I saw that the Authors’ Guild and Association of American Publishers are pretty pissed about the “National Emergency Library” recently released by Internet Archives, and had to click that bait. I mean, the Authors’ Guild and AAP are presumably not angry that people might be reading, right? So from whence does this anger arise? Turns out, they just want authors to, like, be compensated fairly and be able to eat and shit.
So what is the Internet Archive, and what’s the big deal? The Internet Archive is a project whereby media, including books, are scanned into this large database that is made freely available to the public. Since IA defines itself as a “library,” it stresses books the most. And that sounds great, right? Making literature and other stuff widely available to everyone with access to the internet? The problem is that a lot of the books available in this library are not yet public domain, and the IA obtains it’s digital copies via upload from literally anyone. So instead of a regular library, which still supports authors and publishers by ordering physical books, audiobooks, and digital rights, the IA is just sharing whatever anyone has uploaded without appropriately paying the creators and companies that helped these books to exist in the world.
I did a lazy, cursory search, and found I can borrow a Harry Potter book by simply signing up for a free account. I know Rowling does not need the money, but what about the average author? I was curious – I mean, maybe the Authors’ Guild and AAP are just being drama queens, right? (Don’t give me that look; we all do it.) So I did some research, and the average author makes $4,500 on a traditionally published book:
This infograph I whipped together assumes that the book is hardcover (royalty percentages are lower, on average, for paperback sales), and that the author was not paid an advance (since publishers need to fully recoup the advance amount before the author will see a dime of royalties post-publication). So, on average, an author makes the equivalent of about 4 months of minimum wage for 1 book. Considering the time that is poured into creating, editing, selling, and polishing a novel, that author has probably invested more than 16 weeks into the novel.
Now, most authors are not planning to get rich off of their novels. Only the very lucky get to just write novels for a living. (I guess this applies to non-fiction authors, as well; I don’t know, I rarely read non-fiction, because why wallow in reality more than you fucking have to…) So most authors are supplementing, not living entirely off of the royalty income from their books. But most authors are also already making less than minimum wage – is it really fair to rip a hole in their pockets, and follow behind to pick up the change that falls therefrom?