I came across an article recently that had a really catchy message. The headline was something along the lines of “Writers Need to Get Paid”. The article went on to begrudge used book stores as a resource for readers. The reason, the argument said, was that the author doesn’t get paid when someone purchases a book from a resale shop. The solution, the argument argued, is for consumers to purchase e-books. The reasoning behind this is that e-books are often similar in price to used books.
Fair point there. If you have a few bucks and you want to read a new book, maybe it’s easier for you to download an e-book than to peruse the dusty shelves. And yes, the author gets a royalty for the e-book whereas they don’t for the used/resold book.
But the article went on to say that used book stores (and libraries to boot) were abominations that needed disassembly, dismantlement, and disparagement.
And no one disses my libraries, bro!
So. I understand the article’s outrage. Authors do not typically swim in the dough. Partly because the market is tough and complicated and huge, and partly because we, as writers, get distracted by the difficulty of swimming in a viscous substance like dough. But that’s a metaphor for ya–helpful until it confuses you.
The article in fact began with the statement that Writers Need To Protect Their Interests–in a very stand with me against the evils of corporate greed way. Except, instead of railing against corporate greed, the article railed against small business greed.
The article was a slam against the resurgence of used bookstores, given the fact that used bookstores don’t actually produce income for the writers themselves. Ergo, argued the article, used bookstores should die instead of revive, because we should care about the author and not the bookstore.
*contains energy of a thousand suns*
This either doesn’t take into account or ignores the way a market works. It also demonstrates a focus so zeroed in on the authors that it sidelines the even more important player: the readers.
Yes, authors are important to the buy/sell system of books, but you can’t dismiss the readers’ roles. (For those of you who understand markets and business and math better than I do, it’s the consumer.)
Business and Money
Indeed, the article started off with the proposition that we consider writing and publishing and getting paid like a business instead of just a fuzzy-feeling-hobby. And I totally get that. Wanting to have validation (in the form of dough, cookie dough, doughy-eyed looks from an adoring public, [running out of dough phrases]… and… doughnut something something relevant imagery) is an important part of producing art.
So, putting aside my doughy-heart of I-love-libraries-and-bookstores-and-art-for-the-sake-of-art-ness, my biggest issue with the article was this:
The article disregarded the importance of the resale market. Yes, re-selling goods doesn’t pay the original seller/creator. And yeah, that kind of sucks for the creator. But this isn’t something restricted to used book stores.
Flea Markets, Clothing Resale shops, Goodwill Resale stores, second-hand anything shops, E-bay, personal sellers on Amazon, garage sales, selling your old TV to that kid down the street who really wants to suffer in the independence of living in the garage, but he totally needs a TV still.
Importance of Resale
The importance of the resale market, I think, is two-fold:
- It allows objects to transfer hands instead of getting thrown away/wasted/lost in the dark corners of your grandmother’s kinda-still-creepy-even-though-you’re-older-now basement.
- It allows people to purchase and experience and own things that they otherwise couldn’t afford, and it keeps the flow of money through the markets.
1. Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle, Reduce
OK, I know, I know. This isn’t the same thing as separating your plastics from your cardboard. But it is.
You’ll notice I rearranged the “reduce, reuse, recycle,” phrase and added an extra one. That’s on purpose, because it illustrates how people treat material objects when considering money.
It looks like this:
- Someone buys a Thing.
- Thing outlives its usefulness.
- Person either reuses it. (Rereading the book; moving the TV to the garage for the kid who wants freedom)
- Or person repurposes it. (Uses the book to prop up a table or decorate a mantle; use the the TV in a retro-art installation.)
- Or person sells it/gives it away. (Give this book to your BFF or donate it to a library or bookstore; sell it on Craigslist or leave it at the curb)
- Or they waste it. (Throwing it away)
- If person can’t do the above choices, person stops buying Things. (AHHHHHH)
What does this mean in the realm of writers and their books?
It means that if a person can’t flow through the process of acquiring and releasing and re-acquiring objects, they will simply stop buying those things in order to prevent either a massive build-up of Things or a massive build-up of debt. If people are only allowed to acquire and access books at their market price, you won’t see an incline in sales or popularity—you’ll see a decrease.
And you don’t want people just to throw things away when they are done with it. That’s being wasteful on all accounts. It applies to clothes (resale), food (leftovers and charity donations), books (resale and donations), and, well, everything!
2. Ain’t Made of Money, Honey
Speaking from personal experience, if I had to buy every book I read growing up, I would be at a vast cultural, educational, and personal disadvantage. That is to say that I would not have been able to read all of the books I did.
Because, to put it plainly, people can’t spend money on books (or any luxury) when dinner isn’t on the stove yet. That’s the beauty of libraries—putting books and knowledge and entertainment and joy in the hands of everyone, regardless of class and income.
And let’s twirl it around to get a full perspective on resale markets:
Whether it’s food, clothing, materials, or anything really, a resale market is vital in order to allow people of lesser means to function and survive. Resale markets are necessary. And they aren’t going to go away.
Markets exist on all levels, resale to wholesale, because the economy and income and luck are vast, complex, and sometimes disparate.
What About You
Yes, it’s a bummer that writers don’t typically make bank–and sure, there are aspects of the system that are unfair.
Chances are, you’ve been able to survive or simply benefit from having resale markets available, and I’m absolutely certain that you’ve benefited from libraries (tax-funded education) and schools (tax-funded education).
And I know this mostly because you can read this, which is a luxury and privilege that so many assume is a burden and a right.
So keep reading, keep sharing, and keep learning!