Write Stuff – Indefensible

It’s been a strange week indeed in the world of the written word. The phrase ?But honestly, Monica? spread like wildfire (in spite of it, you can bet that some people, somewhere, still believe that everything on the Internet is public domain). Meanwhile, disgruntled readers began flooding Amazon with one-star reviews to protest agency pricing. And amid all the commotion came the strangest news of all: apparently, if you think the price of something is too high, It’s okay to steal it.

Thud. Yes, that is the sound of my head hitting the desk as I ponder those words. The logic goes like this: I don’t like the price, so my only choice is to steal it. In fact, the store is forcing me to steal it!

Believe it or not, That’s the theme running through a shocking number of online comments. Much of the ire has to do with the cost of e-books, but the argument’s being used to justify the theft of music and films, too.

It’s neatly summed up in this user comment from the Amazon UK forums, nicely spotted by The Bookseller blog: ? . . . the only real way to fight back is to start looking on the bit torrent sites for the novels one wants to read . . .? The same poster goes on to explain that It’s okay to steal music, saying, ?Not many records are sold today but we all know the music we like and we all listen to it.?

Thud (ouch). First of all, a little bit of research goes a long way. The physical manufacturing and distribution costs only account for ?about 12% of a physical book’s retail price,? as publishing CEO Michael Hyatt explains in this very accessible post.

Secondly, the flurry of new developments in e-publishing?and the highly publicized issue of agency pricing?means that book prices are all over the map right now, and it will likely be a few weeks until prices of both paper and e-books settle down and some of those gaps are adjusted.

But the most astonishing thing about that readers’s comment is the sheer, mind-boggling, self-righteous defence of theft.

Seriously? The price is too high, so you have no choice but to steal something? Let’s take that logic and apply it to a physical product’say your favourite Starbucks beverage. Perhaps a Grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte. Or maybe you’d really like a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps.

To some people these are affordable luxuries, but to others they’re outrageously overpriced. Following the logic of the book and music thieves, It’s okay to steal those shoes or that latte if you think the price is too high. If the manufacturers and retailers won’t lower the price to suit you, It’s like they’re not even giving you a choice. You have to steal the stuff.

What an egregious, self-serving load of crap. Much like the latest bestselling novel and hot music downloads, neither of these items is essential to life. It’s true that music and literature are vital to our psychological and societal health, but there are many legitimate ways to read and listen to your heart’s content, such as libraries, Project Gutenberg, or music and book downloads that the artist has chosen to give away.

We might crave that latte or a boxed set of The Big Bang Theory, but It’s hardly going to kill us if we can’t have them.

So here’s a better idea. If you want to protest the price of e-books (or DVDs or designer shoes), don’t buy them. Heck, boycott the retailer if you want to. Send them a letter or email telling them you think their prices are too high. Blog about it. Post comments at the retailer’s website. Talk to your friends.

Just don’t pretend you have no choice but to steal.