Used Book Sales Are Booming

from the isn't-that-a-good-thing? dept

theodp writes “A landmark study confirms what publishers, authors and booksellers have believed – and feared – since the rise of the Internet: Used books have become a modern powerhouse, with sales topping $2.2 billion in 2004. More than 111 million used books were purchased last year, representing about one out of every 12 overall book purchases.” It’s not clear why this is an issue, or why it’s to be feared? Having a healthy used resale market only increases the value of a new book, because the buyer knows that he or she will be able to resell it later. The study doesn’t actually look at the impact of used books on new book sales, so to imply that it’s bad (or good) for authors at this point is premature. However, even if it is bad for publishers, then that’s something they, as a business, need to deal with. To claim that it’s somehow “bad” that products are out there for less money and more people can read them means (just like certain other industries) the publishers are missing opportunities to give book buyers what they really want.

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Comments on “Used Book Sales Are Booming”

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mjsw says:

Re: Re: Down with professors who assign their book

Professors at many colleges are required to write their own texts. It is a requirement to keep their job and get tenure.

I was in the college textbook publishing business for nine years and every professor I worked with requested things be done to keep the price to an ablsolute minimum for their students. Their students and their students financial situation was a top concern for the professors.

Unfortunately, the whole college structure has become outrageously prices all the way through. The college bookstores are well known to have a huge markup on the textbooks.

Anons Anonymous says:

And down with the

textbook companies that make ten pound books for ELEMENTARY school kids. I’m a parent that can’t believe how heavy the darned books are these days. (in the US, anyway)
You ever wonder why all the grade school kids have those wheeled ‘backpacks’? It’s because they have fifty pounds of freakin books in there!

Jeez. They’re just kids.
And, also: Save a few hundred fukkin trees will ya?

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

When I start seeing DRM in books because it’s “the only way authors can be paid appropriately” I’ll firebomb the place. There’s a book store down the street here that has an entire dumpster full of old books. Why not in charity? Why not given away? Because it devalues the books they are carrying. It’s sick.

Pete Austin says:

Re: Entire dumpster full of old books

There’s a book store down the street here that has an entire dumpster full of old books. Why not in charity?

Probably the book store has a deal with the publishers to get a refund for unsold copies – but only if the books are returned or destroyed. Publishers know that if unsold (new) books are donated for charities to sell, this will reduce full-price sales.

However “dumpster-diving” and keeping the contents is legal in some places (IANAL, get legal advice etc.) so maybe you could donate them to charity yourself.

Andy Lester (user link) says:

Re: Re: Entire dumpster full of old books

Consider also that they may be books that no one wants, even for free.
Librarians in school libraries are constantly fighting the battle just to weed their collections. I know of school librarians who, in order to get old, out-dated books off the shelves, have to sneak them out a few per day and throw them out at home, because to throw out boxes of them would cause a furor.
I love books, too, but sometimes they lose their value.

Ted Brown says:

Authors are adversely affected

It’s not publishers who are affected, it’s the authors. Most can crank out a novel a year, and that is as a full time job. Novelists do not make a lot of money on book sales, and so must spend years creating a library of good, solid books that sell a small amount every year, but in aggregate pay enough to make a living.
Used book sales on this scale destroy that system.
This forces them to live like paupers to write literature, or write pap that suits in Tinseltown will pay handsomely for, so they can create a butchered version for theatres.
There are definitely authors who can court a niche audience (which sometimes expands), but these folks are few and far between.
Are we thinning the ranks of authors by natural economic selection? Is this really the future?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Authors are adversely affected

Again, is that really true? If the used book market makes new books more valuable, then that should increase royalties to authors. Also, there’s plenty to suggest that used books are often how readers discover new authors, and those readers are more willing to buy new books of those authors in the future. So, it seems like you could make the argument that used books help authors also.

So, one question is which of these effects is stronger?

More importantly, though, is an understanding of the fact that this isn’t going to change just because some authors don’t like it. Just as in other industries, the market changes. It’s up to those involved to figure out the new business models to adjust. You can complain all you want, but there’s not much of a market for horse-drawn carraige makers any more. It’s all about adapting.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's just DRM in a different guise...

Let me put this another way for those of you who argue in favor of killing off the used book market.

In the future, car manufacturers won’t let consumers re-sell their cars. They’ll lock you to the vehicle using a fingerprint/eyescan and then the only thing you can do with it is drive it or send it to the junk-yard. When that happens, the price of a car had better be a LOT cheaper than the $16k prices they command today. Consumers won’t pay high prices *and* accept all of the restrictions that come with being locked to a product.

It’s the same with books, too.

Ted Brown says:

Books are not commodities

Books are not commodities, they are works of art which are massively reproduced. To compare books to cars… well, that’s just hopelessly inept. I mean, you don’t pay a publisher to replace a broken page, do you?

Musicians, for example, can profit from file sharing and used CD sales, because a) they can create new content quickly and b) they can garner profits off touring and merchandise.

Books are NOT created quickly, and authors do NOT get to go on tour and charge $75 for tickets.

The used book market is certainly here to stay, I have no doubts about that. Hell, more than half my library is used books I bought in college, when I had to stretch my dollars. But if I couldn’t find a book at a local used book store, I bought it new, because there was no option to buy used books on the internet.

Video games are very similar, in the sense that they take a long time to produce (2 years), yet have their sales ceaselessly ravaged by rentals and game stores that sell pre-owned copies.

Guess what? This is turning the video game market into a hit-driven, -commodity- marketplace where true innovation is shunned and sequels make top dollars. Books are much the same way.

So crow and yell all you want about “facing up to the future.” You are obviously a consumer. As an artist, all I see in the future is a mess of mass-produced bullshit, designed to appease the masses.

James Quintana Pearce (user link) says:

Re: Books are not commodities

Books have been mass-produced bullshit designed to appease the masses since the invention of the printing press. There’s always some that stand out as true works of art and they are effected less by reselling. If a book is good people:
a) Want a new copy
b) Don’t want to sell the book once they’ve read it
c) Read it more often, thus making the book more worn and reducing its resale value/times it can be sold.

El Gordo says:

Re: Re: Books are not commodities

Complete Crap!!

if a book is good, I’ll go to library and get it for free! then i’ll take it back, why do i want to keep it? is there value to be had by keeping it? NO, if i want to read it again, I will go back to the library and get it out.

DONT KEEP BOOKS, they just gather dust and you wont impress me or your friends by having lots of books shitting on youe shelves

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