The Secondary Market for Books: Friend or Foe?

Understandably, most artists want to earn the highest royalties for their hard work. Remember how Garth Brooks wanted a secondary royalty on his music, thereby kicking off a feud with secondary-market retailers? (See the article linked here.) 

So, as an author, do you feel that the secondary market is a friend or foe?

I think this market is our friend. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Discoverability: Readers may find an author’s book in a thrift store before seeing it in a retail store that may have limited shelf space. For instance, the “Religious Fiction” (not my favorite label) section in my local used bookstore seems to be about six or eight shelves high and goes on for at least forty feet. In comparison, the last time I visited a local brick-and-mortar retail store, Christian fiction titles occupied about eight shelves of two bookcases.
  2. Space: My store stacks books on their sides and behind each other. The customer must dig to find them all. A retail store displays books with a marketing eye. That means each title must readily be visible. The display is prettier; but, again, it limits how the retailer can use space.
  3. Price: Recently, I found a copy of Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers at my used bookstore for 25 cents. A reader new to an author’s work may risk 25 cents to read a book, then purchase more books by the same author. They may go back to the used bookstore or buy more books from retailers if they like the author enough.
  4. Serendipity: Though they are selective, used bookstores rely on haphazard incoming inventory. For instance, when I settled my parents’ estates, I sold biographies, car books, mystery novels, and dog books. I tend to buy and sell religious books, current bestsellers, biographies, history, and fashion books. Almost every book I purchase on the secondary market is a fun find. Readers can randomly discover your book this way too.
  5. Impatience: I make a list of books I want to buy secondhand before I venture to the store. Because the inventory is unpredictable, I seldom find the exact book I seek. Because I’m impatient, I’ll give up and order the book from a retailer. 

Regardless of how readers find your book, they’re reading it. And that’s a good thing!

12 Responses to The Secondary Market for Books: Friend or Foe?

  1. Loretta Eidson September 15, 2021 at 5:11 am #

    I love going to second-hand stores and finding a bargain. It’s especially fun when I find books by authors I know that I haven’t already read.

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 15, 2021 at 6:02 am #

    I always haunted secondhand
    bookstores in my days of leisure
    as a kind of promised land
    in which I might find hidden treasure.
    Most times I would find not a thing,
    no literary leaven,
    just dog-eared tomes by Stephen King,
    and tales of O-O-7.
    But now and then would come Surprise!
    and my heart would leap;
    a long-sought spine would catch my eyes,
    a book to love and keep
    and read again in fading light
    against my cancer’s fall of night.

  3. Kristen Joy Wilks September 15, 2021 at 6:13 am #

    Because I as a reader loved used book shops, I love the idea of someone else discovering my book in a secondary market! I want my stories to be part of the adventure of used book shopping. I also agree that this helps the author in the long run. There have been several times that I found a book at the library for free, but after reading the story and loving it, ended up buying the whole series for one of my sons. It can be the same at a used book store or yard sale. There is one series that my husband listened to on audible, so he has the audiobooks. Well, I only listen to audio books on long car rides, so I checked out the same book at the library. I loved it! So, I purchased the whole series for myself on my Nook. Well, the series seemed perfect for our oldest son, so we purchased the series in paperback for him. It was perfect, and so our other two sons, many of their friends, and a bunch of our camp staff borrowed the books from our son and some of them bought them for themselves. Secondary markets and the library might seem like the cheap option, but if they can get word of mouth going about an author, that is priceless!

  4. Tawn O’Connor September 15, 2021 at 6:19 am #

    I agree with these points. I work in a huge used-book store. I have discovered authors’ earlier works there. Although they don’t get royalties from used books, I have at times purchased their newest books at retail. Our inventory is not predictable.

  5. Stuart E. Schadt September 15, 2021 at 6:25 am #

    I appreciate your nod to patience when shopping the used book stores. I’ve been visiting the used bookstore to shop for picture books to read in our weekly online children’s chapel. It takes me an hour to find four or five books that have the length and message that works. Patience is a good thing.

  6. Damon J. Gray September 15, 2021 at 7:15 am #

    I’m with you on every point, Tamela, and frequent the “experienced” bookstores to locate my treasures.

    I believe your points can also be applied to having our books in public libraries.

  7. Roberta Sarver September 15, 2021 at 8:24 am #

    Your insights resound with those of us who have a love affair with books, Tamela. My husband and I have a large stock of books, mostly bought second-hand.

  8. Denise Kohlmeyer September 15, 2021 at 12:17 pm #

    I’ve often wondered about this whenever I buy a book at a thrift store. I feel sorry that the author is missing out on the royalty.

    The flip side, though, is that if I find a book at a thrift store by an author I’ve come to love, I will purchase their other books via Amazon. So, buying secondary-market can have positive effects in that way, too.

    Food for thought.

  9. Stephen W. Hiemstra September 15, 2021 at 12:22 pm #

    I have always been a fan of second-hand bookstores As a kid, I loved to find Hardy Boys and Lone Ranger books in these bookstores because they were more affordable.

    The second-hand sales that I might include here would be libraries and resellers online. While I have groused when people have won books in my give-aways only to resale them online, discoverability is always on my mind so I mostly grouse because I am less likely to get reviews from such people.

    What is your take on resellers and libraries in author marketing plans?.

  10. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. September 15, 2021 at 2:02 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, Tamela. An old friend used to have a secondhand bookstore called The Armchair Adventurer. It was a very cool place.

  11. Pam Halter September 16, 2021 at 5:03 am #

    I agree that if people find a book at a thrift store or even yard sale, they sometimes buy other books at a regular store or online. I’ve done that very thing myself!

    After my first 2 picture books went out of print, I used to think it would be so cool to see them at the Dollar Tree. People who couldn’t afford to buy them full price would be able to get them for their children! I looked for years, because at the time, I couldn’t afford to buy the rest of the books from the publishing house, but never saw them. I hope they didn’t get tossed.

  12. Janice Laird September 16, 2021 at 8:44 am #

    It is always a wonderful thing to provide a used book with a new home. As a historical writer, I can’t tell you how many treasures I come across while going through a Little Library or take-one-leave-one shelf, and it’s an environmentally friendly practice, too.

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