Monday, April 23, 2007

Bargain Books & Author's Guilt

Yesterday I was rummaging through my local Warehouse store (for you non-Kiwis that's a discount store like K-Mart or Target) and picked up a book in the "bargain books" bin. It's called Outdoors in New Zealand and it's a compilation of columns published in the New Zealand Herald's "Outdoors" column over a number of years. I'd seen it in a few bookshops, but never bothered to pick it up. But at $2.50, how could I refuse?

Clearly the book has been remaindered. If you're not familiar with the term, that's when a publisher decides that the cost of storing the remaining copies of the book is no longer worthwhile and they unload them at a very low price. Bookstores (and other stores) then sell them off at a fraction of their original cover price. This often happens after the book has been out for a couple of years and sales have dropped off. In the case of the book I just purchased, it's a 2002 publication.

I've picked up some great books from remainder bins. Even Pulitzer Prize-winning novels like The Shipping News! Just the other day I saw a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on a bargain table for $5, if you can believe it! My only explanation for that is there must be a new edition coming out and they're getting rid of the last copies with old cover art or something.

As a bargain-hunter, remaindered books really appeal to me. Especially since I arrived in New Zealand where the average book price is about 30-50% higher than it was in Canada. But now that I'm an author, every bargain purchase comes with a heavy serving of guilt. I know how hard it is to make a living as a writer, and how small a cut the author gets from every book sold. And that's if the book sells at its full cover price! Buying remaindered books means that the author won't get anything at all from my purchase. Oh, the guilt!

Of course, when it comes to the filthy-rich authors like Roald Dahl (or Stephen King, whose books I've also seen in bargain bins) I don't feel too bad. But books like Outdoors in New Zealand are lucky to break even, let alone make the author rich. As a fellow writer, I feel like I should be supporting my colleagues by paying full price for their books. On the other hand, that might mean not buying books in New Zealand at all!

It's a dilemma for me, and one that's not likely to go away any time soon. As much as it would pain me to see my own book sitting in a remainder bin for $2.50 one day, I know that it would be in good company. There's no shame in remaindering. Just ask Roald Dahl or Stephen King!


Anonymous said...

If this helps assuage some guilt; it's not as if you saw it at full price and said to yourself, "I could afford to buy it now, but I'll wait and get it when it goes on sale." If it doesn't fit into your budget at full price, it doesn't fit into your budget. No point in bankrupting one author to pay another!
CU in CA

Maple Kiwi said...

No, but I did actually do that recently. There was a bio of Peter Jackson released I guess just over a year ago. And while I was curious to read it, I didn't think it was worth $40 for the privelege. So I figured it would get marked down eventually. Which it did. So much so that I bought it yesterday for five bucks! Poor PJ, nobody cares about your life story these days...