Internet Used Book Sales Worry Publishers
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
People are using the Internet to write a new chapter for the used book business. The ease of buying and selling secondhand books online has fueled double-digit growth in that industry. That means more choices for consumers and also more challenges for the authors and publishers of new books. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.
SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:
Bill Burgett has been selling used books since Stephen King was in his first printing. These days, Burgett makes half his money not here in his cluttered bookshop on San Diego's Antique Row, but selling books to Internet customers scattered throughout the world.
Mr. BILL BURGETT (Used Book Salesman): This one's going to Canada, Kansas. This book is probably going to someplace in Europe. Oftentimes, it's a book that really doesn't have much value here in San Diego. It could be a county history in Minnesota. So you ship the book to Minnesota because they will buy it.
HORSLEY: Because customers anywhere can now find used books everywhere, the industry's sales have been growing rapidly. A study by the InfoTrends market research firm found secondhand sales, excluding textbooks, grew 25 percent last year. InfoTrends' Jeff Hayes says by the end of the decade, used books could account for 10 percent of the overall book market as the used book trade dusts off what had been a somewhat musty cover.
Mr. JEFF HAYES (InfoTrends): I think the used book market was typified by essentially what they call the antiquarian and collectible books, which are sort of these hard-to-find, you know, first-edition Hemingways and whatnot that people want to collect and it really wasn't mainstream in terms of people thinking, `Gee, should I buy new or should I wait and get a used book?'
HORSLEY: Hayes says nowadays more and more bargain-hunting consumers are willing to buy used and Web sites like Amazon make it easy, often displaying used copies of books alongside new ones within weeks or even days of first publication. That's good for readers but maybe not so good for publishers and authors who risk losing new book sales and royalties. Some literary agents would like to collect royalties even on used book sales, but copyright law doesn't require that. As a compromise, executive director Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild would like Web sites to avoid listing used copies of recent books for three to four months while a new title gets established.
Mr. PAUL AIKEN (Authors Guild): We're all in this together and we've got to find a way to make online bookselling work for everybody, not just for the booksellers but for the publishers and certainly for the authors as well.
HORSLEY: So far, online booksellers have not shown any interest in withholding used copies, so readers have a growing online source for the used books they want and a growing online outlet to dispose of the used books they don't. Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.
INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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