year about this issue – how they felt about their work being re-sold and their not seeing any royalties.

    Of course, I can’t find those responses right now, but from what I remember, about 75% were of the attitude, at least my work is being read by more people.

    I never did do a follow-up though about whether or not they might have felt this way out of some resignation to the system or not – might make a good due of questions.


  • Jaynie R // Jul 28, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    I have the same rule as you – the book has to be out of print or really hard to find.

    Although honestly, that has more to do with the fact that I like shiny new covers *g*

  • Mark D // Apr 9, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    So nothing should ever be resold? Not furniture – after all, the craftsman who handmade that Adirondack chair for your Auntie Jane would much rather make you a new one than see her pass it on to you – not clothing (stay away from those vintage jeans) and certainly not books (man, bummer for those people making a fortune off first editions). Close down all libraries; roll down the blinds on Ebay.

  • Booksquare // Apr 10, 2006 at 9:03 am

    Actually, Mark, if you read what I wrote (and have written in the past on this topic), you’ll see that I am not opposed to used book sales. Neither are most authors — but I do have problems with the current business model. Using your example, the craftsman doesn’t normally see his or her work for sale the in used market prior to it being available in the new market. Authors (and musicians) do.

    And yeah, I am opposed to the idea of a middleman making a profit off of an author’s lost sales. This isn’t a case of a used bookstore — this is trading with someone in the middle charging a fee to facilitate the trade. It bothers me.

    The good thing is that I have a choice — I don’t personally believe in patronizing this type of business, so I don’t. Others are fine with it, so they do. There is no right or wrong here, just choice.