I bought a beautiful watercolor painting for my office while I was at an art festival earlier this month. While walking around the festival, every booth had notices informing people not take photos. Why? Because in the digital age, their picture could be put online and that artist’s work (which is proprietary) would be out to the masses to download, click, print out, and share at will.
Why is this a bad thing? Wouldn’t the artist sell more art if more buzz was created by showing the image? Well, maybe. But since there is no way to quantify how many impending sales versus the potential loss in sales would occur, it’s best to buy the art from the creator.
The buying of books is more complicated. We can loan them, borrow them from the library, and even download them illegally (probably don’t do the last one). When we love a story, it’s natural to want to share it with others. And for avid readers, buying every book they read adds up to a hefty bill. For me, libraries are heaven on earth, and who doesn’t love to get a second opinion from a friend on a book they can’t stop thinking about? Still, there’s a reason I’m not posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook of the new piece of artwork I bought that I love, love, love. I respect the artist and will not violate or infringe upon his right to be compensated for his work. This is his livelihood. I would never want to take money out of his pocket.
Yet authors are asked on almost a daily basis to share their work for free. Imagine if I had walked up to that painter and told him I wanted to take a picture of his work so I could print out an enhanced copy and hang it on my wall. Isn’t that essentially the same thing as asking an author to give you their book? Yes, books are given away to build buzz for the title and promote the writer. I think that’s part of why this is a gray area. Authors you’ll encounter will sing the praises of libraries and librarians and be happy to direct you to their publicist for an advanced reader’s copy. But I think there is a misconception that we have boxes and boxes of our own books to give away on demand. Authors are given very few personal copies from their publisher. Chances are the ones you see us giving away we paid for. Yes, we bought our own work to give to you! That’s how much we want you to have access to our stories. But we cannot give away our books to everyone, and honestly, you shouldn’t ask us to.
Did you know that in traditional publishing most authors make 10% on hardbacks, 8% on paperbacks, and 15% on ebooks? These rates vary, but not by much. We also give 15% of our total royalties to our literary agent. I don’t math well, but for those of you who do, you can see that besides outliers like JK Rowling and Stephen King who sell millions of copies, authors aren’t rolling in dough.
In short, buy art and books directly from their creators or a reputable marketplace as often as you can. Support the imagination mill and help the authors you love keep writing as long as possible. We appreciate it.