Do Authors Make Money from Secondhand Books?

The other day an old friend contacted me. She’d stumbled upon a secondhand copy of The Shoestring Girl selling for an amazingly high price. You can see the listing here if you are interested.

My friend wanted to know just how much money I would personally receive should that copy sell. While I was responding to her questions, I shared the link on my Facebook page so that everyone could have a chuckle.

I have been responding to private messages and emails from people asking the exact same question ever since. I have decided to share this here to help future readers understand the situation.

When an author or other media creator produces an item like a book, a song, a video, or whatever, they receive a small royalty payment from their distributor whenever a new copy of their item sells. In the event of streaming media like music or unlimited reading services, the content creator will also receive a small royalty payment whenever someone accesses their content.

This changes for physical items like books, CDs, and DVD videos after that initial sale. If you purchased one of my books new for five dollars, I would do a little happy dance because your support has provided me with a bit of money to continue paying my bills. If you sold that book to your neighbor for a hundred dollars, however, you would be the one dancing.

You would not have to contact me and pay me a single penny from your profit. You purchased my book fair and square so that money is all yours. It doesn’t matter if you bought it new or found it in a dumpster. After that initial sale I receive nothing.

If you stumble upon one of my books at a library and read it, I receive nothing aside from the tiny allotment I receive when a library decides to stock one of my books. If you stumble upon one of my books on a torrent site, I receive nothing as well.

This same rule applies if you are a small author like myself or one of the greats like Stephen King. It applies if you are a small-time musician or a famous celebrity like the Beatles.

After that initial sale, we receive nothing.

Similarly, when one of us decides to publish a blog post or share something on social media, we receive nothing in exchange except for your comments. That is the reason why so many websites are overran with advertising. They stick it there and pray that you click so that they can afford to keep the lights on.

I have a serious moral issue with the sheer amount of advertising we are accosted with on a daily basis. I detest when a website tries to bully me into signing up for their mailing list with their stupid popups, because it means that I will receive even more advertising from them in the future. That is the reason why I refuse to start a mailing list. It is also the reason why I don’t have popups on my website or run a bunch of ads.

I do my best to practice what I preach. I occasionally offer the random affiliate link when I’ve discovered something interesting but I strive to do that as little as possible. I do this because it does help me to pay the bills. I might receive $20 a year from those little links but $20 is a lot when you live the way I do.

To be honest, I feel guilty whenever I receive even that small amount. I worry that I am being a hypocrite every single time I post one of those links.

But here’s the truth: I spend a lot of time writing the posts you see on this website. The only thing I receive in exchange are comments or the few pennies tossed my way if you do happen to click. I don’t mind that, but just like you, I need to have some money coming in if I want to pay the bills.

Content creators of all types have limited time with which they can use to create things. We can only write so many books and blog posts. We can only create a certain amount of music, movies or whatever it is we create.

And most of us don’t make a lot of money doing it. To be very honest, if I didn’t live as simply as I choose to live, I couldn’t afford to do this for very long but this is a labor of love and so I keep on writing.

I honestly believe that most of us creators feel the exact same way. We just feel blessed that you love us enough to toss us a comment or a few pennies now and again.

If you love your local writer or content creator enough (and have something to spare), please reach out to them and offer a small donation. The majority of us would be delighted to have that bit of extra with which to pay our bills.

And if you happen to be the lucky person who sifts one of my books out of a dumpster and sells it for triple digits or higher, know that you have my blessing. I am delighted to know that I have helped you in some small way.

Thank you. Thank you for just being there. Your presence is the reason I keep writing. I hope that this answers your questions.


For the curious:

If you happen to be interested in learning what the average author earns when you purchase a book, check out Mark Coker’s presentation on the subject here. I am personally at the very end of this extremely long tail, a tail that Mark illustrates in slide 16 of his presentation. I’ve clipped it just in case you’re in a hurry:

It is hypocritical to run a website about buying and living on less while begging your readers to buy your crap so I refuse to do it. That said, I live on the money I receive from book sales, so if you can find it in your heart to pitch in I would be immensely grateful.

I’ve written a lot of books sharing my odd view of life in hopes of helping others. My most notorious book is titled The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, but The Minimalist Cleaning Method is pretty popular as well. You can find them at the following places:

Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!