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WHEN AUTHORS FEEL 'USED'



Published: Tue, April 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: Authors probably have mixed feelings about used-book stores. After all, writers want to be read, but they also want to be paid. Used-book sales help get them read but do not pay any royalties to the author or, for that matter, profits to the publisher.

As long as used books were limited to isolated bookstores, church fundraisers and garage sales, authors were more or less willing to swallow the loss. That was before the Internet and Amazon, the online bookstore, came along.

Suddenly, in some authors' eyes, the "used" book market has turned from a minor annoyance into a national menace. Some authors are furious that Amazon now encourages customers to re-sell their used books through the Web site.

That's great for buyers, who get their desired books at a discount, and for sellers, who get some of their money back for the books. It is also a nice deal for Amazon, which collects a fee and a commission as intermediary in the transaction.

Who's left out? Just the author and publisher who produced the book in the first place.

Fighting back

Some of the scriveners are fighting back, Web link against Web link. The Authors Guild, one of the largest organizations representing authors, has asked its 8,000 members to remove links to Amazon from their Web sites until the site stops "aggressively promoting" used books.

Amazon insists that it is doing authors and publishers a favor by stimulating more book sales the same way that the used-car market stimulates more sales of new cars.

That's not a bad point. Readers might be more willing to take a chance with an unknown author bought at the "used" price. If they like the work, they may be more eager to purchase the author's other books, even when they are sold at the full price.

Such are the joys of free enterprise. More choices lead to more consumption and, eventually, more benefits for everyone. So what are disgruntled authors to do in the short run? They have choices, too. They can de-link from Amazon, if they wish, or from any other online bookseller that displeases them.

They can try to boycott Amazon, but even authors like to buy a used book now and then. Why, some of them may even have surreptitiously ordered a used book from Amazon.

Better yet, they can recognize that used-book browsing is one of the joys of being a reader. While Amazon certainly can't create the quiet, musty atmosphere of your favorite little book nook, it is providing a service that has been offered by thousands and thousands of traditional bookshops across the country for a long, long time.




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