Friday, August 11, 2006

Books: Used, Borrowed and New

Some of you may remember the ker-fuffle a few years back when the Author's Guild got upset that Amazon allowed customers to purchase a new or a used book from the very same page. The email I sent to the Author's Guild about this has been lost in a now terminated email account but I recall some of my points. I purchase a ton of books. I read even more. When I leave my place, heading for a bookstore, I know where I am going. I have mapped out my route (even more important with skyrocketing gas prices). So I already know if I am going to the used bookstore or a new bookstore (or both as I did last weekend). So, Amazon allowing me to click different buttons on the same page has never changed my decision about whether my plan is to buy new or used. And it is a little insulting to suggest that I was unaware of my ability to purchase a book used until Amazon put those buttons on the same page for me.

I was recently reminded of this when I read a blog where someone recounted a story of a reader who was saddened to hear that a series she loved was ending. The person then told the reader that it was the reader had killed the series since she had purchased her books used.

I understand that publishing is a business. I get it that authors, agents, editors and all the other people who work to put a book together and in my hands need to get paid. And that that only happens when I buy the books new. But here's the thing. I spend a lot of money on books. And I don't get my money back when one of them turns out to be either a piece of crap or something that just doesn't appeal to me. So, some of my purchases are going to be less than eight dollars. Because if I hate it, I mind less if I only paid a dollar fifty. And when I get a used book that's wonderful, I usually go but more of that author's stuff. New.

And yes, I should use my library (because then, the argument goes, at least that book was purchased new. And if there's demand the library might get additional copies.) Except the library has this pesky due date thing. So, it potentially costs me more when I fail to return it on time. And this assumes that the library has the book. What if the library has discarded it, because the book was published several years ago? Or the book is out of print? Especially if it's a category romance which typically has a limited print run. What if - as I did with the Laura Lippman Tess Monaghan series - I discovered one in a bookstore, bought it, read it loved it and wanted to go back and read the rest of the series. They don't have it at the bookstores, only the last few. But it turns out my roommate has them all. Do I get credit for buying new all the ones I could find? Especially since I had read them already?

So, my point here is that the assumption that by getting books used or borrowing them from friends instead of buying everything new is hurting book sales is short sighted. Because the books I borrow or buy used actually fuel my new book purchases. I have a lot of books. (Trust me, I just had to pack them all up. And this was after I donated or swapped over a hundred.) More of them are new than not. But a huge portion of the new books were bought because I had been turned onto the author or series by a used or borrowed book.

Case in point. I first remember hearing of Nora Roberts when reading that internet groups had spotted marked similarities between Nora's work and some more recent Janet Dailey books. I was a Janet Dailey reader. Well, Janet admitted the similarities, whole scenes in some cases, were too close to ignore, apologized and blamed her husband's health problems and other distractions. Well, I remember thinking that okay maybe I should be reading Nora Roberts then.

This thought percolated in the back of my brain for a while. Then I was on vacation, standing on a sidewalk in Watch Hill, RI, waiting for family members to finish in another store. As luck would have it I was standing in front of a book store that sold used and antique books. And on the stand in front of the store was a pretty book. I moved closer and saw it was by Nora Roberts. I picked it up and read the back and saw it took place in Maryland and so went in and bought it. (The book was Sea Swept - the first in the Chesapeake trilogy.) I adored the book. So I went to my local bookstore and bought everything I could get my hands on. (Okay - not all at once. But I did buy several each time until I had them all.) And sure, I found some of her stuff - particularly older, out of print stuff in used book stores. But now, I buy her new stuff within days of its release. I buy it in hardback. Something I would hesitate to do, if I did not have the familiarity with her backlist that I gained in part thanks to used book purchases.