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  • Homeless Books, our August blog, is written by the author and chairman of Bookbarn International, William Pryor. 

    '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, filmmakers earn whenever their film is watched; under the Artist’s 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 the ALCS to receive payment when their work is copied, when the content is re-used, but once someone buys their physical book, that was – until last year – an end to its power to generate cash for the author.

    As an 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 professional authors in 2013 was just £4,000!

    The latest insult to this injury is Amazon’s intention to pay for ebooks 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 the annual ALCS jamboree on the House of Commons Terrace last summer.

    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. They compare this to their list of members and give us the resultant list of members 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 booksellers to join the cause. 


    About William Pryor

    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.

    Picture of William Pryor © Matt Crossick<

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