The Conflicting Priorities of the Book Community

conflicting priorities of the book community-min

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.

Different Things to Support-min

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.

Briana

38 thoughts on “The Conflicting Priorities of the Book Community

  1. Diana says:

    This is a great, informative post. I didn’t know about the tweet and also hadn’t thought about ARCs, second-hand books or libraries. I buy a lot of second -hand books. That is what is easily accessible in my country unless they are books published locally. I thought its supporting the author when we review the books and hence get others interested in making the purchase. I do like what you said about legal book options and finding a balance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I buy a lot of secondhand books, too, usually from my library book sale, so I get cheap books, and the library gets money, which I consider a plus. Sure, the author doesn’t get money, but I think sometimes we get touchy about things in the book community that aren’t a problem elsewhere. No one complains if I buy a secondhand frying pan or secondhand scarf or something.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jheelam says:

    Second-hand book-shops and libraries are my two main sources of getting books. To me, lashing out at them is a bit ridiculous as not all of us can afford to buy brand-new books every month.
    I so agree with you that writing reviews and encouraging others to read are other ways to support an author. Loved your post.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Same! I like to support authors, but the reality is that avid readers are particularly the type of people who may not be able to buy new hardcovers all the time. If you read 100-300 books a year, is someone seriously expecting you to purchase them all full-price??? (And what if you also have kids who read a lot?) It’d be much easier to buy new books if you were only a casual reader.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Elspeth says:

    Very well expressed, Briana.

    We recently spent the afternoon in a couple of used bookstores purchasing the books our kids will be reading in their lit classes this school year.

    Yes, we saved some money, but we also felt as if we were doing a good thing as well as allowing our dollars to reflect our priorities.

    It is not possible to live and purchase in a way that meets every possible competing set of priorities in the industry.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I like the idea of supporting a secondhand shop as I think it’s a positive thing to shop locally and to recycle books. I think we have to recognize that buying every book new is not possible for every reader. However, sometimes buying a used book could lead someone to fall in love and buy multiple copies. Or fall in love and gift the book to others. It might still lead to revenue for the author!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sammie says:

    This is such a great post! I saw the tweet, and I was so happy that the majority of the reaction was in opposition to it, because otherwise, that would’ve been a bit disheartening. Buying brand-new books is great, but thinking that’s the only way people can (and will) get books is silly and not realistic. It’s also extremely demeaning to people who *can’t* afford to always go buy new books when they want a book, and it comes dangerously close to reeking of classism and other things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I get that the author was just trying to inform people about how authors get paid (some people actually don’t know that secondhand purchases don’t pay authors, for instance, and this is good to know if you DO want to support authors), but the way it was expressed was not great. I appreciate that she realized eventually that the tone was off.

      Also, sometimes when authors say stuff like this, I kind of wonder if they seriously never buy used books or go to the library. They’re always talking about how they’re not paid well (frequently true), so I doubt all authors go around buying all new hardcovers for the stuff they read!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sammie says:

        I mean, like anything in life, it’s a really hard trade-off, and I agree. If I didn’t have ARCs and my library, I wouldn’t read even half as much. I just can’t afford it. You cut out used books, and there’s just no way. I buy a lot of books, and I buy new when I can (mostly Kindle and mostly on sale, but hey, it’s new), but that’s just not always feasible. So there are concessions. But I do make the effort.

        I also fangirl and tell everybody I know about books that I enjoyed, and a lot of times, THEY go and buy the book if they’re really curious. I feel like a lot of people downplay the power of positive buzz in the scheme of things. It’s not the end all, be all, but if someone grabs your book used and tells all their friends about it because they like it and you get one new sale you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten … isn’t that also a win for the author?

        Like

      • Krysta says:

        Bradon Sanderson actually released Warbreaker free on his website (I believe it’s still there) and writes about how he thought it could work because he used to go to the library and then buy books he loved. I know people who do the same thing. They borrow a book and then buy it if they enjoyed it. So I think sometimes competing interests can end up benefiting each other!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Grab the Lapels says:

    There is an small-press author whom I TRULY value. When I Tweeted her to let her know that one of my followers requested that the library buy her book so my follower could read it, the author Tweeted back something rude, something about how she won’t see a dime of that. I haven’t felt the same about her since, and my negative feelings make me not want to read or buy her books.

    While I do love used book stores (is a charity book shop something different?) because they feel like something special, I also know that in the U.S. we have a MASSIVE prison population. Most of them require that inmates buy books from 1 or two sources. They cannot have books, new or used, sent to them by individuals. Thus, they are always buying new books from 1-2 specific places, and that costs a lot of money. Therefore, I feel that if we were allowed to donate any and all used books to prison systems, I would support that over used book stores. The issue is that individuals will soak pages of books in drugs, hide paraphernalia, etc. When people are screaming about prisoners being kept from books, this is something they forget. When I taught in a prison, I learned that facility didn’t even allow in cards because family and friends would put drugs on the paper of the cards, then then inmate would EAT the card to get high. No crayon drawings either–same reason.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Wow, that’s crazy! Library books are a great way for people to try your book and then buy it if they like or buy other books you’ve written if they liked the first one. Getting annoyed at someone who read a library book, or someone who tried to support you by having their library request it, is crazy! I would have been put off the author, too.

      Yes, books in prisons are such a problem! I believe my library donates some of the used ones that are donated to the library, but the prisons are very selective about what they will take.

      I think by charity shop the author who tweeted meant something like Goodwill or a Salvation Army shop that doesn’t specialize just in books, but I also think she’s mad about secondhand books in general. :p

      Like

  6. Adam says:

    I’m reminded of another medium, where the creators said “We would prefer that people experience our content than not, and if they are only able to view our content through a free format, we understand that. However, we would hope that those who enjoy our work, and wish to see more, will recognize that we as artists can only continue if we are supported, and therefore, to the extent that each person can, we hope that audiences will prioritizing those artists that they most wish to see continue to produce content.”
    I’m also reminded of how some musicians and other media artists have opted to provide their content for free, allowing audiences to experience the content, and then choose how much they would value said content.
    Much like musicians, I think authors can use their writing as a “proof of concept”, and make additional money through workshops and other appearances.
    I’ve also met some who aim to produce multiple novels each year, ensuring that there is always something fresh for audiences to purchase.

    I think it’s much easier to change ourselves, and how we do things, than it is to convince countless others to change to accomodate our preferences.
    And anyone who writes stories is certainly not lacking in creativity or imagination.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Some creators really have had success by offering some of their work for free. I get that there has to be a balance. Some free work could be good for marketing, but of course creators want to be paid. (And it’s true that creators are very, very often asked to do free work for “exposure” in ways that other people are. No one asks accountants or lawyers free work for exposure really!) But you may be right that ultimately the model may be that money (or the “real” money is not made on the writing itself). I’ve heard that in the music industry, the real money-maker is concerts, not selling songs. I don’t know how much charging for workshops or school visits or whatever is (or will be in the future) good income for writers.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. dogearedpgs says:

    As someone who just joined the online book community this is a really interesting topic to me. Something I’ve noticed is lack of support of libraries, particularly by popular booktubers, when libraries are, in my opinion, one of the most valuable resources we can have as a community (and a society). Reading through the other comments, it’s surprising to me that authors wouldn’t want their readers to support libraries and the like. Great post!

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I don’t really watch booktube (mainly because I don’t watch videos in general and prefer to read articles online), but my general sense is that the popular booktubers do try to create the sense that they’re always up on the latest releases, either that they purchased themselves or received from publishers to promote. And of course since it’s a visual medium, there’s the pressure to show off shiny new beautiful books, not something ratty and eight years old from the library. It’s really unfortunate because I think that the segment of the online book community that has access to public libraries tends to use them a lot and love them, and it’s kind of strange to me that someone who reads a lot would not actually go to the library or encourage others to do so. It also re-enforces the idea that some people get that you need to buy all the latest new books to be “successful” as a blogger or booktuber.

      Yeah, I get from an individual perspective that, of course, an author would like you to pay for their book, but so many authors themselves go/used to go to the library that it seems like something they’d promote.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bridget says:

    You know, I really don’t have anything to add here.

    This was such a great post with wonderful info and you are absolutely right – telling readers that the only way they can support an author is by purchasing a book is making other avenues (libraries, used bookstores) suffer down the line. It’s also telling readers who are not financially stable that they’re *essentially* no longer allowed to read if they’re not going to buy a brand new book. It really suggests… snobbery.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It doesn’t really make sense to me. Someone who learns to love to read at the library or a secondhand bookstore could potentially become a buyer of books later in life when their financial circumstances change. Or someone who reads and loves a library book might then decide to buy it. Plus, more circulation numbers mean libraries get more money to buy more books. The best case scenario, financially, for the author might be to have everyone buy new hardcovers. But I think giving people access to books through other means could end up helping authors, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. ashley says:

    I saw this and was just shaking my head. I really can’t stand when others shame people for how they legally acquire books, not everyone has the money to buy new books all the time. I love borrowing books from the library.

    Liked by 1 person

      • ashley says:

        It really wasn’t. Used books were still originally bought and the author got the money from the original purchase. And I think publishing companies look at library circulation numbers too.

        Like

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          Yes, at least a used book was bought once! That’s totally different from pirating! Also, I feel like books are basically the one thing where people get mad about it being passed on to a new user. No one gets huffy if I give a skirt away to someone else or even a CD or DVD.

          Like

  10. looloolooweez says:

    I mean… the book printing/selling industry has been around for literally centuries, and so have libraries and 2nd hand bookshops. While I sympathize with underpaid authors and have some concerns about the way the publishing industry works, their financial expectations and control of physical works are not in any way mysterious and libraries etc. are not somehow newly nefarious paycheck-thieving tools of the inherently selfish hoi polloi. It’s one thing to be concerned about your intellectual property rights and fair payment for use thereof, but expecting people to give up participating in acceptably ethical markets/services that have been going on hundreds of years is unrealistic in the extreme.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I love the way you expressed this! I get that sometimes readers seriously do ask, “What is the best way to support authors I like?” But a general statement berating people who don’t buy new books is ridiculous.

      Like

  11. ireadthatinabook says:

    I completely agree! I also think that we should remember that things change. For a long time I used libraries and used bookstores because I didn’t have too much money to spend. As my income increased I started to buy more and more cheap but new books and now, with a proper job and few other expenses, I’m an excellent customer, buying fancy editions and supporting independent bookstores and publishers. However, without the cheap options I had before I probably wouldn’t be the good customer I am today.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. litlemonbooks says:

    Just my two cents. Regardless if I buy new or used or borrowed the book I always post it on social media. I may not have bought your book new, but I will be a free ad service for you. I agree with everything you have said, reads are torn between wanting to support it all.

    Like

Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.