We mostly don’t start reading new authors by buying their books.

I can’t remember where I read that insight – with all the self-publishing advice I’ve been reading I lose track. The main thing was that an author polled their readers and found that less than 20% had started reading their books by buying one.

Take my reading this weekend.

On Friday I finished Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air, a second-hand copy picked up in a charity shop. Sure, that’s buying a book, but not in the way that profits the author.

Having finished that I picked up Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman Histories, leant to me by everwalker.

On Saturday I went to the library to borrow the third in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, because I’ve enjoyed the first two and people seem to enjoy reading my opinions on those books.

OK, this isn’t the first time I’ve read King, but it still shows something about my reading habits.

There’s a lot of fuss about piracy of books, music, etc. But the truth is that we’ve always discovered new artists by trying their material for free, whether borrowed from a library or a friend. These days that can be sampling a free story on the internet or watching videos on youtube, but it does lead to sales. My last five album purchases were all bands I fell in love with via youtube (albums by Frightened Rabbit, Moon Hooch, OK Go, Frightened Rabbit and, um, more Frightened Rabbit – I’m getting a bit obsessed with their records). I could have carried on listening to them for free, but I liked them enough to want access to their music in a more convenient form, and wanted to reward them for putting some brilliance in my life.

Sure, there are people who will constantly seek something for nothing. But most will eventually start paying to get what they want faster, quicker, better, to have the latest album on their iPhone or read the new book straight away (damn you George R R Martin, the only man whose release dates I pay attention to, how I love the pain you inflict on your characters). Kickstarter and Patreon prove that people will pay extra for what they really want.

I’m not saying the piracy of intellectual property isn’t a problem. I’m just saying that it’s not the problem we think it is. That it is, to some extent, filling a hole in our lives made by not having lendable physical objects. That its role is more nuanced than either the Pirate Party or the corporate lawyers give it credit for.

And here’s a Moon Hooch video – let me share some of that free cultural goodness:

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Comments
  1. […] and isn’t worth reading. It might not feel like it on an individual level, when you’re picking up the book that your friend recommended, but if you look at the big picture you can see these guardians of our reading experience looming […]

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