Since I wrote this blog there has been an excellent article with proper research written by the Guardian – see that here. Definitely worth reading – it makes its points, and my points, very well.
There has been some discussion lately on Twitter, my social media platform of choice, about book piracy. This was triggered by a website which has been taking digital copies of books and posting them for free download while claiming that it has the permission of the author. There has naturally been much discussion about this and the owner of the website has been defending his position. Personally I don’t think that he has any defence because, in my opinion, this is unacceptable as well as being unlawful. However, I assume that he wouldn’t be doing this if he wasn’t making some sort of money out of it which implies that people are visiting the site and downloading the books for free.
Now, I love a freebie as well as the next person and having a book buying habit is expensive but this sort of activity seems totally abhorrent to me. Firstly, you are denying the writer any recompense for their time and creativity. Writers who don’t earn money stop writing so if you enjoy a writer’s work why would you want to risk that happening ? Secondly, you are downloading onto your device a file from an unknown and obviously dodgy source which can only be inherently risky.
A counter argument says that if you buy books second-hand that the author gets no reward from that either. That is true and the same applies if you borrow books but in both these cases someone has paid the author/publisher in the first place which does not apply if books are downloaded free (and you can create a lot more digital copies from the first one so that one copy multiplies, whilst it is difficult to replicate a printed book).
Some ways of buying books benefit the author more than others. It is accepted that books bought from Amazon pay lower royalties than those bought new from a bricks and mortar bookshop. Do readers have a responsibility to maximise the benefit to the writer or is it OK to find the cheapest, legal, way to buy a book ? I am not sure how far the reader has a moral responsibility to the writer any more than they do to anyone else who creates and sells a product other than that to purchase it legally but I know that people have strong views on this.
Here are all the ways I have purchased/obtained books and some thoughts :
- Paper copies via a bookshop. My bookshop of choice tends to be Waterstones but I am willing to spend in any other bookshop I see on my travels. I know that a lot of people want to spend in independent bookshops and I would do this if there was one near to me. I don’t buy a lot of new books in bookshops because I am trying to minimise the number of physical volumes I have on my shelves and also because I can often get them cheaper another way. I find discount bookshops usually don’t have much of interest for me but I always look ! Books are not horrendously expensive though, even when bought new, especially if you compare them with the price of a cinema ticket or coffee and a cake in a chain coffeeshop.
- Second-hand books. I buy most of my physical books second-hand. I get them from a variety of sources including a charity book table at my local Sainsbury’s, charity shops and via Amazon marketplace. When I buy or acquire books this way they are often significantly cheaper than new books and therefore I buy a lot more and take risks on books that I am not sure about. This is the way that I find new authors and when I have enjoyed them I then get hold of their other books by whatever way makes sense at the time.
- Digital books. I have a Kindle (actually, I have more than one) so I am restricted to buying books from Amazon unless I want to read them on my phone or tablet. I love my Kindle reading and I buy a lot of books in Amazon’s regular sales and when they are on offer. I also buy a lot of new books this way. My reading is about 50/50 between physical books and Kindle.
- Free books. I get free books, often Advance Reader copies (ARCs) from a number of sources. This is because I am a book reviewer and blogger. I actually get offered a lot more than I read. I download a lot from NetGalley which is a site that releases books early in order to get reviews. I don’t have to review them (although if you keep taking and don’t review then they are unlikely to let you have a lot more) and there is no condition making me give good reviews. I also get physical ARCs via Amazon Vine where I am a reviewer – I have to review these but there are no rules about what the review has to say. I have also received free ARCs from various publishers. I do not take free copies direct from the writer. I do not sell these books on or make any profit from them. ARCs often differ from the final printed version in design and the digital copies are often badly formatted. I am grateful that I am able to receive these books and I try hard not to ask for too many (a mistake I made in early reviewing and am still recovering from) and to make sure that I review or respond to the publisher about all of them.
- Borrowed books. I borrow books from my local library, both physical copies and digital ones, where the author gets a small payment and also from friends where they don’t. I don’t borrow a lot of books because I am able to buy books and get them free – I am not short of reading material ! In the past I had a subscription to Kindle Unlimited where you can borrow unlimited numbers of digital books from a wide selection and where the author gets a payment when you read them. I don’t subscribe at the moment because I have plenty of other books but I would consider it again in the future.
- Audio Books. I have a subscription to Audible and get one book a month as well as buying others in their sales. I have read the odd audio book from my library subscription but they don’t have a wide choice. There are other sites to get audiobooks (my son recommends BookBeat) but I can download Audible books to one of my Kindles. You also own them if you finish the subscription.
Other people get books as gifts – no one every buys me books as presents because they have no idea what I have read. I do, however, often get book tokens which is nice.
In February I read 25 books. This is where I got them from. Ten were purchased second-hand from various sources. Nine were digital copies from NetGalley. Two were audiobooks. Two were new books bought for the Kindle and two were new books when I originally bought them but it is so long ago I cannot remember if they were from a bookshop or Amazon. That’s pretty standard for me.
Please note that none were from a pirate website and none ever will be.
Keep reading (legally) !