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Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Are Authors Abused by Used? is an article by M.J. Rose up on Wired.com that means that I am quoted on the front page of Wired.com... although I'm quoted on the front page as "An Author" (presumably on the basis that my name wouldn't mean anything to Wired readers)...

Seeing that only that one quote makes it into the article, here's the full text of my reply to M.J. Rose's e-mail asking whether or not I thought that authors were being abused by used booksellers...

Well, bear in mind that the background I come from is that of comics, where a trade in back issues is part of the terrain. When Sandman #1 was trading for $100 a copy, I saw none of that, and had long since assumed that the trade in old books and comics went with the territory, and was a good thing in the long run: if someone reads a book of mine in paperback, or borrows it from a friend, or gets it for half-price on a book-trading site or in a store where they sell second-hand paperbacks along with aquariums, pet-food and vacuum-cleaner parts, or picks it up in a battered hardback from a remainder table, they're finding out whether or not they like what I write. And if they do then one day, if they can afford it, they'll be lining up to buy a new hardback, or a new paperback.

Lord knows, most of the books I bought in my teens were bought second hand. Sometimes they smelled kind of weird, but it was the only way I was going to read old Sheckley or Lafferty or Peter O' Donnell.

Books, like magazines, have pass-along rates. They don't come with single-user software licenses. I think this is a good thing. If I read a book and like it, I'll lend it to you and hope you give it back. (GOOD OMENS has probably sold a couple of million copies by now, internationally, but its pass-along rate is tens of times that, judging by the copies people bring to signings, which have been lent to everyone they know, are held together with tape and dried soup, and have obviously been dropped into the bath at some point.)

Obviously, it makes me uncomfortable when I see Amazon erroneously listing books that are in print as out of print and sending people to used book dealers to buy them, just as it makes me uncomfortable when I see people on eBay paying $75 for my spoken word double CD "Warning Contains Language", which they could get from DreamHaven new for less than half that. There's not a lot one can do about these things, other than write to publishers telling them to ask Amazon to update their database.

This is probably much more than you wanted. Still, to make it explicit: I don't regard every second-hand book sold as a dollar taken from my mouth. I've already been paid for that book at some point. I regard second-hand sales as things that make future readers.

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