Home » Libraries, Non-US » Toronto Public Library sadly embraces ‘culture of free’

Toronto Public Library sadly embraces ‘culture of free’

20 January 2015

From the Toronto Star:

The Toronto Public Library, the largest in the country, has launched a new platform of penny-pinching ingenuity. The “Sell Books to the Library” program advertises to readers that it will buy used hardcover copies of bestselling titles listed on its website at the beginning of every month at five dollars a piece.

This innocuous sounding program is but the latest manifestation of the so-called “culture of free” that has ravaged the media, music and book worlds. Without the FBI threatening quarter-million-dollar fines or five year prison terms for copyright infringement — as it does on DVDs — the value system that supports the prospect of just reward is eroded. Individuals and companies used to paying nothing for artists’ work now do so without compunction.

. . . .

Alarmingly, this phenomenon of exploitation includes the very institutions whoseraison d’être (you would have thought) demand a respect of writers and their product, acting not as custodians but instead pushing for their own chance to outwit circumstance and pay nothing. The amendment, in 2012, of Canadian copyright law to include “education” as the object of legitimate “fair dealing” has faculties across the country brazenly copying entire chapters or 10 per cent of a book for the assembly of fat study guides, for which not a single writer is paid, meted out to hundreds of thousands of students.

And now the Toronto Public Library is zealously joining the cheapskates’ fray. The books it has listed on its “Sell Books to the Library” website page are not books that the public does not want; their authors are not ones who, the great lie of media and festivals, stand to benefit from extra publicity. No, the list is comprised of books so popular that the library is having a hard time meeting existing demand. December’s inaugural list includes, for instance, Canadian authors Margaret Atwood, David Bezmozgis, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Kathleen Reichs, Peter Robinson, Carrie Snyder, Miriam Toews, as well as Sean Michaels and Thomas King, winners of this year’s Scotiabank Giller and Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction respectively.

Instead of ordering copies of books that furnish a royalty, and supporting the trade, as all honourable purchases do, the TPL is buying off the back of a public truck it has ushered into the courtyard, depriving writers and the companies that invest in them of their just reward. It can do so because it has decided that the lowest possible price to be paid is the right one.

Link to the rest at the Toronto Star

Libraries, Non-US

77 Comments to “Toronto Public Library sadly embraces ‘culture of free’”

  1. All writers think of libraries as friends, in no small part because of the payments doled out by the Public Lending Right that compensates the author every time a book is borrowed

    Is this a Canadian thing? I have the impression there isn’t anything like here in the U.S.

    • Yeah, we have it in Canada and a number of other countries like Denmark(originator I believe) have it. http://plr-dpp.ca/PLR/default.aspx is the Canadian site.

      • Very true, and I have complained about this for years. No such thing exists in the U.S. A book is bought once and lent out for the life of the book, which can last years.

        • Wow, that’s the most boondoggly program in the history of boondoggles.

          The public, with their tax money, has already bought the books. They paid VAT tax for those books also. They are then forced to buy an accounting system. They are then forced to pay a per-lend fee.

          Aside from a suspicion that the publishing companies and agents get most of this dosh, it’s fairly obvious that writers also pay for it in taxes.

          It’s also fairly obvious that a writer with a large family or circle of acquaintances could just direct all their minions and moms to request the books be bought, and then check out the books every week from their local library, thus stealing even more money off the public.

          (It would be some consolation that the minions would be paying for the books, VAT, and payments with their tax money, as well as throwing in time, labor and gas. But minions are supposed to be rather dim about such things.)

  2. P.G. (Anyone with knowledge-really.)

    I thought that in order to be able to put the books out to readers, Libraries have by statute-to pay an inflated price, compared to that which a reader could obtain the book from Amz, for instance.

    If they are buying in these books for $5, when they’re used to paying, what, $50? I guess that’s a significant uptick in the library’s bottom line-and a pretty fierce blow to authors. If I remember from what I’ve read here, writers don’t see much dosh from library lending.


  3. companies used to paying nothing for artists’ work now do so without compunction.

    How much does a publisher pay an artist for their work? It’s kind of hard to tell who they’re talking about sometimes…
    Looks like they closed comments after the first two failed to agree with the author of the piece. Good job fostering discussion, Toronto Star!

  4. $5! That’s insanely overpriced. Have none of these people ever tried to sell a used book?

    Even though my PL does not buy books from the public, they strongly encourage donations. There doesn’t seem to be any problem with that.

    • I’ve sold my hardcovers in the past to used bookstores here in Canada for $5 or so. Usually get 20% of the cover price.

  5. Maybe if the publishers didn’t overcharge for their shiny new books in the first place, the library wouldn’t feel like it had to buy them used.

    I donate a print copy of my books to my local library because I want them to be read.

    Crazy. I know.

    • I frequently donated books to my libraries. Then I’d turn around and buy used books from the library store and periodic books sales.

      So the libraries got a twofer.

      Of course, that was BK. (Before Kindle, but Konrath has a solution for that, too.)


  6. My logic circuits are overheating. 1) $5!=”free” b) Are they assuming the person selling the book to the library got it for free, or stole it, or their (full price) purchase somehow doesn’t count? and iii)Are all of these popular writers reduced to diluting ketchup packets boosted from fast food restaurants to make soup with?

    Oh, I see. They don’t like the fact that people get books from the library, for free. Never mind that in many cases, the choice is “library” vs. “no book” because some people ARE living on cheap knockoff ramen, and the poor starving popular writers wouldn’t get any extra money either way. How dare people be poor!

  7. Damn the library for thinking of the taxpayers and patrons who support them (and who presumably paid the “royalty” to the publisher and author with their original purchase) instead of the publishing companies. If you ask most authors, they rejoice at having their books available at libraries.

    Publishers think that making people wait for a popular book at the library will make them buy it, but if the people are like me, it will only make them forget the book. I won’t pay hardcover prices and by the time the book comes off the wait list I will have moved on to something else.

  8. I thought the same thing, Sabrina.

    I’ve been poor, as in ketchup soup poor (contrary to what some people think). The local library kept me sane during those years. So I have no problem donating my books (as in the ones I write) to the library. If my stories keep one person entertained enough that she doesn’t notice how cold she is, then I’m happy, though I wish I could do more.

    • A coffee mug, two packets of ketchup for the fast food spot, and a bit of hot water can tastes absolutely horrible, but it’ll trick your body into thinking you got a hot meal if you haven’t eaten real food for a while. I, luckily, only had to experience such culinary joys for a year or so in my youth, but I absolutely second the idea that the public library can serve as someone’s last refuge.

      Between the escapism found in a stack of good books and the ability to job hunt the library internet access enabled I’m not sure how I would have survived that period in my life.

  9. I just asked a friend in Toronto about this. She said the library system there is very troubled and was closing smaller branches. If they need to stretch the budget, buying used is a better way to do it.

  10. I wanted to comment at the Star, but as Suzan pointed out comments are already closed. So Noah Richler (who is the stepson of the late, great Mordecai, which is I think the only reason anyone in Canada listens to him at all), is bemoaning the fact that for anything used, the original owner does not get paid again.

    Well, yeah. That’s how it works! I assume that Noah then never, ever, ever buys anything used, for moral reasons. No furniture, clothing, paintings, glassware, vases, lamps, records… Nothing. Because pretty much everything you can buy is the product of someone’s creative labour initially.

    Mind you, buying everything brand new is not very environmentally friendly. Best not to leave the house I guess.

    • The heirs of the great Italian Renaissance painters should clearly be collecting royalties per view and per merchandise, as well as a cut of the sales any time the picture is sold.

      Naturally, one would also charge for mentioning the work of art in a book or an art history class. No free art chat for you, you freeloaders! Pay for taking notes!

      • Actually, Australia introduced just such a “resale royalty” for visual arts recently… see http://www.resaleroyalty.org.au/

        Edit: the royalty only applies to second-hand sale, not to views and such. It does last for 70 years past the death of the creator however (or until the legislation is repealed, whichever comes sooner).

  11. —–

    Without the FBI threatening quarter-million-dollar fines or five year prison terms for copyright infringement — as it does on DVDs — the value system that supports the prospect of just reward is eroded.

    I wasn’t aware the FBI policed DVD use in canada.
    Congress ought to look into this waste of American taxpayer money. 😉

    • I wasn’t aware the FBI policed DVD use in canada.

      We’re part of DVD Region 1, along with the U.S. So we get the same DVDs you do … and every time we watch one, we have to sit through that damn stupid threat by a law-enforcement agency that could not come after us without declaring war first.

      Kind of underlines the silliness of the whole exercise, really.

      • Hm… is threatening the citizens of and in a foreign sovereign nation a casus belli?

        Take care.

      • I specifically make a point to rip out the actual video section of every DVD I buy,a long with alternate languages and subtitles, and watch them from my home media server. Why? Because of that bloody FBI warning and every other segment they try to force me to watch before the movie.

        I’ll never pirate a piece of raft on strictly moral grounds, but I’ll be damned if I tolerate outdated ads and law enforcement threats every time I sit down for my entertainment.

  12. I don’t understand the wrath in the OP. The library is buying used books. The author got a royalty when the original owner bought the book. Now, it’s a used book. I have no problem with my local library stocking used copies of my books for low prices. I have no problem with libraries buying my books new for regular prices tbh.

    Most libraries are terribly under-funded. If this keeps them going, then why shouldn’t they benefit from the same price anyone else would?

    As a reader, if I love a book, I want to own it. As long as the lending isn’t permanent, I can’t see it harming book sales. It might improve them to be honest with more people talking about your book or following your series etc.

    • Not to mention donated books. I regularly weed through my collection and drop off bags full of books to my local libraries.

      The article is just silly.

    • The donating person bought the book, and then donated it. So it’s the same as if they gave money to the library and had the library pay for it, except they got to be first on the list to read it, no? (and got $5).

      If the alternative is that the library buys less books, I’m not sure the publishers will gain that much.

      I’m crediting the Vancouver Public Library as my research assistant (Inter-Library Loan is the bridge over the gaping holes in the internet), and they can have as many copies of my eventual book as they’d like.

  13. The one comment on the Star’s site seemed quite informed. I was impressed (and not so impressed by Noah Richler.)

  14. the lowest possible price . . .

    Isn’t that what the free market is all about?

    I’ve bought huge textbooks on the internet for just a little more than the price of shipping. Should libraries be held to a higher standard than other market participants? Aren’t they acting in the interest of patrons? The only reason this is a problem nowadays is because communication technology makes this sort of thing a cinch to pull off on a massive scale.

    Not too long ago, there was a post on the PV about a gentleman who bought textbooks abroad, shipped them to the US and made a nice profit on eBay. The publisher sued and lost at the Supreme Court. It had something to do with the first sale doctrine. (You sell it; you lose control of it.)

    It’s a new world out there. MSoffice used to be a monopoly. Now, you can get polished software that does essentially the same thing for free.

    The train has left the station. It’s only going to get worse as platform owners make tons of money and most creators receive crumbs. And of course, as always, there will be the lucky ones who win the lottery. Many of them will swear that they’re the most talented and deserving.

    If only there was a way to DRM paper books, it would be a much better world.

    • There is an idea among some folks that the creator should be paid each time the work trades. In the US, if I buy a painting from an artist, the artist makes money. But if I then sell it to someone else, the artist gets nothing for the second transaction.

      I think some countries have provision for paying the artist for more then the first sale, but I’m not sure of the details.

      A bill was introduced in the US Congress a few years ago that would have provided 15% of each sale of a work to the artist. Then when I sell the painting to a friend, the artist would get 15%. Not sure of the details or how enforcement of that would work. The bill quickly died.

      • You’d have to register your art. Art control.

        The next thing to do is to put tiny identification markers in your paint and art supplies, so that the police can track down bad paintings and put them up against the wall.

      • As I posted above, Australia introduced a 5% resale royalty to art in 2010.

      • Sounds like a law designed only to kill certain businesses. Like, say, kill used CD and DVD stores by burying them in accounting and taking their margins.

    • There actually used to be a way to DRM paper books. It was called chaining them to the desks. I wonder if maybe they’ll try bringing it back again.

      Of course, that will also mean a return to nobody but the rich (as in Royalty and the Church) ever being able to afford them. :eyeroll:

  15. Well… guys. Toronto + FBI. Unless the US did finally invade Canada, that about sums up the article.

    Take care.

  16. Alarmingly, this phenomenon of exploitation includes the very institutions whose raison d’être (you would have thought) demand a respect of writers and their product…


    I think of a library’s raison d’être as being to preserve and disseminate knowledge. Not to put extra dollars into authors’ pockets.

    Besides…how does a library paying an inflated price to a traditional publisher put much into the author’s pocket? Most of it stays in the publisher’s pocket.


    J.M. Ney-Grimm hopes to benefit from libraries when readers discover her books in the library and then either buy her other books or tell their friends to read her.

  17. “No, the list is comprised of books so popular that the library is having a hard time meeting existing demand.”

    Wait, so the author of this piece is apoplectic because the biggest authors in Canada are missing out on a single royalty?

    I’m not Southern, but I still know how to say, “Bless his heart.”

    • I didn’t see that way (a single royalty). Now you’ve made the article sound even dumber than I thought it was.

  18. I find it interesting that this guy attacks libraries for affecting his bottom line, but where’s the article attacking his publisher for paying him a pittance in royalties?

    It seems as if it’s always some external force—libraries, Amazon, etc.—that’s blamed for authors losing money, when the truth is much closer to home.

    When are authors going to grow some balls and start demanding a better contract?

    • Authors can demand whatever they want. The publisher says, “No,” and calls the next author in line who says, “Yes.”

      Payments to authors are low because the supply of authors and books is far greater than what publishers need at prevailing consumer price levels.

      Payments are low because authors are competing with each other. This is normal stuff.

      That’s why God made Amazon KDP.

      • If more authors grow balls and turn down any contract that isn’t mutually beneficial, sooner or later publishers will run out of decent books to publish.

        I think it behooves all of us to educate new writers to understand the new realities in publishing.

        • We could transport all the new writers to Mars, and nothing would change. The remaining writers would undercut each other to get publishing contracts. It happens in all kinds of endeavors. Nothing is special about writers. They behave like everyone else.

        • Rob, we’ve been trying, politely pointing to great links with evidence, but many, many writers just don’t want to hear that there’s another viable option to Trad Pub. Those that were treated well by Trad won the lottery, and tell others how fabulous it is to be a winner, and if you just try hard enough, hang in there long enough, and write a wonderful book, every deserving person will eventually win. It’s utter pony poop, but they will not be told otherwise.

          They ignore or are ignorant of the thousands of stories of those mistreated. Many say that signing a bad contract is a sign of stupidity or having a bad agent. Lots of writers want that brass ring so bad they cannot refuse even a bad contract when offered, since it’s “take it or leave it”. And P.T. Barnum was right, they’ll continue to go to those who’ll take advantage of them. I feel it’s we who got lucky, because we found out in time just how restraining those golden shackles really are, and avoided it. You can tell people there’s a pit ahead, and explain what will happen, but some won’t believe you and walk into it anyway.

        • I’ve had, in last two years, the heavy hitter agents approach me offering representation, one solicitation for movie rights, and two contracts for “traditional” publication. Every single one of them acted the same way, that I was an ignorant and desperate Midwestern writer who would take the first crumbs someone offered without negotiation. Every one of them offered either less than I currently make as an independent or a good us of money with a contract that may as well have been written by Satan for all the strings attached.

          There are some authors who are so desperate for industry recognition and to “be published” that they either don’t notice the strings or don’t care. Like Adele said, until that changes the legacy players won’t offer better.

      • @Terrence OBrien,

        That’s why God made Amazon KDP.

        Are you suggesting that Jeff Bezos is God?

    • I think a lot of writers demand better contracts. Then they get told no. Then they publish it themselves.

      But there are still plenty of writers who don’t know their best alternative to a negotiated agreement.

    • @ RGB

      “When are authors going to grow some balls and start demanding a better contract?”

      Self-published writers don’t need no stinkin’ contracts! 🙂

      • Amen.

      • I’ll take a contract, but I have yet to see one that doesn’t try to take advantage of me. It would be one thing to put obviously one-sided and abusive clauses into a contract that then gets negotiated over; it’s entirely another to do so and then say the contract is non-negotiable.

  19. Just- wow. There seems to be a class of (well-off, entitled) people that object anytime they sense someone can pass their eyeballs over a story without forking over a hefty sum first. I’m a writer, and love getting paid for stories, but libraries get a pass in my book. When I found out big publishers were charging libraries MORE for ebooks, while restricting the usage and life of same, I was outraged, and offered to donate all my rights-free ebooks for nothing. I was put in touch with the head of the MA state library ebook project, and worked to get versions of 8 of my ebooks into the 51 pilot libraries, for no pay. And did the same for another big library system out west. Can you imagine the gnashing of teeth from publishers, hearing of the potential revenue loss? Some people just don’t get it.

    • Dale, would you mind giving more details on how you did it? I’d love to do the same thing in Washington State, and prior success stories are useful when convincing institutions resistant to change 😉

      • Sabrina, sure thing. At the 2013 Boston Book Fair, librarians at the booth put me in touch with the head of the statewide ebook project. They had a pilot program, and were delighted at my offer, despite my lowly Indie status (all self-pubbed, except for a small-press series I couldn’t give them). I reformatted files to fit their needs, signed a release, and they got it launched.

        And you’re right about success being a good convincer. On Joe Konrath’s site, someone mentioned the Douglas County (CO) Library system was doing something similar, so I looked up the proper contact person, and made the same offer. Same result, they took them all. So you’ve got two great examples to work with, should be able to convince your area people.
        Email me privately if you need more detail.

    • Google “enki library” and click on “what is enki” – it’s an alternative to overdrive that’s available in California, based on the afore-mentioned Douglas County (CO) library project.

  20. So the author doesn’t make a royalty on these second-hand purchases. How much were they making on the books the library couldn’t afford to buy?

  21. For writers, having their books in libraries is one of the premier ways of having readers discover a writer’s work.

    Many times I’ve read a book checked out from a library that I liked so much I went and bought it. And other books by the same writer.

    Enhanced discoverability trumps “royalty losses” any time, IMHO.

  22. There are some people who would like to charge people every time somebody even looks at their precious.

    Fortunately, on the pbook side of the business, in the US the first sale doctrine is the law of the land. Publishers have tried all sorts of legal tricks over the last century to try to prevent used book sales but have been bounced back every time. Most recently in 2013. That won’t be changing any time soon, considering the terms of the ruling:


    • Cant recall the country right now, but maybe netherlands or norway, or…

      we are paid for each lend of our books in their language. It’s a small amount but adds up. It is paid annually to us.

  23. I wonder what the wholesale price for new is from the big pubs to the libraries. On a $15 book [pb] on a $25 book.

    I know some sell wholesale in audio for instance at 62-67% off, but that might only be in bulk. Not sure what is considered bulk #s nowadays.

    If it’s $15 trade paperback new, with poly cover slapped on [sticks to the coverstock and is see-through] would think cost of pb could be #5 or less.

    On hb, possibly as low as $8 brand new from pub, depending.

    But then I’ve also wondered for years about the castoffs of libraries here that have let go some of the most beautiful antiquarian ethnological surveys and old history books of times past, that are still accurate, never to be replaced.

    I keep thinking libraries will soon be entertainment performance centers/ used book stores/coffee shops. The biggest issue facing libraries here is their utter dependence on legislative budgets at city council or state level. They never know what $$ budget will be for coming fiscal. I wonder how they will survive, esp the librarians themselves re salary freezes and ‘downsizing’ etc.

    • Libraries don’t normally buy their books at retail and they usually pay *above* consumer retail prices. Once upon a time they would get special library-only editions printed on quality heavy stock paper and heavy bindings ghat would stand up to repeated readings. Not necessarily a bad deal.

      Not so sure about today: they could probably buy 3-4 consumer editions for the price of one BPH hardcover. (I’ve seen reports of libraries getting charged $80-100 for some popular titles.)

      On the ebook side, HC and other publishers charge higher-than-print prices for licenses that *expire* after 26 checkouts. Others have tried to make the license expire after a year, whether the books get checked out or not.

      Libraries keep doing business with them, though.

      And as we’ve seen around here some librarians are vehemently anti-indie.

  24. What? Toronto Library Sadly Acts As A Library.


    Writer Fails to Blame Publisher, that’s a more interesting head line.

  25. I don’t see what the problem is. Library gets books patrons want, patrons less likely to complain about taxes going to support libraries (and all the things they provide other than books).

    Libraries are the reason I’m here today. I believe that without access to books to help me escape my situation, and a quiet place to escape the chaos of my home, I would likely be a statistic of teen suicide. Yes, it was that bad.

    Everywhere I’ve ever lived, I’ve been a member of whatever library I could find. I even checked out books during USAF basic training. And I read them.

    I’d be happy to provide free copies of my books to the library system in my home town. I need to look into doing that, hoping they aren’t the kind who dislikes indie work.

  26. Insanity!

    Apparently the writer of the article didn’t know that libraries have been doing free lending for some time. Or that if you don’t get Mr. King’s latest book because there’s a waiting list, then you can just get one of his older ones. Any of them.

    But yeah, culture of free, hurting authors, $5 = FREE.

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