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Used Books

2002-04-20 19:43:56+00 by Dan Lyke 16 comments

In light of the recent idiocy of the recording and movie industries, who could solve all their problems with a few well-placed civil suits against individuals, I was actually cheered that the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers pressed Amazon.com to alter its marketing of used books, to put the new books first. And I was confused by Tim O'Reilly's affirmation of Jeff Bezos' statements on the matter. Now Eric Flint provides some compelling numbers that suggest his book sales went up when he put them on the net.

I'm a person who feels kinda guilty about sharing paper books, because I like to see artists get their due, but it almost sounds like with a few well placed pushes shareware could come back into the limelight.

[ related topics: Intellectual Property Books Movies Consumerism and advertising Marketing ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-04-20 22:34:37+00 by: Dori

In this case, Amazon & Tim are right and the Author's Guild is wrong. If you buy a book, you have a right to resell that book. And there's no proof that selling new and used copies on the same web page encourages people to prefer used books, or that the availablility of used books discourages purchase of new books.

More of my two cents (as an author) here.

#Comment made: 2002-04-21 05:08:20+00 by: shmuel

I'm with Dori. (And O'Reilly, for that matter.)

Aside from the excellent points already raised, the Author's Guild seems not to consider the possibility that Amazon's service might actually encourage people who ordinarily wouldn't pay for a new book to do so, secure in the belief that they can easily resell it and recover part of the cost. Admittedly, this would only apply to that subset of readers who don't want the book for keeps, and don't want to be stuck with the full cost of the book... but that subset wouldn't be likely to be buying the book new in the first place, meaning that this would actually add to the book's sales. Meanwhile, those readers who want pristine copies to be kept for perpetuity still won't be buying the used ones, so no loss there. As for those readers who'd be buying books used anyway, is it really worse for authors to have them shop on a site that also sells new books, presenting at least the possibility that they'll be attracted to something they might like that's new? Would writers really be better off if such readers ditched Amazon and stuck with Half.Com, or their local used book store?

#Comment made: 2002-04-21 14:20:10+00 by: meuon

And.. I might pay $5 for a book (instead of 15), find I like the author and buy more of his books. Heck, I've bought 2 or 3 Snow Crashes, 2 Cyrytonomicrons and given them away. I'll buy more (used) and give them away as well, and introduce people to an author. I would hope the authors see the potential value in Amazon's used books as a way of more people enjoying their work, balanced by the need to make a living.

#Comment made: 2002-04-21 19:05:46+00 by: Dan Lyke

I also recently read Résumé With Monsters[Wiki], from White Wolf Publishing (I'll toss a review on the main page at some point). On the inside of the back cover they talk about their publishing policies, including why they don't allow "stripping", which ends with:

Finally, we request that you not throw books away. When you finish a book, give it to a friend or even a complete stranger. After all, nothing is quite as eloquent as the gift of words.

A lot of the stuff I read is small run, from authors who generally aren't breaking even. I feel guilty if I share their books around, yet I realize if I don't they'll never get well enough known to care. But this is all reaffirming my belief that the current atttitudes of the record companies aren't about protecting hte rights of their artists, but protecting the monopolies that those publishers enjoy.

#Comment made: 2002-04-21 20:27:15+00 by: Pete [edit history]

Submitted for your consideration:
Borland's No-Nonsense License Statement

This software is protected by both United States copyright law and international treaty provisions. Therefore, you must treat this software _just like a book_, with the following single exception. Borland International authorizes you to make archival copies of the software for the sole purpose of backing-up our software and protecting your investment from loss.

By saying, "just like a book," Borland means, for example, that this software may be used by any number of people and may be freely moved from one computer location to another, so long as there is _no possibility_ of it being used at one location while it's being used at another. Just like a book that can't be read by two different people in two different places at the same time, neither can the software be used by two different people in two different places at the same time. (Unless, of course, Borland's copyright has been violated.)

#Comment made: 2002-04-21 20:35:05+00 by: Dori [edit history]

Dan, if you haven't seen it already, you should check out Book Crossing--"read and release books".

#Comment made: 2002-04-22 01:35:33+00 by: meuon

I always liked Borland.. and I am more caring about licensing and paying people with reasonable requirements than I am about the M$ style nazi's. In fact, I go through a lot of extra effort to avoid people with restrictive licensing.

#Comment made: 2002-04-22 09:19:56+00 by: shmuel

Re: Book Crossing. The following is cut'n'pasted from a posting I made elsewhere over a week ago, so the statistics might be a tad out of date now. But not by much, I'm sure:

Yeah, interesting concept. Pity that it doesn't seem to work in practice. Or at least that's what I glean from their leader board page, which, if you're paying attention, shows more than 7,445 books registered... and a grand total of 170 with later entries attached. (And 41 of those are from one person.)

Not only is that 2% success rate (being charitable in our assumptions) less than confidence-inspiring, but a cursory look at the "successful" releases shows that most of them seem to have been handed directly from the first person to the second (presumably a friend), rather than having been released "in the wild." Or that was the result of my spot-checking, anyway.

But, hey, it makes good copy for gushing magazine articles...

#Comment made: 2002-04-22 15:27:32+00 by: Shawn

shmuel; All the more reason to jump on board. In my observation and experience, I would say the reason for this low rate is due to the fact that not many people pass on a book. At most, they dump it (as part of a pile of books) at the local Value Village when they get tired of seeing them stacked around the house. I do more reading than the average joe (although almost exclusively in one genre) but I've never passed off a book to another person, nor released one into the wild (not on purpose anyway). I usually hang onto my books. (I was originally going to have my own fantasy/sci-fi library when I grew up, but ran out of space and so took many of them down to Half-Price Books a few years back.) And In my life I've only ever known one person who did. I remember being flabbergasted when, upon finishing his book, he handed it to me and said he didn't want it back. I still have that book today.

But something like Book Crossing is designed (I think) to encourage us to break out of this hoarding habit. It cost us no money and very little time, so why not do it? Not participating because nobody else is is akin to the belief that not voting for one of the two major [political] parties is "throwing your vote away". The answer is not to just follow the other sheep - it is to lead the sheep in the right direction. (And by "lead", I mean lead by example.)

7,500 books is a pretty small number in the grand scheme of things. I suspect that this concept is still very much under the radar.

#Comment made: 2002-04-22 20:08:04+00 by: shmuel

Hmm. Well, see, I don't see how "giving away books" can possibly equate to "it costs no money." But that's just me...

#Comment made: 2002-04-23 23:02:58+00 by: Shawn

The giving costs no money, only the aquiring does, assuming you buy it - what if somebody gave it to you?.

#Comment made: 2002-04-25 06:38:14+00 by: shmuel

We must be working with two different definitions of "it costs no money." I'll grant that I don't have to pay more cash in order to give away a book; but that book itself is an asset that certainly has financial value. It's like saying, "why don't you give me that five-dollar bill in your wallet? I won't charge you any extra fee to do so, and you got it as a birthday present from your aunt anyway..."

#Comment made: 2002-04-25 13:28:39+00 by: Larry Burton

Shmuel, Shawn is correct in his statement that the giving costs no money and you are correct in that the book is an asset that does have a value that can be expressed in a measurement of currency or money. Giving the book away costs no money but will decrease your assets by an amount that could be expressed in money but the book is not money.

The act of giving the book away can also have a beneficial effect on you through the satisfaction of knowing someone else will enjoy the book. This satisfaction can not be as easily translated into a monetary figure but this can still be done. For most people the value received through the joy of sharing will far outweigh the value of the book.

Of course, there are also the few people out there that can't bear the thought of giving away anything that they have acquired. I'm not sure how to address those people.

#Comment made: 2002-04-25 15:42:27+00 by: Mars Saxman

There's also a "maintenance cost" implied in any possession, and if the book has low value you may come out ahead by passing it on. It costs money to buy shelves and to move the books when moving apartments, and it takes time to keep books picked up and put away. You have to pay for the space the books occupy, either in increased rent or in reduced living area.

I am acutely aware of these costs right now; Kelly and I have packed our bookshelf full and there are now volumes spilling off the side table and around the couch on the floor. I have to keep some of my sheet music books on the piano, because there's not enough storage area to keep them all put away at once. Every time we think about buying a book we have to think: is this book worth trying to find a place to store it? So, we can buy a new bookshelf for the only unused spot we can find in this apartment, or we can move to a bigger apartment, or we can move some of our current books into storage: any way about it, owning books costs money.

I was out looking for a copy of the Lord of the Rings the other day (Kelly's never finished it, and I haven't read it since I was 16) and saw a really beautiful leather-bound single volume edition. Nice paper, good printing, high aesthetic value, quite tempting: but I had to turn it down, because I thought: if I buy this book, I'm going to be obliged to keep it for a a while, perhaps years, and take good care of it. And frankly, I wasn't looking for that serious a commitment.


#Comment made: 2002-04-25 20:08:48+00 by: Dori

I'm at the same place Mars is, to the point where I do almost all my reading based on what I can borrow from my local library or get via inter- library loan.

The library has a (half-assed but usable) Java applet that lets me add/ change my book requests online, so when I read a book recommendation or a friend emails me about a book I should read, I can add it to my wish list immediately.

My local library also has a few bookshelves of used paperbacks on sale for 50 cents each. I haven't had a problem passing these on to others, or just leaving them around.

#Comment made: 2002-04-26 01:09:32+00 by: shmuel

Well, the other thing is, I reread books. There are few in my collection that I can confidently label as being those I'll never want to reread or consult again, and those which do qualify are generally books not worth passing along in the first place. (Or textbooks for courses I didn't much like, and would be of little use to anybody not taking similar courses.) In most cases, giving them away would basically ensure that I'd have to buy them again down the line... which, once again, would end up costing money.

I use libraries too, but, then again, my annual overdue fine totals invariably have three digits to the left of the decimal point. It's still worth it, as I can't actually afford to buy all the books I read that way... but, speaking strictly for myself, I can't imagine not buying a book because of the responsibility of taking care of it. Yes, one of my considerations when finding a new apartment was making sure I'd have enough room for bookcases, and dealing with my books was the largest portion of the move, but it's totally worth the hassle to have them all within arm's reach. I'm just getting started building my library.

Lest I be seen as too much of a curmudgeon, I should perhaps say that I do give books as gifts. Fairly often, even. Just not my own.