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Authors Guild seeks to stop Amazon from selling used books.
April 18, 2002 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Authors Guild seeks to stop Amazon from selling used books. It's the analog version of RIAA vs. Napster!

"Amazon's practice does damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers. In time, as we pointed out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos when it first began this practice over a year ago, the financial loss to the industry could affect the quality and diversity of literature made available through booksellers. If profits suffer, publishers will cut their investments in new works, and authors facing reduced advances and royalties will have to find other ways to earn income. "

Read Jeff Bezos' email to Amazon Associate Members.
posted by Brilliantcrank (30 comments total)

 
Hmmm... How about used cars. Used houses? Used panties?? ;)

Seriously, though, what about all the used bookstores out there? I'd assume they'd have to shut down as well. And the used videogame industry is booming. People trade in their used PS2 games all the time at the local software store. They (game makers) surely could make the same claim. Not to mention used CDs. This could go on and on...
posted by eas98 at 7:10 AM on April 18, 2002


It's called arbitrage and it is a fundamental part of our economy. Whatever your views on the Napster decision are, this is totally different. This has nothing to do with copyrights at all. But, it obviously does have to do with a paranoid industry. As long as Amazon is not copying anything they can resell to their hearts content. The Authors Guild can suggest whatever they want, I just hope the authors realize that the more people who read their work, the stronger the authors "brand" gets in general.
posted by anathema at 7:13 AM on April 18, 2002


Anathema, you're right, Napster was about copyright but I liken the Authors Guild statement of financial loss and crashing industry to some of RIAA's reasons for crushing services like Napster.
posted by Brilliantcrank at 7:16 AM on April 18, 2002


I think the point the Guild is making is that Amazon pushes second-hand books to people who are in the market to buy new books. So, if you were looking to buy a particular book new but had an as-new second-hand copy waved under your nose for two-thirds of the price, you might reconsider and buy the used version.
I just hope the authors realize that the more people who read their work, the stronger the authors "brand" gets in general.
This is true up to a point - but we've all gotta eat, and a lot of writers don't really make that much money. For sure, if you're Jackie Collins or Stephen King or whoever everyone is reading these days (sorry, I'm out of touch), then your "brand" will get much stronger. But what about writers who don't make that much money and write a few books that are enough to get by on? I am guessing that they would notice the drop in income, if Amazon continued to successfully divert potential new-book customers in this way.
posted by different at 7:45 AM on April 18, 2002


It's fundamentally the same argument. Producers of media (music, literature, movies, whatever) don't believe the end result of their efforts is a product. In my opinion (not being a producer of any of these things) they believe their content should be considered a service. And they believe each person that enjoys this service should pay the producers of it. It's different than a used car or a used house because those items' usability are reduced with age. However, even if a used book or CD is in crappy condition, once you have read/listened to it, you have gained the full value of its content. It's condition has more of an aesthetic value than a functional one.

Not that I agree with that argument. I buy books, I don't lease them. They are mine to do with as I please, regardless of the content that is contained. But I think that's where they're coming from.
posted by goto11 at 7:53 AM on April 18, 2002


It's interesting to see that this problem (already pointed out by many) now matters book authors.

Car industry doesn't like the sale of used cars at all, they'd rather sell you a car that breaks after 1000 miles at $100 then suffer the used cars market because they have no control of it ; and that's why original spare parts sometimes are incredibly expensive.

But book authors have no spare parts to sell, so they complain about their royalties being diluted by used books. Well what's the problem pals ? Rise royalties or start the digital revolution by selling ebooks directly on the net, bypassing all the publishing companies ; this way you could increase your incomes, who needs paper anymore.
Face it: people don't read as much as ten years ago ,it's the digital revolution, adapt or die.
posted by elpapacito at 7:58 AM on April 18, 2002


A little correction: people don't read as much printed book as then years ago, now they read much more, but only on the net
posted by elpapacito at 8:00 AM on April 18, 2002


The point here is that Amazon is hawking used versions of books almost immediately upon their printing (advance copies, review copies, etc.) and, as a result, preventing authors from collecting their royalties for those pivotal hardback sales in the first several months. I'm all for used books, but even a corporate behemoth like Barnes & Noble has the good sense to wait three months before pawning off used books on their customers. The difference here, as this NYT column reveals, is that Amazon is being particularly aggressive about their business tactics, exploiting what is unfortunately a perfectly legal sale to the point where they want every book you buy to be sold back to them used. They are taking a facet of the book market that has, up until now, been relatively benign in allowing new readers to discover certain authors and turning it into something quite ugly and exploitative.

And, unless you're one of those boorish Cliff's Notes or romance junkies, it's a foolish idea to try and get everything out of a book on simply one reading. Proust or Faust in one go? I think not.
posted by ed at 8:04 AM on April 18, 2002


Ed: did I understand they in their sales contract they state you're obliged to sell the book you buy from them only to them ? Doesn't look like a sale to me, but a form of leasing (discalimer IANAL expert in american law).
posted by elpapacito at 8:12 AM on April 18, 2002


ed: I agree.

I do think, though, that Amazon's approach is a continuation of the commercialisation of art. So many of the things that we see as being 'art' are no longer truly free expression - they are almost purely commercial ventures. Film, music and books are flogged by companies whose sole intent is to make money. Bestsellers are (for the most part) not really made to be read thoroughly and digested. They're throwaway reads for a bit of light entertainment. You sell them on, in much the same way that you wouldn't want to keep a full series of the 'Tonight Show' (or whatever) on video.

Having said that, I like to keep and re-read all the books I have - even the bestsellers. But I do recognise that many people don't. They read a book and then - they've read it. End of story.

Amazon is making an aggressive business move that was bound to upset the equally agressive marketing tactics of publishers. It has little or nothing to do with literature as 'art'.
posted by different at 8:13 AM on April 18, 2002


If this is the way the market is going, this is the way it is going. Publishers and authors who want to protect their profits are going to have to think real, real hard. You can't fight the market with bans and boycotts. Demand will seep around your barriers like water. So up and at 'em, publishers, do something positive.
posted by Faze at 8:17 AM on April 18, 2002


Amazon.com can do whatever they want with these books, the Author's Guild is just making an argumentum ad consequentiam (thanks to a-whole). I have a fairly long list of things I want to read over the summer, and the used book prices are the only thing that make the acquisition of most of the books on my list at least feasible. I'm glad Amazon.com is providing this service, more power to them.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:20 AM on April 18, 2002


I think part of what Amazon does is being mis-characterized here. I've sold some used books, games, CDs, and DVDs on Amazon recently, and found it to be a great service. Amazon isn't "buying back" anything -- they are merely providing a medium for selling your used books to another Amazon customer (for a small fee). In other words, it's eBay without the bidding. You have something to sell. They have millions of customers. You set a price and wait for a buyer. If no one wants to pay $80 for a copy of The Rock's biography, you're out of luck... But if someone wants it for $8, you've got a sale, Amazon takes a buck and some change, and the customer gets a book for a good price...

As far as the RIAA analogy, forget it. It's one thing if I were to buy the new Sheryl Crow CD, make MP3s of all the tracks on it, then go back and sell it used on Amazon. That's a legitimate problem and danger to the industry. But if I read a book, then decide to sell it, that's my right. I'm not duplicating it or illegally copying it for sale -- I'm selling my propetry to someone else. The only difference between selling a used book on Amazon vs. a local used bookstore is convenience and value -- I can do it a lot easier and faster on Amazon, probably get a sale faster, and most likely get back a lot more value than the used book dealer would give me...
posted by mattpusateri at 8:21 AM on April 18, 2002


(thanks to a-whole)

Fucking bastard, we really should...

*clicks on link*

oh, that points to Matt's site...sorry. hehe

*slinks away quietly*
posted by BlueTrain at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2002


Sylvia Nasar had a worth-reading opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday, arguing that used book sales are good for new-book sellers, much as used house and used car sales benefit new-house and new-car sellers, by reducing the overall cost of buying new books.

(Nasar is the author of "A Beautiful Mind".)
posted by mattpfeff at 8:57 AM on April 18, 2002


Go Amazon!

(but I still don't buy anything from you, since you've never been the cheapest, new or used)
posted by NortonDC at 9:08 AM on April 18, 2002


I hate to side with Amazon on this, but the reality is that the book industry is out of wack. The prices of books are on a continual climb because fewer people are reading the same titles because publishers are releasing more, separate titles than ever before to get the billing to make their budget and to fill huge warehouses of chain stores that will only return the books when the invoice terms are up. And so, we're stuck with an overcrowded marketplace filled with $15.00- $20.00 paperbacks. There's an interesting view from an industry insider here. (which can give you a little of the Author's Guild perspective, even though for once, I think Pat's just wrong). And after this do we go after libraries? I mean really, how much of that nickel late fee goes to publishers and authors?
posted by rodz at 9:10 AM on April 18, 2002


It's called the First Sale Doctrine. Once I purchase the physical object in which the copyrighted work is embodied (a "copy" or a "phonorecord" as defined in Section 101), I have the right to do with that property what I want. Under traditional models, the secondary sales market just wasn't enough of a market to be a real threat in any event. With the Internet, content can be divorced from physical objects, and markets are international without ever leaving the house.
posted by IPLawyer at 9:15 AM on April 18, 2002


Anyone here remember Garth Brooks? He was a really huge country music star until he demanded royalties on used CD sales and threatened to withold his new albums from used CD sellers. This brought a federal anti-trust suit and "Garth Buck$ BAR-B-Qs" where his albums were torched by enraged 'fans'. This is all about greed and is called biting the hand that feeds you.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:08 AM on April 18, 2002


There really seems to be some legitimate concerns from both sides. Do we have a right to buy used books? Of course. Is Amazon being a leetle bit agressive about it, and therefore making it tougher for those who just really want a new book? Yes.
The problem here, as people have already been mentioning, is the publishing industry pushes out books that have no real literary value.
I'll never sell my Hemingway, it will stay on my bookshelf along with C.S. Lewis and everything by Tom Clancy (Ha.) But what about recent bestsellers? If they were really good books people wouldn't be selling them back in the first place.
And if Amazon gives up on this practice, there's always half.com
posted by Happydaz at 10:43 AM on April 18, 2002


"I think the point the Guild is making is that Amazon pushes second-hand books to people who are in the market to buy new books." Different--is this even a legitimate point? How many people care whether the book is new, especially considering how expensive they are?

When I want a book (hardly ever anything current), I check half.com, amazon.com and abebooks.com. Only real need will drive me to pay full price for a book because I simply can't afford it. If a current book does interest me, I can usually wait until the paperback comes out.

I also sell books on half.com, which allows me to make back some of the money I spent on books that turn out not to be worth keeping. My like-new books give a buyer a real break, and the used ones I pick up at yard sales and thrift stores keep circulating and give me a much needed income boost.
posted by gordian knot at 10:52 AM on April 18, 2002


Amazon is now a marketplace for new and used books. If they "push" used books, they are not "pushing" them on people that "just really want a new book."

It is legal, and it is right, and they are not making it any tougher for people who do want a new book, at all.
posted by NortonDC at 10:58 AM on April 18, 2002


Doesn't Amazon make more money on a new book purchase than a used one? What are they gaining by being overly aggressive pushing used books? I personally like seeing that there are used products available when I look something up on Amazon.

If they were really good books people wouldn't be selling them back in the first place.

That's pretty broad. Sometimes people have to part with things they really love because they absolutely need the money.
posted by goto11 at 11:07 AM on April 18, 2002


Some random points:

Nasar is also one of the board members of the Author's Guild.

While I will agree that the rising price of books is becoming a bit outrageous and, I fear, looking to break the $30+ mark for ALL hardcovers, to compare a whole book to MP3s is sheer folly, unless you include the entire albums that people download through AudioGalaxy. The book is a medium entirely of its own accord. It is the sum of its parts. And unless you're pirating a concept album in toto (and concept albums with a unifying whole are more of a rarity these days), then I honestly can't see a comparative basis between downloading Radiohead's Amnesiac, which was practically thrown together with random tracks, and buying a used copy of Ian McEwan's Atonement, a meticulously structured and sharply written novel that must be consumed in whole, which hit U.S. bookstores not long ago.

In the Radiohead case, you're downloading a few tracks and sampling the music. You like a few tunes or you're a fan. So you figure, hell, why not buy the album? There is clearly more of a qualifier, unless you consider album cover and liner notes as parts of the essential whole.

But in the Atonement case, you're reading book reviews, the sample first chapter and possibly in some way counting on outside opinion. Then you make the plunge to buy the book, for better or worse. You really have nothing but opinion to go on, unless you've pried the book away from someone else's coffee table or read some of it in a bookstore.

So the RIAA comparison is moot here, since we're dealing with entirely different mediums.

One more thing about books. Contrary to some of the "read it all online" attitudes expressed in this thread, the book is very much here to stay.

As the failure of the ebook demonstrated, for most readers, the notion of reading 350 pages of text online is entirely unsound. As a result, because the book presents itself in the form that it does, because the monitor cannot possibly reproduce it (at least not yet: wait for paper with electronic contacts pushing ink up and ink down and monitors to transform their form to an appropriate aesthetic experience that will unite the entire world), the book market, while undergoing some changes, has shown no significant signs of waning.
posted by ed at 11:19 AM on April 18, 2002


Amazon gets to do a number of things: (1) they boost gross margin as a percentage of sales, since their costs of good sold on the fees they realize is essentially zero, whereas they have narrow gross margins on new books, (2) they reduce overhead, inventory, and other costs of handling new books they might not sell, and (3) they yield manage -- their $2 fee for selling at $10 a used book to a buyer who wouldn't buy new $20 is pure juice.
posted by MattD at 12:10 PM on April 18, 2002


Was the Authors Guild the group that wanted libraries to be shut down last year?
posted by Darke at 12:51 PM on April 18, 2002


I hope they are not refering to TEXTBOOKS. As we ALL KNOW, texbooks are UPDATED FREQUENTLY despite their content NOT REALLY CHANGING. The end result of this is that STUDENTS HAVE TO PAY LOTS OF MONEY FOR TEXTBOOKS, since teachers sometime stand to profit from the textbook racket, or in many cases, the OLD EDITION becomes too SCARCE for them to USE IN A COURSE, the CYCLE CONTINUES. I'd imagine that the USED TEXTBOOK service they offer is PISSING OFF A LOT OF PEOPLE, and the centralized distribution is GIVING THE IDEA OF USING OLD TEXTS VIABILITY in a course.

And PLEASE, how many authors are going to be affected by USED BOOK SALES? Most people DON'T THINK to RE SELL a book when they are DONE, especially not if it is a piece of SHORT FICTION. And MORE EXPENSIVE books, which are printed in smaller quantities, are generally KEPT, because they are BEAUTIFULLY PRINTED or IMPORTANT in some other way. How many people BUY A NICE BIBLE, read it and then SELL IT BACK? NOT TOO MANY I'D VENTURE.

THUS, this is an effort to SCREW INNOCENT STUDENTS OVER. So not only is Amazon.com NOT DOING ANYTHING ILLEGAL, they are NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG EITHER. TEXBOOKS are HARDBOUND for NO GOOD REASON I can see if they intend to MAKE THEM OBSELETE IN A YEAR. They are NOT printed TO FILL A NICHE. Some are printed in VAST QUANTITIES, and their purpose is to TRANSFER INFORMATION FROM PAGE TO BRAIN. After that, they are LARGELY USELESS TO THE CONSUMER.

I cannot imagine libraries are much of a threat either. If you take away libraries (or charge money for their use) you will not DRIVE THE MASSES into BOOKSTORES. You will make people LEND THEIR BOOKS TO FRIENDS more, and XEROX COPYRIGHTED MATERIALS more frequently.

HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES MCGRAW HILL??
posted by Settle at 2:08 PM on April 18, 2002


Pissed of a bit Settle?
posted by delmoi at 8:03 PM on April 18, 2002


I paid 400 dollars at the beginning of this semester for textbooks. I'm about as pissed off as Settle.

Of course, I hope to sell them used and get some money back. The Author's Guild might not like that too much.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:44 PM on April 18, 2002


ha ha ha

the caps isn't shouting or anger, but I suppose most people see it that way.

Here's a demonstration of capitalization:
angry apples
ANGRY APPLES

Marisa Tomei sucks **** (I didn't come up with this one)
MARISA TOMEI SUCKS ____

See? Sarcasm. It's not shouting.
posted by Settle at 10:26 PM on April 19, 2002


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