As part of my daily web searching routine intended to stay abreast of any contemporary conversations about the Young Lords (my long-term research project that I’m trying to wrap up), I ran across a tweet referencing my last book, The Young Lords: A Reader. The tweet indicated that the person was perusing the Reader on Scribd. Is that illegal? Probably, but here’s why I don’t really care.
First, as far as I’m concerned, the more people who have access to the Reader the better. If I had my druthers, I’d love to see a free, high quality version of the book freely available to all. I love, for example, that communication scholar Ted Striphas has, through an insightful agreement with his publisher, made his book, The Late Age of Print, freely available through a Creative Commons license on his book blog and via Scribd. With a subject like the Young Lords, I think it’s important for as many people as possible to have access to the resources that I’ve assembled because it’s a critical, understudied aspect of Latin@ history and the history of the USA.
Second, I don’t feel like I have all that much of a right to complain given that the material in the book is mostly primary source material that the Young Lords produced long ago. Sure, the format is novel and many costs went into the production of the book; but I don’t think it would be in the spirit of the organization to fuss about a copy being shared online.
Third, I don’t know that it’s really that much different than a library having the book and loaning it out. Moreover, I’d hope that the poor-quality version being hosted on Scribd might compel a reader to find out if their local library has the book and request they order it if it’s not part of their collection.
That said, I do hope people will consider buying the book for two reasons.
First, a pragmatic and philosophical justification: University presses (like NYU Press, who published the Reader) are organizations that provide an incredibly valuable and non-lucrative service to the scholarly community and general public. They aren’t exactly money-makers; in fact, university presses are struggling to survive, especially in the recession. Given the centrality of books in the university tenure world, not to mention as an outlet of significant knowledge generation, I think it’s important for people (especially those of us in academia) to support university presses when we have the option to do so. If you’re a professor or a graduate student, it’s in your best interest to support university presses if you want to have an outlet for your own work down the road.
Second, an ethical justification: In honor of all the work the Young Lords accomplished with and for young people, sales of the Reader, help to support a long-standing Latin@ organization operating in New York: UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latin@ community-based organization. Working with youth for social and environmental justice, UPROSE embodies, in many ways, the spirit of the Young Lords and deserves wide support. As such, 50% of my cut from book sales will be sent directly to UPROSE for their important work.
In conclusion, I understand the many complicated reasons why people might choose to read my book without buying it. I’d rather libraries have copies or people buy their own for the reasons I stated above — not to mention the fact that it’s a beautiful book with an amazing glossy photo insert to which a rough scan can’t do justice. But that said, I can accept that people won’t buy it and would rather they have some kind of access to the important writings of the Young Lords than none at all.