Information is the currency of democracy.
Last weekend there was a message on one of the discussion lists I belong to directing us all to a post regarding the Ebook Reader’s Bill of Rights -- with the addendum to take our blood pressure medicine. I read the post, and frankly -- although if this surprises you, you don’t know me very well -- I agreed with nearly every point in it. Libraries and librarians are not the enemy, Mssrs. Macmillan and S&S. Far from it. Libraries are a good and valuable thing, both for readers and for writers. I support my local libraries in every way I know -- with monetary donations, with free books, and with my time.
Let me say this again. Libraries and librarians are not the enemy. And the fact that I need to say this indicates to me how truly confused matters have become in the publishing world. Blame it on technology.
The reason I’m not linking to that Ebook Reader’s Bill of Rights post, and that I can’t actively get behind it and support it, all comes down to one small, but I think crucial, passage. It was an afterthought for the author (a librarian -- clearly a thoughtful and conscientious fellow), but it’s kind of an important one for me as someone who makes a living writing fiction.
My primary concern is less about re-selling and more in regard to people being given control over their own reading content. While I’m hesitant to engage in what may be construed as hyperbole, I appeal to you to consider the emotional connections to your own personal libraries and the importance of every book that you have selected to be a part of it. I would implore authors to consider how they would consider outside removals or modifications on your own book collections. Ownership matters, quite frankly, and it is an expression of intellectual pride.
Now the blogger is looking at this as a librarian. That’s not a criticism, he’s not a pirate and it probably hasn’t occurred to him that there’s serious money to be made in illegal third party reselling -- and that it comes at the expense of the author. What I did detect -- what I frequently detect in these discussions -- is a kind of impatience with authors who have problems with being pirated. In fact, the post that I responded to was an additional post directed at writers spelling out for them (in a somewhat chiding tone) why wholesale sharing of their work was actually a great idea.
I think the jury is still out on whether wholesale sharing -- viral sharing -- is a good thing or not. Viral sharing that doesn’t eventually lead to book sales is not a good thing for authors who need to make a living at their writing. The whole argument in favor of allowing libraries and readers to share is supposed to be that it will bring new readers to an author. But if those readers are not -- at some point -- paying for the work, then it doesn’t actually do the author any good.
You see, while authors do write for themselves and for the pleasure of writing, part of the decision to publish -- to put ourselves through the hell of the publishing process -- is to make money at writing. Otherwise we would be content writing for ourselves and a handful of friends. If we are merely writing for the love of writing, there is no need to share our work with the rest of the world. None. I mean, I’ve got as much ego as the next artist, and I love to hear from readers, but I also need to pay the mortgage.
I’ve actually seen discussion threads on torrent sites where irate pirates say things like (apparently with no sense of irony) if authors are just in it for the money, fuck ‘em! There are plenty of other good authors and good books out there.
Yes! Please. Please shower your attention on other good authors and other good books. Because if all the sharing ultimately leads to more sharing…in the not-so-distant-end, the only people writing books will be amateurs and the independently wealthy.
That’s the part that gets to me. I’m not seeing any long term consideration of what unlimited mass sharing might mean for authors. In fact, it feels like I’m being told to shut up and get back to work. But if it affects authors…hello! It affects readers. Whether you choose to believe it or not, authors are the integral piece of this puzzle. You remove authors from the equation, and all your other concerns become moot.
For a long time I bought into the idea that ebook pirating wasn’t really a problem. And it is true that a large percentage of downloaded books are never read, the goal is simply to share and acquire. But I’ve also seen threads where readers are bewailing the fact that my work has been removed from various torrent sites. As in…my life is over, what will I do now that I can’t get Josh’s books?
No, I’m not kidding. The fact that my books are for sale everywhere was apparently not even a consideration. PAY FOR BOOKS????? Why not just advocate child labor in third world countries and killing baby seals?
I’ve seen my work -- my entire body of work -- carefully scanned and collected in a digital file and sold on different sites. Sold. As in offered multiple times on mirror sites.
I’ve seen and heard people boasting that they never pay for books. Never.
(And that fills them with pride…why? Since when is stealing from artists a noble act?)
I’m not blaming libraries for any of this, my point is simply that authors have legitimate worries and that those worries need to be addressed, not dismissed as the fantasies of over-inflated egos or paranoid delusions of the misinformed. Just as libraries are not the problem, neither are authors. I think authors and libraries are on the same side, even if they don’t always realize it. But technology has changed a lot of the rules we used to play by, and it’s going to take some rethinking -- and a little imagination -- on everyone’s part to get what we all need to survive in this brave new world.