11 June 2015

Author's Questions: Why Are There Used Copies of My Brand New Book on Amazon and eBay?

Where Books Go When They DieOne of the many questions we get from both new and veteran authors is, "Why are used my brand new book showing up on places like Amazon and eBay"? It is a little disconcerting to authors that books that have been out a short period of time have listings on secondary markets as "used" or at prices two or three times higher than the publisher's suggested retail. A good example is Ce Cole Dillion's What You Don't Know About Student Loans Can Hurt You. Ce's book was released in April and has already made its way onto the secondary market. You can click on the link above to see the actual listing in a new window.

You'll notice at the time of this posting there are eight new and two used copies of her book for sale on Amazon. Clicking under the used section yields one copy here in the USA and another from a vendor in the United Kingdom. Ce's book is unique in that it deals with student loans here in America, and there's very little market for this type of book overseas because the information isn't applicable to college students in other countries. True to form, we haven't tracked any sales in the United Kingdom for her book. So what gives?

The likelihood is that the edition the United Kingdom vendor is selling isn't actually used. How can this be? Welcome to the wonderful world of the secondary book market. Our definition of a secondary book market is any vendor that's not a traditional book vendor, i.e. online seller like Amazon or a brick and mortar bookstore. One might think of the secondary book market like folks that set up booths at flea markets both physically and digitally speaking. Many of the vendors who sell books as new or used on Amazon are simply setting up shop using the Amazon website sales engine. These secondary vendors generally fulfill orders outside of Amazon's regular supply chain and in some cases traditional brick and mortar stores trying to sell excess stock. Some of these secondary market vendors have wholesale accounts with people like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. These vendors fulfill end user orders by ordering books from legitimate wholesalers then turning around and shipping the book to the end customer. While it almost sounds like a scam, there's nothing improper about doing business this way. One might think of selling books this way as "just in time" inventory control. These vendors usually list everything their particular wholesaler can supply them. Retail prices can vary (from absurdly low to high), but usually secondary market sellers are looking to undercut publisher's list price, make a reduced margin, and make money on an increased margin.

So what's the skinny on selling used books that don't seem to be really used? There is a couple of possibilities there. First, the book isn't really used at all, and it's a ploy to get you to look at the listing. Second, the book really is used, or the vendor ordered one for their operation that was damaged somehow. In either case from an author perspective, there's no real harm in any of the secondary market's practices. Unless someone has ripped off your book and is printing his or her own copies, which is very unlikely unless you're a New York Times best-selling author, these vendors are buying and reselling books through normal supply chains. That means no matter what the vendor's description or practice is, a sale through legitimate wholesalers is still putting money in your pocket.

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