I recently bought a collection of short stories that was published by a small, independent outfit. In the back, after the ‘about the author’ entry is a ‘note to the reader’ that gives me a lecture. The tone of this short letter is non-threatening in an effort to not come across too high and mighty, but it failed, leaving me a bit peeved off. This letter reminds me that I should not buy used books, sell my books to used books stores, visit libraries, and it cautions me to not even lend my books to a friend or colleague – unless they would likely buy that book or others.
The intent of this letter is to remind me as a reader that authors don’t get paid unless you are buying a new book. In the chain of money, when a new book is purchased the publisher is getting money, which eventually makes its way to an author. When a book is bought used, that money is not going to the publisher – they’ve already had their cut for that book. And clearly, no profits are made when a book is lent by individuals or libraries.
Authors generally don’t make much money, most need a day job. This letter implies that it is my duty as a reader to buy new books to support authors and publishers. That somehow I have sinned against an author when I buy their books used, or god forbid, check out a copy from the library.
I will admit that I hadn’t previously thought much about buying used books, and how that money is not trickling back to the author. I do see the point in supporting these authors, especially authors who don’t have big contracts, and are not as widely read. And I agree that authors need money to function in society, just as I do (which the letter was kind enough to remind me of). However, the inclusion of this letter leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Who are these people to lecture me on how I should spend my money. They know nothing of my finances, of how much I spend on books, on how often I buy new books versus used books.
The more juvenile side of me wants to boycott this publisher and to never buy a new book again. The realist in me knows I already spend too much on books, and if anything, I should not be buying books at all at the moment. My tax dollars pay for the library, I should use it more. But things are never simple.
The truth is I want to buy new books – hardback books at that. But this is just unrealistic considering my financial place in the world. I’m relatively secure and should appreciate it more, but can I afford to spend $30 for every book I buy? Now consider that I’ll buy about 100 books in an average year; that’s $3000 per year on books (not counting taxes). Sure, I can cut that down a bit by sales and such, but the point remains whether I’m spending $500, $1500, or $5000 on books in a year. That is just a lot of money – especially considering that all too often the quality of the book binding is just not what it once was. I’ve had books fall apart after two reads, and I’m not that hard on books.
Yet another factor is the already rampant consumerism in the western world and how it relates to the production of books. Not enough books are constructed out of recycled materials, most books require the death of trees and all the consequences associated with deforestation and yes, global warming. Right now, reading a used book (or recycled book in this context) is much more environmentally conscious than reading a new book. I suppose I could always read an e-book, but what that does to my eyes and sanity deserves an article in its own right – let’s just leave it at I’m not a fan of e-books.
So, in the end, I’m quite irritated that some small publisher, whom I did buy a new book from, had the audacity to print a lecture telling me that it is unethical to buy used books and that I need to think twice about lending books to friends. Yes, it’s a bit of an overreaction, but then I’ve never been very good with condescending lectures from anyone about anything. I entirely sympathize with authors, especially the majority of whom don’t earn a lot of money. I too have to work for a living and can certainly relate, but I can’t agree that this justifies the printing of this letter in its current form.
So, has this letter from the publisher managed to alter my buying habits? Only in one small way, I am now less likely to buy a book from them in the future – new or used. Not their intent I should think.