Nearly New

A question popped up on my Facebook page last week, regarding the second-hand book market. Many members of the public still assume that authors see no return from library books, although in fact, authors in the UK make a tidy sum from libraries.

I suppose I would prefer it if people bought new copies of my books, as new copies generate more sales for me, and show up as extra sales for the publisher. In the case of the Anime Encyclopedia, anyone buying a second-hand copy is 90% likely to be getting the 2001 edition, and will hence be swindling themselves out of 300 extra pages.

But when you buy one of my books new, you also buy the right to sell it on to someone else if you so desire, and an author would be churlish to complain about that. You can do whatever you want with it. You can write in the margins, you can give it to your mum, and you can sell it to someone else. When someone asks me to sign a book, it is, I suppose, with the presumption all round that a signed copy might be worth more one day when sold second-hand. Fine with me! Thanks for buying it in the first place, and if your grandchildren make £100 off it when we’re both dead, everyone’s a winner. But, equally, if you hate it and give it to Oxfam three days later, and they sell it, everyone is completely within the law; no complaints.

Certainly, it is now theoretically possible for rights-holders to limit second-hand sales of digital material. You can’t sell a second-hand copy of digital material… you just delete it if you’ve had enough. It would be my hope that digital material would be priced more like second-hand material from the outset anyway, as a reflection of this. I have no problem with that either. The second-hand books market has never been demonstrated to me to be a threat to book publishing itself. Physical books decay and fall apart, and there are even some people like my ex-girlfriend who just refuse to buy books that others have owned. One of the problems with digital piracy is that the pirate edition, once created, is potentially immortal, ageless and infinitely reproductive.

But if the tidal wave of digital destroys the second-hand market, what happens in a hundred years’ time? As a feature of my job, I spend a lot of money on books, and some are second-hand and long out-of-print, hunted down in obscure places where they have fallen through the cracks. We *assume* that digital material is permanent, but that assumes we’ll have, you know, electricity in a hundred years’ time.

Then again, if that’s the case, we’ll probably have other things to worry about.

4 thoughts on “Nearly New

  1. I saw a discussion on second hand manga somewhere recently, probably deep in one of the onemanga reaction threads on ANN so I’ll never find it again now..
    I was actually looking at your Facebook page the other day for some reason I forget, although I’ve never attempted to friend any celebrities or people I happen to know (or know of) online.

  2. its interesting to note what some games publishers are trying to do with pc based computer games, and how this has generally been reacted to negatively (for example, a game has limited activations, or another one pretty much demanded you be logged into the companies servers any time you wanted to play, in a game that was singleplayer only). both situations ended badly – in the former, people found upgrading their computer counted as an ‘activation’, as did re-installing the game if tech support told them to. In the latter, malicious attacks downed the servers within days of the games release, making legitimate purchasers unable to play it.

    Whilst these are ostensibly anti-piracy measures (which ultimately failed, as games using both the above systems have been pirated, and some were available as pirated games BEFORE their release date), the primary aim seems to kill the ability to sell these games second hand.

  3. One forgets the oni in the dark called “format obsolesence”. It reminds me of the scene in Cowboy Bebop when Spike and Jet had to go to the an apocalyptic Earth to risk their lives trying to find another VCR to play Faye’s tape only to come back with a VHS for a Betamax. Poignant. ^_^

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