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Writers Guild Battles with Amazon on Used Books

22 April 2002

The used book debate is hotting up. After Jeff Bezos of Amazon sent an email to thousands who had sold second-hand books through the online retailer, over 4,000 of them emailed the Writers Guild of AmericaAssociation of writers in motion picture, broadcast, cable and new media. As expressed by Nick Turner, the President of the Guild, its view was that:

'We're not against Amazon's selling used books, or used book sales generally. We're against Amazon's selling 'used' (frequently new copies sent out for review) books on the same page as new ones. It's disingenuous to trumpet Amazon's concern for authors by saying that used books sales encourage readers to experiment with authors and genres and that this in turn encourages new book sales. Used books might do that, but Amazon's way of selling them does not. That's because readers so encouraged, finding their way to the page displaying an author's newest book, will see a box offering it used for less than the new one. If Amazon were truly concerned about authors, it simply would stop offering used books on the same pages as new ones.'

According to Internet correspondent M J Rose, who had spoken to a number of authors who were Guild members, not all of them supported this stance. But the public view is that, once they have bought a book at a 'new' price, it is theirs to dispose of as they wish, including selling it on to someone else, and that they would like books to be as cheap as possible. This ties in with Amazon's sales policy, which seems to be to sell whatever they can sell profitably online and to attract purchasers through price promotions.

Used book sales through Amazon amount to a tiny proportion of overall book sales. There doesn't seem to be any workable way of ensuring that the author gets a share of this market, so it looks as if authors will have to comfort themselves with the hope that used book sales will help to extend their readership.