Apr 16, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon
Technology

Author of Children's Books "Horrible Histories" Accuses Libraries of Stealing Paychecks

Maybe there's a scientific explanation for the sort of behavior that leads normally beloved people to suddenly veer into previously unexplored areas of misanthropy and jettison all the goodwill they've built up over a lifetime. It's not necessarily just a case of "old men yelling at clouds." The subject of this piece isn't necessarily old (although, I admit I keep moving those particular goalposts with each passing birthday) or unnecessarily coherent. He's just... so horribly, awfully, completely wrong.

Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories line of children's books, has a problem with libraries. Perhaps urged on by UK Publisher's Association's collective mental breakdown (libraries = "tawdry theft") early last year, Deary has joined the not-really-all-that-large number of voices decrying the existence of libraries and the countless free books contained therein.

"I'm not attacking libraries, I'm attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant."

Let's stop right there for a moment. When you've read the next few paragraphs, you'll probably come to the conclusion that Deary is attacking libraries. I just want to let you know that you are not crazy. When someone attacks the underlying concept of something, very rarely does that something escaped unscathed. There's a reason for this. Let's use a metaphor to explain Deary's oxymoronic statement:

Underlying concepts are like the foundation of a house, and when someone like Deary attacks this house's "foundation," he's going to sound like the sort of person that, for the good of humanity, should have several filters installed between his brainstem and his mouth. All clear?

Good. Let's proceed.

[I]t's been 150 years, we've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.

Well, there's a lot of offensive stuff in there, almost enough of it to crowd out the ignorant stuff. "Entitlement to read books for free." To tell you the truth, I barely noticed that "entitlement" because it was immediately overshadowed by the author's entitlement. Who do you think it is that grants you the "entitlement" to earn money for writing books? Copyright is granted -- it's not something that has always existed and will always exist.

I'm particularly amazed (and not in the good way) that you feel "impoverished" people should be happy with whatever the school system manages to stock in its library. God forbid the poor get more than the bare minimum the "council tax payers" provide. They've got survival concerns that outweigh your "giving away a book or two" concerns, Deary. So, they want to read a bestseller while it's still on the list. Fuck them, right? Sorry about your dwindling royalties and all, but couldn't you at least have picked a more socially acceptable target, like Amazon or piracy or literacy rates or something?

And what about all the other books in the library that aren't children's fiction written by Terry Deary? Should these societal leeches purchase their own sets of reference books as well? I'm sure much more time and money went into crafting the Encylopaedia Brittanica and yet, these freeloaders are in the library, not paying for all this information. Should they just be pointed in the direction of the internet, another service most libraries provide? And what if they don't have that service at home? A closed library doesn't do the "impoverished" much good at all.

Please... continue.

"People have to make the choice to buy books."

No, they don't, Terry. Not if there's an option, and certainly not if they can only afford the free option. If you think shutting down libraries will force everyone to start buying books (especially yours), then go ahead and grab a seat on the FAILboat crowded with content industry members that think shutting down piracy will force people to start buying their offerings. It's going to be a long, angry ride to a very disappointing destination.

"People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl's Matilda, and expect to get the book for free."

I've got some bad news for you and your shipmates, Terry: the library lends out movies as well. Audiobooks. Video games. CDs. And yet you think this is all about how you're losing out on one more royalty every time someone uses their library card.

"Books aren't public property, and writers aren't Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby."

Nice. A slam against middle-class women and hobby writers, both of whom deserve no respect and for nothing good to happen to them.

Well, that's probably all we need to hear from this author. It's enough to bury him alrea—

"The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?"

Really? Plenty of people get TV for free. I know everyone pays a license fee back in your homeland, Deary, but that's because it's a public service broadcaster. Over here in the US, advertising pays for our free TV. Even with the surcharge, the effective amount paid (per person) per hour of broadcasting falls well below the 6.2p per lend royalty that has Deary so upset. Or maybe you've heard of this little thing called radio? Music, talk, sports, religion -- all free.

YouTube -- free. (Oh, but the internet connection costs money, I hear you argue, as if that were even remotely a legitimate counterpoint. Sure, you need an internet connection to reach YouTube, but it's hardly the only site on the web. To make Deary's rhetorical question work, we have to pretend YouTube's offerings are the only content in demand on the internet and that YouTube would much rather sell DVDs than allow people to watch for "free.") And, as mentioned before, libraries are diversifying their offerings, so there's many more forms of entertainment people can expect to get for free.

There's also this:

"Bookshops are closing down, he said, "because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I'm afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century."

First is was Barnes & Noble crowding out the indie bookstores. Then it was Amazon, crowding out B&N and the indie bookstores. Now, it's libraries, destroying bookstores in their glacially-paced (150 years+) quest to dismantle the publishing industry and undermine their own existence at the same. And, for no apparent reason, there's our good friend "The Car Metaphor" thrown into the mix.

We can't give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses."

Literature used to be "elite." Now, they're simply "entertainment," and apparently should be sold as such. No freebies. And there's that ugly undercurrent of resentment aimed at the "masses," most of whom are presumably too "impoverished" to be considered part of Deary's society.

"People expect to pay for entertainment."

Do they? I doubt it. Again: radio, TV, YouTube, etc. You can't even keep your story straight. First, they "expect" to pay for a movie ticket. Then they "expect" to read the book the movie was based on for free. Your views on what the "common man" expects or doesn't expect seem to be based on whichever strawman you're currently trying to erect.

So, which is it, Deary? Are the people expecting to pay and the library system keeps letting them down? Or do they expect it for free, but find they can't enjoy it with all the whinging battering at their ears (and eyes, in this case)?

Here's the worst part and it goes unstated by Deary, who clearly wishes that no one ever purchase a book of his again: show me an author who didn't take great advantage of the library system during his or her formative years and I'll show you a liar. Anyone who either makes a living writing or at least makes a serious attempt has spent years voraciously devouring anything they could get their hands on. That's how writers develop. And there is no way in hell that Deary purchased every single book he read on his way to becoming a successful author. None. At all.

Considering how many lives the library system has enhanced and enriched, the complaint of an author bemoaning the "loss" of £180,000 hardly registers against libraries' priceless contribution to society. Too bad for Deary that his ill-advised rant will result in the "loss" of even more royalties as discerning consumers (and fans of libraries) start putting their money in the pockets of other authors -- ones who share the same respect and love for this so-called "outdated" institution.

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