Based on a comment from one of my book reducing blog entries, I thought I'd talk a little bit about my philosophy on used books. Succinctly, I avoid buying used books whenever possible. Before that sounds a little harsh, here's why: The author doesn't get credit.
I'm a big believer in honest free market trading. I feel that if there's a way for me to help an author to benefit from their craft, I should do it. Used book sales are not tracked and do not generate royalties for the author. So I make every reasonable attempt to buy new copies of books that I read, in the hopes that the author makes enough money to continue writing books that I enjoy.
Yes, this is impactful from a financial point of view, but not as much as you'd think (see my previous post on my 66% book discount!). Used booksellers are getting smart and comparing prices online. Even in the last five years, the number of good deals I find are diminishing noticeably. I completely understand that some people only buy used for financial reasons, needing to watch every single cent. If it comes down to feeding yourself or buying a new book, I feel like the choice is obvious. Realistically, I'm no longer in that position, so I can afford to stand on principle on this issue.
So when do I buy used? When a book is out of print and no longer available new, of course. Then there's no way for the author to receive credit, so I feel free to enjoy the book on whatever terms I can find it. I'm very excited about authors who are working to publish their backlist as ebooks. When I get an e-reader, that will be the first set of books I buy.
In the spirit of holiday bargain shopping posts, you might be interested in the best find I ever made in a used bookstore. Six years ago, I found a hardcover copy of On Basilisk Station, which a friend had recommended to me. At $0.25, it was much cheaper than a new paperback (this was in my college days when it really was a choice between groceries and books!). I bought it, read it, loved it, and started looking for copies of the next book in hardcover online. I was shocked to find that because of limited printings (the early hardcovers for the series were published retroactively), the book that I bought for $0.25 was worth over $40 online! I purchased the next few books new in paperback. Years later, once I could afford it, I purchased all of the in-print hardcovers new and am only missing one of the out-of-print books. I still have that original book... it was worth more to me as an enjoyable story than the $40 return on investment that I could have received.
What's the best book deal you've ever gotten?