If you work in publishing, or you review books, design books, etc, and you don’t buy books on a regular basis, you’re not supporting your industry.
I get it, I get it. We all like free books. I have tons of free books just sitting around. People come to my home and burst out into laughter at how many books I have. Fact is, publishing can be a pretty lonely, poorly paid place to make your living, and free books are a nice perk of the industry. No one’s saying that you have to individually purchase every single book you plan to own (although pretty much everyone who doesn’t work in publishing does just. that). All I’m saying is, if your first thought after “I want to read that!” is “who can I ask for a free copy?,” something’s wrong. Don’t go browse a book in your local indie and then make a mental note to track down the publicist later on.
It’s true, free books aren’t the worst expense a publisher will incur. It’s probably somewhere around $3 to print each copy, plus about $3 or so to mail it to you. (We’ll leave our costs of editing, acquisitions, etc.) But you still are taking those $6 out of their pocket, plus denying them whatever a bookstore would have paid them for it, plus the fact that the bookstore will restock a book if their initial order sells out (and will return it if it doesn’t sell).
One time I was in a bookstore with a fellow publishing professional. A ready super great person, someone I consider a lion of the industry who has done a ton of good things for books. We came upon such-and-such book, and I was all like, “This book is awesome. You have to read this!” He duly picked it up and made his way to the cash register. On the way he stopped, turned to me, and said, “You know I can get any book I want for free, right?” He kinda weighed the option for a moment. And then he bought it.
I get it. It’s a pride thing. We all want to feel like we can use our pull to get some favors every now and then. And also: publishing isn’t exactly the industry that is going to leave you with the highest disposable income for something like a new $25.00 hardcover that you’ll read in an afternoon. OK, I understand. I’m not saying you can’t score a free book every now and then. But you should really support your industry, particularly the small publishers who are doing tiny print runs and scraping by. Be a good citizen of the literary community. Spread good karma.
Disclaimers apply: if you’re planning on reviewing the book or otherwise doing some reasonably serious publicity for it, you’re entitled to a free copy. If for some reason you need to read the book before publication, same thing. If publicists just send you things for no clear reason, no need to send them back if you can’t use them. Etc, etc. And sure, get a few favors every now and then. That’s fine. But support your own damn industry.
And if you do get a free copy of something and you happen to like it, make a point of sharing that information. Post something to Facebook, send out a tweet. It will take you under a minute and you’ll have made at least 3 people’s days (author, publicist, editor). Or you could even tell someone about the book over dinner or blog about it. Be a good member of your literary community. Don’t be that guy free riding on everyone else’s enthusiasm and hard work.