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Public Libraries: Stealing Authors' Paychecks?
February 22, 2013 5:34 PM   Subscribe

"We can't give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses."
UK children's author Terry Deary (Horrible Histories series) on Britain's public libraries. Neil Gaiman and others respond.
posted by Rykey (104 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because knowledge should only be available to those with deep pockets.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:40 PM on February 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


He's an idiot, not least because libraries are the biggest single purchaser of books in the country.
posted by dng at 5:40 PM on February 22, 2013 [41 favorites]


Man, that English wit is bone dry, isn't it. If I didn't know better, I'd think he's being completely serious.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:41 PM on February 22, 2013 [60 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:44 PM on February 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Please be satire, please be satire, please be sati... shit.
posted by milarepa at 5:45 PM on February 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think the author of the others link gives Deary too much credit.
I'm particularly amazed (and not in the good way) that you feel "impoverished" people should be happy with whatever the school system manages to stock in its library.
Deary doesn't seem to be excepting school libraries from his crusade, unless I missed something. His claims that libraries "give nothing back" to the publishing industry are astoundingly short-sighted.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:50 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Books aren't public property, 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
Hang on, he's totally cool with libraries as long as they contain books written by middle class women. Because they are just indulging in a pleasant little hobby. So it is all OK!

Also, middle class women don't need to eat? Who knew?
posted by b1tr0t at 5:50 PM on February 22, 2013 [34 favorites]


This is an example of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, whereas the author may imagine that there are a set number of readers out there waiting to buy a certain book (nevermind the free publicity of libraries and word of mouth). Libraries not only buy books, but if there weren't libraries, there would be more demand for private borrowing and used book selling, neither of which generate revenue for authors. It's almost the same as saying we need less authors because most of them don't sell well.
posted by Brian B. at 5:50 PM on February 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


The biggest problem I have with the public library system where I live is that they don't stock the books I want to read - it's fairly general stuff. I would use my alumni university library card, but the bastards say I owe them $80 in late fees.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:54 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm going to bet this guy doesn't actually want to remove his books from libraries because he know that if he did, he'd never be heard of again.

And here's a vital tip for someone who's a children's author - kids don't have deep pockets. They don't have much opportunity to wander book stores and buy whatever they want. Or to go use their credit cards on Amazon. But kids do have the opportunity to pick up whatever book in a library they want. I can't believe he's ignoring that.
posted by Jimbob at 5:54 PM on February 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


Tho you didn't want it, you now have another reason to miss Ray Bradbury.
posted by mc2000 at 5:55 PM on February 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


If you are writing children's/YA nonfiction, libraries ARE THE REASON YOU SELL BOOKS. Both because libraries buy a huge quantity of the children's and YA nonfiction that are sold today, and because most children (or parents, to be accurate) aren't going to just randomly go out and buy a book about Ivan the Terrible or Genghis Khan or whoever. They're going to get assigned a project, and go to the library, and while they're doing research they're going to find out about this great series of Horrible Histories and perhaps want to buy a copy for themselves.

I'm in the US rather than the UK, so I don't know just how popular Deary is over there, but that's been my experience, at any rate.
posted by Jeanne at 5:55 PM on February 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


This has been blowing up in the UK for the last week or so. He's got a track record of saying things that would make him a good fit in the House Republican party, if he ever decided to emigrate to the USA and run for office.

It looks like his underlying thing is being deeply pissed that the maximum he can get in royalties for his books being borrowed from UK public libraries (there's a complicated formula based mostly on # of times an authors books are taken out per year) is £6,000 ($9,400) - the capped limit - when he reckons he should be getting 30 times that much.

Responses to Terrence covered in Public Library News.
posted by Wordshore at 5:55 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I often purchase books that I initially checked out of the library and got tired of renewing.

"libraries are powerful economic engines"
posted by mecran01 at 6:01 PM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Why is he an author? Was childcatcher already taken?
posted by boo_radley at 6:03 PM on February 22, 2013 [31 favorites]


The guy's an idiot, sure, but is there any reason to care about his idiotic views? I mean, is he likely to have any influence of any kind, other than rallying people in defense of libraries?
posted by yoink at 6:06 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The last time I went to the public library it was overrun with children. Can't we do something about that? They don't pay taxes to support it.
posted by thelonius at 6:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Public libraries have been around for over a century. Does he seriously think they've been stealing readers from the publishing industry for all that time? Or that the concept behind libraries (books accessible to all) is no longer relevant because everyone attends "compulsory schooling?"

If anything, libraries are more relevant now than ever, because there are so many distractions that compete with literature for people's attention. It's kind of like drugs: you get the first hit for free, then start wanting more and more. Pretty soon you're installing bookcases and making lists of books you haven't read yet and you're hopelessly hooked.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:08 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the point where I quietly brag we voted to increase our taxes in my town, slightly, so our libraries would continue being funded. On one hand I'm proud of the citenzey for doing this, on the other it's just another example of refusing-to-do-something-by-himself that frustrates me about our 'rock and roll' mayor.
posted by edgeways at 6:12 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, the Icaresque hubris of neoliberalism...
posted by acb at 6:14 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Libraries encourage music piracy. I used to take the limit of 10 CDs out of the library, rip, and repeat. That's a good argument for limiting them to books.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:15 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is, I believes, called food libraries.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:15 PM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Thing is I do but books instead of borrowing them. I just buy then used, which helps nobody except the bookstores.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:17 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Libraries create readers. Maybe this guy wants fewer readers? What an odd position for an author to take.

More seriously, we are seeing a lot of weird rent-seeking sorts of arguments here in the age of digital copies. Radios and libraries and freebies of various kinds were fine, they were advertising! Back when you felt your stuff was probably not being widely copied without you getting a share.

Now that's all going, and the content sellers are panicked and scrambling, and really looking for a scapegoat. Or a way to monetize every single eyeball or eardrum that is exposed to their product, every time the exposure happens.
posted by emjaybee at 6:18 PM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Aren't there huge waiting lists for popular bestsellers at libraries? All of those people aren't just tightwads and takers. Many actually do not have $29.95 to spend on a new hardback book. I know this is hard for some people to imagine, living like that, where there is actually no money to buy things like a Dan Brown novel just to read for fun, but millions of people do it every day of their lives.
posted by thelonius at 6:20 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of the instructors in the publishing program I did at Centennial College here in Toronto began in each course with some "thoughts" on why there shouldn't be public libraries. I remember that one line was "not everyone has the right to have steak".

Some people simply cannot see beyond their own bottom line when it comes to matters of public policy.
posted by orange swan at 6:21 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just buy then used, which helps nobody except the bookstores.

Er, and the author and publishers. Because the fact that there is a market for used books helps prop up the price of new books higher than it otherwise would be.
posted by flug at 6:23 PM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Books aren't public property, and writers aren't Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They've got to make a living.

American readers will have no idea who Enid Blyton was. And they probably never will. She's been dead for almost 35 years. But she was a truly admirable author of books for children.

Here's a torrent of books by Enid Blyton.

If that's offensive to anybody, well then, just forget about her.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:26 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


How long until this becomes a new Fox News talking point?
posted by SisterHavana at 6:28 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses.

of course it is - how the hell can you ever pacify and sedate the masses if you don't give them bread and circuses?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:30 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have not noticed any tendency for libraries to become TOO popular. If anything, most people I meet have never been to a public library. Or don't even know where the nearest one is.
posted by DU at 6:32 PM on February 22, 2013


Books aren't public property...

Also, this is exactly wrong. Books are public property. All creative works are, once you release them. Copyright is not ownership. It's a temporary monopoly on producing the work.
posted by DU at 6:33 PM on February 22, 2013 [19 favorites]


haha what the actual fuck
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:42 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


"We can't give everything away under the public purse."

Sure we can. And in a lot of cases we should.
posted by mhoye at 6:44 PM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


So he complains, on the one hand, that so many readers are borrowing his book rather than buying it, and then he complains that publicly funded libraries serve an "ever-diminishing amount of people." That's clearly inconsistent, and I can't help being reminded of efforts to defund public institutions in the States, under any imaginable pretext.
posted by Pistache at 6:46 PM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Between this and that other article about pulling stories back out of the public domain, I wonder if the universe has started contracting and things are so screwy because time is actually running backwards.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:51 PM on February 22, 2013


Books are clearly only entertainment. People clearly only ever use public libraries for reading fiction. And actually yeah plenty of people expect to take home Mathilda on DVD for free from the library. I wish I'd thought to before I left tonight; that's a great movie!

There may very well be an argument to be made for taking entertainments out of public libraries, especially now that those sections are regularly contracted out to companies who rotate the books in and out for them. But closing libraries altogether? This man has not put any thought into this matter past his own pocket book. Maybe he should write better books if he wants to sell more of them?
posted by carsonb at 6:53 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, it's pushing it a bit for some people to describe Terrence as a historian. Researchers collect the materials for his books and do most of the work. Whatever the remainder of his role is, it doesn't appear to be checking the accuracy of the content in "his" "books".
posted by Wordshore at 6:56 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The whole reason that public libraries exist is that Andrew Carnegie realized, close to the end of his life, that sheer money-grubbing self-inflating opportunism doesn't mean nearly as much, in the grand scheme of things, as helping your fellow human beings make a better world for each of us and all of our descendants.

If a semi-illiterate billionaire can understand how important this is, why can't we all?
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:57 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole reason that public libraries exist is that Andrew Carnegie realized...

Public libraries existed well before Carnegie.
posted by DU at 7:00 PM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've often said, "I believe in libraries; I think everyone should own one."

I seldom use the actual library and am too much of a germophobe to enjoy them. I want the filth in my books to be my filth.

Libraries are one of the few places I don't object to my tax money going. I also donate a shitload of books to them every year as directed donations. Thousands of dollars worth (I have access to a source for tons of review copies and these are usually the same copy that ends up on store shelves). I also donate cash and occasionally purchase copies of books where I know the author or the waiting list is too long.

This all said, I think the author should get a little cash every time someone checks out a book, or there should be an organization like ASCAP that licenses the books. I think libraries serve an important mission and are essential to a democracy and I think for every dollar spent on defense one should be spent on education. This doesn't mean writers shouldn't be compensated for the for the loss of potential sales directly to the consumer.

Then again, I've never known a writer who prefers dollars to an audience, but all the writers I know still have day jobs. The few I've met that don't I never posed the question to.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:01 PM on February 22, 2013


The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business
That is a staggering amount of false logic for an allegedly literate person to pack into a single statement and then actually make public.

I would comment further, but as an author myself, I am quite busy at the moment trying to get Mercedes to do some engineering work on the plot of my new book. It's called Weak Analogies. To buy a copy, you'll have to go to stores operated exclusively by my publisher, but it'll satisfy all your reading requirements for the next six to ten years.
posted by gompa at 7:02 PM on February 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


My library card is 22 years old. I got it when I was 5. It's cracked and dirty; the writing is smeared. The signature line is in the slanty, uncertain print of 5-year-old me. Growing up, I lost house keys, cash, and wallets. I lost my bank card, MAC card, a credit card or two. My room resembled something from Childhood Hoarders. But I never lost that library card. It's been my companion through thick and thin. It journeyed with me as I met Sam-I-Am and Anne of Green Gables. It solved mysteries right along with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. We trembled under the covers as we discovered the horrors of Goosebumps. We joined the Babysitter's Club together, and went to Sweet Valley High. We traveled together to distant lands, met dragons, flew spaceships. My library card was with me when I got my first job, shelving books at the library and pausing from time to time to sit down with Seuss, Bradbury, and Herriot. My library card was with me the first time I fell in love; the first time my heart crumbled into pieces; the first time a pet died; the first time I adopted a cat; when I graduated high school; when I moved away; the first time I wrote a story; the first time I lounged on the beach with a novel; for my first kiss and my last kiss; the first time I threw a story away; when I realized I wanted to be an author; when I first had someone praise my writing, when I had someone rip my writing apart.

My library card is my companion, and anybody who wants to take it away will have to go through me first.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [43 favorites]


Wordshore: " He's got a track record of saying things that would make him a good fit in the House Republican party"

As I scanned the post summary that's what I thought I was reading about. These people will only be emboldened once the Copyright Alert System has become entrenched here.
posted by clarknova at 7:09 PM on February 22, 2013


You know who else thought the Romans had too many libraries?

No, wait.

You know who else gave away bread and circuses but was Julius Ceasar?

No, I mean, you know who else burned down the Library of Alexandria because he was such an asshole?

No, wait...

Aw, bugger, I'll come in again.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:13 PM on February 22, 2013 [19 favorites]


You know who else disliked libraries?

Julius Caesar.

because he burned down the Library at Alexandria. And also was Roman. Which proves 'Smed's Law': the less aware you are of the irony you create, the bigger the asshole you are. So Terry Deary's right up there with Caeser.

Although it would be cool if he did attack libraries like Don Quixote on horseback with a lance. But I wouldn't have been able to make that witty crack, without my local public library.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:19 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Maybe this guy wants fewer readers? What an odd position for an author to take."

It's crazy, but I think he'd be happier if "the masses" stopped reading for entertainment altogether. He might only sell eight thousand books, but each one would be handwritten by scribes and cost a thousand dollars.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:34 PM on February 22, 2013


I think the perfect response on the libraries part would be to simply stop carrying his books. See how he likes having the purchasers of his books reduced by half.
posted by happyroach at 7:38 PM on February 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


The last time I went to the library, they had set up a minigolf course throughout the whole place and were charging $5 a head to play the course. I could not get to books. I almost broke my neck trying to get over a water hazard. There was no thought of casual browsing because I was 'blocking the fairway'. Maybe this author wants to start up something like this in his own local library to increase his profits....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:39 PM on February 22, 2013


Btw - that's awesome, DoubleLune! I've been carrying the same libary card since age five, too. Although in my case it's thirty-five years old and I lost it three or four times. But it always came back to me again.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:46 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nthing the bogglement at Deary for not figuring out who actually buys and pays for large quantities of his books, and cultivates the market for other authors.
posted by immlass at 7:48 PM on February 22, 2013


Never mind the social good libraries do(!) people who go to libraries buy books. Period.

However, let's revisit the question of social good. I once knew a guy who grew up in the ghetto who viewed libraries as something akin to a church, which, the fact that he had had a couple turns in the military and was an atheist, was interesting. The point is not what this n=1 case thought, it is about what his though process was. He felt that the fact that books were available, that he could get them - for free! - was a revelation, that is what matters. And if Mr. Deary can't understand that, then I pity him, but will fight him tooth and nail in the public forum!
posted by BillW at 7:50 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn, burn on Enid Blyton*.

*yes I know who she is even though I am American.
posted by bq at 8:06 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


For as long as I can remember, checking a book out of the library for me has been associated with a special kind of brief, guilty, thrill that generally accompanies "getting away with something".

Maybe it is too good to be true?
posted by cacofonie at 8:16 PM on February 22, 2013


Despite my minor issues living in a predominantly Francophone town, I am floored by the amazing library we have.

I've had a library card pretty much all my life, wherever I lived. (My grandmother got me my first one from her teeny little library in Branford, FL, when I was six.)

My last place of residence was Atlanta, GA, and man, I thought I would clean up in checking out books, music. Only I didn't. Books were either always checked out or checked out and never returned. The same went for music. It got to the point where I stopped bothering because no one ever returned anything.

But then...my current library. Where they have reams of music, movies and board games. And if there is a book in English they don't carry, they will goddamn order it for you. (My husband alone is the reason they have all of Palahniuk's books.) I love them. I am there every week. And I will be grateful for them being three times the library than one in a major American city ever was.
posted by Kitteh at 8:17 PM on February 22, 2013


Somehow 1st part of post went missing: People who go to libraries, buy books.
posted by BillW at 8:18 PM on February 22, 2013


Books aren't public property

No, that's right, they're not; they're the private property of whoever bought them. That's how tangible property tends to work. If those buyers happen to lend out their property, that's well within their right, and no business whatsoever of the person who created it.

As for intellectual property, well, that's not the least bit applicable. If they're not making copies, they're not violating copyright. QED.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:23 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Aren't there huge waiting lists for popular bestsellers at libraries? All of those people aren't just tightwads and takers. Many actually do not have $29.95 to spend on a new hardback book.

It's not just the bestsellers. There are a lot of authors who have a dedicated fan following and their new books automatically get read by those fans. I've been on plenty of waiting lists for books which aren't widely known or being chatted up on Oprah. I'm unable to can with this notion that libraries are robbing authors and the patrons are just a bunch of unwashed freeloaders. As someone alluded upthread, Ray Bradbury must be spinning in his grave.

I am so grateful that my town keeps building more libraries.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:27 PM on February 22, 2013


People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl's Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn't make sense

Where I live you can get Matilda for "free" from the library as well. I'm putting "free" in quotes because of course the purchase of library items is paid for by taxes, donations and late fees.

What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly?

Libraries are the offset to intellectual "property." What other industry creates a product and allows someone to get paid for it, endlessly?
posted by xigxag at 8:29 PM on February 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm calling it now: this dude is eventually going to be outed as a deep cover agent provacateur intended to rile people up in support of libraries. It's the only way any of what he's saying makes a lick of sense.
posted by juv3nal at 8:43 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sounds like Deary is a horrible historian.
posted by salishsea at 8:54 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jesus, what a jerkwad.
posted by rtha at 9:21 PM on February 22, 2013


The whole reason that public libraries exist is that Andrew Carnegie realized...

Public libraries existed well before Carnegie.


That was disingenuous. From Wikipedia:
[Carnegie's foundation + women's clubs] led the establishment of 75-80 percent of the libraries in communities across the country.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:27 PM on February 22, 2013


Brian B.: the author may imagine that there are a set number of readers out there waiting to buy a certain book

See also: musicians who won't put their music on iTunes or some other download service, and then are shocked, shocked to find out that someone has torrented their one big hit instead of buying their "Greatest Hits" CD when there's only one or two songs on it that anyone wants. In a few years, Deary will wonder why sales of his books have dropped, and publish a follow-up railing at public libraries for not only no longer buying his new books, but weeding the old ones. Then he'll go after used book stores for doing a brisk trade in used copies.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:09 PM on February 22, 2013


Any investment in libraries is basically an investment in literacy... Why would any author be against that, no matter how important they value their bottom line vs. anything else? Even if that investment is in terms of putting your intellectual property down as collateral.
posted by mingo_clambake at 10:57 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good luck selling books to the generation that grows up reading free web content in lieu of reading physical books. Gooood luck.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


twoleftfeet, to be frank it seems quite disingenuous for you to accuse DU of being disingenuous.

There's no doubt that Carnegie was an international force for the growth of libraries both in Scotland and the United States, but your quote about him being responsible for 75-80% of the libraries "across the country" at the time is completely misleading. It's referring specifically to his US philanthropy.

With respect to the UK (which is after all the subject of this article) it just isn't true that Carnegie's realization is "the whole reason that public libraries exist." At the time the Public Libraries Act was first enacted in 1850 in the United Kingdom, Carnegie was alive but can't claim credit. He was busy hanging out in Pittsburgh making $2.50 a week. And of course DU's main point stands which is that public libraries of one sort or another existed for hundreds of years before that, even.

Also, to clarify my own comment above, when I said that Matilda's available in the library for free in my area, I meant not only the book version but the DVD as well, rendering moot one of Mr. Deary's talking points.
posted by xigxag at 11:01 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the author should get a little cash every time someone checks out a book

They do. It is in the article. He is quite misguided though in assuming that every child that borrows his book would instead find an adult willing to pay for it. I find his books popular with kids but adults tend to be dismissive and prefer steering their kids towards more realistic/air of reliable books like the eyewitness series. Children's non-fiction has never been a huge market for publishers except for libraries and schools - nowadays children's non-fic is well known for declining sales as children are encouraged to look up info for school projects on the internet. The space in most bookshops for children's non-fic is usually quite small compared to manga and fiction. Especially older books (older=released last year) as bookshops usually only carry the latest/most popular copies of the author's works.

His attitude is such an oddity among authors and publishers (who in my experience are very positive about libraries, having seen the data matching library use/numbers of copies sold and are familiar with librarians hand-selling under-marketed books into best sellers) that I do honestly wonder if he was put up to this to create controversy and a backlash in the face of the cuts in the UK. Judging from his past pompass and small-minded public thoughts on things like education ("useless! I never learned anything in school") I doubt it though. I'd also love to know if he has availed himself of any arts grants over the years or does he not have any objection when the "free money" flows to him personally? As mentioned, I am sure he had given strict instructions to his researchers to always purchase their books and not use the library (or their education, which he equally has a problem with). Seeing how he has riled everyone up is quite amusing though.
posted by saucysault at 11:33 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Good luck selling books to the generation that grows up reading free web content in lieu of reading physical books. Gooood luck.

My son is of that generation. He reads downloaded library books on his ipod. He spends hours at the computer and on youtube. And we buy him a *lot* of books. A lot! And when he loves the book, it is often purchased several more times as birthday gifts for his friends as well. When he was younger we would buy a book, but take out the audio book from the library to facilitate "reading along" with harder reading material.

Mostly, these are books he first learned of because of the school library, and the referral of other kids who found them in the school library. Because librarians have suggested the book to the kid. Or librarians invited a guest author to read in school and now we own their books. Or librarian suggested first in a series, so we read the first from the library, and the rest of the series were a mix of bought and borrowed... often culminating in the expensive last in the series hard cover purchase.

The library in my town is a hub for teens volunteering to be reading buddies with younger kids who are struggling. It supplies books in many languages--which are much more expensive than English books--and appears to be a bit of a social hub for immigrant families in my neighbourhood from what I can see. It has lots early childhood activities, including books with matching puppet sets for parents or childcare to use. It also has rooms with free computer access, and offers classes and public lectures. Kids can also sign out video games from the library, and the down town library has a gaming station for teens to play networked PC games.
posted by chapps at 11:39 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I loved the Horrible Histories. Discovered at the library. Purchased as a gift.
posted by chapps at 11:40 PM on February 22, 2013


Is it wrong for this American to feel a warped sense of relief to know that neoliberal greedy shitheads exist outside the U.S.? That I don't have to feel too embarrassed about Libertarians and Paultards, because other, more "enlightened" countries have their fair share of the same?
posted by zardoz at 1:48 AM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches

Assuming that Porsche were paid royalties for each drive I'd imagine they'd be really very happy about it.
posted by jaduncan at 2:03 AM on February 23, 2013


As well as the obvious, there's also a small claim that libraries are being used by an ever-shrinking group of people. Well Mr Deary, if we accept all that you say, the problem then solves itself, surely?
posted by Dysk at 3:00 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it wrong for this American to feel a warped sense of relief to know that neoliberal greedy shitheads exist outside the U.S.? That I don't have to feel too embarrassed about Libertarians and Paultards, because other, more "enlightened" countries have their fair share of the same?

Thatcher wasn't elected due to her liberal stances, so we have our share of idiots. At the moment they appear to be winning, although come the next election they are screwed.
posted by jaduncan at 3:54 AM on February 23, 2013


I'm not sure how much of the publishing industry would survive if libraries were all suddenly closed down.
posted by dng at 4:00 AM on February 23, 2013


From Terry Deary's own website:

My best-known titles were "Horrible Histories" series and they are still popular thanks to a BBC television series based on the books. There were around 60 titles with total sales of 25 million in 40 countries.

So, let's generously say that at a cover price of six quid, Terry Deary is making one pound per book. This means he has, at a minimum, 25 million pounds from book sales alone.

Even if he just put this in a savings account paying 5% interest (not too many of those around, I suppose, but somebody with his "networks" would likely be able to track something down), this would install him in the top 0.009% of income earners in the United Kingdom, with a population of 62,000,000.

Now, I'm certainly not going to suggest that rich people should never be listened to, as I'm sure some of them have some pretty good ideas. Maybe we really do need to "have a debate" about public libraries. I don't know because I haven't been in one for a while, preferring to declutter my life (I move more than I'd like to) by going mostly digital.

But blaming public libraries for the death of the publishing industry is a little like blaming packhorses for the bankruptcy of a toll road. It is so completely disingenuous that it is almost as if Deary has discovered a logical loophole in reality to exploit, much as he has no doubt discovered similar loopholes in the British Empire's taxation system.

Plus he has a head that looks like a fucking sun-bleached jellybean that has had loose foot-skin Photoshopped onto it.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 4:56 AM on February 23, 2013


The article writer forgets that libraries create a huge number of book sales. People get introduced to an author they discovered at the library and then wants to buy their own copies or just other books by the author that the library doesn't offer.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:57 AM on February 23, 2013


The only customers for most academic books are university libraries. Which are of course rarely public.

The printed book has 5 more years before it is a luxury item.
posted by spitbull at 5:08 AM on February 23, 2013


The printed book has 5 more years before it is a luxury item.

This milk crate full of of copies Paul Reiser's Couplehood - black Magic Marker line across the fore-edges be damned! - is going to make me mad bank in ten years' time.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 5:18 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


As man, he wrote Horrible Histories? Those books are great, and the TV show is like Monty Python For Kids, complete with gore and darkness. I was inclined to like him.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:24 AM on February 23, 2013


No, that's right, they're not; they're the private property of whoever bought them. That's how tangible property tends to work. If those buyers happen to lend out their property, that's well within their right, and no business whatsoever of the person who created it.

Exactly. Is this a thing that is not the case in the UK? Why do libraries have to pay royalties at all? The royalty has already been paid when the library bought the book.
posted by corb at 5:28 AM on February 23, 2013


Libraries pay royalties because they recognise that starving authors rarely publish more books. It is short-term/minor pain for the long-term goal of sustaining culture, research and education.
posted by saucysault at 5:36 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole reason that public libraries exist is that Andrew Carnegie realized...

that if the rabble immigrating from all over Europe weren't properly indoctrinated in the ways of productive white America, they'd make shitty factory workers and threaten good order and the safety of the ruling class? OK, it wasn't the whole reason.
posted by Rykey at 6:05 AM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck him. That is all.
posted by zzazazz at 6:07 AM on February 23, 2013


The printed book has 5 more years before it is a luxury item.

Haven't they always been a luxury item? I've never bought a book because I need to eat it, but because I want to buy it, and can spare the allocation of cash.

Bibliophiles are made on the basis of the loans from private and public collections, second-hand bargans, and indulgent gifts. The kids who read a dozen books a week from the library are the kids who will spend their allowance and part-time job money on more books, and who will demand books from their elders as birthday presents. They'll grow up to be recreational readers with strong brand loyalty to authors they like.

Libraries are marketing for authors.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:08 AM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article writer forgets that libraries create a huge number of book sales. People get introduced to an author

Also libraries create a huge number of book sales because they directly buy A LOT of books.

Libraries are the main purchasers of many types of books, and a large part of the market for many others.
posted by flug at 6:16 AM on February 23, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos:

Haven't they always been a luxury item?

Hardcovers, yes, basically. There have been pulps and paperbacks for some time that were slotted into the mass-market niche. In the industry, we're noticing the mass market being eaten by electronic books while the hardcovers seem to be doing all right (relatively speaking). People like hardcovers as status symbols, tokens of esteem regarding the writer and as gifts; I expect they will survive.

On the primary topic: Any working author who is against libraries just is probably a fucking idiot who doesn't understand what the foundation of his/her own income is (i.e., library sales) or how libraries create readers over time. This is aside from the other laudable aspects of a library as it functions in a community, of course; I'm just talking about the author's own selfish, long-term goals. However, this particular fucking idiot is both old enough and rich enough not to have to care about the future and/or other writers, or to appreciate how libraries almost certainly helped him and his career.

As others have said: Fuck this dude.
posted by jscalzi at 6:39 AM on February 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


Hardcovers, yes, basically. There have been pulps and paperbacks for some time that were slotted into the mass-market niche.

I'm using luxury item in contrast to the concept of "necessary good." My household needs water and food. This paycheck, I need a pair of pants as well. That means no books for me this paycheck. I don't mind that much because I'm very well stocked with stuff that's been on my to-read list forever.

I consider myself lucky in that I'm no longer dependent on dragging large chunks of my collection to the friendly used bookstore on a quarterly basis to make ends meet and engage in swaps. As a result, I think I only have about a half-dozen books from my college years, and I just passed on a precious relic from my adolescence, a much abused first edition of the Silmarillion with a fold-out map, to one of my nieces.

I buy new books now because I'm in a job where I can afford to, and it's more convenient for me to order online than to deal with library hours and fines. (Most of the local brick-and-mortar stores are big chains, and don't stock much of the fiction I want to buy.) That hasn't always been the case, and it's not the case for many of my neighbors and co-workers.

But you're right. All of the authors I obsessively collect I originally discovered on the "new science fiction" shelf of my hometown library. I bought a copy of Lukyanenko's Night Watch because I discovered that my first read of it had been a library copy, and I ended up buying the next three volumes.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:42 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


>The guy's an idiot, sure, but is there any reason to care about his idiotic views? I mean, is he likely to have any influence of any kind, other than rallying people in defense of libraries?

Sadly, yes, we do have to take him seriously, because local councils all over the UK are looking for excuses to close libraries, sack the staff and sell off the buildings.

Here in North London, Friern Barnet Library was closed last year as part of Barnet Council's 'One Barnet Transformation Programme'. It was only saved because local campaigners forced their way into the building (with help from the Occupy movement) and reopened it as a community library. 'The local residents are clear that without the input of the squatters and Occupy, the library would not have reopened.' Down the road, at Kensal Rise Library, the news is not so good. As a result of Brent Council's 'Libraries Transformation Policy', the building has been sold off to developers, and local campaigners have set up a 'pop-up library' in the street outside. As one blogger commented: 'we now live in a London where residents loan books from a shack on the pavement because nobody'll let them inside the library building'.

Terry Deary's remarks closely resemble the vacuous change-management-speak used by Brent and Barnet Councils to justify the funding cuts. Brent's library axeman talks of 'the massive changes that have taken places since our first libraries were founded under Queen Victoria' (just like Deary, who calls libraries 'a Victorian idea'), while Barnet says that libraries have to close (sorry, 'transform') in order 'to reflect changes in residents' needs and attitudes' (again, just like Deary, who says that 'libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people'). In this ideological climate, where visiting your local library makes you an enemy of 'change', I'm afraid Deary's views have the potential to do a great deal of harm.
posted by verstegan at 8:17 AM on February 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Speaking ex cathedra, as a working novelist ...

I think Deary is full of shit.

If he wants a real target to shoot at, he should yell at the Tories for trying to gut the UK PLR, or Public Lending Right, the system by which libraries pay authors a small kickback (on the order of 3-4p per loan of a book, capped at around £6800 a year per author).

Libraries are a social good: check. Paying authors so they can create good stuff: also a social good, check. There is a balance here, and PLR is the fulcrum underpinning that social contract in the UK, by directly addressing Deary's self-entitled gripe in a reasonable manner. If there's a real villain here (besides the aforementioned self-entitlement poster child) it's the neoliberal austerity agenda. We need libraries. PLR is there to buy the goodwill of authors; it cost peanuts in government spending terms (high single to low double-digit millions of pounds per year, eight full time staff for the entire nation), but apparently this is ruinous largesse. Anyway, if we're not going to have libraries any more, who needs it? Bah. Philistines ...
posted by cstross at 9:20 AM on February 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


Philistines

Now, if there's one group entitled to feel that written literature has given them a hard rap...
posted by jaduncan at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


the fact that there is a market for used books helps prop up the price of new books higher than it otherwise would be.

I don't see the logic. If the market knows that a good will drop in price over time, then surely the initial seller cannot price it as high as he otherwise might. Put otherwise, how is the Amazon buy-it-used option helping keep up the price of the buy-it-new option?

Libraries are a social good: check. Paying authors so they can create good stuff: also a social good, check.

Ten four to this. Though it seems harder to convince people of the latter than the former, at least when it comes time to pay the tab. Lot of bragging in these threads about not buying new, or even buying at all, as if that's somehow admirable.

Historical tidbit - publishers were furious when Ben Franklin started the first library in Philadelphia. (Of course, American publishers were also frequently ripping off English at the time, so there was a bit of pot and kettle going on.)

Haven't they always been a luxury item?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:35 AM on February 23, 2013


turgid dahlia 2: So, let's generously say that at a cover price of six quid, Terry Deary is making one pound per book.

FWIW, in the article he whinges that "if I sold the book I'd get 30p per book".
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:42 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Libraries can be seen as an element of price discrimination. A monopoly (like copyright) is economically inefficient if the producer can only charge one price. In that market, publishers would just print hardcovers at $20; there are people who would pay over the marginal cost of production but less than the price, and that unsatisfied demand is a societal loss.

Monopolists can make more profit and satisfy more demand if they can offer different prices based on willingness to pay. Time-sensitivity (significant in paperbacks), crippleware, and other designed-to-be-annoying aspects of things like airline tickets are used as proxies for this. Libraries then are the bottoming out of price discrimination in the physical book world: satisfying demand between $0 and the lowest individual market price.

A serious problem for ebooks is that customs for multi-tiered price discrimination have not been worked out--and are harder to hide. People really hate price discrimination on identical goods; it triggers our social-animal fairness (and retaliation) instincts.

I'm just channeling James Boyle's talk Tensions between Free Software and Architectures of Control at CODE 2001 (mingled with cstross's publisher analysis). I am now reminded I should probably read some of Boyle's books, perhaps in hardback....
posted by nop at 12:01 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know about america or rich areas, but in poor rural wales, everyone buys all their children's books at the charity shop - the only exception is my Welsh teacher, that i know of, who buys Welsh books new, and visitors (it's a tourist area for people who like walking in the rain - i.e. the middle class quite often, working class people like sunshine to a man almost - which i understand, although i am very grateful to the middle classes for funding us) who run out of things for the kids to do in the evening when, for the sixth day in a row, it rains.... (I would at this point like to also thank the hardy germanic and scandy types for loving camping and walking in the rain.)
posted by maiamaia at 2:11 PM on February 23, 2013


there is a cheap online shop for books in the UK, called alex the fat dawg (google works), where it is £2/book but minimum 3 books, the condition is not always that good, but it's cheaper than ebay, the range is weird but if you keep searching for it they seem to eventually get it in, logically. I don't buy charity shop generally because in Shrewsbury it was £2.99/book and amazon is £2.80/postage so it's not worth it. If you too are poor. 1 book i bought had snot on one page. Books clean well, the covers are waterproof, use wet toilet roll and soap. You can scrape the the page ends with a knife if dirty. Music is cheapest off amazon for 1p CDs, there is an MSE tool for that. On ebay, many sellers have links to their own store which is cheaper. If you need books in Welsh, the Gomer Press £3.50 ones are that in all shops and they're quite good.
posted by maiamaia at 2:19 PM on February 23, 2013


FWIW, in the article he whinges that "if I sold the book I'd get 30p per book".

I knew I was being too generous. Hmm. Okay, well, revise my figures upstream and the guy's made 7,500,000 pounds from book sales. So, fair enough, he won't be earning the interest I mentioned and it might even drop him down a few percentage points as far as income earners in the UK are concerned.

Maybe, if he's got books that are selling for six quid, and he's making only 30p a book, well, it sounds to me like he'd be better off bleating in a completely different direction.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 5:51 PM on February 23, 2013


Not to be off topic, but to slightly expand, I wonder how often what Making Light regulars have called the Brain Eater (a plunge into right-wing libertarian idiocy) happens to authors for whom publication is their main or sole source of income. The Brain Eater seems to start with the author's feeling that the self-employment tax rate is too high, and expands from there.

There's something of a tradition of the Brain Eater afflicting hard SF authors. But children's authors?
posted by bad grammar at 5:54 PM on February 23, 2013


Let's see… I'm trying to calculate the number of books I've bought where I didn't discover either the book or (at some time earlier) its author via the library, and am coming up with zero. Even when I learn of something in a book review, if none of my local libraries have it there's almost no chance I'll buy it unless I already think well of its author (whom, by iteration, I almost certainly first encountered at the library).

I'm so thankful that where I live I have access to multiple library systems (I currently have cards with four of the local systems, plus alumnae privileges with my school's library). Need to look into what other library systems are available to me, especially since I've discovered that I actually find reading on a screen perfectly enjoyable. Somewhat to my surprise, I've become a big fan of ebooks. After all those years of exacerbating my back pain by lugging books around, now I can walk around with umpteen books in my pocket, something for whatever mood I'm in (even before you count the audiobooks), without adding a gram of weight? Love that so much.
posted by Lexica at 7:27 PM on February 23, 2013


I'm not sure how much of the publishing industry would survive if libraries were all suddenly closed down.

Woah woah woah woah. The publishing industry would like to distance itself from Mr Deary's position. About, you know, as far as possible.
posted by ominous_paws at 1:14 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I shared this story with my librarian friend and she promised to put the books on hold for herself and then take them off the hold cart and hide them in her office so they never see the light of day. Heh.
posted by subdee at 1:37 PM on February 24, 2013


I shared this story with my librarian friend and she promised to put the books on hold for herself and then take them off the hold cart and hide them in her office so they never see the light of day. Heh.

Don't punish kids just because the author of the books is an idiot. They're great for learning history, or at least a really dark fucked up version of history.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:52 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only way to learn history is with the flat surface of a metal ruler. Like I did.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 6:32 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Snowflake moment. The anecdote at the top is why libraries were, and are, important to me. And why Deary could not be more wrong if he tried.
posted by Wordshore at 3:37 PM on February 26, 2013


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