I have a confession.
I have about 45 books stacked on the table near my bath tub. And forty or fifty more under the sink. I have hundreds on shelves, stacked in book cases, lurking in boxes waiting for me to put up more shelving. I have cookbooks in the kitchen, classics in my living room, chick lit in my beach bag and on my bedside table.
Because I am a columnist, dozens more arrive from publishers and publicists every day. And once a year I go to BookExpo with an empty suitcase, and return with $80 in overweight luggage charges. I love books, I hoard them, I read my favorites over and over.
I used to feel guilty that I received so many books for free, but over time, I’ve realized that writing about these books, or talking them up on television helps the authors to sell more books. And mostly, I buy books. Lots of books.
Last year, in an effort to clear a little space in my office, I donated some books. To charity. I have friends who sell their unwanted books back to used book stores, but I just can’t bear the idea of depriving some author of $1.27 in royalties. Those quarters add up. And frankly, there are too many authors who aren’t making a living from their books.
Last year, while flying home from Book Expo, I stopped in an airport bookstore. As I purchased my book, Freakonomics, the clerk cheerfully informed me that I could turn the book in at my destination airport and get half my money back.
“What?” I asked.
“We’ll buy the book back,” she said.
Surprised, I asked, “What do you do with it?”
“We sell them for a 25% discount,” she informed me, waving her hand towards a low shelf filled with discounted bestsellers.
I was mortified. Airports sell huge numbers of books, and frankly, La Guardia is the last place most of us would go shopping for a bargain. If someone can pay $329 for an airline ticket, they can probably shell out $20 for a book. And if they can’t, they’ve likely already brought something with them from the library.
These “used” sales are canabalizing regular book sales.
“I’ll pass,” I said. “The author won’t get any royalties if you sell the book used.”
“Oh,” she said, “don’t you worry about that. All those authors are rich.”
There are some people who say used book stores give readers a chance to become fans of an author when they might not pay full price on someone they’re unfamilar with. My thought is, if an author can’t earn out his or her advance because half or even a quarter of his/her readers are buying the book used, there may not be a second book.
Radio stations pay a licence fee every time a song is played. Why is an author’s work treated differently?