Since starting this blog back in 2008, I’ve often placed myself square in the crosshairs of critics. Why? Because I’m willing to be unpopular in order for things to change. I step up and say something super unpopular…then things level out because folks go, Oh, wow, maybe Kristen wasn’t completely crazy.
I think this latest kerfluffle regarding me and used bookstores is an interesting event for all of us to study because the digital age is now giving birth. To what? No idea. I think that’s why we need to be actively involved and these are conversations we need to start having.
No one likes talking about money, but we need to. Bookstores need to talk about it. Publishers need to talk about it and writers need to talk about it and none of us are whining when we do it.
Lines are being drawn and there seems to be this belief we must choose sides. That is dangerous because the digital age is so vast that if we’re divided? We lose. Who loses even bigger? The generations to come.
Secondary Markets of the Digital Age
In this entire used books debate I kept hearing used books be compared with cars and houses and computers and in my opinion that is entirely off base. Why? Cars by and large are something consumers cannot do without. Cars are a need. Houses? What’s our other option to buy? Refrigerator boxes? Computers. Really tough to get along in life without one. I have places that won’t even send paper bills anymore.
Books? For most people? Books are a want. Books are an extra. So to compare the used market of shelter and transportation (fundamental human needs) to books? It’s not even in the same universe so wasting time using these as comparisons is a non sequitur and a distraction.
Digital Versus Paper
I think as more posts are written about my Pay the Writer I’m seeing things more clearly. I think one reason for the pushback I got is that folks felt I was reader-shaming those who loved used bookstores. I honestly did not mean to, but my post was too long. It wasn’t as tight as it should have been, lending to confusion. It was probably also not as tight because I was really angry.
But considering that, I looked at why? Why did I get so angry at the original article and today? It hit me. Yes, the whole “exposure” thing and the “working for free” thing pissed me off, but another huge component?
I felt reader-shamed.
My eyes are not the best. I have an astigmatism and a nystagmus (bouncing eyes) that worsens when I am tired. Ocular albinism runs in my family and my little brother even went to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
After severe head trauma in an accident in 1997, my nystagmus got worse. I went from being one of those avid readers who had to sell plasma to afford her habit to not reading at all. It took forever to finish a book because my eyes would jump lines and I’d find myself reading the same line over and over. I’d lose my place and end up in tears.
The genres I grew up loving most—high fantasy in particular—were all but lost to me. My eyes couldn’t endure the small font. I tried magnifiers and all kinds of gadgets but reading by and large had become a misery.
I remember being the first to buy an iPad, a Nook and a Kindle. Yes, I go overboard in all I do. One of the first books I bought on my Nook (which I bought first to support bookstores)? Game of Thrones. I hadn’t been able to read it in paper.
I can’t describe the feeling. It felt like I was reunited with long-lost loves. I began inhaling books, sometimes a book every other day because now I could adjust the font and I could SEE. *angels singing*
How Kristen reads all her books…
Then they added Whispersync and when my eyes get too tired for the Old Lady Font to help, I transition to audio.
Discovering e-books reminded me of when my little brother was six years old. We pretty much realized he couldn’t see, but because his eye issue was such a rare condition, no doctor had before spotted it let alone corrected it.
Until fall of 1984.
I remember walking outside the eye specialist with him (I was 10). He was wearing his new specially made glasses. He stopped, stared at the sky and wobbled…then began to cry.
He never knew the trees had leaves. Had never realized those things in the sky were birds.
It’s been over 30 years and I still remember that moment.
And maybe my experience wasn’t as big of a deal, but it sure felt like it. I’d had so many years that my greatest joy was out of reach. And Amazon? Nook? Digital? They brought that back. Better yet? Digital afforded me two things at once—I got to read books I love and also financially support writers I adore.
And ever since we’ve gone into the digital age there is this non-stop fighting—paper versus digital. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been told that e-books are not “real” books.
Why do journalists (BIG journalists) insist on pitting one side against the other? Why do they also tend to pick the side authors are paid the least? Why is it socially acceptable and even encouraged to bash me and how I read books?
Readers Matter, But Do They? Really?
In all the brouhaha what kept coming up was I didn’t care about readers. That I was somehow reader-shaming people who buy used. Hint: I wasn’t.
The post wasn’t even directed to readers. It was about writers being better business people. But, if we’re going to make it about readers then all right.
What about those of us who love digital? People felt I was horrible because some people are on a limited budget and used books are the only way they can read or discover new authors.
What about people who have severe social anxiety? What about people with disabilities who order on-line? After that accident (mentioned above) I had such bad seizures I couldn’t drive. Had it not been for the Internet and on-line retailers, I wouldn’t have been able to shop at all.
What about people with transportation issues or the elderly? On-line retailers deliver right to their door. What about those readers?
If a person loves used bookstores does it mean then that they hate all these people and don’t want them to have books? If a reader doesn’t like e-books that person obviously thinks handicapped people shouldn’t have books?
No. Of course not. That’s as ridiculous as assuming that I’m against those with a limited income buying used.
If readers really matter then I want to ask. Why are we choosing sides at all?
Why did the Washington Post feel the need to shame ME and the way I happen to love getting books in order to promote the used bookstore? Why is it necessary to hurt one to lift another? It isn’t.
I get that used bookstores are great for discovering new authors and new books, but when I’m online? I get to see a list of suggestions.
Other readers who bought and liked this book ALSO bought this…
I buy more books that I will ever read (from used stores AND digital retailers).
What I don’t understand is why Salon jumps on me that I am somehow reader-shaming people who buy used in their post Don’t Feel Guilty For Buying Used. But Rachel, just curious. If it’s really about you championing readers, then where was your post Don’t Feel Guilty for Buying E-Books? Where was the post Don’t Feel Ashamed for Ordering Books on Amazon?
So maybe I did actually have a point in my post after all.
Wanting to Make a Living is Noble
In all the commentary I saw booksellers (used in particular) claiming how hard it was to make a living being up against places like Walmart and Amazon and digital and megastores, and that’s okay. Dang skippy it is! *fist bump*
But strangely, not one person said to the bookseller, “You’re whining! Get another job you loser! Find another paid line of work!” Yet, I lost count how many times that was said to me. How many times that was said about the writers I love.
Here’s the deal. ALL of us are in a tight spot. Digital is presenting all kinds of challenges. Consumers who want fast and cheap? They’re just as troublesome for the bookseller as the author. For publishers and booksellers and authors to be vexed by authentic market challenges?
That isn’t whining.
We all need to start having the crucial conversations. But we aren’t. Why? Low hanging fruit. It’s easier for the major journalists to keep fueling an Us vs. Them. Get paper people fighting with digital.
Why didn’t Salon pick any of my other follow up posts to highlight? The hard truth about publishing, how to support writers with reviews (for the used buyers on a limited income), or the post about Fair Trade Fiction? All of these posts meant better pay and business for authors and booksellers (used booksellers in particular)? Why didn’t they highlight any of these blogs?
Because then no one would have been fighting 😉 . They couldn’t sell ads.
It’s Time for Sustainability
We have entire generations growing up teething on smartphones and tablets. Schools are issuing iPads instead of books. Millennials are accustomed to file-sharing and free and downloads. Remember Emily White’s famous NPR post about owning over 11,000 songs and yet only ever purchasing 15 CDs?
Emily is our future reader. This is the reader we need to cultivate a desire to buy something new…or we’re all doomed.
What about our future writers and their abilities to make a living? What about them? If we’re all going to shame them for wanting to make a living, then why don’t we just stop kidding ourselves and shut down the arts now? Instead we can train them to be real estate agents and pharmaceutical reps. You know. “Real” jobs.
Read books any way and every way you want. Libraries, used, B&N, new, Amazon, e-book. I was always in favor of that. But to say one way of consumption isn’t preferable to others (if you’re a writer)? That is just not reality. Discoverability is useless without a new purchase. People discover new music on YouTube all the time, but it doesn’t help the artist or the recording label until a purchase is made.
Yes, obscurity is our biggest threat. But it damn sure isn’t our only threat and stop acting like it is.
That’s like all of us being stranded in the Klondike and wailing that exposure is our greatest threat. Yes, well it is. But the starving to death and dehydration are also pretty big frigging deals, too.
Might it not be a good idea to instill a desire to buy new simply for sustainability? To teach social responsibility to the up and coming generations of readers? For the benefice of authors and booksellers? Because call me crazy but last I checked, bookstores sell books.
Want to save forests? Great! Recycle your newspapers. But we can’t just stop there. We are going to have to plant new trees. It’s true with trees and it’s true with artists and businesses. If we love it, we need to nurture it. Sustainability.
What are your thoughts? Do you love digital? I know I buy a lot of books from used because when I write NF I need to have page numbers and e-books don’t give me an accurate page number. Do you like the portability of the e-book? I travel and it is SO awesome being able to bring twenty books in my purse.
I also like reading at night in bed. Hubby can go to sleep and since my Kindle is backlit I can read while he goes to sleep. Do you do a lot of shopping on-line? Do you get tired of being told e-books aren’t “real” books? Do you get tired of the constant Us vs. Them? I love paper books and miss them. I just really have a hard time reading them.
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*
Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.
Branding for Authors (THIS SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle for FREE.
Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.