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.