Second hand bookshops – a bad thing for authors?

Jurby Junk - BooksChristian asked on Tuesday: You often mention buying second-hand books in charity shops – do you see any ethical issues with this considering you’re hoping to become a published author?

Phil: Interesting point and one I’d not really thought of before. I buy books from second-hand shops. I love buying books from second-hand shops more than from proper bookshops selling new volumes as there is always the chance of being surprised with the discovery of a new author.

But when I buy books this way, am I reducing the potential sales for anyone trying to break into the book selling market?

Hmmm. I suppose I’ve only ever bought a Dan Brown book second-hand. But I’m not sure he’s sitting in an unheated hovel contemplating Aldi beans on toast for the 23rd night running and waving his fist at the computer shouting, “Curse you Parker…”

He’s not normal though. Normal is and author being excited by sales of 5000 copies. Maybe if I bought less from the pre-owned shelf they would shift 5001.

I think I’d argue that second-hand bookshops show how much people value books. Most of the stuff we own will be thrown away once we’ve finished with it. Books though, we keep them on shelves carefully and eventually take them to a shop so someone else can enjoy them. Prizing books is prizing ideas and I think this is A Good Thing. On that basis, I have to say that second-hand shops are probably good for authors. Just like libraries, they make books available to a wide range of readers and the more readers there are, the bigger the market for writers.

Second hand shops offer authors immortality too. Unless you are very famous, Waterstones won’t have you on sale unless you are current and preferably out there selling copy at festivals and in the media. The pre-loved market doesn’t care if you are in a box 6 feet under the ground, they will offer readers the chance to discover your work posthumously. I’m sure that there are plenty of writers who see their book as a baby to live on after them.

Finally, can we as authors, make use of this market? Candice and I have had our book made up by Lulu.com into a proper, printed work. There’s nothing to stop me donating some of these copies to a local charity bookshop. Who knows who might buy them?

OK, it’s an expensive way to publicise yourself but not unheard of. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was a sales flop until the publisher started leaving copies in public places – these were picked up and read generating the word of mouth that turned the book into a success. Leaving books lying around sounds like a pretty risky strategy to me, I think they printed around 2000 copies to make this work, but bookshops are full of reasonably serious readers looking for something to read. If your book appeals to that demographic, is this a potential plank for your marketing?

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3 Comments

Filed under Books, Phil

3 responses to “Second hand bookshops – a bad thing for authors?

  1. Truly a tricky one but there is such a large, established secondhand market for books that it ain’t going away. We donate and purchase from Emmaus here as the cost goes to help the organisation.

  2. A secondhand bookshop might be tickled to have brand new books from an up-and-coming author. Possibly you could even offer to do a book signing and donate all or part of your profits from the signing to the store (if it’s a charity shop).

  3. I think they can only help, like Phil said you might try a book for £1 from an unknown author and then after liking pay for a brand new version of their new book. It’s only like swapping books between friends

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