Why Must Americans Pay More Than Others for American Books?

Several people sent me the link to THIS ARTICLE by Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild.

The article criticizes the recent Supreme Court decision to allow foreign editions of books to be purchased and shipped here. The way the article is written made some believe he was referring to illegal copies of books (pirated editions). He wrote “since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties”.

The Supreme Court decision covers legal, copyrighted versions of books. Of course, the Supreme Court would not issue a law to protect illegal copies of copyrighted works. With legal copies of published books, the author has earned their royalty. They earned it when the original copy was purchased.

“The ‘first sale’ doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad. Pp. 7-33.”

The key words there are “lawfully abroad.” The court’s decision was NOT about illegally produced books. More on that later.

Scott further expounds on industry changes that are hurting authors, most of which I primarily agree with.

However, with regards to ebooks, Scott wrote, “…there is no risk that the retailer will return the book for full credit.”

That is incorrect. Any author selling ebooks on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and Apple (and perhaps others) knows that readers do indeed “return” ebooks (request a refund) and those retailers allow readers to do so, and subtract those “returns” from the publishers’ and, subsequently, the authors’ earnings. The problem for authors is it’s much easier for someone to claim they no longer want that ebook…after they’ve already had access to it. In fact, they may have even already read it. Again, online bookstores take that money out of the publishers’ and authors’ earnings. I see this every month on our reports from ebooks retailers. Ebook retailers do indeed process returns and deduct the original fee previously paid to the publisher.

I agree with Scott about libraries and ebooks. Libraries that want to buy only one ebook, but distribute it to the masses, only harm authors. I don’t sell ebooks I’ve written to libraries for that reason. The only way to stop them from mass distributing ebooks is to have them buy the print book instead. Can you trust libraries to only distribute one copy of the ebook at a time? Perhaps some of them but I can tell you that, when we used to give credit to libraries, schools, bookstores, distributors and wholesalers, libraries and schools were the absolute worst at paying their bills. After writing off tens of thousands in unpaid invoices, we stopped giving credit to everyone altogether. I’m a little gun shy now about government book buyers. We got burned by far too many of them.

I also agree with Scott about Amazon’s proposal to sell “used ebooks.” It’s absurd. A recent court decision about “used music” being sold online will probably delay or cancel Amazon’s plans altogether.

But, back to the foreign books topic. Here are my thoughts:

If a consumer can buy a book overseas, and if they’re willing to pay the extra shipping to get that book here, they should be able to do so. This debate reminds me of the big drug companies. Americans are forced to pay much higher prices for the exact same drugs while many foreigners can get those drugs for far less in their own countries. That’s why you see Americans crossing the border to Canada to get medicine at a price they can afford.

Why are American publishers (and big pharma) giving better deals to foreign citizens? Why are American’s subsidizing books and drugs for foreign countries? That’s basically what we’re doing. They get a discount while we pay more to make up the difference. Why?! We should be able to buy books at the same price as our foreign neighbors. I am a publisher and we would never dream of charging American citizens a higher price than everyone else!

Regarding selling used books, well, that’s as American as apple pie. Sure, I wish I earned a nickel for each time someone bought a used copy of one of my books. But, I don’t and that’s just how it is. The fact is when I was a struggling young mother, my children loved to go to the bookstore but the only one I could afford was the used bookstore in town with the tiny cafe. We spent hours perusing the shelves and the children have very fond memories of doing so. I credit that store with helping to instill a love of books in the children, all of whom read novels veraciously to this day. Used books create readers in children and create new fans in adults. Many times, I found a used book that I loved, and then later purchased the authors’ new books as soon as they were released. I have been contacted by readers who discovered me in their own used bookstore. They then came to my website to buy more of my books.

Why didn’t we visit the library, you ask? With sports practices, homework, and me working late hours during the week, as well as more sports and work on Saturdays, the only day of the week when we had time for “family book day” was Sundays, when the library was closed.

If the used bookstore had not existed, the many memories we made in that small shop would have never been made. Even though I am a publisher and author, I fully support used bookstores. They make books possible for many children and adults who would otherwise need to go without.

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker.com. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker.com is: “As close to perfection as you’re going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I’ve ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can’t go wrong here. Plus, they’re selective and won’t publish any manuscript just because it’s accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors’ books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know.”

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