It seems that everywhere I go people are complaining about paying for books. Even those who consider reading and discussing books a cherished hobby seem to feel something like a badge of honor for "getting the book for free."
What's going on here?
Did Everyone Forget the Value of a Book?
We don't expect most other forms of entertainment to come without a price. Most of us pay for cable or satellite TV. We pay for the Internet connections in our homes. We don't expect to eat at a nice or even a sub-par restaurant for free. We pay to see movies, concerts and plays.
As author Randy Susan Meyers points out in her piece "The (Low) Cost of Reading," some of those aforementioned experiences last only an hour or two. A book, at least, is a form of entertainment that lingers for longer. And of course you still have the physical book to own forever when you're done. In other words, what are we all complaining about? Compared to other ways we entertain ourselves, books are not that expensive.
Is It Because Books are so Clunky?
I can admit that owning the book forever is part of what stops me from buying more books than I should. I cannot stand clutter, and my definition of clutter is extremely, maybe even clinically narrow. So a book I liked, but did not feel the need to underline, discuss, sob over, or laugh with ends up sitting on a shelf making me itchy. I inevitably give many books away. I'm not looking for pats on the back here. I'm more OCD than generous. Trust me.
I only keep the books I absolutely loved, and the ones autographed by authors I met at a bookstore appearance. I almost always buy an author's book at a reading because I like to support the author, and I also like to support the bookstore hosting the "free" reading. Because guess what's not free? Running a bookstore.
The Library: The Elephant in the Room
Let's get something important out-of-the-way: This is not directed at people who cannot afford books, so stop giving me the stink eye. Also, I know that communities need libraries, and if patrons do not check out items at the library, it looks like nobody is using the libraries, and more libraries will close. I get that. I'm not made of stone. Again, I'm not talking about people who cannot afford to buy books.
Also, I realize that for some of us the idea of paying for something when we can get it for free is a psychological hurdle. I know avid readers who simply will not pay for books. They're annoyed when "Hottest Title of the Year" has a 954 person waiting list at the library, as if the library's books fall from the sky and don't need to be purchased as part of the library's budget. It's almost a sickness of entitlement.
Does this mean if we want to support authors we can never use the library? Of course not. But perhaps we can buy some books, or buy more books than we have been buying in the last couple of years. That's reasonable, right? Use the library. Teach your kids to love the library, too. (Donate to it, actually.) But maybe buy some books throughout the year, too. That's all.
Have E-Books Changed Our Concept of a Book's Value?
I think it's fair to wonder if all this "free Kindle book" stuff has diminished the value we all see in books. The same goes for newspapers and magazines online. Hey, you're reading this article for free. It's a bonanza of free content out there on the interwebz. Suddenly paying for a book seems like a magnanimous gesture, right?
Back to those free books on the Kindle. Want to know something funny? Every book I downloaded for free has sat on my Kindle unopened. Every one. It's almost as if my mind says, "Hey, if Amazon doesn't value this book and the author doesn't either, then why would I be in such a hurry to read it?"
What do you think? Have you noticed an uptick in the expectation of free content? Do you still buy books?
A version of this article originally appeared on Nina Badzin's Blog.