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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2010-02-02 20:56
Subject: [publishing] The folly of buying used books as a protest against the publisher
Security: Public
Tags:amazonfail, books, publishing
As long as I'm up late with chemo fail anyway, I have another observation about a meme I've been seeing on the Kindle boards. Kindle owners who are interested in supporting Amazon in this mess are proposing to punish Macmillan by purchasing print titles in used editions only.

Which is a deeply pointless form of boycotting. Publishers don't see a used book sale as a lost new book sale. How could they? There's no way to identify, track, report on or correlate that of which I am aware.

The only effect that deliberately buying a used book instead of a new one has is to drive down the author's numbers. The publisher doesn't see the lost sale, but they do see the author's total sales. If the author takes too much of a hit, their next books will either be worth less in an advance, or not be picked up.

So buying used to punish the publisher only punishes the author. The publisher literally never knows the difference, except indirectly within the author's performance numbers.

Note this is not a recommendation against buying used books. I often do it. But I'm generally buying out of print titles, or otherwise unavailable editions. And a used book is much better than no book, when the difference of a few dollars in cover price matters to your budget. It's only an observation that buying a used book to "punish" the publisher is utterly pointless, unless you happen to have it in for the author.

In which case, buy a different book.
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e_bourne
User: e_bourne
Date: 2010-02-03 05:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I wondered how long it would be before someone would think that would make a difference. Of course it won't.

Also, say your other comment from FB. I always want to smack someone who posts "Books (or any other content) just want to be free." I'm not sure why it irritates me so much, but it does. My house just wants to be free too, but the damn bank is keeping it enchained.
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fledgist
User: fledgist
Date: 2010-02-03 11:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, those pesky builders just had to be paid.
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manmela
User: manmela
Date: 2010-02-03 12:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Books might want to be free but the author would like to eat.
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Dichroic
User: dichroic
Date: 2010-02-03 07:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have another suggestion: there's a heck of a lot of good writing out there with a tip jar, whether it's called crowdfunding or freebie-but-the-readers-insisted-on-a-Paypal-button. Find something wonderful to read and send the money right to the author / artist, until Amazon and publishers work it all out.
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2010-02-03 09:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's mob behaviour. And thus the thinking motors are not engaged.
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fledgist
User: fledgist
Date: 2010-02-03 11:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I presume that there is some magical thinking going on here. To the effect that books write themselves or, in the alternavive, that they're written by elves who toil away in Father Christmas's workshop at the North Pole.

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Randall Randall
User: randallsquared
Date: 2010-02-03 12:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"So buying used to punish the publisher only punishes the author. The publisher literally never knows the difference, except indirectly within the author's performance numbers."

So your argument is that since publishers have deluded themselves into thinking that their actions have no effect on sales of product, they should go out of business as soon as possible to make everyone involved with the market for books better off? :)

More seriously, how is this different from a celery farmer arguing that people shouldn't attempt a boycott of a grocery store they hate because the grocery store will assume that if people buy less celery it's just that people don't like celery any more? Boycotts may or may not be effective (usually not, I think), but this doesn't seem like a good argument against them.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-03 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, people can do whatever they want. I'm just pointing out that this particular boycott doesn't affect the publisher at all, while hurting the author. In other words, if the desired effect is an economic consequence (the usual goal of boycott), it's a failure that exacts collateral damage. If the desired effect is a statement, or personal emotional satisfaction, party on. But the collateral damage still occurs.

And why would a reader want to punish an author?
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The Empress of Ice Cream
User: icecreamempress
Date: 2010-02-03 15:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Harrison Bergeron."

One of the differences between writers and celery farmers is that most people don't harbor the illusion that they could grow really, really good celery if they were just given the chance.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-03 15:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yah. I once heard a radio commentator say that hundreds of people line up at public golf courses every Saturday morning, but none of them think they're the next Tiger Woods. (Well, bad metaphor these days, but you know what I mean.)

Hundreds of people show up at writing conferences, and every one of them wants to be the next Stephen King.

The difference is, sooner or later one of them will be...
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scarlettina
User: scarlettina
Date: 2010-02-03 16:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Hey, I speak English! I can write a book!"

I can't tell you how that makes me want to pound some people with a dictionary.

Really.

But I divert the conversation....
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2010-02-03 16:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In my review of Twilight, the most charitable thing I could think to say about it was to acknowledge that it is a lot of work to actually finish writing a book. No matter how bad the book is.

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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-03 16:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But I divert the conversation....

You are familiar with all Internet traditions, right?

Carry on.
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lucasthegray
User: lucasthegray
Date: 2010-02-03 16:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
How would I, were I so inclined, meaningfully affect the publisher(an entity with only and economic existence) without punishing authors? My only weapon in regards to a publisher is the economic. If I organized a successful boycott of a publisher, it would necessarily injure those authors published by that company. And yet, what other tools are available?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-03 17:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good question. The problem is that your relationship with the publisher (as a reader) is exclusively about the authors.

I see two possibilities, neither of which is probably particularly satisfactory to most people who want to follow this route, plus the third already mentioned.

1) Write a reasoned, polite, strongly worded letter to the CEO, the publisher (which is a specific job title as well as description of the company), and the executive editor(s). Send it via lettermail, registered if you can afford it, because that forces the office to take notice. They don't get a lot of mail like that these days, and it will be read.

2) If you have a Big Internet Voice, as Scalzi does, or a Medium Internet Voice, as I do, or even a Small Internet Voice, as anyone with a blog does, explain your position in detail. Invite people to discuss it. Look how I've handled my viewpoint on this.

3) As previously discussed, go ahead and boycott for the sake of making the statement. That will be more effective combined with items 1) or 2) above, and it will affect the authors, but it may be the most emotionally and socially satisfying.

Mind you, from my perspective, I don't think you should be blaming the publisher, but that's just my perspective here, and I'm not trying to change your mind. (At least not in this comment.) These are the approaches I'd use if I felt as you did.
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lucasthegray
User: lucasthegray
Date: 2010-02-03 17:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am not in fact one of the people who thinks that such action is necessary in this case, I'm just one of those people who's always trying to get others to clarify their positions. Also, I think it's important for people who have a grievance, however much I might disagree with it, have some way to address that and wanted to know what you thought that might be other than economic means.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-02-03 17:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for clarifying.

The underlying problem here is that the publisher is really a distributor of product produced elsewhere. If you don't buy a Ford, or don't drink Coca Cola, or don't eat at Bennigan's (to name some random major brands), your economic choices directly affect the manufacturer/primary service provider. That's why boycotts can be effective.

In fact, a sufficiently large scale boycott against a publisher might be effective, but that's sort of like boycotting 'food'. Any trade publisher has such an incredibly varied product line, each book ultimately coming from a different producer (author) that it just doesn't make a lot of sense.

Because of that wide variation, I suspect it would be awfully difficult to assemble a wide boycott. Almost anyone who buys books in the first place will want to keep reading *their* favorite authors. Despite what some people seem to think, authors really aren't freely substitutable commodities. They are distinctive voices and brands.

So you're trying to nail a fairly slippery target here.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2010-02-03 21:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:reading
I was going to ask that, too. Thanks for doing so.

The problem with letter-writing campaigns is that ultimately, they feel like pissing in the wind.
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muneraven
User: muneraven
Date: 2010-02-03 16:45 (UTC)
Subject: Free...
Ever notice that these people who say books or music or art should be free never, ever say that whatever THEY do for a living should be free? I never hear "I should deliver pizzas for free" or "I should transcribe these medical records for free." Funny how that works.
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