As I’m sure you’ve been seeing all the #Augvocacy2018 posts from Filipino book bloggers so I won’t delve too much into that. For a quick summary, #Augvocacy2018 is a blog series started by Shealea @ That Bookshelf Bitch for her birthday. The theme of this year’s #Augvocacy2018 is fostering a culture of reading in the Philippines, so that’s what everyone’s been writing about. And today is my turn!
Ready to hear me rant and rage? Strap yourself in for the ride!
Unless you live under a rock, I’m pretty sure you, as a member of the online book community (otherwise, why would you be reading this?), have seen the times that book Twitter had a collective meltdown over the topic of book piracy. I’ve written before about the privilege of being a bookworm – and I’m not the only one who has, to be honest – but our posts seem to be falling on deaf ears (deaf eyes?) because the same Western-centric bullshit is spouted literally every single fucking time the topic of book piracy comes up.
I am tired and angry. Can you tell? I am sick and tired of white middle-class people in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Europe controlling the discussion on access to books and the resultant piracy. So before I continue, let me make this very clear: this post is not for you. This post is not to meant to coddle your feelings. It is not meant to spare your sensibilities or congratulate you for being an ally. If you are white, well-off, abled, or live in a Western country and this rant doesn’t apply to you? Then walk away. Don’t come to me with #NotAllWhites. I’m not in the mood.
This post is my rant to the world about how sick and tired I am of international readers and/or low income readers being thrown under the bus every single goddamn time by the entire bookish community, from authors to publishers to fellow book bloggers.
I am angry, and it is #Augvocacy2018, and I have this space to rant. So rant I will.
Before I begin, I want to say a couple of very important things:
- Book piracy is stealing.
- Book piracy is wrong.
- Authors absolutely have the right to get angry when their books are pirated.
- Authors deserve to be paid a living wage for their work.
During the discussion on Twitter, I found out that the most common demographic of someone who illegally downloads books is a man between the ages of 30-44 with an annual income between $50K and $99K (source). So let me just say that if you have enough disposable income to afford books and can easily access them, and still pirate books (so much so that the publishing industry lost nearly $315 million in 2016), you deserve to have all your books and electronic devices burn in a fire.
None of the things I’m going to rant about will negate the fact that pirating a book is essentially stealing money from an author you claim to love. As a book lover and a firm believer in supporting creatives, I’m not about to defend piracy. Instead, I’m here simply to say that the current discourse on book piracy is nothing but useless circle-jerking, and that there are more constructive things to do than picking up a megaphone and yelling that piracy is wrong all for the sake of a few brownie points from your favorite author.
The discussion around book piracy lacks nuance. The participants of these discussions yell things like, “GO TO THE LIBRARY!” and “LOOK FOR AMAZON SALES!” without considering the circumstances surrounding other members of the bookish community. I remember tweeting this:
Whelp. There it is. The first fuckin white person to reply to this post saying that libraries are a way to get free books.
At this point not knowing that well-stocked libraries are not a thing outside of the US isn’t ignorance. It’s goddamn outright apathy.
FUCKEN WHITES I S2G. https://t.co/kehjN3SOGf
— Kate @ The Backwards Bookshelf (@bckwrdsbookshlf) July 28, 2018
…and then a reader from the Netherlands had the nerve to tell me that this simply wasn’t true, because she had two libraries in her town and she wasn’t from the United States.
Can you imagine, a European reader trying to compare her experience to that of a reader from a Southeast Asian one? Just once – just once! – I want to read a thread on libraries and access to books that doesn’t make me roll my eyes and go, “Ugh, white people.”
As an international reader – particularly a Filipino – here are the challenges that I, personally, and probably other people who come from similar tax brackets, would face in accessing books:
- There is absolutely no such thing as a well-stocked public library in the Philippines. What public libraries we have are devoted to academic research. Private libraries may often have some fiction collections, but these are super outdated.
- In fact, a functioning library system that has fiction titles and electronic components are often not a thing in the global south. So quit yelling about how people should go to the library and libraries are so great, blah blah blah – they don’t exist here!
- Books are expensive, and not many Filipinos have disposable income. I am in a better position than most, employed as I am by one of the top corporations in the country, and not at a rank-and-file level – and yet I still have to decide carefully whether or not I’m going to buy a book, as opposed to paying my rent or buying food.
- Sites like Book Depository and Amazon are still too expensive for a lot of Filipinos.
- Speaking of Book Depository and Amazon, our mail delivery system is utter shit and there is literally zero guarantee we’ll get the books we actually ordered.
- There are a ton of books that aren’t even sold in hard copy format in the Philippines. As a concrete example, The Poppy War isn’t available here. I was lucky enough to get an ARC on NetGalley, but unless I put in a special order a copy through Fully Booked (which would cost me upwards of ₱2,000 – which, again, I could use to pay for electricity or water), I’m definitely not getting my hands on a copy anytime soon.
- Chances of Filipinos (and other international bloggers, to be honest) of winning giveaways of ARCs are super low considering that most giveaways are US/UK only – which, don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the limitations of shipping.
Take note that I face all these challenges as a gainfully employed member of the Filipino middle class with disposable income who speaks and reads English. In a country where over 26 million people are poor and 12 million live in extreme poverty, I am the minority. All of the eloquent, college graduate Filipino bloggers you see on Twitter? We all have access to resources that more than 50% of the country does not have.
And I’m sure similar statistics exist for a ton of other people from various other countries.
Yes, there are
assholes jerks dickwads douchebags rich white men who actively contribute to the publishing industry losing money. But when you yell about book piracy on Twitter, you are taking the conversation down a road that lacks nuance, is utterly myopic, and ultimately? Does absolutely nothing to help curb book piracy from a demographic that could still be made to stop.
To be honest? I am no longer interested in white/middle-class/wealthy/abled/Westerners have to say about book piracy. Yell all you want – the rich white men stealing from you don’t care, and they never will. Rant all about how you were also poor but could access books thanks to the library. All your hot takes and Twitter threads are falling on deaf ears. I’m certainly no longer going to bother listening to them.
As for us readers, bloggers, and authors who are low-income or are from the global south, we’re going to focus on providing resources that enable our people to access books without stealing, instead of yelling at readers about a situation that’s totally out of their control.
As the dust over that Twitter brouhaha settled, I was extremely gratified to see readers from marginalized communities totally ignoring all the privileged nonsense and deciding to help each other out with links to Amazon deals, going on the #bookishwish hashtag and purposefully looking for lower income readers to give their books to, hosting international giveaways, starting small lending libraries, and donating books or money. Because this is how we fight book piracy: not with circle-jerk Twitter threads that serve no other purpose than to stroke your own ego, but with concrete action that renders book piracy unnecessary.
In the spirit of helping readers get their hands on books, here’s a giveaway!
Two winners (1 Filipino, and 1 international provided BD ships to your country) will get a chance to win a copy of The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly. Click this link to enter!
Want to read more from #Augvocacy2018?
Check out everyone else’s posts!
What did you think?
Do you agree? Have any contentions? Sound off in the comments below!