Booksquare has posted a couple of entries on the business of book buying and the fairness or ethics involved. Rather than leaving long comments in the posts I thought I would pontificate here. That is what having your own blog is all about right?
A few days ago Booksquare discussed the idea of droit de suite (or artist’s resale right) and recommended a simple way to apply this to books:
Because we are not good at math, we’ll keep the numbers simple. Let’s say that a levy of twenty-five cents is imposed on every used book sold (also allowing for certain exceptions to the law, such as charitable institutions, perhaps). Ten cents goes to the author, not subject to reduction by the application of royalties. Ten cents goes to the publishers. Five cents goes to administration – perhaps shared by booksellers and the body overseeing the distribution of funds.
We have simples rules for buying used books: the author must be dead or the book must be out of print or unattainable through normal retail channels. While we rarely borrow books, we do loan them, having learned that all it takes is matching the right reader with the right author for future happiness. In our spare time, we fiddle on roofs.
We do fully realize that our rules don’t work for everyone.
I find Booksquare’s perspective interesting and thought I would share some thoughts. If you are interested you will find them below.
While I can appreciate Booksquare’s interest in assuring that authors get as strong a compensation system as possible (and obviously they can choose to make choices based on their belief about how that system should work) I have a sense that there is a larger issue involved.
Let me start by stating that if authors can work to change the industry in a way that rewards them more fully for their work, more power to them. If it results in better books being written, all the better. But I am sensing Booksquare feel consumers should have some sort of moral obligation in mind when buying books. I think this is rather silly. The obligation to make money, and to organize how said money is made, is on the author, the agent, the publisher, etc. I don’t have an obligation to makes sure the author gets as much money as possible in any given transaction. It isn’t even part of my thought process.
I should obey the law obviously (including copyrights, etc.) but outside of that I fail to see how I need to base my book buying on some assumption or knowledge of how the publishing world works any more than I should choose whether to see a full price movie or go to the dollar theater based on how much a given actor or director makes.
I buy books based on how much I think a given title is worth (ie how badly I want to own/read it. I happen to like new hardback books so I buy a lot of new books. I buy on-line, through book clubs, in chain stores, and in quirky independents. If there is a way to buy books I do it.
But I also shop a lot at discount bookstores where remainders and used books are sold. If someone purchased a brand new hardback and decided they didn’t want it anymore and I can pick it up at Half-Priced Books much cheaper than I could at a store I don’t feel in the least guilty buying that book. It is a matter of setting a price level. If it is either buy the book used or not buy it at all, I would think most authors would choose buy it used. To me this is a good thing, because it means I will be reading authors that I otherwise wouldn’t be (and which could mean buying more of that author’s work in the future). A lot of these works are not easily available in retail stores or are out of print. But some of them are available on-line or in stores.
Booksquare seems to be arguing that book buyers need to buy based on the author’s needs, or some sense of economic equity, rather than based on the consumer’s own sense of the product’s worth. This is neither likely nor rational in my mind. Consumers have their own reasons for the what, why, and how of their shopping. The economic structure of the industry shouldn’t be a factor.
I think there is an irony involved as well. On the surface this issue might seem to pit the two clashing views of the publishing industry, it’s just a business versus it’s all about the work/art. But it seems to me that in neither vision should Booksquare’s concerns (at least about the readers purchasing choices) be an issue. Either literature is art and therefore the author should be happy with more readers, and leave the crude business decisions to someone else, or it is a business and he should expect consumers to make their own economic decisions based on their own needs and desires.
Am I missing something here?