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Used Books Are Wonderful

January 25, 2009

Sassymonkey, one of my favorite book bloggers wrote a post on BlogHer, called “Used Book Buyers Are Not Bad People.”
Her post is thoughtfully written, as are many of the comments that respond to her post.

This economic climate makes it tough for almost everyone. Books are often a luxury, as we’re watching our finances. And that’s hard to reconcile with the desire for the publishing industry and authors to prosper and thrive, to keep renewing the supply of new, well-written books. So buying used books does raise questions for some readers. And I’d like this discussion to continue. I’ll keep checking back at BlogHer, and need to remember to think it through more, here.

I was just in the Strand today with out-of-town friends, strutting around the winding shelves and showing it off a bit. It’s my main tourist spot. We have to eat here, we have to go to that museum, and we must must must go to The Strand, and lose ourselves in the delicious maze of books. I have been meaning to write a post that is a love letter to secondhand bookstores.

I love used bookstores. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments that talk about used bookstores nurturing readers, who will buy more books, more often, if they can find books that are used. I take chances on new authors from the library, or from the Strand, more often than I would for a hardcover at full price.

I understand that authors want to see royalties, and should, and that the financial bottom line often influences books that come into print or stay in print, according to their purchased popularity. Some of my favorite treasures have come to me secondhand, from stores, libraries, or even book swaps. I’ve discovered wonderful books that are out of print, that I might not buy.

I wonder, though, in this age of the computer, whether there’s a way for authors to profit from their social capital. Can publishing houses get demographic information about library books or used books purchased? To index popularity, and maybe guide sales decisions to do discounts, or renew an author’s contract.

It’s what the big-box stores have learned about household goods: people may buy more, and more often, if each unit is cheaper! (I’m not an economist, but it seems like common sense.)

There’s also the incalculable social capital we’re all talking about, when we talk about the life of a reader or the community of readers. I read a book. I love it. I talk about it. I blog about it. I recommend it. Maybe I buy it for friends. They read it. The cycle continues. Whether I’ve bought it at half or full price or borrowed it from the library, the joy of reading remains the same, as does the desire to share and recommend. Readers are like liasons from a publicist or a book’s marketing campaign. Even if, for whatever reason, we’re not paying full cover price, we can be an asset to the book’s overall fiscal health, by influencing people who might not have known about the book.

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