Recently on Twitter, an author shared a controversial tweet in which she listed various ways authors are not paid for their work: when readers read ARCs, when readers buy used books from charity shops, and when readers pirate books.* The conflation of buying a used book with stealing a book and the lack of recognition that bloggers and other reviewers are asked to do unpaid marketing in exchange for the ARC generated some backlash (rightly, in my opinion). However, the tweet also made me think about something I see in the book community a lot: conflicting priorities when it comes to the value of reading, the value of blogging, the value of paying authors for their work, etc.
Basically, there are a lot of things book lovers like to promote, and I think there’s some difficulty in the fact that supporting one of the things we like means we are not supporting something else we like. The tweet gets at the heart of the matter because it speaks to the idea that authors would like to get paid for their writing, and most readers would like to see them paid for their writing, both because we value their work and because we recognize that good sales on Book #1 means the author will get to publish Book #2 and so forth.
However, as much as readers like to see authors compensated for their work, we also recognize other truths. For example: Not everyone can afford to buy new books all the time. And the book community isn’t just about authors; it’s about readers. Many of us are in favor of supporting literacy and supporting love of reading in every form possible. This means helping readers find discounted or free (but still legal!) book options, not acting disgruntled because they didn’t acquire a book in a way that was the most financially beneficial for someone else.
We may also want to support the charity shops that sell used books or indie bookstores that have used books sections. Buying only new books would be good for authors and publishers, but it would be bad for other things we value. Also, maybe we’re environmentally conscious and want to see books have a long life and shared among readers, not read once and thrown away or left to sit unused on a dusty shelf.
Readers also like to support libraries. While authors are paid a little when libraries purchase a book (and some countries apparently pay the author a bit each time the book is checked out), having 100 people read a library book is not the same financially for the author as having 100 people purchase the book new. Going to a library also means not supporting indie bookstores. But we value libraries, and readers are frequently encouraged to utilize them—particularly because more people checking out books usually means more funding for the library, which means better resources, which means more people will go to the library, etc.
My main point: There are a lot of things we want to support as readers, and I think it would be great for the community to recognize that. Telling people to support authors is great. But so is telling them to support libraries. Or indie bookstores. Or charity shops. Or just to read. We can’t do all of the things all of the time. So do what works for you and recognize that other people will need to do what works for them. Hopefully, it will all balance out, and authors, bookstores, libraries, and readers will all get the support they need.
*I’m not naming the author because she deleted the tweet and posted an apology, plus it’s not really the point of my post here.