New Books vs. Used Books

This has recently been brought forward as a topic of discussion for me in the book group I admin and it’s an interesting discussion when you set aside all personal preferences. I’ll be honest, I love all kinds of books indiscriminately, new or used I don’t care as long as they have pages. This non-allegiance, however, had me thinking, are there arguments one way or the other for those who have no preference?

All Those In Favour of New

Not Everyone Looks After Books Like You Do

It is a sad fact that some people simply do not respect books, or look after them. In reading for this article I heard some horror stories about the fates of various unfortunate books. Truly horrid stuff, I’m talking bodily fluids (not that kind, get your head out of the gutter). Though oddly the worse one came from this article by Chas Newkey-Burden which states:

“Before I finally vowed to never buy second-hand again, I purchased a copy of Don Dellilo’s Underworld from a charity shop. Only after reading hundreds of pages did I discover that the former owner had kindly torn out the final chapter.”

Now, I feel this has a lot to do with finding a good and reliable supplier of used books too, charity shops (though sometimes home to treasures) are not a source I would consider to be either of those things in regards to books. But truly, who tears pages out of a book? I want to cry whenever I scroll down journal-based Instagram accounts to be confronted by endless waves of torn out pages from classic novels.

Publishing Ramifications

Whilst the authors of the classics may be long gone and without a care in the world buying recently published books second hand no doubt defers money from the author and publisher and all the people who put graft and love into producing that book.

Now many authors (and I imagine if I was published I would feel this way too) may only want their books to be read regardless of how people do it. The way some bands don’t care that people download and listen to their music illegally, only that they are listening. This is a personal opinion and creators really have a right to think either way but it is more than fair to want to be rewarded for your hard work and when we consider how difficult it is nowadays to make writing into a successful career, buying books new from a certified distributor seems like one of many small ways we can help support these writers.

New Releases

You are obviously never going to get hot new releases with any sort of punctuality holding out for a second-hand copy. The clue is in the name – ‘new’. What else can I say?

You Can Make it Your Own

Now, I know this is not an opinion shared by all book lovers but some people do love to highlight, doodle, annotate, sticky note and dog-ear a book when they love it so it looks loved on their shelf when they are not reading it. I, personally, have only ever done this with books I am studying at school as it is recommended but I feel illicit being the first to commit, what can only ever feel like, vandalism in a book. Funnily enough, the finished annotated, highlighted product I love – getting there is the challenge for me but of course others love it.

All Those In Favour of Used

The Environment

Right – so we can all be agreed that no matter how many trees printers may plant (if they plant any) new books just plain aren’t good for the environment.

“Each year, approximately 30 million trees are used to make books sold in the United States—1,153 times the number of trees in New York City’s Central Park. Many of these trees are sourced from endangered forests with devastating impacts on the people and wildlife that rely on them.” – The Green Press Initiative

Now, those statistics are for the US alone not even the whole world and whilst I commend those brave evangelicals who read exclusively on e-reader for this very reason (though I could tell you a thing or two about the carbon cost of your Kindle or Kobo) for us mere mortals who simply cannot let go of hard copies (please don’t make me) second-hand books can be a way to reduce the damage.

I love my books it’s true but I often find myself seeing my bookcase and feeling the guilt that in my house is a pile of dead trees squeezed into, yep, more dead trees that in their previous life once produced the air we need to breathe. The guilt hasn’t made me resort to digital yet but it has encouraged me to think on how I source books and made me go paperless at work in an attempt to counter-balance.

Amusing Side Notes

I have had many a giggle as the annotations found in the margins of used books, and the odd highlighted quote, that I may have otherwise looked over has given me pause to wonder what it meant to the highlighter. It adds a level of shared reading experience a new book simply cannot provide.

More Cost Effective

As much as I would like to have had a time when I had endless amounts of funds to spend on books, I haven’t. But now, having just bought a house, it is more important than ever that I am conservative with my money and there is simply no avoiding the fact that books can be expensive.

Even on Amazon, arguably one of the cheapest suppliers (though they are putting booksellers out of business left right and centre which is sad) are not always that cheap. Used books offer a solution, you take a drop in quality for what I often find to be a disproportionate drop in price (in a good way). You can pick up books often for over 50% less than RRP which is kinder to your bank account and means, guess what? More books! Win, win.

They’re Used!

Do you live in fear of the day you break a book’s spine for the first time? Do You cringe at every curled page and stray fleck of ink and tea? Do you love to read in the bath but have to sit at painful and awkward angles for fear of dropping your book in the tub with you? Do you, like me, struggle with that first step to loved book status and putting your pen to the margin and break the seal of being allowed to fill them with your thoughts?

There come a time in every books life that it becomes ‘used’ and these are just some of the ways it happens. That doesn’t mean you don’t look after your books but nothing stays new forever and even if you don’t like writing in books, if you love it, there will at the very least be a spine crease or two, even light ones. I hate being the one to do this but it does happen and rather than be angry at whoever I lend the book to and finally does it I find used books – even in the best condition – ease this guilt immensely. I spend less time worrying about its longevity and more time enjoying the story.


So, what do you think? Removing all preference do you think one is better than the other or is a mix the best way to go? Have I missed any big factors? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Until next time!

27 thoughts on “New Books vs. Used Books

  1. To be honest I love buying used books but if there is a new release that looks good then I will buy it new. I do love being able to get a great haul from my local charity shop but there’s also a thrill of opening that much anticipated new release. (I do usually get new releases on Kindle so rather than paperback)

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  2. I am terribly possessive of all my books. I have kept all the ones I have owned since childhood because they are so important to me. I can never let them go…

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    • I’m like that with my tattered old Percy Jacksons, they’re the books that made me love reading – I can’t let them go, even if the American covers are so pretty it hurts!

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  3. This was a great post! I sticky note my books but can’t bring myself to write in them. It feels, like you said, like vandalism. I have 3.000+ on my Kindle, but also have a fairly substantial physical library. Doesn’t every bookworm dream of the Beauty and the Beast library one day? I am all for used books, as long as they have been well cared for 🙂

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  4. I tend to do all my reading on the Kindle because many of the covers are a little risque to have displayed. On the very rare occasion when I do buy a physical book, it’s used because I like when they look a little bit loved.

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    • Oh my god I do this too! I mean, I’d never be ashamed of anything I read because shame knows no place in reading as far as I’m concerned but my nan looks at my bookshelves and I read on my morning commute that also has a regular set of kids on their way to school so I keep the more risque stuff digital! I like that them looking pre-loved also, saves me the work if I only want to read it once.

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  5. A debate that will never end, as someone who reads super fast and doesn’t make a lot of money. All of my books are used. I only bought one new book last year because I couldn’t wait to read it

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  6. I can be tempted by the beauty of shiny new releases but I also love old, used books: it’s lovely to think about the story behind them, who read them before, whether they liked the story, why were they given away, etc. It’s like an added extra to the book.

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    • See I used to be dead set against Kindles, but my boyfriend gave me one just after we met and it’s grown on me – I have nearly 200 books on it now, and I feel the benefit everytime I go on holiday and my suitcase is underweight!

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  7. I love buying gently used, used books because it means I can buy more! 😉

    I do enjoy visiting used book shops and keep a list in my purse for which books I am looking for, but in no rush to have. Since I prefer hardcovers, the price of used can be better then buying new if you don’t have coupons or a sale.

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  8. I have bought some used books here and there but only when they were in excellent condition. I always find the really old used books (vintage ones) interesting in old bookstores. 🙂

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