May 19, 2009

Don't Support Authors

Back in February, I wrote a post about why I love second-hand books -- something that I didn't see as particularly controversial, but which did generate some oppositional comments. One commenter wrote the following:
Worthy points, however i have in the last 5 years begun buying new books in order to support the authors, they don’t see a penny off of secondhand sales, and i want them to stay in the business of writing! think of it as voting with your dollars, or tipping a musician.

Another chimed in,
the one great tragedy of the used book is that the author will never receive recompense for it. Sure, the book was bought once, but to never buy a new book? I hope you write your favorite authors so they at least know they’re being read.

Since my answer to both was rather incoherent at the time, let me now explain why I think it's also important to not support authors directly. (Not that it's a bad thing to do -- but it's not the only thing to do. This post probably should have been titled something like Why It's Important that Non-Author-Supporting Literary Outlets Exist, but that's a little unwieldy. You'll just have to deal with it.)

There are two main literary establishments that don't really support authors directly: libraries and used bookstores. Both of these are essential in a literate culture, even though they don't pay royalties. Why? I'll tell you:

Libraries and used bookstores keep reading accessible. Earlier in the spring I had a $50 gift card to spend at a big-box bookstore. That $50 only bought three new novels, and I still had to pony up some change to cover the tax. It's not so bad, really -- I had fifty bucks, I got to blow it on books, and all was well. But what if I only had, say, $10? You can't even buy a mass market paperback with that these days: most of the ones I see are $10.99 or $11.99, plus tax. Having literary havens established where books are cheap (used bookstores) and/or free (libraries) ensures that those who can't afford to purchase many/any new books can keep reading.

Used bookstores support the local economy. (Well, locally-owned ones do, anyway.) I like going to the handful of used bookstores in walking distance and knowing that I'm spending money in my own community. When I buy books in a local shop, I'm supporting my neighbours as well as my reading habits.

Libraries and used bookstores  are essential in fostering a literate/literary society. This definitely touches on the whole accessibility thing again; books should not be a privilege of the educated or moneyed elite. But it's more than that: used bookstores and libraries, by making books accessible, are better able to foster literacy than the big all-new chain stores.

Used bookstores and libraries let to try out new authors risk-free. Sometimes we all want to try a new author or series, but aren't sure if the books will be good enough to justify new-book prices. A used bookstore or a library lets readers try out new authors with very little financial risk or outlay -- but doesn't obligate them to continue to buy that author's books at discounted prices. All of us have a few authors whose books we love so much that we will buy anything they ever write, and probably in hardback to boot. Being able to widely sample authors at a low cost will allow more authors to become those super favourites -- perhaps authors whose books wouldn't otherwise get picked up in a big box bookstore.

Libraries and used bookstores make good use of resources. Remember the three Rs? There's nothing that libraries do better than reuse books.

Used bookstores and libraries support authors in ways other than with royalties. Both establishments help to maintain a generally literate culture, and more readers means more books bought and read at all levels of the literary food chain. Libraries and used bookstores encourage readers to try new authors whenever they can. They also provide venues for readings, signings, and other aspects of the book promitional machine.

Should you buy new books if you can? Absolutely. But if you can't, don't get your knickers in a knot over it. Libraries and used bookstores may not pay royalties, but they support a culture of literacy -- and, indirectly, authors -- in several very important ways.


Nari - The Novel World said...

The one argument I can make for paying full price at the bookstore, is that it does curb the habit of buying too many books that never get read. I fall into that trap a lot. I'll buy 5 books from a used bookstore and only read 1 book. It would have been easier to just buy the 1 book from a bookstore and read it. I'd still be in the same position, just with more shelf space.

More recently, I go to bookstores to scan titles, then find them at the library. I've had to stop buying books in general due to 1. lack of funds and 2. lack of space. When it comes to the nitty gritty, consumers want more for their dollar, and a used bookstore provides multiple titles for the price of 1.

I do try to buy books from Library Friend's Bookstores, because that money goes back into the library to be used from programs and events. Not that many people realize that. In most cities, libraries don't keep the money from late fees, that goes back to the city. The money from the Friend's library book sales and bookstore is what helps keep the individual branch alive and running for the community.

Nari - The Novel World’s latest blog post:Every Last Cuckoo – Review

Molly @ bookhopping said...

I think your point about supporting a literary culture is incredibly valid. If I read a book - no matter where it's from - and love it, I talk about it. So even if I didn't buy it new (or at all), there's a decent chance someone I'm discussing it with might.

Molly @ bookhopping’s latest blog post:lovestruck summer

Mark B said...

Um...make that feel and smell...

Mark B said...

Nice post. I love the fell and smell of a used bookstore. I pick up all kinds of subjects. I also sell books to make room for new ones. The books I especially love I tend to pass on to friends who read.

The new superstore bookstores are nice and all, but it makes me crazy to see someone with a stack of books or magazines sitting in the high-priced coffee shop area, pawing the tomes and then putting them back. Oh well, at least they're reading, right? Sorry about the rambling - you wouldn't guess I'm a writer. I also find the selection to be sadly the same from one store to another. Give me the used bookstore roulette wheel!

Here's an idea to support an author you like - especially a new one. Find their address and mail them a five dollar bill. Tell them what you enjoyed (or didn't) about the book and thank them for their work.

Ali said...

I agree with you 100%. People should get their books where they want to, guilt-free (and library-bound copies are more expensive so I assume offer more royalties). Authors aren't a charity, and I don't think most would want to be treated as such. Used bookstores and libraries make books accessible to the masses, and that can only be a good thing for writers.

If the author is my friend, I'll buy their book new as a personal show of support. Otherwise, I support authors by reading their books and talking/writing about them, by showing up at their readings/signings, by choosing something other than the latest bestseller to read and then sending the author an email about it.

Ali’s latest blog post:Parenting/Nutrition winners, Week 1

glumpuddle said...

As an author, I have to say I kind of cringed internally when Christine told me she'd spotted a used copy of my book at a local Uni book shop (which buys texts back and re-sells them). That being said, I buy books at used bookstores because, though I'm published, I'm not well off. There has to be a happy balance I do think - and when you purchase textbooks, think of the authors who don't get much for each book sale -- and see if you can buy new if that is at all reasonable.
Ali, no, library copies don't offer more royalties than any other book - they are just a regular copy that the library puts protective covers on.

Ali said...

I saw a stack of my friend's books on the mark-down table at Powell's and it made me cringe on his behalf, too. They weren't used, though--they were new copies that never sold. Ouch.

I stand corrected on the library-bound volumes--though I have to be persnickety and say that it's more involved than just sticking a cover on the book. The pages are actually sewn in differently to make the book more durable. But apparently that's not done by the publisher/printer, so you're right that it wouldn't impact royalties.

Ali’s latest blog post:Parenting/Nutrition winners, Week 1

Eva said...

Well said! I have nothing intelligent to add, just wanted to pat you on the back. :)

Eva’s latest blog post:Library Loot: May 20-26, 2009

bethany (Dreadlock Girl) said...

I agree. I buy most things second hand, or heavily discounted (beyond belief) I have only bought a handful of books at full price in my life. I know it is great to support authors, and I say if you have money to throw away do it full on and yes do it for books! However, I am a scavenger and cannot justify spending double on something that is new. It seems a waste to me.

That is my opinion, others are free to have their own, I buy used I support my local used bookstores and independent bookstores. I have chosen to support authors with my reviews, by promoting the ones I like, and to support bookstores (which in turn DOES support authors) with my purchases.

Great topic.

bethany (Dreadlock Girl)’s latest blog post:Friday Night, Movie Night.

Kristen M. said...

When I have the money to buy new books, I do. When I don't have disposable funds or when I'm not sure about an author or title, I go to the library. It's as simple as that. I plan to keep reading however I can!

Kristen M.’s latest blog post:New Release: Behold, Here's Poison

zibilee said...

I buy both new and used books, but I buy used more often than not because nowadays books aren't cheap. You make a valid point about just how far your dollar stretches in a big box store, and it is mostly for that reason that I buy my books from a discounted source. I agree with the others that say I support authors in many other ways, from blogging about a great book, to talking about it to whoever will listen, to sending e-mails letting an author know that their book was really appreciated. Great topic for discussion, btw.

zibilee’s latest blog post:Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Story of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes On in the Kitchen by Dalia Jurgensen - 288 pgs

Elizabeth said...

Great post! I think local libraries are such a valuable resource, and try to support mine however I can. I certainly love to spend time (and $$!) in a bookstore, but currently don't have the resources to feed my reading habit solely by what I could purchase new. And, honestly, I just like the idea of a used book - someone else read it first, and now it's my turn to care for it a while, perhaps later passing it on again to a new owner - each book has a history, and that's part of the charm, for me.

Elizabeth’s latest blog post:The Nonfiction Files

susan said...

Amen, Christine! I run a community library. And I don't have deep pockets. In fact, they are empty more often than not. My community of readers have less than I do. If I hadn't taken on the library, fewer of my girls would be reading now and the community would not be exposed to the world of reading. I could not have filled our libraries with books if I relied on donors and new book purchases alone. The truth is as generous as donors are, I have put more books on the shelves by scouring library sales, book trading sites and buying used books. Does reading have to reduced to dollars, too?

I am really annoyed at how we forget that all people do not have equal access, that reading used to be reserved for the privilege and that the majority was purposely kept illiterate. Some of us need to remember every parent can neither read or purchase new books. Libraries and use book sales allows more of us to have access to books and they promote a culture of literacy.

And many of us discover new authors and then do buy their new books because we discovered their work in libraries and used bookstores. And let's not forget that bookstores carry what is new, what sells and what is popular. Without libraries and used bookstores, thousands of books that are not current but good reads would not be read. There are authors that I have promoted in a ton of ways beyond buying their new book. For example, I have asked my library to buy the book and I haven't been turned down yet. I blog about library books and others have bought those books because I promoted it on my blog.

Some of us read 100 plus books a year. If I read only what I could buy, cut that by eighty percent. Given the economy and how families are struggling to make ends meet, shame on those of you for guilt tripping those of us who love reading but we can't afford to walk into a bookstore just because we feel like it.

And let me say it again, everyone does not have equal access to books.

Anna said...

Great post, and I agree. I buy new books usually when I have a gift certificate or they're on sale. Otherwise it's the library. And I get really excited about library sales.

Anna’s latest blog post:PRINCESS KATIE AND THE SILVER PONY by Vivian French

glumpuddle said...

I think it might be important to note that the arguments we've all put forward on behalf of used & library books (cheap and free) vs. new books are about economics. As an author, I've worked hard to write a book - but a living wage for that work are non-existent. As a general rule it isn't authors who make big bucks off books - it is publishers and re-sellers. While everyone might not have equal access, not every one gets a living wage for their work... so I'm afraid I'm still in theoretical favour of buying so authors get something out of it. Mostly.

Christine said...

Perhaps this leads us to a new formula, then:

Before acquiring a book, find out whether the author is still alive.
-- If they are alive, buy new.
-- If they aren't alive, buy used or use the library.

karen said...


karen’s latest blog post:word: clapotis

Amy @ My Friend Amy said...

I agree that it keeps reading accessible which is necessary for a literate society, but I do encourage that if you CAN afford to buy books full price but don't, that you at least consider doing it sometimes. The people who pay full price make it possible for others to buy secondhand. It's a symbiotic relationship and it's helpful to think we can all give back.

I also don't consider it throwing my money away as Bethany put it, I consider it an investment in the future of publishing, literacy and supporting midlist authors. In fact, it would seem that most people who don't buy new only buy new when it's a big name author. I would really encourage you if you have the money to buy new when it's a midlist author, not a best-selling author. Many of these authors are losing opportunities and getting their contracts canceled. Why not help out a little IF YOU CAN.

I also buy used on occasion so I'm not against it at all. But I do think more people could actually afford to then do. and FWIW, the lack of available reading resources, i.e. used books is my biggest concern with the new push for digital resources.

Amy @ My Friend Amy’s latest blog post:Interview with Logan and Noah Miller

3m said...

Excellent post!

I do buy new books occasionally, like Home by Marilynne Robinson or Kafka on the Shore by Murakami and others that I know for certain that I will enjoy.

Most, though, I get through the library, library book sales, used bookstores, pbs, or bookmooch.

I also feel I am supporting authors through my reviews.

3m’s latest blog post:Music Munday 6.8.09 (Narnia)