RARA-AVIS: Re: Used Books and ethics

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 05 May 2010

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    Re your comment below:

    "I've never understood the bubbub about used books. in order for them to get into a used bookstore so0mebody had to but them. And you got your royalty. And I figure anybody buying my books used will eventually-- hopefully- -start buying them new."

    As an author (if one of far less prodigious productivity), I'm with you on this.

    Being a devout,practicing Catholic, I'm capable of feeling guilty about, well, practically everything. But it's never occurred to me to feel the tiniest iota of guilt about buying a used book.

    Nor have I ever felt guilty about borrowing one from the public library.

    In both cases, as you point out, the book's already been bought, the writer's already gotten his royalty, so no one has a beef. The book, as a physical entity rather than an intellectual property, now belongs to someone else (in the former case, first the reader, then the bookseller the reader sold it to; in the latter case, the tax-paying public), and that new owner of the physical entity is, and should be, absolutely free to dispose of it as he/she/they choose.

    Further, as you also suggest, particularly in the case of public libraries, the presence of the book, and its availability for borrowing, is long-term free advertising for the author. How many of you have discovered an author for free by browsing your local library and then went out and bought something else by the same writer? How many of you have ever bought a used book by an author, and were so beguiled that you bought the next thing that came out for free?

    Finally, in many cases, the book is no longer in print, so buying it used or borrowing it from the library is the only way the book can be made available to readers.

    My response to this non-issue is somewhat similar to those who feel we don't pay enough taxes. If you truly feel personally guilty about not sending more money to the government, make a voluntary donation. Similarly, if you truly feel you're cheating an author by buying a copy of a book that has already generated income for that author, then mail him/her a check for whatever you calculate would have been the royalty if you bought it new instead of getting a used copy or borrowing it from the library. That, it seems to me, relieve any guilt you may feel more effectively than kvetching about what the greater bulk of the reading public can only regard as wholly imaginary moral or ethical issues.

    As for myself, I'd rather my books were read by as many people as possible, and libraries and used book shops are one form of keeping books widely distributed.



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