My husband are I are in the waiting room of the surgery center while our daughter is having the orthopedic surgery to remove the fractured bone graft and replace it.
My husband is distracting himself by reading a golf magazine he brought along. I'm attempting to keep my anxiety at bay by re-reading some material I'd saved specifically for a second reading. I'm making notes about this so I can write a post later.
The article is in the Winter 2010 issue of Authors Guild Bulletin. "From The President" by Roy Blount Jr. is a humorous and insightful look at the concept espoused by too many that books should be free because all information should be free.
What's A Book Worth
That's the question Mr. Blount poses at the beginning of his article. From a quick analysis of the cost of a book from Amazon to Walmart, he segues to the "information wants to be free" philosophy and gives a valid and concise argument for why that idea is wrong.
Is Pie Free?
To paraphrase Mr. Blount, pie isn't free because its ingredients aren't free, and who would expect the ingredients or the pie to be free? No one, unless it's a child living at home with parents who pay for everything.
Extrapolate that to books. Books aren't free because the ingredients aren't free. What ingredients? The author from whose imagination the idea comes along with the time and energy investment made by the author to transform imagination to words on paper.
Other book ingredients are the agent who works to get a contract for the author, the various editors who edit, do cover copy, typeset (or its digital equivalent), the cover artist, the publisher who makes the financial investment in the book, and several others who could be considered book ingredients.
What's funny but true are the 3 categories Mr. Blount enumerates who usually espouse the "books want to be free" theory.
First are those who earn their paychecks from universities to teach and who write books that sell very few copies. These colleges usually charge multiple thousands of dollars in tuition to an author's child. As someone who has paid 3 times for children to attend college, I echo Mr. Blount's question: "How about College wants to be free?"
Second are people who have invented software or a high tech something and who insist on patents, registrations, and copyrights. "How about hardware and software want to be free?"
Third are people who still live at home with parents. (One imagines a snicker or two here.) Of course, these people are free - of expenses usually.
So, do books want to be free? Not in my opinion. No more than a CPA wants to work for free or a lawyer, doctor, or any other profession. How can you expect anyone, even authors, to earn nothing from the hundreds if not thousands of hours of work they put in on a project whether it's seeing a sick patient, teaching, picking up garbage, or writing a book? I can tell you for sure that the orthopedic surgeon doesn't want his surgery to be free.
Why does the general public not seem to understand that scanning, photocopying, or cutting and pasting another's written work is the same as lifting a twenty out of someone's wallet? Book pirates steal an author's words, and the person who downloads a pirated book is also conducting an act of theft.
The publishing industry is changing, and everyone is scared. Through it all, the ability of authors to make a living from writing must be protected.