Wednesday 7 June 2017

Buy New, Get Secondhand? The Latest From Amazon - Kara Isaac

A couple of months ago there was a bit of a kerfuffle (to put in mildly) in the publishing world when Amazon announced a change in their "buy box" policy when it came to books. That magical little box that looks a lot like this...

Previously, the buy box for books was always Amazon (see above) which meant that when someone bought a book it was (a) brand new and (b) the publisher (and by default the author) were paid for it. Recently, Amazon changed their policy to allow other third party sellers to "bid" for the buy box and sell "as new" copies of books as if they are new "new".

So now, we have a buy box that can now look a little something like this...

The impact is huge because, honestly, who really looks at who the vendor is in the buy box? Most people just assume it's Amazon and that they're supporting the author by buying their book new. At least I did until this all happened. So now we have a situation where a whole lot of consumers are clicking on the buy box thinking they are buying a new book when in fact what they are buying are secondhand copies in "as new" condition. Because Amazon is now the biggest seller of books in the world ultimately this reflects in an author's sales numbers and could impact on whether or not they receive another contract with their publisher.
There seem to be three ways that books are making their way to this market:
  1. Remainder copies: sometimes when publishers have excess stock they will sell some older books (12 months+ post release) at a deep discount just to make space in their warehouse. Authors usually don't earn any royalty on these titles and they are sold with the condition that the vendor only sells them as secondhand, not as new. Remaindered copies are usually marked by lines of black marker across the bottom of a book. Reports have come in from a number of sources that these resellers are ignoring their agreement with publishers and selling remaindered copies as new ones;
  2. Review copies: reviewers who are sent copies of titles to review but who instead of reading the book turn around and resell it;
  3. Giveaway copies: winners of giveaways reselling their copy instead of reading it. 
Initially, I kept an eye on it but thought my two traditionally published books wouldn't be impacted. I'm not a big author so it's not like my publisher sent out hundreds of review copies to people who might not read them, or gave away hundreds of copies and (as far as I know) they haven't been remaindered (yet). 
And then I woke up one morning to a message. A friend bought a copy of Can't Help Falling on Amazon, thinking she was buying it new. When she received it she was surprised to find that it was personally autographed by me with an inscription that was so specific it look me literally two clicks to find out which one of my giveaway winners had turned around and sold it 
Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with people buying second hand books. I know that many people are on tight budgets and that is what they can afford. This is totally okay! What this is about is the changes Amazon has made that means people think they are supporting an author by buying a new book and inadvertently buying a secondhand one (that doesn't earn the author a royalty and isn't counted in their sales numbers).
So, if you want to support your favourite author/s, here are some thoughts:
  • If it's a toss up between buying an eBook or a paperback go for the eBook. Not only are you guaranteed that it is new and the author and publisher are getting paid but the author earns a better royalty for eBooks. For one of my paperbacks with a list price of $14.99 (USD) I earn between $0.34-$0.95 depending on where it is sold and through what channel. For an eBook of the same title with a list price of $9.99 (USD) I earn roughly $1.50;
  • If you do shop on Amazon, prefer paperbacks, and want to make sure that what you're buying new is actually new then check the buy box and make sure it says "Ships and sold by". Any other vendor will almost definitely be a reseller. If it is another vendor keep on scrolling down the page and look for "Other Sellers on Amazon" on the right hand side and find the Amazon listing in there;
  • If you want to read a book and are on a tight budget then consider requesting your local library purchase it. Most libraries allow customers to make purchase requests and if they do order a book will often order more than one copy;
  • If you are in the market for secondhand then make sure you support vendors who are being honest about marking books as such, get a bargain and don't pay more than a few bucks for it ;-) 
  • Tell your avid reader friends who buy their books from Amazon so they also know what to look out for!
Kara Isaac lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She is the author of Close to You, a RITA Award Double Finalist, and Can't Help Fallingan RT Review Top Pick. Her next book Then There Was You releases on June 22. When she's not chasing three adorable but spirited little people, she spends her time writing horribly bad first drafts and wishing you could get Double Stuf Oreos in New Zealand. She loves to connect on her website, on Facebook at Kara Isaac - Author and Twitter @KaraIsaac   


  1. Thanks Kara for the insight. I noticed this on Angelguard but it has been remaindered now so I'm happy for copies to still be out in the general domain. (AG is also 4 years old now)

    But it does surprise me that it happened to your 2nd one - golly gosh, it's less than a year old.

    I must be more careful in future.

    BTW ... have you looked into KindleUnlimited yet - $US9.99 per mth for all you can read. If you've looked at it, does it include the majority of ebooks?

    Bless ..

    1. Hi Ian! I did think that if I was going to be impacted by it then it would be by Close To You being remaindered since it's 15 months old now. You could have knocked me down when I discovered it was Can't Help Falling being sold by a giveaway winner!

      I have looked at KindleUnlimited (and have enrolled Then There Was You to be in the programme when it releases). From what I've observed there are many indie books in it and a number of new releases from smaller publishers but no new releases from the larger CBA traditional publishers. I'm not a member because I prefer to buy my eBooks but I know for people who are on a tight budget that they love it!

  2. Thanks for sharing this informative post Kara. I appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge.
    I don't have any books out yet but as a reader who uses amazon a lot, it's good to know what I should be looking out for.
    It's also great to know what authors earn for ebooks. I do buy a lot of ebooks and wasn't sure it was the best option for the return authors get. I'm happy to know that it's actually quite a good option for both parties.
    All the best with your new book!

    1. Thanks so much, Linsey! And yes, it's true eBooks are almost always just as good (if not better) than buying the paperback. (Unless you buy it for like 99c but in that case the author isn't expecting to earn money from the promotion, they're aiming to gain some new readers). I've had people almost apologise to me for buying the eBook of one of my titles instead of a paperback and I love being able to tell them that I get an even better royalty from my eBook sales :)

  3. thanks for this clear explanation.

    1. Thanks, Christine! Though I wish I hadn't had to write it at all :(

  4. Thanks from me too, Kara--really good to know.

  5. Thanks, Kara for this important information. :) --- Suzanne

  6. I know longer do paperback give-aways. Too expensive, and I've seen a couple books simply get turned around and resold. This is disappointing news from Amazon.


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