Best-selling Author: "Public Libraries Deprive Writers Of Royalties"

"Horrible Histories" author Terry Deary told a newspaper that public libraries are a drain on government resources that deprive authors of royalty checks.

Best-selling childrens' book author Terry Deary has become the first major writer to speak up against the concept of public libraries. In an interview with The Guardian's Alison Flood, Deary claims that free, government-subsidized libraries "have had their day" and drain both public coffers and authors' royalty checks. According to Deary, public libraries do nothing to help the book industry and are a waste of government resources.

"We've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers, and council taxpayers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that," Deary said.

Deary is best known as the author of the Horrible Histories book series, which has sold more than 25 million copies in 30 languages. The 66-year-old author is no stranger to controversy; in 2003, the former teacher criticized the existence of schools and claimed 11-year-olds should enter the workforce.

Earlier this year, Fast Company wrote about an app that allows a town with no public libraries to scan QR codes on stickers all over the city that direct them to e-book downloads of classic literature .

[Image: Flickr user Muffet]

Add New Comment


  • Sam Watkins

    Libraries are a very good thing, but I agree that libraries deprive authors of royalties. It might be good to increase funding to libraries so that they can pay some additional royalties to authors based on how many times the books are borrowed, and to allow users to donate for that purpose if they wish to do so. In 99% of cases I have no need to own a book permanently, and I would rather borrow it from the library, but I do want to support the creators of the books that I read. I'd be happy to make a $100 / month donation to the library in order to reward creators of the many books I read. (to be honest I am mostly reading graphic novels these days)

  • Schaming

    What a greedy son of a gun. Whatever books I buy for my grandkids in the future, they will not be written by this sorry excuse for a writer. 

  • Heather Teysko

    The Christian Science Monitor reported on this a few days ago, and the best rebuttal was their last sentence in the article. 

    'But it was author Neil Gaiman, who delivered a knockout commencement speech earlier this year in Philadelphia, who hit the nail on the head in a recent tweet: “...libraries make readers. They don’t starve authors.”'
    There is lots of evidence that patrons buy books, as Mark wrote already.  But the idea that libraries make readers, which is good for the publishing industry and authors, is more powerful to me than individual statistics.  Libraries create a culture of reading and discovery starting when children are very young and attend story times.  This continues to help create a culture of informed citizens.  It all starts with libraries.  

  • DavidW

    I got bad news for the short sighted Deary. He is writing BOOKS, not creating videos.  Where does he think people learn to love reading? By watching TV or watching Youtube?  No, I would bet that a majority of people who are avid readers (and therefore the book buying public) got "turned onto books" by having easy and free access to them via a publicly funded library... Just saying...

  • MarkCoker

    There's ample evidence that public libraries are actually powerful engines of book and author discovery.  Library patrons buy a lot of books.

    Library patrons are avid book buyers, and like all avid
    book readers, their passionate word of mouth can amplify the success of
    an author.  A Pew Research study published in June found that 41% of library card holders who read ebooks purchased their most recently read book. 

    When library patrons go to their library to discover their next great
    read, if your book isn't there, they'll discover some other author. 
    According to data published by Library Journal's Patron Profiles
    service, in conjunction with Bowker, 50% of all library users go on to
    purchase books by authors they first discovered at the library.

    When an author sells a book anywhere, they receive two benefits from that sale:

    1.  They get the royalty from that sale
    2.  They earn a reader, and a reader is a potential fan, and fan will want to read everything you publish, and will recommend the author to their friends.

    I'd argue that #2 is actually more important to the long term career and money-making prospects of any writer.  When Tim O'Reilly said 10 years ago that the biggest threat facing writers is obscurity not piracy, he was right.  We live in a world where there's a glut of books.  There are simply too many great books worth reading, and not enough eyeballs to go around.  Authors who do the best job at building large and loyal fan bases are the ones who will become tomorrow's bestsellers.  Libraries are critical and essential partners in book discovery.

    Mark Coker

    * Smashwords is the world's largest distributor of self-published ebooks, and we LOVE libraries.  We do everything we can to support them because they help our authors sell more books and reach more readers.

  • Guest

    Now let's allow private funding also take care of our roads and see where that gets us. 

  • sea

    As weird as this sounds, I love this! I did a project for an MBA class last year on customer experience management for libraries and my professor basically told me I was wrong for suggesting that the public lending library model is outdated. He was also outraged at the suggestion that people are not entitled to free entertainment (i.e. the movies and music libraries provide). In Denver alone they spend $32 million on brick-and-mortar libraries. Imagine what else that money can be invested in! The problem with the library (like the postal service) is that it's supported by the government and unlike its cousins (Blockbuster and record stores) libraries aren't affected by a balance sheet.

    I'm interested to see what's in store for the public library lending model. 

  • just_curious

    How did you do your research for this MBA project? Do you pay for your own journal or database subscriptions? Did you pay $35-$100 for each article you used? Or did you not need sources?