Monday, December 31, 2007

Literary Plea

The last post of this year will be a letter that I received from the novelist John Morgan Wilson (pictured).

Dear fellow writers and readers:

Peace and joy to all in these troubled times.


Massive Internet used book sales are literally killing the careers of countless writers. We get no royalties or credit for these used books sales, and our publishers make no money from them. As soon as our hardcovers or paperbacks hit the market, the Internet booksellers start buying them up used and selling them very cheaply, and resell them over and over. Why should someone buy a new book when they can purchase a used hardcover for a fraction of the price? Used book sales, which reportedly now account for about 12 percent of the entire market, have eaten so deeply into our paperback sales that many of us no longer have our books published in paperback, myself included. Consider this: Recently, my first mystery, Simple Justice, turned up at Number 51 on the bestseller list for current gay men's mysteries. That's great, except that Simple Justice has been out of print for more than seven years, meaning these are all used book sales. After writing ten mysteries, I have more readers than ever but am only credited with my initial hardcover sales. Over ten years, as my readership has grown, my income from my books had declined by half, and my publishing contract is in jeopardy. And now these Internet used book sales are starting to eat into my hardcover sales, further threatening my ability to make a living as a writer. The Internet booksellers like to say that used books are a good way for readers to discover new authors. But most of those readers will simply continue to buy used books, so the offset is negligible. The Internet booksellers are killing the golden goose but don't care. Immediate profit is all that matters to them. The bottom line is, if you are buying used books on the Internet, you are seriously hurting the authors.

That's my message. May the new year be a good one for you and yours.

Cheers, John

John Morgan Wilson in Blood, the seventh in the Edgar Award-winning Benjamin Justice mystery series, is now out in hardcover. The eighth Justice novel, Spider Season, will be published next year.


Anonymous said...

uh oh .. I never knew this. I'll keep this in mind from now on ...

Prince Gomolvilas said...

Noel, this is a tough issue, and I don't know how authors will combat it, but it might be time to re-think publishing like musicians have had to re-think their industry. A paradigm shift may be necessary because I'm not entirely sure the campaign to try to get people to stop buying used books will get very far. Ah, what shall we do, what shall we do?

Joel said...

If his book is out of print, then the only way to buy it is to buy a used copy. Would he really be happier if they just didn't read it at all?

Sundry said...

I made a commitment to buy at least one new book a month, on average, about seven years ago. (I know it's been that long because I was going to do it at Skylight, but then I moved too far away for it to be practical.)

That pledge gets easier and easier to keep. I figure that if I don't support the industry I aspire to, who will?

I also subscribe to at least one literary journal a year. I know I disappoint them by switching every year, but I can only buy and read so much! (This year: QuickFiction, Weber: the Contemporary West and Zoetrope: All Story)

I also support my local library with occasional overdue fines. Not perfect, not by a long shot.

Thanks for the reminder.

Liz said...

Another downside to used books is the ridiculous shipping costs the sellers often want to charge. Those often end up bumping the cost over what it would have been if someone just purchases at a store.

thelastnoel said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys. All good points.