Do you buy new or used?

By Joe Moore

When you buy a book, do you buy new or used? If your favorite author just released a new hard cover, do you snatch it up immediately or wait for the mass market paperback? And in either case, do you buy a used copy or new?

booksstack As writers, how should we look at used book sales? I’m not talking about out-of-print books where about the only way to get a copy is on eBay or an Amazon used book vendor. I’m talking about the book you just had published a month ago. Do you look at used book sales as money lost? After all, neither you nor your publisher earns any revenue from used sales.

If you were lucky enough to have a book that sells well, but you started seeing hundreds of used copies for sale on Amazon, eBay and other sources, would you be upset knowing those were royalty-less sales?

Here are some random thoughts in no particular order for and against used book sales.

For: If someone buys a used copy of my book and they like it, they might buy a new copy of my next one when it’s first published.

Against: If my sales were approaching the point where the publisher considered a second (or third) print run, I may never get it because the used sales took the place of the additional run.

For: Used book sellers sometimes hand-sell books that eventually help build a writer’s career.

Against: The biggest used book seller in the world is Amazon and there’s no hand selling going on there.

For: All used books were originally purchased as new so there’s the royalty.

Against: For each new book sold, 5-6 people may read it as a used book equating to lost royalties.

For: Used books help perpetuate my "brand" and name recognition. It gets my name out into the market place to readers who can’t afford the price of new books.

Against: Used books provide the same level of enjoyment to the reader as a new copy but with no return for my efforts.

The argument for and against is a polarizing debate. For every point in favor of used sales, there’s an equally opposed view. What is your feelings on this? Do you get hot under the collar when you see your books being sold used or do you rejoice that your name is getting out there to a new reader? Should we look at used book sales like car manufacturers look at used car sales? Are used book customers a segment of the reading population that probably will never start buying new books? Did you feel different about buying used books before you became a published writer?

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Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, Oline Cogdill, James Scott Bell, and more.

13 thoughts on “Do you buy new or used?

  1. Gut feeling, Joe, is that the large majority of dedicated used book buyers won’t usually buy new. They can, however, become fans and talk you up.

    There’s a great used bookstore near me that specializes in commercial paperbacks. I hang out there from time to time and browse and listen. Their clientelle looks to be mainly retired folks who love to read. So they’re watching their pennies, but loading up on entertainment. They have their favorites and get into enthusiastic conversations with the store owners or other readers. If you can get your name into that kind of stream, then it probably offsets the fact that you didn’t get a piece of that sale.

  2. It’s extremely rare for me to buy a used book. It pretty much has to be out of print, or somehting that caught my eye when I was in a used book store looking for somehting that was out of rpint, which happenes about once every five years. I occasionally buy new hardcovers, but I’m usually content to wait for the paperback, or I’ll hit the library. (Full disclosure: I review books for a website, so I get about fifteen a year gratis, which may make me not the greatest example for the buy/wait comparison.)

    I have no dog in this fight (yet), as I have no published novels. All of Joe’s points are valid, as is that presented by James above. new hardcovers are expensive, and some people just can’t afford them. Used may be the only way they can go (or to the library), and I suppose we’d rather have them buy used than not read at all.

  3. Lambert Airport’s (St. Louis) main gift shop has a read and return policy. You buy a new book there and keep the receipt and you get 1/2 the cost back as a credit toward a new book if you bring it back. The book then goes on the shelf as “Used” for 1/2 price. They do a heck of a used book business there.

    I have to admit, I’ve bought a few used books before getting on planes. In fact I bought Lee Child’s The Killing Floor there and have since bought most of the rest of the Jack Reacher books brand new. I even bought a few hardbacks at Bouchercon last year.

    I look at readership. Royalties are nice, but readership means more to me.

  4. I think Wilfred is on to something with the readership angle. I think it best to think of your used books as seeds to grow that readership. Especially because you can’t do anything about the royalty situation anyway – at least for now.

    But think of the new technology. Sharing of iTunes downloads are limited and I can see electronic versions of books being a nice way to incrementally grow your sales as they are not as sharable as bound copies. Unless you want to lend your $300 Kindle to your neighbor. My neighbor never returns my tools, so I don’t know about you, but…..

  5. Joe – when it comes to non-fiction books I typically do get them used – because I do so much research, because many of the books are out of print and frankly because many of them are so damned expensive. Fiction, however, is another thing and I almost always buy new books. I feel like many others that used books at least might win a new reader who may in the future buy a new book of yours. I think it probably all turns out fine in the wash.

  6. Thanks for all your comments. Obviously, there’s no correct answer here. At the end of the day, anytime someone reads our books, that’s a good thing. As long as they go tell a thousand of their closest friends how much they loved them.

  7. As I am still on a broke grad student’s budget, I buy almost exclusively used. And when trying a new author, I almost always buy used if I can find it. However, there ARE several authors whom I originally discovered in my used bookstore (one of those places that has a way better selection of what I like and people who are more knowledgeable about it than the big chain stores), who are now on my automatic buy list as soon as their new release comes out. Mostly it’s paperbacks (that grad student budget again), but from time to time a hardback slips in if I’m really desperate for it. But that’s always an author I KNOW I will love.

    I can certainly sympathize with authors for the loss of royalties, but in these tough economic times, it seems like it would be better to have your name spread through used books than not at all, such that when people can afford new books again, they have actually heard of you.

  8. As a new author, I want people reading me any way they can get me.

    As a reader, I don’t buy used (except out of print). I check out scads of books from the library, though, because in many library systems, for every five times a book is requested, the library buys another, usually a hardcover.

    So you’re supporting your favorite authors by checking books out from the library, and supporting the library, too.

  9. I am a used book and library guy. While I hope to make a good living off of writing at some point I also understand that most folks probably can’t afford to buy every book they want to read new. If I bought new every book I read and audio book I listened to in a month I’d spend upwards of $500 every month.

    That’s the same reason I advocate and participate in giving away a free version, either in serialized podcast audio or Reader’s Digest condensed format. Those who are capable of buying it will, those who are not can still get the story and may leave a donation at some point and will definitely become a customer in the future. And in the meantime the brand is built.

    Several authors of late have enjoyed full on commercial success by giving a version of their away and I expect will continue to do so.

    Once I’ve got all the money I will need for a life of leisure I will still use libraries and used books. And what new books I do buy, will end up donated to said libraries in the end.

  10. As a reader I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t always buy new. Heck sometimes I don’t even buy at all – using libraries and book swapping websites more and more these days.

    Part of my reason is cost-related. a new trade-paberback size book is around $33 in Australia (we tend not to get hard covers at all) – I read about 12 books a month so I couldn’t sustain spending close to $400 a month on new books. I tend to buy new when I know the author is one I like and I do try and fly the local flag and buy Aussie authors new if I can.

    But part of my reason is environment-related. Books that are highly likely to be read once then sit on a shelf have a pretty high carbon footprint. So these days I am using my library more and also using book swapping websites to try to ensure that each book gets read at least a couple of times.

    None of which helps you authors. Sorry. But I do rave about you when I find a book/series I like if that helps πŸ™‚

  11. I actually DO have a system, born of my large, ravenously reading family.

    New releases are purchased new, from one of my three local indies, if possible.

    Friends’ books, I purchase new.

    Non-fiction reference or recommendations for work or school – purchased used on Amazon for a penny, if possible.

    Series “fill-ins” and library replacements – used.

    I prefer hardcover books for my personal collection or to give as gifts, but I hate to hump them all over the world as my best chunks of reading time come on airplanes, so if a book is available in both hardback and paperback, I’ll frequently buy both…and pass the paperback on, if I like it, to help promote the writer’s work.

  12. There’s a rule of thumb in marketing that says a potential customer or consumer of your product has to see your name/logo/product for at least six times before it permeates that person’s consciousness. So if your used books can double the chances of exposure to new readers, it’s all good.

  13. I buy used books almost exclusively. Why? Money, pure and simple. I have little and spend it on the necessities. As an aspiring author, I read as much as I can from as many genres as I can. If I purchased every book new, I’d be out of the poorhouse and in the ditch. That’s not to say I don’t buy new books at my local indy book store. It’s just that I’m relegated to the used shelves until I make my first million. πŸ™‚

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