Friday, January 20, 2012

The Value of Our Words, Part One.

 Sitting here with my coffee, I just opened an e-book to read and noticed something I'd never noticed before: a statement declaring, in short, that the e-book must not be shared in any way-- that each person who reads that book must purchase it for themselves. 

 Are you mad? This is wrong, wrong, wrong. It's bad manners and bad business.

 Although it's not likely anyone else would want to read off of my Kindle-for-PC or even another person's Kindle, Nook, etc., one of the great pleasures of books is the sharing of them. The borrowing that leads to chatting about them. As an author, I'm sorry, but you have no control over that, nor should you want it. It's your best bet for getting read. And getting read, by any means, is your best bet for being read again, for selling books in any format.

 As a writer, I'm shocked at this notion of possessiveness. Once the art has gone out there, it doesn't  belong solely to you anymore, and someone should have told you that before you got published. Your words are now our words: to chew on, comment on and share with like minds. To parody, to revile or respect. They are not ours to claim as our own, but that's where your power over your writing stops-- if your words themselves have force, it will carry; and if they don't, no amount of threats or warnings applied after the fact will empower them. That's art, baby, and you'd best get used to it if you want to survive along with the rest of us writers, musicians and painters.

 As a reader, I'm incensed, and I won't buy a book with this warning again. Traditionally I've understood that when I buy something, I own it, whether it is a hammer, a cupcake or a car. There may be responsibilities attached, but the item is still mine. That's commerce, and books aren't special in this regard. I buy a book, I'm free to read it or toss it, to enjoy or hate it, to underline meaningful passages in yellow highlighter or rip the pages up to line a birdcage. Your book coming to me in a different form does not negate my ownership. For you to say that it does is a breach of the trust between reader and author. You can't make non-ownership a special condition of that trust, not if you want to retain your readership.

 You own the art, but I own the book, get it? You can't tell me that if I let my Mom read it while she's visiting, she's a thief and I'm her accomplice. Sharing that doesn't involve monetary payment isn't stealing. You don't get to decide that it is, because it suits your needs. You don't get to redefine stealing this way and not be accused of a particularly foul type of censorship. In fact, money can sometimes change hands between readers/book owners and still not count as damage to an author. Last summer I bought a used set of The Chronicles of Narnia at a yard sale, and I doubt C.S. Lewis would have seen it as anything but good that his books went from a family that no longer appreciated them to one that does. Are you better than C.S. Lewis? Can you understand that shared enjoyment is worth more than a few extra sales upfront?

 If you're smart, you'll stop worrying about piracy and theft so much and start worrying about what happens when people that would have been fans decide that they don't like being treated as criminals for doing with your books what they would do with other books. There are plenty of books on the market/s to choose from, more than ever before in history, books on every subject and at every price.
 Believe me when I say that what cheapened yours wasn't the 99 cent cost to download-- it was the sentiment expressed in your warning not to share. I'm taking that warning to heart; I will never, never share your book.


   The Angry Fish


Sherry Canary said...

I applaud you! I can't wait to hear what music and/or poetry will come from this.

The hell with ebooks. I will buy and share....or get them from the library!

heavy hedonist said...

Thank you, Songbird. I'm a lover of the library, too, and this issue puts libraries in an awkward position.

Jennifer E. McFadden said...

Wow,issuing a 'warning' is absurd if you actually WANT people to READ your book. Twilight would NOT be where it is today if people weren't borrowing their friend's books before buying their own to read again.

heavy hedonist said...

Right on, Jennifer-- The Lord of the Rings went through that, too-- at least twice, here in the USA.

MorningAJ said...

Erm... paperback books have a very similar message in them.

heavy hedonist said...

I'm not sure what you mean, AJ-- paperbacks I own have statements to the effect that they cannot be reproduced for free, or have large sections shared without given permission, as in electronically-or-otherwise, for more than small quotes. This isn't the same as saying you cannot lend your book to someone to read, which is what I'm talking about.
But if and when I pick up as paperback or hardcover and find a note that I'm not allowed to share it, it won't be bought or shared either.

Anonymous said...

Read this in response to your FAWM plea for readers. I sorta-kinda agree with your position, to the extent that you've made it clear. Remember, everything falls apart. Intellectual Propoerty Law was created "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." They are now used to stifle progress and creativity. Here's a fun discussion on the topic: The Intellectual Property Racket

heavy hedonist said...

Thanks, Anonymous; checking out that link now.

marta said...

I think warnings like that are ridiculous.

I'd be so happy if someone actually bought my book, and I'd be thrilled if they liked it enough to share. Do I really want someone to read my book and then to look at their friend and say, "Sorry. Get your own!"


I worry that my book won't mean anything, that it will not be read, that it will be nonsense. That it will be stolen? No. Not all.

heavy hedonist said...

Marta-- I have the same worries.