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Image from here

I belong to lots of vegan food related facebook groups and recently I came across a practice which has really bothered me. A member of the group had photographed the page of a recipe book and posted it in the group. The group consists of over 9000 people.

Why did it bother me? A few reasons which I politely detailed:

  • Lack of attribution to author or book title (meaning that any impetus for a fan of the recipe to buy the attributed book was removed)
  • Copyright infringement
  • Lack of understanding or appreciation that writing a cookbook is a job for a team of people (from writer to publisher to printer) and that sharing unauthorised work was potentially depriving them all of an income.

The resultant comments were mostly outrage at my suggestion:

It’s not such a big deal. You could probably even argue “fair use” under copyright law.

Looks yummy!!!! And relax people, it’s not like she pretending she came up with it herself! What’s the difference of physically typing the recipe or taking a picture??!! I’m pretty sure the author is not gonna lose any dollars or sleep over it!!

I don’t see any problem with you sharing it on here since you’ve not revealed the name of the book or tried to make out it’s your recipe! think some people need to chill the f**k out tbh!

I think you’d better go scold everyone else sharing recipe book pages then. Literally all I’ve done is share one recipe from a fat cat company. Chill your beans.

It made me think about a lot of things, including the place of books in our lives in general.  It’s worth noting that the internet is replete with people writing and sharing their own recipes for free, so there is not exactly a dearth of opportunities to learn to cook whether you have access to books or not. I have always been a big reader, one of those people who prefer a book in a hand to watching or playing sport and invariably finds the book far better than the movie adaptation.

I’ve always derived great satisfaction from being a member of a local public library and visiting a library has always been something of a ritual that I’ve really enjoyed. (Its made me a little sad that libraries are now louder places with events which make story time seem like a whisper but that’s a post for another time). Libraries aren’t as prolific as they once were.

The funding of public libraries is in decline in England and America. If you combine this with the brick and mortar bookshops especially those not part of a chain) that are closing, it may be easy to think that people are reading less. I know that personally I can’t remember the last time I bought a physical paper in hand book (with the except of the Deutsch sprach schule texts).  Books are expensive to buy, especially in Australia. When I lived there I often just couldn’t afford to buy books in bookshops very often, opting for more affordable options like Book Depository, buying a second hand book or yes, borrowing the book from the library. In doing so, was I too, complicit in depriving an author or in-store book seller of a reputable income? In the same vein,  is taking a picture of a recipe and sharing it not really any worse than ripping a page out of a magazine or borrowing a book from a friend?

Collaborative consumption may be considered a hip, post 2000’s movement, but it’s always been around in one form or another. I can even remember my Mum swapping once read books and magazines with friends.

I guess I’d like to think that a physical product when shared like a magazine or book (whether borrowed from a library or friend or bought from a cheaper source or second hand) can be an opportunity for a bigger, expanded audience which will read more of the author’s work, creating a fan base of sorts. But to me, sharing a book between friends pales in comparison to massive sharing of published editions. I can even remember years ago when a ‘bootleg’ Jamie Oliver book was leaked in a word document and emailed around the University I worked at. (And to millions of other people according to this article).

There seems to be an assumption inherent in these kind of acts  that sit somewhere between “All publicity is good publicity” vs. “Why shouldn’t I get it for free? He/they can afford it!”.

The reality is that anyone who thinks that authors are rich from writing a cook book alone are sadly mistaken. Food writer and cookbook author Heather McLean has written a detailed post about it here, providing an example of the experience of a cookbook author with an agent and publisher. In contrast, Jill Nussinnow is interviewed and does a great rundown on the costs associated with self publishing a physical cookbook here.  Whilst not a recent article, it’s a good look into the work involved in writing, publishing and selling a cook book.

Ok, so maybe you’ve been guilty of a mindlessly shared book or recipe. Somethings you might like to do:

  • A book review on your blog or social media.
  • Like/follow the author on social media (facebook, twitter, pinterest, blog) and share their work that way.
  • Where practicable encourage your library, book festival or food festival to invite the speaker to participate in an event.
  • Give a friend a copy of the book for their birthday.

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My little offering

Most authors will never be more than hobbyists. As I’ve mentioned here before, writing recipes isn’t a free pursuit. Behind every recipe is research, the finding and purchasing of ingredients, the cooking and testing (I’m sure I’m not the only food blogger who has had more than one attempted recipe end up in the bin because it just didn’t work, burnt or tasted awful), cooking equipment, camera equipment, computers and the like. Sure, you get to eat the food, but it’s often less than palatable after going cold in a photo shoot or whatever!

But what is most apparent is the enthusiasm and passion that goes into people sharing their work with others. For every blockbuster author making a dollar for every book sold if they’re lucky, there are others for whom a purchase whether an small recipe ebook like mine or a generous tome, means that they have the funds and indeed, the encouragement to write another.