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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Do you buy used books?

Yesterday, I was reading a post on Dear Author about used bookstores/internet used book sales. Interesting post, meaty, with some fascinating statistics. The overall theme, for those who haven't read it, was that retailers (both online and brick and mortar) are not hurt by used book sales. I know for a fact they don't hurt the store I work at. But for publishers and authors, it's another story. Based on 2003 sales figures, and an estimate of .3%, over $45 million dollars. That's not chump change.

Now, according to the individual who originally posted the study (Read for Pleasure), it's a simple matter of increasing new book prices slightly to make up for that loss. I wonder, however, if that would work, or would it simply increase the demand for lower priced used copies?

How do authors feel? Several have voiced very firm opinions. Rosina Lippi doesn't buy used, as long as the author's alive. Susan Gable has a post titled, Save a Writer, Buy a New Book! on another author's blog. Clearly, there are some authors who do not see any potential gain from used book sales.

Me? I'm somewhere in the middle. I get a pretty good idea of what goes on in a used bookstore. I see the drawbacks and the benefits. Loss of potential sales, but an increase in potential readership, buzz and word of mouth exposure.

In our store, there are those who buy new because they want the latest release--the one they've read about in last month's RT magazine--and they want it NOW. Not tomorrow. Not next week. And definitely not a month or two after everyone else has bought it.

Then there are those who rarely buy new. They're willing to wait. So, if my books weren't available used, would the used book readers buy them new? Chances are, they wouldn't.

What about the buyer in the middle? The one who sometimes buys new, sometimes buys used? They aren't as common as the extremes, at least at our store, but IMO, they are the ones an author could actually benefit from. The exception to the rule. These are the readers who might buy a backlist title used, and then find other titles and buy those new.

Benefits and drawbacks. To me, they seem to balance out. Probably won't make me the most popular person among my peers.

Some people might suggest I'm on the fence because I work at a store that sells both used and new books, that I wouldn't be if I didn't. Perhaps that's true, to a certain extent. But not because of any loyalty I feel to the store. If anything, it's the insight I have into the book buying habits of our customers that have kept me from taking a hard core anti-used book stance. New book buyers almost always buy new. But used, rarely.

Any thoughts? Insight? Comments? Rotten tomatoes? Let's talk.

Tawny
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Vampilicious Erotic Romance
Sydney's Romance with Sassitude

posted by Tawny Taylor at 1:16 PM |

2 Comments:

Commented by Blogger Nonny:


I buy used, but not to a large extent. Part of that's because I'm mostly reading recently published books these days, and I'm not going to wait for them to show up in a UBS. I'm also very forgetful, so even if the book isn't on the "must buy" list, I'll likely pick it up anyway, or I won't remember until I happen upon it by accident.

I buy a lot of older books used, because they are either out of print or hard to find. Even if it's still in print, if I see it in a used bookstore, I'll pick it up there rather than wait for Borders to order it in. :P

There are also some authors whose work I like (or my husband likes), but they will not get a single cent from me on general principle. Yeah, I'm a bitch like that.

I've found some great authors when browsing used bookstores, though. I pick something up because it looks good, like it a lot, and then I'll often buy the author's new work retail.

I don't get authors that think used bookstores and libraries are evil. Some people don't have the spare cash to buy a $10 paperback, much less a $30 hardcover. Even if one person never bought one of my books but liked them enough to rave about them to friends -- those are still sales I wouldn't otherwise have.

Look at the big picture. :P


11:33 PM 
Commented by Anonymous RfP:


I'm glad you found it interesting!

according to [me], it's a simple matter of increasing new book prices slightly to make up for that loss. I wonder, however, if that would work, or would it simply increase the demand for lower priced used copies?

The authors of that economic study thought publishers could raise prices by 10% and only increase demand for used by 1%. I know they used actual buying data for that analysis, but I do wonder if fiction works a bit differently from the usual markets they study this way--books have such emotional pull, and as you say, the craving to have that book NOW can override other criteria.

What about the buyer in the middle? The one who sometimes buys new, sometimes buys used? They aren't as common as the extremes, at least at our store, but IMO, they are the ones an author could actually benefit from.

I think this is exactly right. The extremes won't budge from their patterns, but these either/or buyers are like swing voters. Tweak the system just a little (increase romance selection at their local used bookstore, close down their nearest brick-and-mortar store, give them their first Amazon gift certificate, have a significant screwup with an Amazon order) and they could change their buying habits significantly.

The Book Industry Study Group says that only 2% buy exclusively used books. I wonder how many buy exclusively new. It's interesting how many independent booksellers carry both, side by side--surely that must create some "swing voters" too.

Nonny: I'm mostly reading recently published books these days

I have cycles in my reading too. Sometimes I read mostly obscure books I can only find in the library; sometimes recent books; sometimes I glom a backlist from used book stores. However, there are also a lot of people who only read fairly recent bestsellers. If that group buys used, but only bestsellers, I don't see that really affecting the new and midlist authors who are most in need of sales.


12:53 PM 

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