When I was in my freshman year of high school, I pirated a couple of books. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I learned just how harmful that practice can be to your favorite authors. Maggie Stiefvater, the author of notable YA novels such as The Scorpio Races and Shiver, wrote a post about piracy and namely how it affected the immensely popular Raven Cycle series. This post was eye-opening for me, and I’ve been working hard ever since to try and be a more ethical reader. The first step was, of course, to stop pirating books. It wasn’t something I’d made a habit of, but I shared the post in hopes that other people who had done it on occasion would also stop. Even if it’s just once and you didn’t think it was a big deal, there could be hundreds of other people justifying it in the same way.
Of course, then comes another problem: buying every book you want to read gets expensive. Luckily there’s been a solution for that for decades, if not centuries—libraries! Borrowing the books you want to read from the library is a great way to support your favorite authors. If a library sees that there’s a demand for a certain book, they’ll order more of it. That information is then relayed back to the publisher, and the publisher will most likely order more of the author’s next book. If you know a book is about to come out and your library isn’t planning on ordering it, try putting in an order request. This accomplishes the same thing by showing that there’s a demand for the author. All of these things are geared toward physical books, but they’ll hold true for ebooks, too. It might take a little bit of searching, but many public libraries will have a way to borrow ebooks that functions almost identically to borrowing physical books. If e-reading is your go-to, try checking out your local library’s selection.
If you want to read a book and you’re planning on buying it, there’s one place to avoid. Amazon is the death of big-box and indie bookstores alike, and you’re doing everyone a disservice if that’s the only place you’re shopping when there are other options. If Amazon is your only option for buying books no one will come after you for shopping there—you’re still buying the book—but consider using the library instead. If you have other options, however, use them! Barnes and Noble is better, but a local bookstore is the best. If you don’t already have a favorite, (mine is The King’s English bookshop here in Salt Lake City) Indiebound is a fantastic website for finding somewhere near you that carries the book you’re looking for. Just to bring things full circle, they even have links to indie stores that sell ebooks and audiobooks, so there’s a format for everyone. It’s genuinely one of the best resources out there, and most authors will link to their books on Indiebound so it’s easy to find. Like most things these days, it’s hard to truly be an ethical reader. You can acquire your books in a more ethical way, and make sure to read books written by women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, but it’s not going to change everything. That said, orienting your actions around the most ethical consumption is still helpful. You’re affecting individual people, from booksellers to authors, and that shouldn’t be overlooked.