You order a coffee, get a haircut, or fill your car with patrol. You pay without question, right? Because you’re buying something be it a product or a service. So why do we view literature and news differently? There is a perception among so many people that because something is available online, it should be free.
A week or so after my social feeds were flooded yet another debate over book piracy, I posted one of my news articles to a community Facebook group. A few months ago site moved from a “x amount of free clicks per month” model, to a premium/free model where the majority of our work is locked. In my post, I made it clear the content was for subscribers only. Really, it’s no different to having to buy a newspaper before you read it rather than flicking through in the newsagency and then walking off without paying a cent. The comments reflected those which my colleagues and I have been getting since the paywall went up and were along these lines: this is news, why should I pay for it? The argument seems to be the same for people pirating books.
In all of these debates, the first thing which seems to be forgotten is the emotional labour, time and effort which goes into writing. Obviously, the process is much more taxing for a novel than a newspaper article. But our locked articles are the ones we spend the most time on, the exclusive stories we’ve spent days (and sometimes months) crafting. Unfortunately, I can’t stop paying rent with the excuse that everyone should have a roof over their heads.
People only ever defend stealing creative things. Books, music, games, movies, etc are entertainment & thus ok to steal, bc some don't believe these require the same blood sweat & tears as other jobs. I don't throw a fit over paying for my damn toothpaste.
— Marie Lu (@Marie_Lu) July 24, 2018
In publishing, an industry which is performing only marginally better than media and where margins are still tight, book sales can make or break an author’s career. The figures can govern whether an author produces another book or even if a series is finalised. Writing of any form is a hard slog, and trying to make a living from it? So hard it’s nearly impossible for something like 95% of authors. I’ve discussed before the importance of valuing our publishing industry and I know we all place value on different things, but theft is not an option. And that’s what piracy is: you are stealing the work of a creative person not out of any altruistic desire to see literature reach every person, but because you didn’t value it enough to pay for it.
Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, wrote on Twitter that some authors have more illegal downloads than they do sales. How is that acceptable? We are asking authors to pour their heart and soul onto a page for our own enjoyment and they deserve to be valued for their contribution to our society. Here’s a great thread explaining how authors get paid, and why an advance of, say $40,000, doesn’t go that far.
There’s a bigger picture too. If writers have to supplement their meagre publishing income with full time work it affects their ability to keep producing creative content. Eventually, only those that can afford to will be able to write and be published, creating less diversity within the industry. It’s the same in the media. When you don’t pay for news you can’t expect quality journalist to just exist. When companies struggle to make a profit because people don’t want to subscribe, you’ll start to see more mergers like the Fairfax/Nine deal. Ultimately, that creates a less diverse, less robust, less democratic news landscape.
I’m not judging anyone who can’t afford to budget book purchases. But there are ways to get access to books without resorting to piracy. Check out your local library. Most Australian libraries have great media resources, including apps where you can check out ebooks and audiobooks. Here’s a great guide of where you can find books when you’re on a budget. Bottom line: support our creative industries because without that support, one day they might not exist.