First it was Google; now its Amazon.com that literary authors are kvetching about. An article in Thursday's (September 29) Wall Street Journal discusses complaints authors have about the fact that amazon.com offers books for sale at different prices: list price, new books at lower prices, and used books. Authors and literary agent are quoted as saying they think they are being deprived of royalties and they want their share! It is really no fun to write about copyright owners acting like Luddite pigs, and being in private practice it has a definite commercial downside; I would much rather praise Caesar. But, things are as they are, and I have always opted for honesty over craven brown-nosing and over self-imposed censorship. I hope my twins forgive me.
I buy around 150 books a year. This week I bought three brand new ones: a $160, 245 page book on copyright and printing privileges in Venice circa 1500; a $55 book about prints in the same era; and a $20 book accompanying the print exhibit I blogged about a few days ago. I also borrowed three books through Inter Library Loan. I may end up buying one; the other two (by historian Carl L. Becker) are out of print.
I buy the vast majority of my books through amazon.com and pay alot of attention to the choices they offer for the book I am interested in. Choice is bad, apparently. I should have to pay list price and I shouldn't be able to resell it (at least through amazon.com) without amazon.com sending a check to the publisher, who will pass 100% through to the author, at least that is what a literary agent is quoted in the article as advocating.
Sad, is the only polite word I can think of for literary authors' utter failure to embrace an extremely beneficial system. The first sale doctrine was judicially created by the Supreme Court pre-1909 Copyright Act in order to prevent misuse of copyright to maintain list price. Some things truly never change.