Some people buy designer bags and shoes, or spend their money buying parts for the vintage car they’re restoring. I buy books. And I’m guessing if you’re reading this, a significant part of your non-essential spending also goes towards the written word in some form. I’m sure if I added up the cost of every book I own (which I realised was quite a lot as I huffed and puffed with countless boxes during my recent move), I could afford some Prada or Dior. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. But you get my point: we bookworms spend plenty on our passion. It’s a passion which takes up space as well as money and I feel like almost every voracious reader has a constant eternal debate about supporting the publishing industry and keeping the budget in check.
There are ebbs and flows in any budget and over the years, the way I get my hands on books has changed dramatically. As a school student, the library was my go-to. My need for new books was also curbed by the lack of bookstore in my town (regional Australia, huh?) and the difficulty of convincing my parents to buy me books online. A new book was a real treat. And it still is, but now I treat myself a little (okay, a lot) more. I don’t just buy one new book, I buy three (or four, or five…) and add them to the collection of books I own but haven’t read.
That’s where things get complicated for me, because I never want to buy books simply to possess them. I want to savour them and enjoy them. Yes, I’ve got some commemorative editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but for the most part I avoid double-ups. Social media and the rise of #bookstagram means my feeds are flooded with images of gorgeous books and while I lust after them, I have to remind myself that it’s what’s inside that counts. While I will find myself thinking ‘ohhh, that cover is going to be so lovely to style’, I’m also pretty strict on never buying books just for the design; it has to be something I genuinely want to read. That still doesn’t stop me from seeking out particular editions of books on my to-read list though…
This year, I’ve focused a lot more on reading what’s already on my shelves, but trips to Brisbane and the UK have meant I’ve also taken the chance to shop in some lovely independent bookstores. Which is another reason why I don’t feel too guilty for buying piles of books. I’m in a financial position now where I can afford to treat myself to books, and while I absolutely could continue to use my local library (which I adore) I feel some obligation to the publishing industry to support it with my purchases.
This was an issue Charlotte Wood, author of The Natural Way of Things, spoke about during her Stella Prize speech and again at a Wheeler Centre forum (however, I’ve forgotten to note down the particular episode of the podcast). Right now, it’s not viable to make a living as an author. Yes, there are a few exceptions, people like J.K Rowling or Jeffrey Archer or James Patterson. But a 2015 study found the average annual income for literary fiction was just $4100 and that itself is skewed by the high earners. The average annual income for all writers was $12,900 but again, this was influenced by the high selling authors and those working on educational book as well as genre fiction. Arts funding also continues to be slashed. As Wood said in the podcast, “the solution is for us as a society to give a shit about art and literature and talk about it and demand it from our politicians”.
Writers and bloggers and creative types in general know we’re often asked to work for free. I mean, my best friend and I run a podcast in our (limited) spare time that makes us nothing. In fact, we’ve invested hundreds of dollars into it already and that’s just in material terms. But we love it dearly and we’re passionate about creating it. Authors are the same and while they are getting paid for their book, they’re often not getting paid for all the promotion that goes along with it. After all, when someone comes on Better Words as a guest, they’re not being paid for their time. Wood pointed out people are happy to spend $25 or more on a bottle of wine, but say they can’t afford a book. But, she said “you have to” otherwise our book industry won’t have the longevity it deserves and our stories as a nation will fail to be recorded.
Am I going to limit my book buying? Now that I’m back to normal life, I am going to try and make a dint in my unread book collection. However, while I have the capacity to continue spending extra money on books, I’m going to keep supporting the amazing work of our publishers and authors. I usually buy most books from Dymocks because they’re an Australian company, but Rockhampton finally got a bookstore so as much as possible I’m going to be shopping there. Everyone places different values on things and for me, clearly, that choice is books. I may not always have the money to buy new books, but I’ll continue to support the industry in any way I can (including a new novel or two when I find a cute bookshop).
How do you feel about buying books? If you don’t have the budget, what do you do to support the publishing industry?