Take My Used Book, Please!

From the Wall Street Journal

The Author’s Guild is mad at Amazon—the online bookseller. Getting mad at the river might have been more productive.

It seems that Amazon is helping its customers sell—kids, cover your ears—used books. With increasing frequency, when shopping for a book at Amazon, you’ll find that in addition to offering new copies at those phenomenally low prices, they might even offer a price if someone out there has decided to ditch their once-new copy for a little bit of cash.

This upsets the Author’s Guild, which supposedly represents the interests of writers. The Guild thinks it awfully naughty of Amazon to encourage people to buy used books. After all, authors don’t make royalties on used books. What in the world was Amazon thinking?

Next thing you know, the Guild will be picketing libraries. You sell a copy of your book to a library and they have the nerve to let more than one person read it. Can you imagine? If the book is really popular, maybe five, ten or even 100 people might read it. (The sound you hear is the author weeping softly as those 100 readers yield only a single royalty payment.)

What’s an author to do? Authors have been known to get on the Amazon site and check their sales rank. Authors of America unite! The next time you check your sales rank and a used copy pops up as an option, buy it. When it arrives in the mail, bury it in the ground or burn it. Certainly don’t let anyone read it. Then you can sleep easy knowing that the next person who searches for your book won’t have a used copy to choose from.

When you’re done at Amazon, get on www.bookfinder.com and find all the other used copies available on line. Buy those too. Burn em. Boy, are you going to be happy. Then get in your car and scour all the used book stores around the countryside. Buy any copies of your book that you find there. Next, it’s off to the local libraries. I won’t encourage you to steal books from the library. But you might want to misfile your book so readers can’t find it. That way they’ll all go and pay full price at Amazon.

There’s only one problem with this strategy. It might actually result in fewer people reading your book. Most authors I know, including yours truly, write for all kind of reasons. Nobody writes to maximize the number of full price sales. In fact, most of us wish our publishers would charge lower prices so more people would read our books. We’re not just interested in money. We’re interested in truth and spreading it. We’re interested in fame and glory. We actually want people to read our books and to hear our voice.

Most of us love Amazon because it helps people find out about our books and avoids the hideous distribution system which works fine for Clancy, King and Grisham but not so smoothly for the rest of us. And some of us are smart enough to realize that not every reader who hears about our book is willing to buy it, even at Amazon’s discount prices.

I can’t speak for all of my fellow authors, but I’m happy to see a used copy of one of my books for sale. (In fact, if you can find one at your local bookstore or on the Web, please help yourself.) I may be sad that someone wanted to part with the little gem, but I’m thrilled to know it might find a home where it may be loved and cherished, and perhaps even read.

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