Should You Buy Second Hand Books?

My book United States of Love is set in the historical West Sussex town of Arundel. I’m lucky enough to live just a short drive away and love going over to the lake for a walk or a wander around the town, which ALWAYS involves a pot of tea and a slice of cake. Usually, the children are in tow but on a recent visit, I was child free so I took the opportunity to browse a local second hand book shop. 

It’s a tiny shop front but rather like the Tardis when you go inside. It is also a book lover’s paradise. There is shelf after shelf of old books. A lot of specialist books and a lot of first editions. Set over three floors; a warren of little rooms, narrow staircases and sloping ceilings, I was amazed at how organised it was.

Books 2

Venturing up to the top floor where the fiction books were kept, I was surprised to see a book by an author I have on my reading list. A paperback  by Paul Christopher, The Sword of the Templar. A secondhand paperback in excellent condition priced at £2.50 – a bargain. However, I didn’t buy it. Not because I didn’t want it, but I suddenly felt guilty. By buying this book secondhand, I would get the enjoyment, but the author wouldn’t actually benefit. I felt like I was cheating him out of his royalties. Okay, I appreciate missing out on one sale of his book, probably isn’t going to be life-changing, but, all the single sales add up.  

It made me stop and think. 

Is it okay to buy a book secondhand which means no royalties for the author? Or, should I buy the book from a book shop or on-line? Either way, if I enjoy it, I’m likely to buy another. At the end of the day – does it really matter?

What are your thoughts on buying books secondhand?

Books 1



26 thoughts on “Should You Buy Second Hand Books?

  1. I remember once asking an author how she felt about her books being free to download. She said, ‘If it encourages people to read my other books, I’m thrilled.’ So, I think my answer would be any publicity is good publicity. As long as we all carry on buying the new ones as well!

    • Yes, I think that is a good way to look at it. Hopefully, recommendations, word of mouth, reviews and ultimately buying another book by that author is what it’s all about.


  2. I love buying second-hand books, it’s one of my favourite things to do and to be honest I’ve never really thought about it with regards to the author not getting the benefits. The way I look at it, is that you have to assume that someone bought the book when it was new so the author has already benefited. Buying it second-hand is a matter of recycling, which I’m all for 🙂

    • I hadn’t thought of it like that. Am off now to get that book I saw in Arundel.

      Thanks for dropping by,.


  3. It’s funny, it’s an issue I’m more sensitive about since publishing Gunshot Glitter, in an ideal world I’d buy new books all the time but fiscally it’s genuinely beyond me. I buy books from charity shops a lot at the moment. In future though when my income is regular and stable I’d prioritise buying new as I want to support other authors.

    • Hi Yasmin

      Yes, when your own book is published, it does make you think. I like to support authors where I can, but ultimately, I have to think of my purse too.


  4. I agree with both of the other comments. I know a lot of authors get extremely wound up over second hand book sales. To my mind charity shops and second hand books shops offer writers an extra window onto the high street they might not otherwise have. Particularly now there are so few actual bookshops selling new books, sadly. As long as you still buy new books when you can, it’s alright to buy second hand ones in my opinion. I will often try out an author new to me in this way and then I will buy their books new and am sometimes so desperate to have them will order them before publication. I always buy new books as presents for friends and relatives. What I do resist is buying books at the supermarket. There is a tiny selection and I would rather have my money going to a shop that specialises in books. The little more I might pay, I see as worth it in order to browse at my leisure, a large variety of books. Somehow browsing on the web just isn’t the same!

    • Hi Cara

      Thanks for commenting. Buying second hand is a good way to test out a new author – good point. We used to have a paperback exchange book shop where I live and I used to always be in and out, reading and swapping books. I think that’s where I first discovered Minette Walters and since then, I have bought several of her books – new.


  5. Like everyone above, this is something I didn’t even give a thought about before self publishing. I think as writers (of both self-pub and traditional) our strongest form of publicity will always be word of mouth. We don’t have fancy commercials during your favorite television shows or advertisements on the side of city buses. We’ve all come a long way with social media, but I still feel it really comes down to our readers. If they find a book they love, they will gossip about it no matter where they found it.

    Also, I feel that secondhand books are like little orphans, and I can’t stand the thought of good books being lonely. Totally guilty for slinking around the thrift store section looking for a homeless goodie 🙂

    • Oh no, second-hand books are like orphans! What a thought. 😦

      Funny how being published can make you have a different take on things. You make a good point about word of mouth being strong publicity.

      Thanks for commenting Melanie.


  6. Hm, this us a tricky one, Sue. As a reader I have often bought books from a secondhand shop in order to try out a new Author. Four example, I fancied reading Jane Costello’s books so I bought one for £2.50. I have since gone on to buy all of her books for full price on Amazon. So buying secondhand can work in the authors favour. However, since becoming an author myself I look at it from a different perspective. If I buy a book to the secondhand shop the author gets no royalties whatsoever. Can that be right ? All books have ISBN numbers so maybe one day something similar to PLR will exist for authors whose books are sold in charity shops. I also think charging £2.50 for a book is rather steep when the book is secondhand and the shop got it free in the first place. Okay so the money is going towards charity – but I think that rather clouds the issue. A few books at the back of a charity shop is one thing – but in my district lots of charity shops have set up selling only books. In the meantime all the independent bookshops have closed. When I’m getting rid of books I tend to distribute them to charity shops which have a small books section – not one but I have set up as a business. So in short, I would like to see some kind of system where the charity shop and the author can benefit from the sale

    • Hi Lizzie

      I’ve donated books to charity before, but the last time I went in, I was met with a roll of the eyes – they didn’t want any more books. I mentioned above a paperback exchange shop that used to run but that has long since closed. Much as I love my books, I haven’t got room for them all and it’s knowing what to do with them.

      Thanks for dropping by.


  7. Interesting question Sue. Before my blogging days, Kindle books weren’t available and I always used to buy second hand for the school holidays from a charity shop.

    Now I mostly buy Kindle (but do buy new paperbacks occasionally!) and the review copies I receive I pass on to a local charity shop. They always send us a receipt of sales so that we know how much the charity has benefited.

    I agree with Marilyn. Personally, if I’ve received a review copy and enjoyed the story, I then go on to buy earlier novels from the author. Publicity 🙂


    • Hi Shaz

      I’ve been such a Kindle buyer since having my Kindle, but this week I bought a couple of books new because I was missing holding a paperback.

      That’s good that you get a receipt from your local charity shop, that way you know that your donation has benefited the cause.

      You’re right about the publicity angle too.

      Thanks for leaving a comment.


  8. I agree with Lipsyy and Marilyn. I love browsing second hand bookshops too. It’s a real prize to seize upon an out of print book. A current book though … Well, it has been previously purchased, I suppose. And if you enjoy the read, it does tempt you to buy more. We do giveaway freebies to attract readers, after all. As, Shaz say, it’s all good publicity. Also, I’d much rather a book be recycled to a loving reader than thrown away or used as a doorstop. Good post, Sue. Books for thought.

    • Hi Sheryl

      If I’ve really enjoyed a book, I like to keep it. Not sure why, but I wouldn’t want to see it go. Slightly worried I may have hoarder tendencies!

      Thanks for leaving a comment Sheryl


  9. Interesting topic. For me, the only second hand book sources are charity shops. I would pick up books by authors i fancied trying but i admit, i love a new book. The smell, the crack of the spine, the thrill of being the first person to touch it….. *drifts off*

    Oh! Sorry! As i was saying, i don’t mind charity shops as if it means stopping a book being turned to mush and is helping a good cause, i’m all for it. You can also end up getting out of print editions that way.

    Great post! 😀

    • What a horrible thought of the books being turned to mush.

      Charity shops are definitely a good place to check out a new author. Some of the books actually look and feel brand new. I’m sure some of them haven’t even been read.

      Thanks for dropping by,


  10. When my mom got too ill to do anything but read I would get her bags of books at the local library book sale… when she was done I would read a few that looked interesting and discovered some authors I really liked. So in that case it helped the library and turned me on to some writers I didn’t know.

    • Hi Nic

      Library books sales are great, as are libraries 🙂

      Great way to discover a new author, like you say.

      Thanks for commenting.


  11. You know what? This is a red herring …the writer will have got the royalty on the original sale …and nowhere does it say that any writer is entitled to two lots of royalties on the same book. So I have no problem buying second hand, nor donating books I’ve bought to Oxfam etc. Let’s not be greedy …there are many people who can’t afford new books..we should be glad they have somewhere to buy them.

    • Hi Carol

      Not quite the red herring you think, maybe… 🙂

      I was thinking along the lines that buying the book secondhand meant that I wouldn’t be buying it brand new and, therefore, not passing any royalties on to the author that way. It would be unreasonable to expect royalties every time a book is read by someone else, besides which, I have no idea how this could be monitored!

      The general opinion seems to be is that authors are glad of the publicity and if it encourages someone else to buy one of their books in the future, then secondhand books aren’t a problem.

      Thanks for dropping by, Carol, much appreciated.


  12. I’m with the others. As a reader, I’m a complete sucker for the ‘bargain bin’ at my local second hand bookstore. Like with Kindle’s sample option, it’s a safe, cheap way to discover new authors without making a big financial commitment on someone I may not like.

    As a writer, I also like second hand books. Because maybe someone who has never read my books will discover me that way and become a loyal follower of all those future books still in me!

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