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More for book authors

THE MARKET for used books is growing at 13 per cent per year – compared to 1 per cent for that in new books - and is estimated to be worth £420 million in the UK, the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) reports. But until now authors have received royalty payments only on sales of new books; and second-hand sales clearly cut into that market.

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Now the Society of Authors and ALCS have negotiated with two UK-based sellers of second-hand books - World of Books and Book Barn International to do something about this. They have created an initial fund for the first year of £200,000. Payment from the scheme to any one author is capped at £1000 per year. The Freelance presumes that these payments, like the payments ALCS distributes from university libraries and the like, will be based on a sample survey of second-hand sales.

To receive your share, simply join ALCS and register your books. If your works are already registered with ALCS, you don't need to do anything else.

The bigger picture

This is an entirely voluntary scheme by the booksellers concerned. There is no legal right to such payments: in the legal language copyright is "exhausted" when a copy of a work is first sold. The UK publishing industry and book authors are currently concerned about the scope of this "exhaustion" now the UK has left the European Union. If copyright in the UK were to be considered exhausted when a book is sold in India, for example, that would open a floodgate for import of cheap editions of books.

(India is in fact an exceptional example because many UK publishers make their own editions available there at considerably lower prices than in the home market. The Freelance has observed such books on sale directly alongside distinctly ropey, probably pirated, Indian editions at even lower prices.)

And it will be interesting to see how international sellers of second-hand books - in particular Amazon and its subsidiary AbeBooks - react. For the moment, the participating booksellers have a strong case to make that conscientious buyers should use them, and not these.