Poor Things

The New York Times today published a story about authors complaining that Amazon.com is selling used books right alongside new copies of the same book on Amazon’s web site.
Online Sales of Used Books Draw Protest They complain that the used book sales are cannibalizing sales of new books. Pat Schroeder, the president of the American Association of Publishers says, “The biggest problem is that it is legal, I think. I wring my hands, pound my desk and say, `Aargh.’ ” Poor thing, something that she doesn’t like is legal . (Why is it that this particular statement irritates me so? Is it that in our modern society, when someone does something we don’t like, it must be illegal or that we should sue them to stop?) At another point in the story in mentions that review copies (that is, copies of new books sent free to book reviewers for potential reviews in publications) are now showing up for sale on amazon.com. It says that in the past, these review copies only showed up for sale at stores in New York and other media centers. So, it’s okay for somebody who goes to New York to buy brand new used books at a store, but somebody who lives on a farm in Iowa (like Virtual Farm Boy) shouldn’t have similar access. I say, “Cheers to amazon.com!”

The fact of the matter, dear authors and publishers, is that very often when I buy on amazon.com, I have the opportunity to buy used, but I still buy new, because I want to know the condition of the thing I’m getting. And the in-print lifespan of many titles is now very brief, so amazon.com is doing a tremendous service to readers to make a lot of out of print materials again available to the public. Likewise, if it is a title or author that I am only marginally interested in, I might buy a used copy.

The last paragraph of the Times story gets to the crux of the matter: vanity. Authors don’t want to see their works on a virtual remainder table. They would like to harbor the idea that no one could ever bear to part with their timeless masterpieces.

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