Homeless Books: the Book Authors Resale Right

One year on from the launch of the Book Authors Resale Right, its founder William Pryor of Bookbarn International urges other second-hand booksellers to get on board with the scheme

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books;” wrote Virginia Woolf, “they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

Traditionally, authors are paid nothing for the resale of their works, however much second-hand charm they contain. Within certain parameters, film makers earn whenever their film is watched; under the Artists Resale Right, painters and sculptors earn a percentage of the profit made when someone sells their work; and composers and musicians earn when recordings of their work are sold. But not authors. Yes, they can register with ALCS to receive payment when their work is copied, when the content is re-used, but once someone buys a physical book by that author, that was an end to its power to generate cash for the author. Until last year, that is.

I am the author of three books and the chairman of Bookbarn International, one of the larger online sellers of second-hand and rare books. When I took the business over I quickly realised that our business of selling hundreds of thousands of second-hand books was not benefitting the authors of those books by a penny. The business wasn’t exactly on the side of authors.

Though devastating, it is worth repeating what a recent ALCS survey revealed: the median sum earned by British authors in 2013 was just £4,000. The latest insult to this injury is Amazon’s intention to pay for e-books by the number of pages a purchaser reads. They say this is fairer to authors of long books, but one wonders if there isn’t some other motive. And how is any author ever to know how many pages are actually read, except by asking Amazon?

So, with the very helpful support of the ALCS, I developed the concept of the Book Authors Resale Right or BARR, which I announced at last year’s All Party Writers Group Summer Reception at the House of Commons Terrace. BARR pays ALCS-registered authors a percentage of the revenue second-hand copies of their books generate when sold through the internet. Once a quarter, we submit to the ALCS a list of authors whose books we have sold in the previous quarter. ALCS compares this to their list of Members and give us the resultant list of those whose books we sold that quarter. We then ask our software to compute the total of the small percentages we pay of the revenue each qualifying book has generated – qualifying in that they have generated more than a minimum amount after we’ve paid for the internet channels, the picking, packing, postage and other associated costs.

I have tried to persuade Bookbarn International’s competitors to adopt BARR. They all tell me they see the justice and point of the scheme, but either their accountants or their commerciality won’t sanction it. Between them Bookbarn International’s competitors resell literally millions of books a year.  But we have yet to persuade them of the justice of paying the pence per qualifying book that BARR generates for authors. We can keep trying. Help us spread the word that authors are more than entitled to receive fair payment for the resale of their works. Help us to persuade other second-hand book sellers to join the cause.

William Pryor has been involved with books nearly all his long working life: he has been an author, a screenwriter, a publisher, an editor and now a seller of second-hand books on 22 e-commerce platforms around the world. He fights an unending and unsuccesful battle against being a Darwin, while he does what he can to champion the natural rights of authors to earn an honest buck from their labours.

Find out more about Bookbarn International.