“How does buying used books online hurt authors?”

By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

Most readers don’t realize how buying used books online can hurt authors.  Conversely, even a .99 Kindle copy can encourage your favorite author to keep on writing.  Near the end of this post, see 3 ways to help authors AND find reasonably priced books.


Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a reader, I’m like anyone else. I want the best bargain I can find for the best books. Hey, I’m human.

Some books can be difficult to afford otherwise. I confess to buying hundred-dollar college textbooks used, then reselling them on Amazon Marketplace to replace our broken appliances, including my fridge that recently died.

If only I could find a used fridge selling for $0.00 for only one week, like those great Amazon Kindle deals.  I confess to jumping at those opportunities too. At least I try to review or Tweet about those $0.00 books at @LaurieSargent (if I truly like those books) to give the authors a little promo.

But I know my author friends would love to earn their own fridge money from actual book sales. And the honest truth is that you can often buy a new book directly from an author (often autographed, too)  for only a few dollars more than you would through an online marketplace and bless that author at the same time.

Here’s a little info on how book sales can hurt authors, which you may not know about:

Not one penny of a used book sale goes to the author or publisher. Usually they will never even know the book sold.

Most authors earn income from books in two ways:

a) Advances: An advance against royalties is usually just enough to cover marketing expenses and/or possibly help feed the family while the author writes then markets the book. Advances do not have to be paid back to the publisher, BUT

b) Royalties (a percent of the sale from each book) from each book sale are first deducted from the advance the author has already spent to help support her family. (An advance is an ‘advance against royalties’. )  A typical royaltyon a $17.00 book sold new through Wal-Mart nets the author around  thirty-nine cents. (Barnes and Noble, about $1.00) An author has to earn .39 from a LOT of books to reimburse the publisher for the advance.

So what happens to the author, when a book is purchased used, online?

  • It prevents authors from earning anything on that sale AND competes directly against the sale of a new book.
  •  It takes money away from those who own rights to the books (publisher or author) because they pay hefty fees every month to warehouse new copies and keep them ready for distribution.

NOW I understand why many publishers often put books OOP (out of print) even after only a few years, returning rights to the authors.

Lately I had three different acquaintances tell me how much they loved my books. I was thrilled to hear that, but a bit disheartened to learn they bought the books online used. I would never have known, had they not told me. And frankly, I would rather have GIVEN them the books.

Also, when my friends are done with my books, I desperately hope they will give my books away as gifts, instead of selling them online, because every additional used book online competes directly 1:1 against a corresponding new copy.

3 Ways To Help Authors AND Find Reasonably Priced Books


1)   Consider buying the book new. Sometimes on sale (but still new) is only a few dollars more than a used copy. Or you can get an autographed copy directly from the author’s website. Not only will the author get a few cents, you may prevent that book from going prematurely out of print.  Sales numbers from bookstores influence whether or not an agent or publisher will be willing to take on the author’s next book. Enough readers buying new copies can influence the author’s career!

2)   If you want a book desperately and truly cannot afford one, try asking the author to give you a review copy. Then be willing to Tweet or Facebook about it if you like it.

3) Keep in mind that YES those .99-9.99  Kindle sales DO count as NEW! The author gets a tiny bit of income, knows about and can get excited about the sale, and the publisher is happy too and will want the author to write more books. (Do you know Kindle books can also be downloaded to computers, as Kindle for PC?)

By the way, if ONLY used copies for the book you want are offered on Amazon, the book may be out of print. BUT the author may still have new copies at her website. If so, she bought the copies from her publisher for resale, and getting the money back for those might make her day!

Remember–even the best-written books can go out of print when enough used books make it impossible for publishers to keep new copies in stock.

Now, if only college textbooks didn’t cost a hundred dollars apiece. Sigh. We’ll see how my conviction for helping fellow authors holds up when child #3 needs more textbooks. Hopefully there will by .99 versions by then. But if I can buy a $10 copy, when a $6 used book is available? I consider that a $4 gift to a hard-working author.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bradreneer on November 4, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you.

    My mother is very concerned about this with her book. I’m interested in how you feel about this article? http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/28/technology/28scene.html

    ” the presence of a market for used books makes consumers more willing to buy new books, because they can easily dispose of them later.

    “A car salesman will often highlight the resale value of a new car, yet booksellers rarely mention the resale value of a new book. Nevertheless, the value can be quite significant.”


  2. Great post! But i think there are people who are unable to afford a new book but they are eager to read the book so buying used books is the best way. So may it hurts to the authors but a readers point of view it is something good.


  3. Posted by John D. Mosley on August 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Laurie, thank you for your blog. As an aspiring author I am finding a lot of interesting and educational information. I can see how authors may get frustrated if their new copies are not selling but used ones are. I know I would rather have a nice new copy just for the feel of it and knowing that I am it’s first reader. Sometimes there can be quite a bit of price difference between new and used. Looking at the independent authors listed on amazon, I have noticed that used books seem to be priced about the same as new or even more; it looks like indie authors are supporting indie authors as well as people agreeing with your points. 🙂


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