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April 29, 2011

Buying Used Books

Guest Blogger, Joëlle Anthony - Young Adult Author

Before my book, Restoring Harmony, came out, I never really thought twice about buying used books. I come from Portland, Oregon, “The City of Books,” home to Powell’s Bookstore, and used books are part of the fabric of all Portland readers’ lives. Not to mention, my book budget has always been anywhere from nil to nonexistent (thank goodness for libraries!). Used books made sense.

But then my book hit the shelves. When I saw that Powell’s had a used copy, I felt like I’d really made it. I also felt a bit annoyed that the next person into the store with the intent of picking up my book would probably choose the discounted used copy. How is a girl supposed to earn out her advance and make a living when people choose used over new? It certainly gave me pause the next time I was shopping at Powell’s and had a choice between new vs. used.

This got me thinking about the value of used books. Are they good for publishing? Should I, as a writer, only buy new? And why should a used bookstore make money off of my book when I won’t see a dime from it?

These are not new questions and many people will oppose my conclusion, which is that used books sales actually help both the author and publishing. Others will jump up and argue that I don’t have a clue and used books actually hurt the publishing industry, but there’s always someone to fight for both sides, so that doesn’t bother me. Remember how riled up everyone got over Garth Brooks and his used CD rant back in the nineties? I’m sure there are perfectly valid arguments against buying used books, but I don’t subscribe to them.

Here are a few reasons I think that even if you want to support your favourite authors, you shouldn’t worry too much about buying the used book if that’s more in your budget (or just your philosophy). Used books do several things.

·   They keep an author on a shelf when a bookstore might not necessarily have room, resources, or interest in ordering new copies.

·   They create new readers who may become fans and buy your next book. If someone has twenty dollars to spend and can get two gently read copies instead of one new release, well, your chances of being “discovered” by that reader go up.

·    Independent bookstores, like Powell’s rely heavily on used book sales to keep their doors open. And the more indies that stay open, the more the publishing industry as a whole is served.

Chapters/Indigo, one of the big chain stores in Canada, has been very good to me. They’ve given this new author shelf space in many of their stores (as opposed to only carrying it online), and when I’ve offered to sign their stock, they were very nice to me, putting “autographed” stickers on the books, asking me questions, and promising to recommend it. But the emails I’ve gotten about my book being hand-sold have mostly come from people who bought their copy in independent bookstores. It’s imperative that we keep the indie bookstores open, and if buying used books is one way to do it, then I’m all for it.

Nobody has asked me how to save the independent bookstore that sells new books, but since I’m in charge of this post, I’ll just tack it on here. I think, even on a very small scale, following Powell’s lead is what could save many stores that want to carry new books.

We have a bookstore here on the island. When you walk in, you would incorrectly assume it is a new bookstore. The shelves are beautifully arranged, it’s not too crowded, and all the books are in stellar condition. They’re also not that cheap – usually half of the new price. My guess is that about three quarters of the books are used, the other twenty-five percent are new. This mix has kept the store thriving in an uncertain market. They can also order pretty much anything new that you want too.

Restoring HarmonyJudging by the number of new copies of Restoring Harmony that I’ve signed for them, I am guessing they have sold roughly twenty-five copies of my book. Granted, I’m a local author, but still, that’s a huge number. To offer a comparison, I was in a Victoria bookstore yesterday, signing books, and the children’s book manager was very excited because over the past year since RH came out, they had sold nine copies. She said that was, “extremely good for hardcover.”

We must keep our independent bookstores open, and if buying used books does that, creates new readers, and lets our book dollars go further, then I’m all for it. But I’d love to hear what you think.

Thanks to Bookshop Talk for having me today.

To find an independent bookstore near you, visit

Anyone else out there have an opinion on buying new-vs-used books? And while we're on the topic, where do you come by most of the books you read?


Anonymous said...

I think used books are great! I've gotten hooked on some authors I discovered through used books, and subsequently bought that author's other books brand-new (and often hard-cover).

The books I've been reading lately have been about equally divided among:
1. Bought brand new,
2. Downloaded on Free Fridays for my Nook, and
3. Borrowed from the library. (And several of the library books I fell in love with and bought my own copies!)

Heather said...

Love used books. As you stated it's the perfect way for a person on a budget to get some books. I especially enjoy getting used childrens books for my kids. I recently have started buying used books at thriftbooks, and I'm addicted. While they don't have every book I would like to read they have some. And severely discounted.

pie said...

I like to buy used books when the book is out of print or otherwise difficult to find, or when I'm trying something I think I might not really like.

I would love to support authors by buying new hardcovers, but at the moment, the largest obstacle to that plan is my lack of storage space. All my bookshelves are full, and I have book towers growing at dangerous angles on the floor of my room. So what I usually end up doing is buying the books new when they come out in (smaller, squishier) paperback.

Anonymous said...

I'm on a pretty strict budget, so as an avid reader and big-time SHARER of books, I spend most of my book money buying used books. I want people to be able to borrow any book they want from me, and I want to be okay with not getting them it, because sometimes, I don't. :) But there are some books that I would be so, so sad to lose. These are books I buy new, in hardcover, for my own collection (and I buy all the thrift-store/used copies of the same title that I can get my hands on to give out).

Amoniel said...

Great points on an interesting and noteworthy subject :) I loved reading this.

Laina Van Wingerden said...

I have almost no money coming in (except for birthdays)so for me $1 bookstores and libraries are a Godsend. I have a huge book obsession, i cant get enough books. I have found all my favorite authors through libraries and used bookstores. And once i love an author, i am totally loyal. Robin Mckinley is a recent point of adoration. She has such beautiful books. I cant get enough of them. I own two and ive read them both twice already.

Valette M. said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I never thought about it that way. This will definitely make me think before buying used.
"I want to win a book."

Agnes said...

I'm twelve and like many previous commenters I rely on the library and second hand shops. When I realized that there was an ethical question about this I thought about and decided it was ok, for the reasons you list above.
"I want to win a book."

Jaina said...

I love used book stores, because they help me discover so many books and authors I wouldn't otherwise know. I have to admit, though, I will also snap up a cheap copy (in good repair) of an old favorite that I don't own yet. I don't think used bookstores are much different from libraries, which also don't send royalties to the author after initially purchasing the books. I get the vast majority of my books from the library.

I would like to win a book.

Angela - Bookaunt said...

I don't mind buying used books but I am very picky about my books that I buy. I won't buy books that are ripped, stained, wrote in or smell like smoke. I take very good care of my books and like to purchase ones that are in the same condition that I would leave a book. I do have many used books on my shelves that I have bought. - I want to win a book

Rosebriars said...

I love used books - from a budget and environmental standpoint - and I adore it when I get a copy someone has notated! I love having that extra perspective. Ooh, brainstorm : I would love to do a book club via passing along a book to friends and leaving notes & highlights in it!

Rosebriars said...

I want to win a book!