From The Huffington Post:
If someone too poor or otherwise unable to buy a specific product is given that product for free, has the product’s creator lost a sale?
In most instances, I’d argue, the answer is no. You can’t lose money that doesn’t exist in the first place, or which your potential customer is unable to spend on whatever it is you’re selling. What you’ve lost, if anything, is a specific product, and therefore the opportunity to sell it to someone who can pay.
If Lamborghini were to give me a free car, for instance — or if some altruistic third party were to do so instead — then either they’ve lost the money they could’ve earned by selling that specific vehicle elsewhere, or they’ve lost the opportunity to sell to me directly. In the latter instance, though, they haven’t lost a sale, because someone actually did buy the car; and in the former instance, while they might have lost a sale, they haven’t lost my sale, because the chances of my being able to afford a Lambo in this lifetime, let alone wanting to buy one if I could, are slim to none. The only way for Lamborghini to lose my sale, therefore, is if I were both willing and able to buy a car from them, but elected not to — and even then, I’d still be within my rights as a consumer to look elsewhere.
I mention all this because Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories series, has not only said that libraries are defunct, but accused them of stealing the income of authors – “cutting their throats and slashing their purses”, as he rather dramatically has it. “Books aren’t public property,” he says, “and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.”
. . . .
But let’s return to Deary’s primary argument — that his 500,000-odd library rentals represent some 500,000 lost sales — and why it’s so inaccurate: first, because it assumes that he gained no sales by virtue of readers encountering his books in the library and later deciding to buy them; second, because it assumes that everyone who borrowed his books was similarly able or inclined to buy them, and only went the library route out of sheer cheapness; third, because it likewise assumes that the figure of 500,000 borrows corresponds to 500,000 discreet individuals; fourth, because it ignores the fundamentally obvious point that many, if not most people will try all sorts of things for free for which they’d never readily pay money, or for which they wouldn’t pay money without a free sample first; and fifth — and specific to Deary’s case — because his books are aimed at a middle-grade audience, meaning that his readers and the persons who actually hand over money are overwhelmingly two different sets of people, with the latter tending (one suspects) to be the parents and relatives of the former.
. . . .
All my life, I’ve been a patron of libraries. Even now that I’m an adult with my own disposable income, I still use them. Why? Because, not unreasonably, I’m reluctant to outlay money on unknown authors if I can sample their works beforehand for free. My book-buying budget is limited, and I want to make the most of it: now that I have a Kindle, I’ll often download sample chapters, and when I have time to browse through bookshops at leisure, I’ll read the first few pages to help me make a decision, but ultimately, neither method guarantees that a book will be worth my time and money.
And so, I’ll try the library: that way, I lose nothing on books I don’t like, but can still discover new authors — and once I’ve discovered an author I like, their books go on my ‘automatic purchase’ list. Tamora Pierce and Sara Douglass are both authors I discovered through libraries in my early teens; thus hooked, I proceeded to buy their entire respective works, even the titles I’d already read, because the idea of not owning them was insupportable. Libraries are an investment in the creation of new readers, and if Deary thinks for a second that nobody has ever bought his books as a direct result of having encountered them first in libraries, then I’d venture to suggest that he’s in the wrong profession.
Libraries don’t inhibit a writer’s profits: they add to them — not just through the PLR scheme, but through the creation of new readers and the maintenance of a literate, book-hungry populace.
Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Louisa for the tip.