Doyen of the leftie literrati, Brian Edwards, has launched a surprising attack on that near-sacred liberal institution, the public library. In his blog yesterday, he writes:
What pisses me off as an author is that for every person who buys your book, dozens of other bludgers get to read it for nothing. Let me give you an example. A few years back I wrote a biography of Helen Clark. It took about six months to write and during that time I had effectively no other income. The book retailed at $45. On the standard author’s royalty of 10%, I got $4.50 for every copy sold. Helen, Portrait of a Prime Minister sold 9,000 copies, a reasonable if not spectacular figure in the New Zealand market. So I got $40,500 before tax for my six month’s work.
I’m not complaining about that either. But…
Every public library in New Zealand bought at least one copy of Helen. And they lent each of those copies to other people to read for… nothing. Last year there were still 227.4 copies of the book in New Zealand public libraries. If each of those copies was taken out by one person a month, that’s 2,729 people who read but didn’t pay for my book – my six month’s work. At $4.50 per unsold copy, that’s a theoretical loss of income to me in one year of $12,280.
But there’s a principle here: when one person buys a book and lends it to another person to read, they effectively become an accessory to theft. Their generous act amounts to little more than stealing the author’s work. When a public library buys a book and lends it to thousands of other people to read, it’s grand theft copyright and really no different from illegally downloading music or movies or copying CDs or DVDs on your computer.
In a Googlised world, when so much of the world’s books, movies, music and anything that can be scanned or burnt is being already shipped for free, illegally or otherwise, how quaint that someone cares so much about the library system.
And how grasping for Mr Ed to be worried about his theoretical loss of $12,280? Perhaps in another life he could have been a short seller?
Try this more enlightened view of libraries by Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner.
Or comment on Brian’s blog here. Lots of people already have and he responds with his usual mixture of flair and acidity.