Are you a reader? One would hope so if you're reading this. But let me ask a few more questions, please.
Do you buy used books from Amazon? Do you buy used books from friends or acquaintances? Do you sell your used books to friends or acquaintances? How old are these books at the time of this re-sale? Do you do this very often?
If these books are less than a year old, you are contributing to the demise of the Regency genre, or any other genre books that are currently being published. Hardcover best sellers don't count for this discussion. I'm referring only to books published in mass-market sized paperback versions, and especially to Regency novels published by either Penguin Putnam or Zebra Publishing.
Are you aware of the inroads made on the 'new' sales of these books, and the ultimate result of your actions?
The premature re-selling of 'popular' fiction paperbacks is a fairly recent phenomenon, having burgeoned in the last fifteen years or so, to the point where it threatens all authors and publishers. The copyright laws need to be amended in either of two ways: it should be illegal to sell any book in whatever format until at least one year after the printed publication date of that book. ANY book. ALL books--not just paperbacks. Or, alternatively: authors should be paid royalties from the sale of any used book, for a specified period of time. One year, five years, whatever seems realistic for the type of book, or its binding, or its life expectancy when published.
Go look at Amazon, for instance. Every new book listed, if it has been available for sale for more than one day, has a Blue Box, immediately under the cover illustration, before any other data pertaining to the book. And that Blue Box says "BUY & SELL USED ITEMS. Get it for less!" followed by a yellow ‘button' which says Order it used. The perfectly awful part of this idea is that the darned box appears there the very first day the book is available for sale!
Guess who makes all the money from that sale? The customer who bought it in the first place (possibly only the day before), Amazon.com and the Post Office. The author and the publisher do not make one cent. Every such sale robs the publisher and the author, each of whom has a great investment in this publication. An author spends anywhere from 3-4 months to ten years in writing a book. Obviously, a studious biography will usually take longer than a work of genre fiction. That does not make it any more dear to the author, although as it is usually published in hardcover, the author should earn more money from the sales of the book. Such a book should have a new shelf life expectancy of four to five years, perhaps. A paperback original in genre fiction may have a shelf life of one month to one year, depending on type and publisher.
It hasn't always been that way. Not quite twenty years ago, (1984/85) the selling price for an original paperback was $2.50 to $2.75. For an established author of Regency Romance, the print run was at least 100,000 copies. From this, the author would receive 6% royalties and could expect to receive as much as $10,000.--much more than that stated amount in today's inflated dollars. Today, that same author, who has fifteen years more of writing under her belt and who takes just as long to research and write her novel of approximately the same length will receive $5,000. Maximum. And that's from the advance, as the print run is more than likely not more than 30,000 copies, and not all of them will be sold. With a royalty rate of 6%, and a selling price of $4.99, it will most likely not earn out. Add to this equation that royalties fall a year or so behind release, and you can see it's not easy trying to earn a living as an author these days.
Contrast this to the astonishing genre authors Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie. Each of these ladies wrote a book a year for at least fifty years, and each book appeared like clockwork on the New York Times and the London Times best-seller list. Today, they'd be hard-pressed to function in such a leisurely fashion.
What happened? Two things. First was the proliferation of used bookstores, which offered a credit for each book turned in toward the next purchase. Of course, that turned-in book was immediately placed on sale again, as a used book, for perhaps half-price, perhaps a bit more. But the author sees not a penny from that sale. As sales of new books dwindle, the print runs dwindle also, because, as a new book it can only be sold once, but once read, it can be sold until it falls apart. I've seen books for sale as used when they've not yet been available--new--for one week. This is an insult to the author and the publisher. And it is, of course, new books on which author royalties are based. It is new books by which the publisher hopes to recoup its expenses in having the book published in the first place.
Second is the internet. Anyone can establish a website, or just join an e-mail list of other readers devoted to the same genre or type of book. Eventually, a used-book sale will occur between readers of that list.
The publisher has many, many employees, each of whom is dependent on the sale of new books for their individual income: acquiring editors, copy editors, line editors, proof-readers, (even if these are free-lance persons, they still must be paid), artists, promotional and marketing departments, accounting, shipping and receiving. Plus the author. Even so, the publisher only gets currently some 45% of the list price of the book, the other 55% going to the distributors and the bookstores. Out of that 45%, all employees of the publisher must be paid.
Obviously, costs have been cut to the minimum by such devices as no proofreader--editors and authors fulfill that function, as they're able to--and a smaller size type which results in slightly fewer pages per book. It would not be economically feasible, after all, to charge a reasonable price, so the customer pays in other ways.
With the greater emphasis in recent years on the bottom line, it's no wonder that publishers have consolidated greatly in the last decade. Of course, that's also led to fewer books as duplicate lines were eliminated, further irritating readers in the process.
I'm not advocating no used book stores. Not at all. I simply wish to give today's authors an even chance. Wonderful research books would be available in no other way, if used books could not be purchased from somewhere. Many of them come from ex-library collections. Many readers, once they find an author who writes books they wish to read, go searching for the author's backlist. Not for one moment would I wish to make this impossible! But a backlist is at least one year old. I have no problem whatever with re-selling books that are a year or more old. I've bought lots of them myself. In fact, I have some for sale. But, the books I have for sale, and the ones I usually purchase used are all at least five years old. I've paid many times more than the original selling price for a used book that I felt I needed. Or wanted. I would never buy, other than as new, any book that was only a month old.
With computers in every home, I refuse to believe that a program could not be put together to keep track of sales of used books. If the bookstore is serious in its claim to be on the author's side, then it could easily pay royalties for each book sold used. In fact, if Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com had any interest in life other than getting his own name up in lights, he'd have instituted such a policy in November, 2000, when that infamous and ubiquitous Blue Box first made its appearance at his site.
If this practice is allowed to continue, here is a little peek into the future. Let's say it's now June, 2010. The new load of book is now available at the bookstore. Yes, that is book. Singular. Now which author is the author for this month? It is certain to be one of these or the newer version thereof; Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Danielle Steele, John Gresham, and others of that ilk. There will, of course, will be only one publisher, publishing one (paper, not e-type) book per month. Genres will take turns: one month, mystery; the next suspense, etc. One month of the year might be devoted to non-fiction, such as biography. All of these will naturally be in hardcover. The price for this book will be a minimum of $100. (US) of which the author may get a whopping $2.50, because, of course, the distributor for these books will demand a discount of 75% off the cover price, leaving the publisher the pitiful balance, out of which must be paid the acquiring editor, who will probably be the publisher, himself. There will, of necessity, be no editing or proofing done, as it isn't cost-effective to do so. Disgusting, to put it mildly. Since there will be only one book per month, there is no need for cover artists or promotional staff. The text will go straight from the author's computer to the typesetting computer, thus eliminating several more persons from the chain. There is probably no need for bookstores either. Libraries, will however, still function, and still be buying books, probably hundreds or more copies of each title, to satisfy those readers that are still left out there, but who can't afford to buy a book.
But. Out of the ashes of this fiasco, there are sure to be rebels who will fight and resist and go back to doing things the old way. The old way, in which the reader was the most important element in the process. Books are published for readers, after all. Aren't they? Wouldn't it be great if all these organizations found their way back to reality? And treated authors with the respect they deserve? After all--no authors equals no new books. What an awful world that would be!
Please, let's have no more sales of used books before their time. Better by far to encourage your local library to order these books new, and then avail yourself of that service. At least that way, the author and the publisher reap some benefit.