Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A World Without Used Bookstores

A few days ago Ed Gorman wrote a blog post about used bookstores and the writers who hate them. Apparently, and there is very probably some truth to this, many writers feel they are losing large amounts of royalty monies because used bookstores—both Internet, and brick-and-mortar—makes it easy for readers to purchase used books at discount prices. It got me to thinking, what would the world be like without used bookstores? I spent most of my youth, and, heck, most of my current adult life skulking through the dusty confines of used bookstores.

First I want to make it clear that I purchase new books, and probably too damn many of them—I won’t be able to retire until I’m 93. I can’t walk past a bookstore without going in, and most of the time I find myself pining for a bookshop I’ve never been in. I’m always certain if I found the right shop I’d discover a treasure that would change my expectations of reading forever. So the thought of a world without used bookstores is desolate, stark, and shameful. Especially when you consider that something like 99% of books that have been published are currently out-of-print, and I bet that’s a conservative number. It’s probably more like 99.9999%.

I usually don’t buy many books that are currently in print at used shops, but it has happened. I recently picked up Lost Echoes by Joe R. Lansdale at a Friends of the Library book sale, but that is the exception rather than the rule. At this particular sale I purchased a dozen novels—The Emerald Illusion by Ronald Bass, (Signet, 1984), The Red Fox by Anthony Hyde (Ballantine, 1986), One-Shot Deal by Gerald Petievich (Pinnacle, 1983), several old Alistair MacLean novels published by Fawcett Gold Medal in the 1970s—cover art so cool I want to hang them on the wall—and a couple old thrillers from the 1970s that haven’t seen print in thirty years.

I absolutely support writers of all stripes—fiction, non-fiction, etc.—to be able to make a living from their work. But get real. Can you imagine a world without used bookstores? Maybe Ray Bradbury had something when he wrote Fahrenheit-451. Or is that too harsh?

To read the Gorman post click Here.


Anonymous said...

I truly love all book shops. I constantly find many wonderful new and used books that I just HAVE to have at various book stores. What I love about used book stores is that I can find older out of print books. I find old favorites and new treasures. So many books seem to be in print for such a short time. It seems to me that used shops only help authors. They keep older titles around for us to enjoy and the books that I find in used shops remind me to look up new titles by favorite or newly discovered authors in new book stores. Do authors really wish used book shops were gone? If that were the case, many of their older books would just disappear into obscurity and what good would that do anyone?

Anonymous said...

As someone who writes for a living and has haunted used bookstores for many years I feel this discussion is ridiculous. In order for my books to be in a used bookstore it means someone bought them. I GOT my royalty on that book. In addition, many readers have told me they discovered my books in a used bookstores, and went on to buy my books new.

This is an old, old argument that should be put to rest.

Ben Boulden said...

KB--I agree. I love bookstores large and small; I even enjoy searching through stacks of books at thrift shops, or anywhere else that sells new or used books.

Bob--Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you also enjoy used bookshops, and don't mind your work being sold in them. I have picked up several of your older novels in paperback exchanges, and thrift shops--I actually discovered your work when I picked up a used copy of MIRACLE OF THE JACAL in the early-2000s at the Half Price Books in Apache Junction, AZ. And how I wish I had a Half Price Books here in SLC.