Libraries vs Piracy

I remember once reading an article by another author who was talking about how piracy of her books had massively damaged her career as a writer – including leading to a publisher cancelling an edition of a book because they weren’t seeing enough sales. In the comments, someone had remarked that they didn’t feel bad about pirating books because they were just going to borrow them from the library for free anyway.

I wanted to take a  minute to explain why borrowing a book from a library is not the same as piracy.

If you want to borrow a book from a library, then the library or one nearby must have a copy of the book. This means there has been at least one sale for the author. If lots of people are requesting the same book, then the chances are that two or three libraries in the area will get a copy of the book. There are over four thousand libraries in the UK. Not every library will have every book in the catalogue because libraries allow for people at one library to request a book from another nearby library, but if we imagine that 1 in 10 libraries need a book to cover that area, that still means 400 purchases, and that would be a significant chunk of sales for most authors. This is obvious at the upper end, but if across the country people requested a book at a library instead of pirating it, that author would notice the difference.

Then there’s what happens when the author’s next book comes out. If a book is being requested and checked out a lot, the library are vastly more likely to buy the next book the author publishes. You don’t have to pay a penny, but the author is still getting some income from sales.

Libraries are often supportive of local authors. At my local libraries, I’ve done talks and coffee mornings to promote my books, which usually leads to a couple of sales. There are local author days where writers are invited in to give presentations. All of this helps an author get their name known and library staff are more likely to want to work with an author if their books are being requested and read by members of the public.

Then there are public lending rights fees. In the UK, every time someone borrows a book from a public library, the author gets paid a few pence. At the moment it’s 7.82 pence, but they’re looking to increase that from February to 8.2 pence per loan. That may not sound like much, but that’s why every borrow counts. There are some authors (particularly in the romance genre) who rely on this for a significant percentage of their income. If you pirate a book, the author gets nothing. If you borrow it from a UK library, the author gets a few pence. Those few pence can add up over time.

So the next time you’re tempted to pirate a book, consider borrowing it from your local library instead.