Used Book Stores – Good or Bad?

I personally am a big fan of used book stores. I even worked at a used book store after college.

Used book stores are great for readers, because you can get books cheap. A lot of used bookstores have a trade-in program, so you can treat the store kind of like a library; if you bring books to trade, you can basically get new books for free. Used books stores often have a selection of out of print or other hard-to-find books that you can’t get at Barnes and Noble or even on Amazon. In short, used book stores are a book lover’s heaven. 

But what about the other side of the coin? Do writers love used book stores as much as readers do? Now that I’m a writer with published books for sale, I have to think about this from the business side of things. (Granted, my books are currently only available as ebooks on Amazon, so the used book store debate doesn’t directly affect me at the moment.) But still, I’m thinking about this from an author’s perspective.

Who Makes Money from Book Sales?

If you pay $2.50 for a worn paperback at a used book store, who makes money from that sale? The book store (as they rightly should) – but not the author. An author makes money when people buy their books. If you buy a paperback at Barnes and Noble or a kiosk at the airport, the author makes money (not a ton per book, because there’s the publisher in there, too, but you get the idea).

At a used book store, the book has already been through the author>publisher>wholesale>retail process, and therefore the author has already gotten their cut. Each time this book is resold, the author gets nothing.

Technically, this is no different from a library, or your best friend lending you a book. The book has been paid for legitimately by the library or your friend, the author made their money, and now that particular copy of the book has had multiple readers from that one sale. We can’t exactly start outlawing libraries, yard sales, and friends sharing with friends just to boost writers’ sales.

Authors Need Money, Too

However, since I am both a reader (and therefore a lover of easy access to cheap/free books) and a writer, I have now resolved to treat my favorite books and authors with the financial respect they deserve. Months, or often years, of work goes in to writing a book (as I now well know), and to make a handful of change off of a sale of that work seems pitiful compensation sometimes. If I buy a used paperback copy of their book, they get nothing.

If a book is still in print, then I try to buy it at full price from a legitimate seller (Barnes and Noble, an indie bookstore, or from the author themselves). I still frequent used book shops, but I keep my purchases to those out of print or antique books that no one but the store itself could possibly make money off of. (Shakespeare isn’t going to be making money off your purchase of “The Tempest,” whether you buy a used vintage copy from 1970 or a crisp new copy from B&N.)

Authors deserve to be paid for their work. So if you’re a fan of an author who is still writing books (or even just still living, even if they’re not publishing anymore), then show your support by paying full price for their books. Nothing says “I love your books!” more than a little money in the bank.

I think Shakespeare would approve.


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