Article published on September 12, 2013.
My generation; we’ll pay a little extra for FairTrade coffee, we’ll grow moustaches for charity, and we’ll throw ourselves into Responsible Tourism. We pride ourselves on our ethics. Unfortunately though, we stink at paying artists for their work. A generalisation maybe, but just take a look at sales of music in the digital era. It’s not a pretty picture, and in the age of the eBook reader, the world of publishing could be heading the same way.
I came of age when Napster first appeared, and my own children will grow up in a world where paying for content will be practically – if not morally – completely optional. Supported by endless neat little self-justifications, piracy has brought us to a point where actually buying content feels like philanthropy. But do the arguments really stack up?
“The artist only gets a fraction of the proceeds anyway.”
An answer in two parts –
- Does it become OK to steal from someone because they have very little?
- Are you under the impression the artist is the only person to have made a legitimate contribution to the finished product? Editors, cover designers, marketing – and that’s before we’ve covered the rest of the supply chain. These aren’t hangers on fleecing the author; without their contribution, the book wouldn’t be the thing it is.
“Artists earn enough – they can afford to take the hit.”
Leaving aside the fact that stealing content is hardly the work of Robin Hood, does anyone remember the last time you saw a mid-list author providing a guided tour of their mansion on MTV Cribs? I’ll stake my own mortgage on the answer being “no.”
JK Rowling and Stephen King aren’t representative of all practitioners of their craft. Cracked.com writer Robert Brockway is perhaps a little more representative, and as he pointed out in his article on the subject, for the amount of time he invested in his book Everything is Going to Kill Everybody, he was paid well below minimum wage.
“I’m doing the artist a favour by getting their work out there.”
I’ll be honest – as a rule, I don’t pay for books. If you’re interested in giving an author the oxygen of publicity in exchange for books gratis, there’s an established and legitimate method of doing this in our internet age. You can set up your own blog or join an existing one – at the bottom of this very page, you can apply to join the Nudge team – it’s a hard life, but someone’s got to do it. I can’t claim to speak about all pirates, but I’m prepared to bet that, after obtaining books without consent, they don’t put as much effort into promoting the artist’s work as the book blogging community does.
“The artist should be happy just to be doing something they love.”
I’ve never met an author who didn’t enjoy what they do on some level. Let’s be frank, greed alone wouldn’t sustain anyone through countless hours of solitude in front of the blank page. And ultimately, the very technology that makes piracy possible highlights the weakness of this argument. The author has the ability to make their work available to you for free. The decision isn’t yours, it’s theirs – and by choosing to charge for their work, they’ve decided to try and earn a living doing what they love. Who are we to stop them chasing that particular dream?
Our World Now 6
Elizabeth of the German Garden: A Literary Journey, by Jennifer Walker
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