Used Books and Authors’ Rights

A.S. Byatt is quoted in a Times article as saying that it’s time to change the way in which used books are sold.

Dame Antonia Byatt has called for new rules to protect novelists using a system known as droit de suite, which guarantees artists a payment for each subsequent sale of their work. The rule is already scheduled to be introduced for visual art next year to ensure that painters receive a payment for second-hand sales of their work.

Michael at the Literary Saloon weighs in on the issue, bringing up the question of whether authors should worry about money from used books or about having more readers:

Sadly, of course, the answer is simple: authors only want money and care about having readers only insofar as not having any eventually generally — though, given how the publishing industry works nowadays, not always — prevents them from raking in any cash. (No e-mails, please, we know you (whoever you are) are the shining, beneficent exception.)

I would only add that in countries without a giant publishing industry and where readership is limited for various reasons (that is to say, a large part of the world) most authors have no expectation that their book sales will make them a living, much less afford them the luxury to write full-time. For these authors, whether a book is sold new or used is essentially irrelevant. They write because they have something to say, not because someone is paying them a ridiculously large advance.

George also weighs in on the issue.

The real problem with adding royalties to used books is that it provides yet another barrier for getting books into the hands of people. Books are already too expensive and people are stopping reading in droves. Jacking up the price on used books is not going to help writers or publishing in general.