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Tell the Authors Guild what you think of used books

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21
Kameron HurleyPerson was signed in when posted
04-18-2002
11:01 AM ET (US)
<<Amazon's practice does damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers.>>

Try looking up some of your favorite authors via Amazon.com, and -- just for kicks -- try looking up that author's first book. Try George R.R. Martin's _Dying of the Light_ (just to throw out one I've got experience looking for). Can you find a new copy? No. You'll probably be told it's out of print. Too bad for you? No. With a quick click, Amazon links you up to a used bookstore that carries it, and 5-7 days later, a book which you would not otherwise have been able to get your hands on arrives on your doorstep. Another example, try looking up author "Geoff Ryman" and you'll get the "new" book you're looking for -- and several more you don't have, including one that's OP. More than likely, I wouldn't have known about the OP title unless I did an Amazon search that included new/used. Without that system, I'm denied a broader range of an author's works, works that I would not have known existed and may not have gotten a hold of without Amazon's easy-to-use new/used system.

Should OP titles be blacklisted because they "deny" a writer the 10% royalty (which the writer already got when the book was initially published)? Anyone who absolutely adores a particular book is probably going to go out and buy a first-rate copy of it if possible (I do)-- the issue is about denying the general public access to public works (this is why India frowns on copyright laws in general -- forcing everyone to pay exorbitant prices reserves that knowledge for a select few. Case in point, try searching Amazon for Cheryl Walker's _Women and Resistance in South Africa_, the only book soley on that subject, by the most respected Africanist on the subject, and you won't be able to get it new *or* used -- you'll have to go to the library. Or South Africa). I'm sure as hell not advocating the free dessimation of every work ever produced by anybody -- at least not until the day the government decides to support artists (ha ha), but let's be realistic. If you can't sell used books online next to new books, you shouldn't be allowed to sell them in bookshops next to one another, and if you can't sell new/used books together, well, you shouldn't be able to sell new/used CDs together, or new/used clothes, or new/used DVDs, or new/used tupperware. Following the logic of this argument, the "company", whether it be one individual or many, is then somehow "cheated" out of a profit. One has to be careful trying to start a precedence like this. Once the ball gets rolling, it becomes more and more difficult to discern the cut-off point.

<<In time, as we pointed out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos when it first began this practice over a year ago, the financial loss to the industry could affect the quality and diversity of literature made available through booksellers.>>

On the contrary. Having all of these books available Vastly *Improves* the quality and diversity of literature made available through booksellers. As Cory said, one only has to take a quick excursion through Powell's bookstore (preferably accompanied by a guide so as not to become lost) to realize the massive amount of diverse literature a new/used bookstore can potentially make available.

<<If profits suffer, publishers will cut their investments in new works, and authors facing reduced advances and royalties will have to find other ways to earn income.>>

This is the same argument used when discussing e-publishing, internet plagarism, and audio books (not to mention the squall the book industry put up against other forms of media when they were first introduced. Compare it to the squall movie theatres put up against the advent of television -- the movie industry spun tales of gloom and doom for the feature film and said the industry would die out within ten years of television's introduction. How much money did the Harry Potter movie gross last year? Titanic? Jurassic Park? Star Wars [don't forget to add in figures from the rereleased versions -- oh, wait, no one went to see the rereleased versions, obviously, because everyone had already seen it and had a copy at home by their VCR, right?]?)

The Authors' Guild hasn't done its homework (which I loathe saying, as it could potentially do such wonderful things for authors, and certainly has: I'm not up on AG). This is the Napster debate all over again: the authors who would hurt the most from new/used pairing are probably the Big Names whose books come out two or three times a year, like candy, easily read and tossed on. Who's going to want a copy of the latest Oprah's book club book three months after their reading group and Oprah's show and Oprah's magazine have already discussed it? (OK, that's not fair, there are some fine books on the list [some], but Oprah's stamp is beginning to become the authorial mark on these books, not the author's, which is a discussion for another time). Suffice to say, these are the sorts of books you'll want to read your friend's copy of, or pick up used.

I'm going to stop here.
20
Cory Doctorow
04-16-2002
01:13 PM ET (US)
> So you concede that TAG's statement is *not* the "damning
> polemic" of your original characterization?

No, just the reverse. It's damning polemic. It baselessly accuses Amazon of harming writers and publishers when just the reverse is true.

> Perhaps you might provide support for your assertions that TAG's
> statements are lies and hysteria...I surely don't see any. You
> may not agree with TAG's POV, but you haven't offered any
> evidence to the contrary.

You might ask the same of them -- they're making the assertion (x is true) without offering evidence.

But I have offered evidence, as it turns out. Powell's. Borderlands. Bakka. Bookstores I've worked in and frequented, which intershelve new and used books and increase sales of new books thereby. One of them is the biggest bookstore in the world.

> Yes, TAG advocated a lending right - 15 years ago! And it
> hasn't surfaced since -- until Jeffie needed a strawman to knock
> over in his own quest to sow FUD amongst the used book sellers
> and consumers.

Who cares how long it's been? They advocated it. They never recanted.
> I really doubt that TAG thinks it can harm Amazon's sales;
> rather, I believe that TAG is asking its members to make a
> symbolic gesture to show lack of support to a system that may
> cause them harm. Of course, if they don't agree, they don't
> have to comply. TAG is *not* a union, and has no power to
> enforce anything.
>
> Where is the TAG anti-first sale evidence? Moribund (15 year
> ago!) advocacy of a lending right that was (1) to be paid by the
> government, not the libraries, and (2) which was never seriously
> pursued by the organization? If that's the best you can do, I
> feel vindicated.
>

Glad you feel that way.

You're wrong.

They advocated the policy.

It abridges first sale (or do you think that who pays the lending right changes the underlying principle that rights-holder should be able to control post-sale uses of their works?).

They never said they thought they were wrong.
19
CPGPerson was signed in when posted
04-16-2002
01:05 PM ET (US)
So you concede that TAG's statement is *not* the "damning polemic" of your original characterization?

Of course I didn't need your link -- I read TAG's website before my prior comments. I am still looking for the polemic, though.

Perhaps you might provide support for your assertions that TAG's statements are lies and hysteria...I surely don't see any. You may not agree with TAG's POV, but you haven't offered any evidence to the contrary.

Yes, TAG advocated a lending right - 15 years ago! And it hasn't surfaced since -- until Jeffie needed a strawman to knock over in his own quest to sow FUD amongst the used book sellers and consumers.

I really doubt that TAG thinks it can harm Amazon's sales; rather, I believe that TAG is asking its members to make a symbolic gesture to show lack of support to a system that may cause them harm. Of course, if they don't agree, they don't have to comply. TAG is *not* a union, and has no power to enforce anything.

Where is the TAG anti-first sale evidence? Moribund (15 year ago!) advocacy of a lending right that was (1) to be paid by the government, not the libraries, and (2) which was never seriously pursued by the organization? If that's the best you can do, I feel vindicated.
18
Meriadoc
04-16-2002
12:59 PM ET (US)
Glenn Fleishman writes that the real issue is review copies and uncorrected page proofs.

Well, who's responsible for tossing those out and around so freely? The publishers. Why blame the book-reviewers for selling off these books? They're shipped out in huge quantities that nobody could possibly afford to keep, and sent in complete lack of consideration of whether the reviewer is actually interested in them.

TAG's beef should be with the publishers, who increase costs and possibly diminish sales by being so free with review copies. (If they were more discriminating with these copies, a few lesser reviews might not get written, but the number of paid sales lost thereby could well be less than the number of people, cut off the freebie list, who might buy the book.)

And who's responsible for making uncorrected proofs a reasonable substitute for the finished book? The publisher. I remember when uncorrected proofs came in loose galleys. Then they were bound in plain ugly construction paper. Now many of them look more like a published trade paperback than anything else.

But how many review copies are there for sale used, anyway? The Strand in NYC is notoriously full of them. I've been there, and I know. I've never seen another book store with even a tenth as many new review copies, not even in London. (And if you have, let me know: I'd like to shop there. Don't blame me: blame the publishers.)
17
Cory Doctorow
04-16-2002
12:39 PM ET (US)
> Really? Where's the link to the "damning polemic"? Everything
> I've seem so far from TAG seemed pretty reasonably argued, and
> certainly did not constitute a campaign of FUD. And please show
> me where TAG has advocated against first sale - I would be very
> interested to read about this, if it exists.

Here's TAG's statement (found by typing "Authors Guild Amazon" into Google):
http://www.authorsguild.org/pramazon040902.html

"Amazon's practice does damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers. In time, as we pointed out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos when it first began this practice over a year ago, the financial loss to the industry could affect the quality and diversity of literature made available through booksellers. If profits suffer, publishers will cut their investments in new works, and authors facing reduced advances and royalties will have to find other ways to earn income.

"We believe it is in our members' best interests to de-link their websites from Amazon. There's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales. It just takes a minute, and it's the right thing to do."


> Amazon's practice does damage to the publishing industry

Lie

> decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers.

Lie

> If profits suffer, publishers will cut their investments in new works, and
> authors facing reduced advances and royalties will have to find other ways to
> earn income.

Hysteria

> There's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own
> sales

Hysteria

Advocating a Lending Right (which TAG admits to:
http://www.authorsguild.org/pramazon041502.html#libraries) takes money out of the book-buying budgets of libraries. It is based on the principle that rights-holders should have control over their works *after they are bought and paid for*. That is contra-First Sale.

I'm a Canadian -- we have lending rights. I worked in Canadian libraries. I know what the Lending Right is.

>> I don't argue that TAG is trying to ban Amazon, but they >ARE
> trying to muscle Amazon out of selling used books
>
> Nice argument - since *no one* is arguing that TAG is trying to
> ban Amazon, why mention it unless you are trying to make that
> implication? Somehow, I really doubt that a small advocacy
> organization like TAG has the power to "muscle Amazon" out of
> anything.

TAG's note was clearly intended to pressure Amazon to change its
business-practice with the threat of economic punishment (otherwise, why bother?). TAG certainly believes that it has the power to harm Amazon's sales.
  
> I noticed that the only link you provided with this story was to
> Jeff Bezos' email to Amazon Marketplace sellers.
> Bezos: "This group [TAG}...is the same organization that from
> time to time has advocated charging public libraries royalties
> on books they loan out."
>
> Really, Jeff? Care to provide specifics? The facts: Approx
> *15* years ago (that is not a misprint) TAG supported an
> authors' lending right. This is a minor, government-funded
> royalty paid to authors of books borrowed from libraries. Most
> first-world countries have such a right. In this scheme,
> government pay these royalties, which a usually a few cents per
> use, as part of their general funding for the arts. Lending
> rights royalties are not charged to libraries or to readers, as
> Bezos implies.

See above.
16
KH
04-16-2002
11:58 AM ET (US)
I don't think uncorrected proofs and review copies are that significant a problem. People who buy uncorrected proofs are almost always rabid fans, who also buy all of the author's published works. As to review copies, it's a balancing act: if publishers sent out fewer or no review copies, then there wouldn't be a review copy resale "problem". There would also likely be fewer reviews, and likely fewer sales. The question is where the break point is -- what's the minimum number of review copies to get the best return?

I do not think that forbidding people from disposing of legally acquired books as they see fit is the right answer.
15
CPGPerson was signed in when posted
04-16-2002
11:45 AM ET (US)
>TAG did more than ask writers to stop linking to Amazon, it did so through a campaign of FUD that was hardly a quiet mention of Amazon's practice. Rather, it was a damning polemic that indicted Amazon for selling used books.

Really? Where's the link to the "damning polemic"? Everything I've seem so far from TAG seemed pretty reasonably argued, and certainly did not constitute a campaign of FUD. And please show me where TAG has advocated against first sale - I would be very interested to read about this, if it exists.

>I don't argue that TAG is trying to ban Amazon, but they ARE trying to muscle Amazon out of selling used books

Nice argument - since *no one* is arguing that TAG is trying to ban Amazon, why mention it unless you are trying to make that implication? Somehow, I really doubt that a small advocacy organization like TAG has the power to "muscle Amazon" out of anything.

I noticed that the only link you provided with this story was to Jeff Bezos' email to Amazon Marketplace sellers.
Bezos: "This group [TAG}...is the same organization that from time to time has advocated charging public libraries royalties on books they loan out."

Really, Jeff? Care to provide specifics? The facts: Approx *15* years ago (that is not a misprint) TAG supported an authors' lending right. This is a minor, government-funded royalty paid to authors of books borrowed from libraries. Most first-world countries have such a right. In this scheme, government pay these royalties, which a usually a few cents per use, as part of their general funding for the arts. Lending rights royalties are not charged to libraries or to readers, as Bezos implies.

Talk about sowing FUD!
Edited 04-16-2002 11:45 AM
14
Glenn Fleishman
04-15-2002
09:51 PM ET (US)
I've been peeved at the extremism of the Author's Guild's stance. I'm a member. When they sent their first letter, I thought, whoa, you're going after Amazon.com, but all other stores that sell new and used side by side are okay? Also, the real issue is review copies and uncorrected page proofs. Some folks make a good side living selling these. I know some people who have made tens of thousands a year by selling off these editions they received as academic or media book reviewers. Publishers sometimes spatter the landscape with free books in the hope of ink, spending thousands of dollars in distribution instead of using that same money to do a focused campaign that would count.

Thus authors suffer twofold: no marketing budget, because funds are wasted on books to people who don't care (it must cost $15 to $20 to send each book out when you count staff time, postage, and raw goods); and with the books sold In advance of the actual publication date deterring purchasers of new editions who buy the uncorrected page proofs or reviewer's copies that are specifically not intended for this.

Take a trip to the Strand, and you think that basically every review copy in New York City winds up in their stacks.
13
Cory Doctorow
04-15-2002
09:05 PM ET (US)
> While I certainly appreciate Cory's POV on this issue, I think
> it should be acknowledged that TAG is merely asking its members
> to refrain from hosting links to Amazon on their websites.
> That's all. Compliance is completely voluntary, as is
> membership in TAG - it is not a union, or other type of mandated
> membership organization. Hey, I like (and buy) used books, but
> I would not expect *all* authors to feel likewise, and I
> certainly would not expect them to support Amazon through
> linking if they felt negatively towards the practice of used
> book sales.

TAG did more than ask writers to stop linking to Amazon, it did so through a campaign of FUD that was hardly a quiet mention of Amazon's practice. Rather, it was a damning polemic that indicted Amazon for selling used books. I don't argue that TAG is trying to ban Amazon, but they ARE trying to muscle Amazon out of selling used books (else, why the action?)
> And please, lets not bring up used bookstores and libraries. I
> think that we all implicitly understand that the leveraging
> power of the internet has a far greater impact upon the
> distribution of used books than the dusty old bookstores with
> their haphazard title availability, or local libraries with
> their limited collections. The web removes many if not all of
> the "barriers of inconvenience" that limited the impact of
> libraries and used bookstores on the average author's income.

Please re-read my letter. I make a point of explaining this very thing, and address why it is good for writers.

> No one is arguing against the existence of the first sale
> doctrine. But likewise, no one should argue against the right
> of authors to link to whatever bookselling sites they wish
> (including Amazon). If an author feels that used book sales
> hurt, he may omit such links. If he feels that used book sales
> help bring new readers to his work, then he can show his support
> by including links to Amazon, Half.com, etc.

TAG *is* arguing against the social value of the Doctrine of First Sale, and has done so historically.

To sum up:

TAG released a statement calling on authors to do one thing, filled with their polemic. I released my own, which answered their polemic. Amazon called on others to do the same. This is a marketplace of ideas -- what's the issue?
12
CPGPerson was signed in when posted
04-15-2002
08:54 PM ET (US)
While I certainly appreciate Cory's POV on this issue, I think it should be acknowledged that TAG is merely asking its members to refrain from hosting links to Amazon on their websites. That's all. Compliance is completely voluntary, as is membership in TAG - it is not a union, or other type of mandated membership organization. Hey, I like (and buy) used books, but I would not expect *all* authors to feel likewise, and I certainly would not expect them to support Amazon through linking if they felt negatively towards the practice of used book sales.

And please, lets not bring up used bookstores and libraries. I think that we all implicitly understand that the leveraging power of the internet has a far greater impact upon the distribution of used books than the dusty old bookstores with their haphazard title availability, or local libraries with their limited collections. The web removes many if not all of the "barriers of inconvenience" that limited the impact of libraries and used bookstores on the average author's income.

No one is arguing against the existence of the first sale doctrine. But likewise, no one should argue against the right of authors to link to whatever bookselling sites they wish (including Amazon). If an author feels that used book sales hurt, he may omit such links. If he feels that used book sales help bring new readers to his work, then he can show his support by including links to Amazon, Half.com, etc.

I think that TAG (purposefully or otherwise) has managed to focus attention on an important issue, which shall become even more important if DRM-governed digital content should ever catch on in the book environment.
11
Kermit Woodall
04-15-2002
08:09 PM ET (US)
Judith Berman has an excellent article on her site about the aging of SF readership. I've corresponded with her about this as well. I think you've hit the nail on the head when you talk about the cost barrier for younger readers.

When I was a kid, (early 70s) I could buy a bottle of pop and some candy and a book or two with my allowance which was just a few dollars then.

A candy bar or soda cost about the same as a book or comic book then. Today a bottle of soda or candy bar at 7-11 costs about a dollar. Books cost $7. Comics $3 or more.

I think this has a great deal to do with the aging of SF readers. Basic economics.

Ms. Berman points out another economic problem with SF is in the short story market. The rates paid there haven't changed in, what, six decades?

Kermit
10
Cory Doctorow
04-15-2002
06:26 PM ET (US)
Great post, mensagirl!
9
Cory Doctorow
04-15-2002
06:14 PM ET (US)
AG has at times petitioned for royalty fees paid by libraries -- which Canada already has.
8
Stefan JonesPerson was signed in when posted
04-15-2002
06:10 PM ET (US)
One SF&F author I know has a plea to his readers on his web page. He not only wants them to buy New, but isn't comfortable with the idea of _libraries._
7
tomas
04-15-2002
06:07 PM ET (US)
yipyop and Meriadoc you're joking about publishers going after libraries, but it's really happening: http://zdnet.com.com/2100-11-530263.html?legacy=zdnn
6
Zed Lopez
04-15-2002
05:55 PM ET (US)
I think there are several good reasons to avoid patronizing Amazon. Principally, I'd prefer to see sales go to local independent bookstores.

But that they sell used books next to new ones isn't anywhere on my list.
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