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Second hand books - ethical?

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 peebles boy 17 Nov 2020

I've been diving into the world of second hand books recently. They're so cheap you can read them then take them to the charity shop.

But I've started questioning the ethics too... I like the low cost and "recycling" aspect, but I'm guessing that every second hand book i buy is a loss of income for the original publisher and author, which I'm not sure how I feel about. 

Thoughts? 

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In reply to peebles boy:

The same could be said of the entire environmentalist creed of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. It runs entirely counter to the consumption requirement of the capitalist system upon which most (all?) of our livelihoods depend. Tricky.....

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 Offwidth 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Most authors happily support independent second hand bookshops and charity shop sales. Don't fuss. Amazon is the real problem given their unfair tax arrangements (they also own abebooks).

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 peebles boy 17 Nov 2020
In reply to ChrisBrooke:

Ha, add "myre" to the end of your name and that's exactly whose books I've just bought 5 secondhand copies of!

But yes...recycling makes me happy, but the thought of denying someone income makes me sad, especially those authors who aren't "household names" and who may be more reliant on first-hand sales.

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 dread-i 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

>but I'm guessing that every second hand book i buy is a loss of income for the original publisher and author, which I'm not sure how I feel about. 

Which is true in some cases.

What about if you buy a book by a long dead author? Charles Dickens, for example, doesn't get any money, neither does his family. His books are in the public domain. The publishers can print the book for free, only paying for the ink and paper.

There is another argument that making knowledge widely available is a good thing for the individual and society. Which has been the basis for libraries, for millennia. (Curiously, if you came up with the idea of libraries today, you'd be sued into the ground. See Pirate Bay.)

Post edited at 16:23
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 Offwidth 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Less well known authors need public exposure more than a few extra sales (if they don't sell well first hand they can hardly sell well second hand). The best thing you can do is speak up for them and their work on places like UKC and on reviews (away from the tax dodging mega corp sites). We have film and TV monthly threads.... start a monthly book thread.

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 john arran 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Would you apply the same argument to libraries?

2nd hand books are only unethical if you value the distribution of capital funds via a controlled marketplace higher than the distribution of knowledge, ideas and entertainment via printed material.

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 Offwidth 17 Nov 2020
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 Iamgregp 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Way I see it is anybody who is a writer loves books, anyone who loves books has spent many an hour in second hand bookstores.

I apply the same reasoning to second hand record stores. 

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In reply to Offwidth:

> Amazon is the real problem given their unfair tax arrangements (they also own abebooks).

I hadn't realised that, Abebooks have credible independent bookseller feel about them.  I bought a copy of Night Climbers of Cambridge from them recently and never made the connection.  

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 felt 17 Nov 2020
In reply to dread-i:

> The publishers can print the book for free, only paying for the ink and paper.

That's the very least of their costs.

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 Duncan Bourne 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Theoretically at least a secondhand book has already been bought new and so has now gone to the secondhand market, rather than the scrap heap. So I don't see an issue regarding original authors/publishers. I mean I never think about Ford when I buy a secondhand car.

My only curious concern is how companies make money selling books for literally pennies. I've seen books being sold for less that the price of a stamp. It would cost you more to send the things out than you are charging for them.

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 Welsh Kate 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Coming from the author of two books, one for which I still occasionally get a few quid in royalties... Don't feel guilty. I'm really happy at the idea of someone handing on my book to someone else to read, maybe even to enjoy! If it makes a few quid for a charity along the way, that's fine by me.

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 AukWalk 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

This is such an alien way of looking at thing to me but thinking about it, maybe this is a natural result of people getting used to subscriptions and paying for things 'as a service'. Back in the old days I remember the video game 'Spore' causing massive discontent in online discussions because it would allow only 3 activations per disc, thereby limiting the number of times you could install it on different computers or sell it on to other people (although in practice I think cracked versions were available soon after release anyway if that ever became an issue for you). Of course these days we're used to buying games on Steam etc and are used to there being no possibility of selling a game, film, or other piece of digital content to anyone else.  We're getting used to buying a personal license for oneself to consume media rather than buying a license for consumption of media, which I suppose is great news for companies that own the rights, especially the ones that own the rights to decade old franchises which continue to provide an income stream long after a patent on some useful technology would have expired, for example.

Personally I'd say if the publishers are really that worried about loss of income on transferable media then they can charge a premium for physical books (which for all I know they already do). If you're that worried about only indirectly supporting an author then maybe the best thing to do would be to send a cheque to a correspondence address or something, or sell on your used copy of a book and buy a brand new hardcover if you really liked it. Or maybe just leave it a good review somewhere, as that might well result in other people purchasing a new copy. If you didn't think it was any good then I don't see why you'd want to give them any extra money. 

I think selling second hand books is expected by publishers, and supported, I'd hope, by most authors who want to share their work with readers. Not to mention the fact that it's often the only option if you start getting into less popular authors from past decades whose books are no longer in print. 

Post edited at 17:58
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> My only curious concern is how companies make money selling books for literally pennies. I've seen books being sold for less that the price of a stamp. It would cost you more to send the things out than you are charging for them.

Isn’t it done by charging £2.80 for postage and actually paying around £1.30 plus a tiny fraction on labour costs and material to package and address it? Maybe £1.30 profit every time, on books bought for pennies as a job lot? Big margin there 

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 HB1 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

> I've been diving into the world of second hand books recently. They're so cheap you can read them then take them to the charity shop . .

              . . . which is where I buy them!  I have to say that I've built up a large collection over the years (mostly fiction)  Age UK charge 50p a book ( other charity shops charge more) I 'm quite fussy - they have to be clean and interesting. I do very well out of it - authors I know, but also those not known to me. I have no guilt feelings !

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 bruxist 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

The margins for most authors are so slim that, yes, any sale that isn't a sale of a new copy eats into their profit. If writing is their livelihood, then it's only a vanishing few who make a living. Most won't earn enough to get into the lowest tax bracket (so for a 'name' genre author - not the Lee Childs and J K Rowlings of the industry - an advance of between 2 and 8k is about it. No royalties until sales earn out the advance, and library loan percentages trickle in very slowly.)

Hence it's a long game, and most authors would like to see second-hand bookstores thrive, because i. they love books and bookstores, and ii. new readers come from chance encounters with their older books.

If someone gets in touch and tells me they read an older thing of mine they bought in a second-hand bookshop or downloaded off the internet, I'm delighted. If someone gets in touch and tells me they got hold of a pirated copy of my just-published thing, I wonder about how many potential buyers they're going to pass that copy on to, and whether I'll ever earn the advance out.

Post edited at 20:49
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In reply to peebles boy:

If you like it and want to do something for the author go on Amazon and leave a review.

Reviews on Amazon are gold dust to less established authors.

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 peebles boy 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Wow. Thats the most thumbs down I've ever had for anything I've ever said on UKC. Maybe I should stay out the culture chat room...

Lots of good points. On the whole, it sounds like second hand is good, even for unknown/new authors. Cheers for the input 😀

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In reply to peebles boy:

> Wow. Thats the most thumbs down I've ever had for anything I've ever said on UKC.

It's only 10! You're clearly not trying hard enough ;-)

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In reply to peebles boy:

As a moderately, rather than hugely, successful author I have no qualms about second hand books at all. The great thing is to encourage people to love books and reading. PLR (mentioned by Offwidth) is a bit of a joke, but touching, a bit like getting some unexpected pocket money. (I think I get between 40 and 70 quid a year – can't remember). Another way of putting it is to say that for me book sales are important much more for the number of people who buy them than the amount of money I make. It's just so great to get emails from around the planet from people saying how much they've enjoyed my books. You know your creative effort has been worth it then. I had a glowing one just last night, and about a year ago I even had one from someone in Russia.

Post edited at 21:40
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 freeheel47 17 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

I hope you have cut up your library card.

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 Offwidth 18 Nov 2020
In reply to peebles boy:

Your dislikes illustrate the problem with the button. You asked a perfectly reasonable question and raise a potential concern. Outside the world of books the preferences of authors towards second hand sales is not well known. You have no idea what was to dislike as most of those posting replies don't use the button. You jokingly question if the culture bunker is for you when it should be for everyone.

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In reply to peebles boy:

Good question, and I think whoever linked it to the 'reduce - reuse - recyle' slogan made a good point as well.

Like musicians, I think successful authors make money in different ways - book signings, literary festivals, TV and film rights and so on - and maybe 2nd hand book sales contribute to the authors becoming better well known and so having these avenues opened to them? 

FWIW I try to buy books second hand but I still rarely walk out of Waterstones empty handed...

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