Half Price Books in downtown Berkeley, California.

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By Mandy Webster

Discount books. We all love to get a deal, especially on a good read. Some of the best deals can be found at rummage sales, online resellers like eBay and Half.com and in used bookstores. Chains like Half Price Books purchase used books for next to nothing and resell them at a price that is usually quite affordable to the general public.

However, many authors are unhappy with the fact that they earn no royalties from the re-sale of their books. To some, this is the Napster Limewire of the book world.

As with any controversy, there are two sides to this debate. Personally, I can understand the concerns of individuals on both sides. As a writer, I can understand why authors will wish to be properly compensated for their work. But a writer’s work is art. Unless, of course, they work in the corporate world, where they are paid by the hour and have no rights to the work produced while on the clock.

Conversely, I am all for the easy distribution of information. I realize anything that adds to the cost of a book decreases the likelihood that it will end up in the hands of readers. The sad fact is, not every American has access to a free public library.

Besides, if your book sells poorly this year due to the economy, it’s those used bookstores that will keep your name relevant until the economy turns around. One book may not sell well because no one can afford to buy it brand new this year. But, if your work is good, those readers who bought it used and liked it may be more likely to purchase your next book new, at full price, simply because they remember how much they enjoyed the first.

Let’s place this argument in the context of visual art and consider the fact that most of us would not expect to pay a royalty to the artist if we were selling one of his paintings. If I purchased the painting, it now belongs to me. The artist chose a price at which he was willing to sell his work, and once the work was sold, it was no longer his property. The painting may be one-of-a-kind, but I can put my foot through it and throw it in the dumpster if I like, just because it’s mine.

The same could be said of a book. Once I shell out my hard earned money for a copy of your latest NY Times bestseller, it’s mine to do with as I will. I can read it, sell it, give it away, or wipe my behind with it if I so choose. It’s my property. So there.

Books are works of art, but they are easily reproduced. In fact, all books available in stores, whether new or used, are simply highly polished reproductions of the original work of art.

New books are too expensive anyway. Does it really cost that much to reproduce a book? Perhaps consumers could be induced to purchase their books new if those books were priced more reasonably. I’m willing to bet that for every American who can afford to purchase a book at full price, there are at least two who can’t.

Next time you have a book to pass on, consider where it’s going. I personally am all for the easy distribution of knowledge in the form of books. If you need the money that bad, sell your books. Personally, I skip the pennies I might earn from a used book dealer and give my books away to people who need them.

Let’s face it: if your books are good, they’ll be bought, both new and used. Write good books, earn good money. If you’re a starving author, maybe it’s time you wrote better books.

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Amanda L. Webster