Libraries are better than piracy

I love me some John Green, and he’s just recently posted a thing over on his Tumblr about why libraries are different from piracy, and so of course I love him a little bit more now.

Now, I’ve already seen season 2 of Sherlock, so I won’t try to argue that there’s never a reason (good or not) to pirate anything — it’s certainly faster than waiting until something makes it across the pond (or just into your library) and it’s obviously your cheapest option if you’re the kind of person who refuses to spend money on anything. And, as I’m learning from my husband’s law school paper on digital rights management, sometimes it is simply easier to pirate an e-book or a video game or what have you than to legally obtain it and fight through the DRM.

But of course, if everyone pirated everything you’d start to see less and less stuff available to pirate, because people who make things like to make some money here and there, or at least the ones who offer things up for sale do. And by forking over your hard-earned cash for a book or a video game, you’re telling the creators that you like what they do and you value the time and effort they put into doing it. As Green says in his post, “Right now, on Amazon, my brand new hardcover book costs about $10, which represents 1.2 hours of work at the federal minimum wage. I believe books are worth 1.2 hours of work.”

I agree with that, and I do buy (at full price, at my local indie) books that I have already read and loved and want to share with others or display with prominence on my bookshelf but never let anyone touch. But if I had purchased, even at Amazon prices, every book I’ve read over the past, say, five years? One, I would be a few thousand dollars poorer, which is a lot to me, and two, I would need way more bookshelf space, which I simply don’t have. (Sidebar: I guess I could also have an e-reader full of those hundreds of books, but if I’m going to drop a couple thousand dollars on anything I want it to be tangible and unequivocally mine. The fact that neither of these is true for e-books is really why we’re in this piracy mess in the first place, yes?)

Of course, that’s theoretical — practically, if I had to pay $10 for every book I read I wouldn’t read nearly as many books. I wouldn’t be willing to try something that sounded only kind of okay and I really wouldn’t be willing to try something I’d never heard of, and I would be the sadder for it. And what would I do with all that time?

And what if I decided to pirate those hundreds of books instead (presuming my necessary e-reader ownership)? Well, I’d save a lot of money, sure. But I’d also have a lot of kind of okay on my e-reader that I might or might not get around to reading and that I would have to wade through every time I wanted to find something actually good to read. And I still probably wouldn’t be willing to try something I’d never heard of, because I don’t know about your internet connection, but mine is not terribly fast and I don’t want to give over all of my computer’s time and bandwidth to downloading something that has an interesting title.

So give me my libraries! I personally may not want to pay $10 for a book I might not like, but my library system will have six or ten or twenty-one or one hundred copies of it if the powers that be think that someone out there, somewhere, is going to like it. And the more people who do like a book and check it out, the more copies the library will buy, to meet demand. And libraries buy those copies just like you and me, so those authors are still getting money they deserve and reaching an audience that might not have been interested at any price greater than free.

If you’re the type to pirate for piracy’s sake, have fun with that. Nothing I say is going to change your mind. But if you’re downloading the latest blockbuster movie or John Green novel because it’s cheaper than a Netflix subscription or because you just don’t know if you’re going to like it enough to make up for that $10 cost, let me introduce you to my library. You might have to wait a few days for those super-popular items, but there are so many other things you can check out (and check out) in the meantime.

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