Friday, April 6, 2012
Let's just burn the books, why don't we?
I am a minimalist.
I will eschew purchasing anything new, and this includes books. I will tout the wonders of public libraries, and then go write an e-book that must be purchased to be read because it's not available at the public library. In that book, I'll tell people how important it is that we use less so that those who are poor can have more.
In that book I'll tell you how to live an incredibly happy life with no financial cushion and only a poverty-level salary. And then I'll charge two hours' minimum wage for the privilege of reading my e-book. That e-book, by the way, doesn't contain anything that anyone else hasn't said before (though I'm saying it in a different way, which has its merits.) But I'll sell my book about avoiding the pitfalls of marketing and our spend-spend-spend society by marketing it as something new, and then telling people they should buy it.
I will quit my current job and write satire for a living because it's my dream.
Okay, maybe not. That's probably a good thing since the only part of satire I'm good at is offending people.
We're minimalists. But we're also human and we live in a capitalist society. There are minimum amounts of money needed to live. I understand why many minimalists have decided to write e-books for profit. Self-publishing avoids the corporate midldeman and empowers the individual.
E-books are becoming incredibly popular. Meanwhile, public libraries in the U.S. continue to lose funding. Unlike regular books which can be purchased individually, e-books are purchased by libraries as part of expensive subscription programs, which many libraries can't afford or soon won't be able to.
E-books have the potential to disseminate information farther than traditional books. While authors do need to make a living, many e-books and the information contained in them are effectively off-limits to those who aren't well-off financially. In the past, if you wanted a book but were poor you could go into the public library and borrow the book for free. And if the library didn't have it? You could get the book via interlibrary loan or ILL, also for free.
'Access to information shall not be abridged' - that's the first article of the constitution of a futuristic society in Lois McMaster Bujold's award-winning sci-fi novel Barrayar. At this point, most e-books are out of the reach of the poor. The poor can't afford expensive e-books and neither can libraries. Minimalism shouldn't be for the rich.
So next time we tout living simply so that others may simply live, let's make sure that those who have to simply live can afford to benefit from what we've learned and have written.
And now back to your regularly scheduled anti-hoarding.