golen pens and ink on notebook

Two Gifts for the Price of One

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books

Greeting at the beginning of the game: “How are you?”
Response: “Oh, so-so. Stock’s way down again.”
Answer: “Got a job?”
Reluctant, grateful laughter from everybody.
And there we are.

Like every other entertainment industry, books are suffering. Some industry reports say sales are down 30%, in some niches, as much as 50%, though others report better than expected holiday results. With everyone looking at their year end bank, retirement and mutual fund accounts, I don’t know anyone who isn’t economizing. One of the economies people often resort to is buying used books. I’ll admit it: We are a family of voracious readers, and we buy used books and use the library extensively.

Just recently, a heartfelt rant from Nicola Griffith on her daily blog spawned a thought-provoking discussion. Her initial rant is very funny and I understand the emotion behind it all too well. Her bottom line is this: If you don’t buy new books at some point, you’re not paying the writer.

I will add: Writers need to be paid or they will give up–and where will that leave readers who love the small, niche market of lesbian fiction?

I know people who only ever buy used books, which means they’ve never rewarded the person who gave them the entertainment. Like Nicola, I have a problem with the idea that if someone else has paid, that’s enough. That model might work for the rare few writers whose names we all know – whose books make up 80% of the stock offered to you in a generic large scale bookstore. Those writers who write in a niche that will never exceed a certain level are in a very different place. A loss of 30% of their sales may well be the difference between writing another book – or not.

How about a year of giving new books as gifts?

It’s easy to buy used books. In fact, one of the biggest Internet sites, the one that takes the biggest part of the pie for every book they sell, makes it the easiest to buy a used version instead. They don’t really care as they get paid either way. But the writer only gets paid for the new book. I guess their thinking is that the supply of books is endless, and that quality writers are also an unlimited supply, and that declining royalty checks, increasing trends toward homogenization of the product (everyone enjoying the endless selection of vampire sex?) won’t drive any writers into retirement.

In our little corner of the world, there’s not an unlimited supply of writers who tell good stories that speak directly to a lesbian’s heart. Not that many writers who write authentically of lesbian lives, love, dreams, not that many who write about lesbian sex with only the lesbian reader in mind.

So that’s the compromise I’m proposing in these difficult times. If you truly cannot afford new books for yourself, buy them when you give gifts this year. Give twice. Once to your friend or loved one, and once to the toiling writer, who hopes to eventually be paid for her effort.

Valentine’s Day is approaching – how about a romance? wink

Read Nicola Griffith’s rant and the discussion here.

Copyrighted material.