Used Bookstores and the Lost City of Atlantis

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I have joked for a long time about enjoying the way books smell. I am a huge fan of the scents of libraries and bookstores, but better than either of those, I love the scent of a used bookstore.   When we were in Oía, Santorini, Greece, we discovered a tiny used bookshop called Atlantis.

The island of Santorini is one of the main candidates for the source of the Atlantis stories – having been drastically reshaped by a volcano and destroying some Minoan cities and towns along the way.  At this shop, there were quotes that started at the street level, and then trailed down the spiral staircase into the shop.

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They had sections in English, in French, German and Russian. They had a tower-shelf of Philosophy. And hidden amongst the shelves, in addition to the resident cat (available for rent for 5 Euros) there were beds.  Can you imagine sleeping in the loft bed Brett is looking at in the picture below?

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This place was a gem. An unexpected delight in a delightful little town.

Here in Atlanta, the Book Nook does not have beds. It does have a comic book section and shelves of trade paperbacks both new and used, but it’s not quite so quaint, and certainly not so tidy.   The Book Nook shelves remind me of the stacks in a library. They are alphabetized by author and separated out by genre.  I never have the hours I want to spend in there, and I frequently forget to update my list of author names to check for when I’m wandering shelf after shelf of books.

Of course, though they are some of my favorite places, I’m facing a new conundrum about used books. 

Before I started all of this writerly stuff, I was a big fan of used books. In terms of the lifecycle of physical objects, they make sense. They are the re-use before the recycle in the process. The e-reader might be a “reduce” in that cycle, but I don’t really think it is (batteries, lights, etc are worse to discard and recycle than the paper is, and they take more energy to create, etc).  I like the concept of getting a book with a history of its own.

Then I read this post by Chuck Wendig on piracy, and I realized that as a used book fan, I’ve been pirating other people’s work.  As an author who hopes to someday make some money off of my work, I realize that this is pretty hypocritical of me.  I’ve been a member of Paperback swap for a while, and this too, is essentially piracy.

Because of libraries, books feel like they should be loaned and shared. It feels like I should have something positive I can do with them when I run out of room on my shelves. I should be able to pass them along.  Like Wendig points out, if I pick up a used book by an author, and I like it, then I’m more likely to go buy that author’s books from the store.

Like I said, this is a conundrum. I don’t have any answers. What do you think about used books?

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6 thoughts on “Used Bookstores and the Lost City of Atlantis

  1. I’ve read a few good posts on something similar to this, and was recently at a lecture with K.W. Jeter & Paul Di Filippo where they touched on the subject. The general consensus seems to be (and I am no expert by any means) piracy isn’t an author’s main worry. It is visibility. If you read a book and like it, leave positive feedback on amazon or goodreads. That will help them more then the 15% the get from the book sale because the more people see good feedback, the more people purchase books in “this increasingly customer driven market.”

  2. This was a great book store! The good thing about Kindles and other eReaders from an author’s point of view is that the used book market dries up.

  3. First of all, I LOVE bookstores! I am so glad you found that little gem! and don’t get me started on Beds! Gee…do you think one could just book a week? LOL

    Regarding used books. I agree with the first commenter. Yep. Well said.

    As for me, being a constant reader, I cannot afford to buy every book I want to read. It is not economically possible. If I had to wait, I can only imagine the number of great books I would have to pass by because I couldn’t afford! (e.g. all the many Harry Dresden!)

    I buy a few a year, when I can’t wait! I utilize paperbackswap and support my county library – where they don’t even need my card anymore and Listen when I recommend something.

    As for the conundrum, If I were trying to decide how I feel, I would ask another writer. Ask several. I am friends on Facebook with C.L. Wilson, Kim Harrison, Keri Arthur, Phaedra Weldon, and a few others. These ladies are successful authors. What do they think?

  4. I think that used books or anything else are just a part of business. I buy used furniture. I have used video games. I’ve even got some kitchen supplies I bought used at Goodwill back when I was living on an extremely tight income. I don’t worry that furniture and silverware companies are losing money when I buy used goods. As far as I’m concerned, once someone owns something, they are free to sell it or give it away as they wish.

    As an aspiring author, I know that this sort of thing will cut into my future book sales. But I have to hope that if my books ever get circulated in a used book store, it means there are enough copies out there in circulation that I’ve made a decent profit off it. And if I write multiple books, someone who buys one used might then buy the newer books I’ve published from a regular bookstore. I’ve done this in the past; I first got hooked to Piers Anthony “Xanth” series after buying them used. Now I buy his books new when each new release comes out.

    That used book you buy made the author money when the first person bought it. I’d be willing to bet that used book sales don’t cut a substantial amount out of most authors’ sales, since most used books are old copies that were sold years before. If a book is actually still in print selling brand new copies twenty years after it was first published, then it’s had a damn good run. The author shouldn’t expect to keep high sales for older works for their entire life. All media, from books to movies to TV, relies on new content to maintain an audience.

    • I agree with you that used books are a great discovery tool. That’s where I’m most likely to try new authors and get hooked on new series. I also give books away (Can’t keep them all in the tiny house) and help other people discover new authors.

      Have you seen Amanda Palmer’s TED talk, Jason? She makes many of the same points, from a musician’s POV.

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