A number of pundits here and elsewhere have discussed the problem that used book sales create for publishers and authors. For those who have not seen these posts the issues simply stated is this: It takes a huge investment on the part of an author and then a publisher to write and then develop a book for publication. Yet – very soon after the book is published – used copies are for sale on sites like Amazon (probably the chief culprit) right alongside the indie author’s or publisher’s full price offering. Some major used book sellers (Goodwill for example) pay Amazon to be the buyer’s FIRST choice to purchase. The result is that the author and the publisher are very quickly denied the income from their labor and investment.
This is a serious problem and one that is growing – a google search for ‘national used book sellers’ produced some 502,000,000 results in 0.80 seconds! The publishing industry and the fate of those that write (or wish to write) for a living is already in jeopardy. Massive commercialization of used books is rapidly making the book writing and selling business bad business. If the book becomes extinct the civilized human mind will not be far behind.
I am not against the person to person sale of a used book, or even those neighborhood used book stores (GreenApple in SF my fave). I am against the kind of nationwide, internet based used book giants that are having a visible impact on our right to reap the rewards of our labors.
What can be done? I think there is much that can be done – but it will take concerted and united action on the part of writers and publishers. Any action will face powerful resistance from the already in-place used book industry which is big enough now to lobby (read ‘bribe’) your politicians to strike down any legislative action to protect writers and publishers. Amazon alone could afford to do it.
First and foremost writer and publishers – ALL authors and publishers – need to unite forces in a single organized entity that can eventually match (or at least significantly push back) against the Used Book Industry. More on this below.
There are precedents that might provide adaptable pathways. Copyright laws were devised to provide authors (and thereby publishers) protection and legal recourse against the theft of their work by others. The music, film and television industries have legal recourse against the pirating and resale of their works (albeit not entirely successful).
This leads to one simple solution – it is the execution that will involve heavy lifting. The solution is a law similar to other intellectual property protection laws, one that will make it illegal to sell a book as a used book for a period of five years after its publication date.
This could be accomplished in the US by the North American Chapter of the International Authors & Publishers Association. IAPA does not exist – but I would create it in a heartbeat if enough authors and publishers agreed to support IAPA and its used book law. I’d really like to get some reaction to this idea.
The heavy lifting? As always it boils down to marketing the idea. Major book publishers, say Simon & Schuster, have a vested interest in this concept. Even Amazon has a vested interest as it builds its own publishing empire with CreateSpace and Kindle and it associated publishers who would be paying more to Amazon for sales at full cover price instead of used book prices. Individual authors. indie publishers, small publishing houses (especially) and the mainstream publishing industry, all amount to a powerful lobbying group if their interests were aligned. If a significantly large enough group could be created the politicians would take note.
I’d like to get started. What do you say?