A book club without books

26 April 2016

For the first time in my life I joined a book club. I have been an addicted reader since I was five but have always resisted book clubs. This is mostly because I always know what I want to read next (actually I always know the next 100 books I want to read) so having to read someone else’s choice has never appealed to me.  But I now live a very isolated life – in a city where I have no friends and don’t go out to work. So when I was invited to a book club of expat and local women I accepted, thinking it would be a way of meeting like-minded people who enjoyed reading and discussing what they’d read.

However, the members of this club rarely buy books. They prefer to access illegally downloadable e-books. Can you claim to love books and yet illegally access e-books? I don’t think so. In the words of writer Ally Carter “it feels different from, say, walking into Barnes and Noble, shoving the book down your pants and running for the door. It FEELS different …. But it isn’t”. In fact, as she says, it’s worse. By making a book available for illegal download, you are potentially depriving the author (and the publisher, editor, agent and bookstore) of thousands of dollars.

What about those people who genuinely can’t afford to buy books? Should they be deprived of reading material? Absolutely not. That is what libraries are for. Authors get paid for library users borrowing their books. For large parts of my life, I didn’t have money for books but was lucky enough to live where I had access to well-stocked libraries. Now that I can afford books, I am happy to buy them, knowing that writers and their publishing networks need to be supported. This is an especially fortunate position in my present circumstances, where there are no libraries that cater for readers like me.

If people do not buy books, they will stop being published. Ally Carter writes for love but publishes for money. She gets paid according to how many of her books are sold. If they are no longer selling, the publisher will stop publishing them. “So don’t think about it as buying the book you’ve got in your hands. Think about it as buying the book you’ve got in your hands and the chance to read more books in the future.”

If you think $30 is too much to pay for a book (despite the fact that it may have taken the writer years to write (10 in the case of Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See)) think about these figures. The bookseller’s cut is around $10, the author $3, pre-production including editing around $7, marketing around $2 and printing/warehousing around $5, leaving a publisher’s profit of approximately $3. There are figures provided by Australian writer Greg Barron, who also says “To my mind, there’s a compact between writer and reader along the lines of; you buy my book, and I’ll bust my gut to write the best story I can for you. I’ll entertain and enthral you, but I need to eat, and live somewhere. I therefore must charge you for the privilege of reading my work.” He also quotes the figures for an e-book, which needs to sell for at least $13 just for the publisher to maintain their profit margin of around 9% and for the author to get fair recompense for their work.

So my membership of this particular book club may be short-lived. I will not read a book that is illegally obtained and if it is not available to me in any other form, I cannot read the nominated book. Fortunately this has almost no impact on my reading life – I have a stack of books in hard copy and  in e form waiting to be read. As a book devourer, I need writers to keep writing!

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