Rethinking Traditional Mores

February 5th, 2005 · 10 Comments
by Booksquare

Did you know that when you buy blank media like CDs or videocassettes in some countries, you pay a small surcharge that is then remitted back to copyright holders (and, then, hopefully to artists). This fee was imposed because it was presumed that some of these items were being used to tape programs off the television or copy other artistic works. We think there’s something like this in the book world, but cannot be certain (in other words, we’ve heard rumblings, but haven’t encountered specifics).

Perhaps the time has come to institute a small charge on used book sales — because it takes only the most casual of Amazon customers to know that all those “used” books being sold are quite as used as they seem. We are all for free enterprise, and believe that used book sales can positively impact future sales, but when someone’s book is available used before it’s offiicially hit the shelves, it’s a bit scary. These sales impact new book sales, which in turn impact an author’s numbers, which in turn…well, let’s just say we don’t know of a publisher who sits down and factors secondary markets into the equation. We’re sure there is some awareness of this, but it’s kind of tough to quantify.

Also, it would be nice if the entire amount (or, to be fair, something in excess of 90% — we realize there will be overhead involved with processing) is given to the authors.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

10 responses so far ↓

  • Nicola // Feb 5, 2005 at 1:09 pm

    I can see what you are getting at, but for myself, when I see a potentially interesting book on sale for a small price, by an author I haven’t read before I might be tempted to buy the book – and if I like ti then I will read more new books by that author. But I can’t afford to try out new authors at full price.

  • Collected Miscellany // Feb 5, 2005 at 5:49 pm

    Royalties, Aslan, the Tele-autographer, Yogurt and More
    1. Booksquare points to an article in the London Times and agrees that authors need royalty payments for used book sales. The Times reports “Authors fear that the ease with which readers can find second-hand copies is shortening the shelf…

  • booksquare // Feb 5, 2005 at 11:07 pm

    Nicola, I do understand your position. I don’t know an author who doesn’t see the benefit of used books. But, in a world of gray areas, there’s used, and then there’s used. When used books compete with just released books, it impacts an author’s numbers, and that impacts future sales. I don’t, personally, buy used, unless the book meets my (admittedly weird) criteria. This is my personal choice, and it does impact the number of books I buy.

    If used book sales tacked on a nickel or a dime (or your local currency value thereof), that wouldn’t signficantly impact the price. I’d wager that most people would be willing to pay the extra few cents if they knew it was going to the author. Of course (of course!) this requires a system of determining the distribution of the surcharge. My experience is that it’s based on revenues — great for Nora Roberts, not so great for Jill Monroe. The latter would still get something, but the former would get the lion’s share. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, but I’m also not sure of an alternative, unless miracles happen and every used book seller can report by title.

    Of course, if they’re selling via Amazon or any other online venue, they can. This may be why I’m not asked to help revise how bestseller lists are compiled.

  • Jordan // Feb 6, 2005 at 10:54 am

    I actually think that would be a great idea, even if it’s just a nickel across the board. The author would at least get something. I’m not saying it would be completely fair, but it would certainly help. I’m one of those authors whose book came out used before it was released nationally. I couldn’t figure out how that was possible until I looked under the used copies and realized that ‘five’ stores were selling new books as used. I truly believe it hurt our sales. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having used bookstores track by ISBN numbers. That way there’s no confusion with titles, since so many are the same. I shop at used bookstores for certain titles and wouldn’t mind a jot paying a little extra if it went to the authors.

  • booksquare // Feb 6, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    I’m working on a post about how this could be workable in the U.S. (heck, anywhere). You’re right that the system could not be totally, completely fair to everyone, but it could be pretty darn close. The model exists already, it just needs to be modified to work here.

  • Sheryl Nantus // Feb 7, 2005 at 6:10 am

    it’s be interesting to see how this would be set up, because there’s WAY more paperwork involved – does eBay then charge me a few cents more if I’m selling used books there and then remit the money to… the publisher? the author? What if the publisher is out of business by then, or has been swallowed up by a larger one?

    I do think that there’s WAY too much of this happening with the newer books, but the amount of work that would have to go into monitoring and delivering the money would probably cost more than the few cents a book the author might actually make…

    but in a perfect world…


  • Danielle // Feb 7, 2005 at 8:52 am

    You might want to take a look at the way various PLR (public lending right) systems work for some ideas on your used book model. There’s a good introduction here:

  • booksquare // Feb 11, 2005 at 9:56 am

    Thanks, Danielle. I’ll look into it.

    Sheryl, you’re right. A lot of work. At least we’re starting the dialogue — it’s a beginning.

  • Rick // Sep 15, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Great idea!

    Now how much shall we charge people for borrowing a book from a friend? Or reading a newspaper they find on the subway? And let’s start banning books at garage sales – make them go through a government agency like everyone else…

  • Booksquare // Sep 15, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Rick, possibly you didn’t read closely (or I didn’t write clearly). I focused my proposal on those who are operating for profit entities. I’ve written further on this in other posts. It’s not exactly a radical concept. In fact, it’s implemented in many countries for various entertainment media. You might want to look at the SACEM, etc. models to see how this can work and still allow freedom of purchases.