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Buy books if you read. Pay authors, to be fair

January 10, 2020
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

Some studies show that only 35 percent of Americans read a book last year. Out of that modest number, there might be the same percentage who read paperback editions. The paperbacks which pay authors are purchased new. Those paperbacks are available at bookstores, at spots like Amazon, even from the authors themselves.

Authors get paid when sales take place in those places. That's fair, because to most authors, their compensation is under $2 a book. One habit drags down their livelihoods. Used books cut authors out of the equation.

The roughest part? In one misguided column, a writer for BookRiot is promoting "only buy used books."

If you don't know BookRiot, it's a tremendous website that writes about books and literature. Millions of viewers and thousands of dollars in ad money taken. Money from authors and their publishers. I see a big problem there: authors pay people like the website columnist Anna Gooding-Call. Her column Buy Used Books. Here's Why tells us that reusing a paper book is good for the environment — and you'll find great things to read, too.

Used books also help ensure there are fewer books to read, if the only thing you do is, as she suggests, "reserve purchases of new paper books for special occasions." If authors only wrote for such special occasions, the world might read only authors like George R.R. Martin, or Donna Tartt. Great to have their books around. Genius there, those novels. Readers waited 10 years for Tartt's second book. Martin is still holding out on his many Game of Thrones readers. They published on the timeline of "special occasion."

Shelves of free books

Our columnist has her viewpoint, so her home is probably full of used books. Since she writes for BookRiot, though, her shelves might be full of books that were sent to her for review. Or passed along by reviewer friends, all in the name of saving the planet and maybe gaining a fan. I hope she's not carrying the free books to any place but a library or a charity.

If you're truly into saving the planet, ebooks do that job well. Any kind of paperback, used or new, sticks a fly into that environmental oatmeal. Selling a paperback a second time flies in the face of pure environmental concern. Also a plus: an ebook is a one-time sale on behalf of an author. Most ebooks can't be resold.

This isn't theoretical for me. My latest book, the memoir Stealing Home, was released in August. A used copy already has a permanent spot in Amazon as the book's most affordable purchase. You get this sales treatment as an author, and it's customary for the book business. The good news is that that used copy helps homeless people in New York, where any profits from the sale go to a charity.

So hey, remember that if you fill your bookshelves only with used paper, you cut out the creators of the work that you admire and enjoy. Pay your tribute to an author you admire: buy a paperback from them directly if you can. Author website sales help us keep writing. Bookstores selling paper help everyone discover new voices. You can help yourself to used books, but keep your purchases spread across the whole ecosystem of reading. There's a creative environment there to preserve, right alongside the climate of the planet.

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