The Used-Book Threat to New Book Sales & Royalties

August 2002
by John Elray

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The erosion of new sales and royalty income by used book sales on the Web is a recipe for the hasty demise of small publishers and debut authors, negating the opportunity that the Internet opened up for these groups only a few years ago. Book content, as intellectual property, now needs additional protection.

Awareness of the used book issue spiked in April of this year upon the release of an e-mail letter from defending its policy of selling new and used copies of the same title alongside each other. The letter provided a feeble rationale for their practice and stated that offering used books beside new ones actually helps the sales of new books by causing customers to visit the Amazon site more often.

The broad issue is not just about Amazon. It is about third-party brokering of the sale of used books on the Web which, in effect, provides a Napster-like service that subverts the authors’ ability to earn royalties from their work. This hinders struggling authors from making a fair return on books that likely represent one or more years’ worth of effort, and it hampers small publishers from making a sufficient profit after the steep discounts they incur. The bottom line is that it severely impacts both the creative individuals who hope to make a living from writing and the publishing process that brings their words to consumers.


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