If you can afford this, you can afford that

So today Chuck Wendig posted a thing about piracy and why he won’t put out a tip jar, which I’m not interested in arguing with. What I am interested in arguing with is this whole idea in the comments that if you’re reading ebooks, you must have an ereader, therefore you must be able to afford ebooks. Which is complete crap, guys, I can’t even tell you. Here’s some examples of what’s been said — it’s been said in public, so I think it’s fair to copy/paste:

My thoughts on the “but I can’t afford it!” argument are thus –

1. You can’t afford a $5 e-book, but you can afford monthly internet? My internet bill (whether via my computer line or smart phone) is roughly thirty times my cost for an average e-book. Granted, that’s an average. I buy a lot of low-cost author-pubbed items at 99c to level out the $6-10 fare. Still, internet costs a lot more than an e-book.
2. You can’t afford a $5 e-book, but you can afford something to read that it on? Whether it’s a computer, smart phone, tablet, or e-reader, these things out-cost the average e-book by at least 5 times if not more. Yes, the e-reader, etc, could be a gift, but seriously? If I was so broke I couldn’t afford a $5 e-book (or the internet service to download it), then getting an e-reader is pretty crappy and mean-spirited unless they were showering me with gift cards throughout the year. It’s like buying someone a saddle when they can’t afford the pony.


So wait…. this guy ‘can’t afford’ to buy all the ebooks he wants (I know that feeling – I can’t afford to buy all the designer dresses I want either… so sad…) but he CAN afford to have bought whatever ebook reader-thingy he reads his pirated books on? Strange, I thought compared to ebooks those things were WAY more expensive… I had to save up for three years to get mine…

So yeah, the first quote is roughly correct, even given my £25 ereader: let’s say an average retail ebook is £5, going by, say, Angry Robot (who publish, among many others, Chuck Wendig). That comes out about right: my reader cost five times the book. But it’s a window to many, many more books, including free books from a range of sources (Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, my local library, Baen, Netgalley, Edelweiss, publishers, authors) and cheap books. It’s easily worth it.

What really gets me is the sniffy judgement going on here. “You don’t spend your money the way I approve of, how dare you pay for internet and an ereader instead of books” — in fact, phrased like that, it’s downright snobbish. I get that it’s not fair authors aren’t getting paid, and some authors and series have suffered from it. But you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life.

Like hey, let me paint you a picture: me, a year ago. I live with my grandmother; my mother pays her some rent for me. I had no job, and I didn’t go on benefits, so I lived entirely on the kindness of my family. Depressing enough to start with, right? And then there was my grandfather’s death, and my spiral into depression and anxiety that had been going on and getting worse since my second year of university. Guess what I clung onto when I was too depressed and scared to get out of bed?

Yup. Since you’re reading this blog, I’m gonna assume you’ve figured it out: books, and the internet.* I was too damn scared to leave the house some days. Going to the library where there were people, and germs, and possibly the need to communicate with people I don’t know — gah. Buying books in a store? Well, like I said, any money I had was my mother’s. So my ereader was a lifeline, and my grandmother paid for the internet, so it was easy enough to download books from Netgalley, the library, etc, etc.

Those are not the only reasons that scraping together £25 for an ereader instead of five books (or rather, three, given UK pricing for dead tree books, or less than five trips to my nearest library last year) might be more cost effective for someone. You just don’t know. So please stop making these assumptions and trying to police how people spend their money, and go back to making the very fair argument that authors deserve to be paid.

(Not to mention the sensible point someone else is making that you don’t need a dedicated ereader to read ebooks. Your most basic smartphone can do it, your computer can do it, my five year old iPod can do it…)

ETA: Since I’ve been accused of piracy/theft in the comments, I will just point out that every method of obtaining books mentioned in this post is both legal and moral. It’s not an argument for piracy, it’s an argument for getting your nose the fuck out of other people’s financial decisions.


*Me: Here’s a thing. Imagine the prospect of me without an ereader, especially during the worst times in the last two years. Is there a quotable quote of your reaction to that idea?
Partner: A damn wreck? You’d have been a wreck going in circles, driving yourself insane.
(Pretty fair assessment.)


10 thoughts on “If you can afford this, you can afford that

  1. Yeah he can’t tell me how to spend my money. I bought e books and read them on my computer, this was just when ereaders where just coming out and were extremely expensive. I ended buying a KindleHd 3 years ago when they started making them into tablets and I really only did that because I was doing blogging more seriously and needed to carry the reading with me. You can only state at your phone for so long. I never pirated books but I got a lot of free reads from Kindle and from authors as a blogger. My kindle was expensive but all the freebies amazon has makes it worth every penny. I don’t always buy e books because really $5 for 150 pgs is a lot of loot. But must read authors or faves always get bought. Plus those sales .9th for 22 books? ? I’m so there

      • In addition to the fact that Chuck Wendig didn’t say that, what the majority of the postings were about was the fact that stealing books is exactly that, stealing. I would be surprised if you were to add to the post above how your horrible depression and inability to leave your home justified stealing comfort food from the local grocery store. Stealing is stealing, and that is the basis for the post that Chuck made, and most of the responses that were there.

        I am sorry to hear that you experienced such hard times. That still doesn’t justify stealing. There are plenty of free ebooks online. Almost any classic title that you can think of is available for free due to loss of copyright. So, now does the argument change to, that isn’t my taste in books?

        Again, I am sorry for the hard times you experienced, and I am happy that you found something to be passionate about during that time (reading). Don’t make the mistake of translating your passion for reading into advocacy of theft. Instead, perhaps you could, and should, work to “pay it backward” and find ways to advocate the writers (which includes buying the books you stole when you couldn’t buy them) and publishers and editors, etc. that you took advantage of in your hour of need. This would be far better than supporting the best way to put all of them into the same financial challenge that they carried you through.

        • Where in my post did I defend or advocate piracy? Every source of ebooks I mentioned in my post is legal and moral; my argument has nothing to do with piracy, but to do with the incidental topic raised in the comments where people keep saying “if you can afford an ereader, you must be able to afford the books that went on it”, which is not true. It’s judgemental crap that has nothing to do with the actual issue at hand. There’s this thing that happens when you’re poor: people judge you for what you do spend money on, because somehow they know better than you what’s good for you. This is an extension of that. If piracy is wrong whether or not you have money, then you don’t need to prop up your argument by judging people’s financial choices.

          I took advantage of no one in my hour of need, apart from my parents’ kindness and my grandmother’s willingness to house me, which was freely given. I have never stolen. You owe me an apology.

          • Thank you for the clarification. I did make an assumption that you were arguing in support of piracy because the discussion thread that spurred your topic was about piracy, and your fervent arguments were undermining the logical arguments people were making against piracy.

            I think you would find that most, if not all, of the posters on that page would support your investment in an e-reader as a therapeutic aid, and personal comfort during a hard time, even during financial ruin. The people on that site are writers and readers; they have all invested in reading (probably many during a similar level of hardship).

            Your (justified) sensitivity to the judgment of others regarding your fiscal responsibility lead you to similarly (and just as inappropriately) pass judgment on those discussing a completely different topic (piracy).

            In that discussion, nobody made the argument that poor people should not purchase e-readers. What was expressed was that people should not justify stealing e-books by saying that they are too poor to purchase them, and that purchasing an e-reader or other device to read stolen e-books undermines the argument that they are too poor to purchase the e-books and therefore justified in stealing them. Both of these statements are logical and valid points related to the justification of piracy.

            Apparently, your sensitivity to others assuming the worst in you lead you to assume the worst in others, and to think that they were commenting on fiscal choices rather than the fact that being poor doesn’t justify thievery of e-books. Your assumption lead you to undermine reasonable arguments that people were making against piracy, and therefore you, perhaps inadvertently, argued in support of piracy.

            This doesn’t mean that your concerns and the issue that is important to you are invalid. It means that you are sensitive regarding the misjudgment of others and your sensitivity is leading you to misjudge others. I am sorry to have assumed you were a pirate.

            • If pointing out that ownership of a “luxury item” does not imply the presence of enough money for more luxury items undermines the argument against piracy, it’s a weak argument and you need a new one. We can argue against piracy without making that stupid assumption that we can judge people’s financial situations from things they own that we think are unnecessary/not cost effective.

              Plenty of people made the argument “if you can’t afford something, you can’t have it” without going that step further and making assumptions about people who own ereaders and their finances. My point is that people are unnecessarily attaching a judgement to ownership of an ereader, that judgement being “if you can afford an ereader, you can afford ebooks, therefore you are not really poor”.

              There’s a cousin of this going on in the UK, where people on benefits are told that if they can afford to go on the internet/have an ereader/have a games console/etc, they don’t need to be on benefits. Some of my friends have “luxury items” that they don’t need and couldn’t afford for themselves, because I and others have given them to them, because they then open the door to free or cheap entertainment that makes their lives a little bit better without adding to their costs of living. It implies nothing about their finances, and yet people then in all seriousness claim that because they have whatever it is, they don’t really need benefits.

              It’s just unnecessary.

  2. I support your argument 100%.
    eReaders may be a lifeline to many and not an expensive luxury, they do not imply piracy. Many ebooks are very cheap or free.

  3. Totally agree. Until I got a couple of gift cards or direct gifts from friends, the only non fanfic works on my Nook were all from Project Gutenberg because they were free.

    My Nook? Was a birthday gift from my parents. I could have never have afforded that on my own.

    • Yep. It’s a really annoying, judgemental and unnecessary thing to bring into the argument against piracy. (Which I don’t directly get into in public, because I don’t like arguing on and on about it.)

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