Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Second Hand Books

Over the past few days I've been trying to sort out my books. After my first husband died back in 1997, I developed a bit of a book buying obsession. I went into overdrive when home educating the children, buying all kinds of reference books and fiction for them, as well as myself. As a result, our house is bursting at the seams with books, many of which have never even been read. My tastes have changed over the years and I know I'll just never read some of them. There are also the impulse buys; those books which I thought would either come in handy or someone else had recommended, but to be truthful weren't really my thing. Yes, I did buy books for the sake of it! So, I decided to list a great many of them on readitswapit. I don't know whether you've come across this website, but it's very user-friendly. You list the books you no longer want, then you search through a huge library of other members' books to see which ones you'd like to swap with. The site is free, and you simply pay postage on the book you send. I want to build up a little crime fiction library, as I feel this is the genre my novel is leaning towards. I've also enjoyed reading crime fiction and want to study the genre in more detail. Readitswapit is ideal for my purposes.

I've also listed a stack of books about how to teach your children at home on Amazon Marketplace this morning. It's much easier than taking the books to the second-hand bookshop. If, after a few weeks, I'm still left with the books I listed either on readitswapit or Amazon Marketplace, then I'll take them to the charity shop.

I made the mistake of mentioning the above in a post on a writers' forum recently. Didn't it open up a can of worms? One writer was very put out. She pointed out to me that I'm doing writers a disservice by getting rid of my unwanted books in this way. She said that she never gives books away or sells them second-hand. Instead, if she doesn't want them, she tears them up and puts them in the recycling. Why? Because that way other people will be forced to go out and buy new books, and that way the authors will receive the royalties. Authors receive no royalties from second-hand books. She also said we should use libraries rather than buy second-hand because at least then the authors receive a token payment from PLR. She said she resents second-hand booksellers and charities benefitting from book sales when the money should be going to the authors.

Mmm.. interesting. So should Ford be paid money when we sell on a Mondeo second-hand to the local car dealer or to someone answering our ad in Exchange and Mart?

I want to make it clear that I will always buy brand new books. I love browsing in bookshops and love the feel, smell and the very newness of new books. It doesn't get any better on the book front, as far as I'm concerned. I'm very particular about the state of the books I read. If they're battered or the spine heavily creased, then I don't want to know. That's why I'm not keen on library books. You don't know where they've been, do you? I hate it when you find cigarette ash in the pages or bits of orange. At least on readitswapit the owner can describe the condition of the book. I always go for the books described as 'like new' or 'excellent'. They're usually pretty clean. I'm confident that the books I pass on to others are clean and in excellent condition (I always use bookmarks). One lady recently enclosed a brand new bookmark with the book she sent me via readitswapit and a lovely personalised card.

Relatives and friends know how much I love books and reading, so either buy me books as presents or book tokens. I also collect Persephone books and wouldn't part with those, always buying new.

So, it's over to you. What do you think about the whole second-hand book debacle? Do you agree with writer on the forum? I must add that the whole debate then ventured into the territory of writing for pleasure or profit. I was told I was bonkers for thinking writers write purely for the love of writing. We've had an interesting debate on this on the QWF Forum (yes, it's still running, even though the magazine is now out of my hands). The general concensus is that we write because we love it, not because there's money in it, because often there isn't.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your views. Just off for a long run to blow away the cobwebs.


Jan Jones said...

Well, now, here's the thing. As a reader - one frequently short of money - with a fast reading habit, I have always found libraries to be wonderful, simply fantasmagorical places. As a reader, if I want to buy a keeping book I will buy from a bone-fide shop UNLESS said book is out of print when I will go into the one of many charity shops around.

As a writer, I would quite like to make a living. I spend six months writing a novel and get an advance of £300 (assuming the novel is accepted - if it isn't, I get zilch). One cannot live on £300. Every time someone borrows one of my books from the library I earn 5.8pence. Every time someone buys one of my books from a charity shop I get nothing, but at least the charity gets something. Every time someone gets my book from a swap-for-free site I get nothing, a charity gets nothing, the library loses one more customer and soon they won't exist any more.

I am an entertainer. Nobody is forcing me to write, but I want to make life nicer for people. Poems I write for me, short stories I write for cash, novels are the darlings of my heart and I would like them to sustain me as well as provide enjoyment.

Life would be so much duller without escapist fiction. You'd think people would want to cherish their writers, wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

Are some writers really that desperate for cash that they'd begrudge charities? It's probably more of an ego thing that actually needing the money, I suspect.

This has some shades of the DRM debate about it. The whole business of who owns the rights to films, music, games etc. I personally don't have much issue with DRM in general, but I think these goods are misrepresented when they're sold. CDs and DVDs should clearly state that you are renting the contents, as opposed to owning them outright. That way it would be more obvious what your rights are. Perhaps similar clarity for book rights (and their contents) should be provided?

I love books and will always buy them, both new and second hand. Second hand book shops are fabulous places and I hope most authors would cherish them, as do readers. Shredding/recycling books to increase sales? Madness! What next? Burn them? Anyone know the ignition temperature of paper?

[Off topic] By the way I'm working on a piece for Jo's Workout Week Eight...

Jo said...

Here's a great comment from Becky Smith on the QWF Forum in response to this post:

Jo - I finally got around to looking at your blog (displacement
activity, I'm afraid) and have belatedly woken up to the debate about secondhand books. Whoever chastised you is wrong. It's far more unethical to destroy a book in that way than to pass it on to another reader. As a published writer, let me say that I don't expect every single reading of one of my books to involve somebody forking out £7 for the pleasure. That would be crazy. The whole thing is far more complicated and subtle than that. Word of mouth is the most precious source of sales - and it works very slowly and invisibly. After maybe 5
or 6 borrowings of my books at a library, a reader might one day notice one of my books in a shop - whether new or secondhand - and buy it. Then give it to a friend. If they enjoy it, they just MIGHT ask for my next one in a bookshop, if it isn't on the shelves. And that just MIGHT lead to the shop ordering one or two additional copies as a speculative venture. And they MIGHT catch the eye of someone who has read an earlier
title...or even someone looking for a new author to try. After ten
years, this process is just starting to snowball, and Waterstones are currently considering (no promises) putting me in all their shops. If
every one of my paperbacks had been shredded after the first reading, I would be MUCH worse off, because my name would be much less known than it is. Not to mention the criminal waste of energy and materials in
making it.
Sorry - I'm ranting.

Jo said...

I should also say that Becky Smith writes crime novels under the name of Rebecca Tope.

Sally Zigmond said...

That woman who tears up books and drops them in a recycling bin should be charged with criminal damage! What a total and utter waste as well as a mean-minded gesture. If she's that high principled (although totally misguided in my opinion) she could at least give them away to a hospital or hospice or send them to a country where people don't have libraries and need books.

I buy loads of new books so I reckon I can feel guilt-free enough to sell or buy second hand or give books I no longer want to charity shops. That way I'm helping a charity I support and putting a smile on someone's face when they spot a bargain!

As a fledgling published writer, I totally agree with absolutely everything Becky says. If someone no longer wants my novel, I'd rather it was out there in circulation than torn up and dumped. It wouldn't make that much difference to my royalties.

Besides, many second-hand book are those which are out of print and not available any other way.

That woman who tears up books needs to get over herself.

Carry on, Jo!

Jeannette said...

Hi, I'm new to your site but would like to chime in that I don't know where I'd be without second-hand shops. Most good ones have books that are now out of print or at any rate not stocked by the big sellers. I've stumbled-upon countless treasures I might not have otherwise. I also like to think I've made someone else's day by passing on the books I no longer want to keep.