Ebooks, Disability, and the Morrigan

You may have seen my Twitter rant the other week (later c&ped to my FB page in chronological order, for easier reading), when I started talking about how pagan booksellers need to provide ebooks, or they’re contributing to (dis)ableism within the greater pagan community. Here’s an expansion on that.

Ableism (disableism across the pond) is already alive and well in the pagan community. The majority of public events and rituals are held in non-accessible spaces, and not much thought is given to disabilities — and certainly not to “invisible” ones. If you’re not actually in a wheelchair 24/7, the community basically doesn’t see you. (And even then, good luck finding an event you can be part of.)

I was lucky to be part of an outlier in this regard with my first real local pagan community — one of the long-term members was in a wheelchair, so most public rituals and events were accessible to them, and lots of thought was given to accessibility for wheelchair-users. Still, there were other areas where disability wasn’t thought of, because it wasn’t realized to exist.

This problem is widespread, because it’s widespread in our larger society. Pagandom is comprised of people from that larger society who have shook off some assumptions from that society, but by no means all of them.

Ebooks (and audiobooks, to a somewhat lesser extent, because some ebook readers do have software that will read aloud books to you so that need is partially covered) are necessary for many disabled individuals to be able to read books at all. There are people with sight impairment who can’t read physical books. There are people with neurological issues who can’t read physical books. There are people who physically cannot hold physical books and need something on a light ereader. (Physical books can be fucking heavy. My Kindle is a feather by comparison.)

Yet in pagandom, there is a resistance to making ebooks available to the public. Some pagan authors say they don’t want to put out ebooks because they don’t want their books to be pirated — and think that somehow, refusing an ebook at all will stop piracy. While I can understand how much it sucks to be pirated (been there, done that), they’re flat out wrong in their assessment.

Refusing to put out ebooks doesn’t stop piracy; if anything, it encourages it. There are tons of books available for downloading that have not been put into ebook form; people *will* take the time to scan the physical books and turn them into PDFs. So by refusing to put out ebooks, you’re not actually stopping pirates; you’re just hurting potential customers. (And yourself, by extension.)

Not only that, you have to accept one simple truth if you want to be an author in today’s world: you will never 100% stop piracy of your work. Period. You must accept that your books will be pirated. And that really sucks. It does. There are plenty of things you can do to mitigate piracy, but stopping it outright would mean changing humanity on a fundamental level, and good luck there buddy. There will always be people who pirate ebooks and who will never pay you for them, who will keep on putting your books up on site after site after countless takedown demands. And there will always be people who feel they are forced into piracy for various reasons.

You can’t stop the first; you can stop the second. Here’s how: get your books into libraries. Don’t know how? Figure it out. Have a publisher? Bug them to do it. But getting your books into library systems means expanding access — and I can tell you that a lot of people who pirate ebooks won’t if the book is available to borrow from their library.

The second way to mitigate piracy: make your ebooks cheap. I’m serious. If your ebook costs more than 10-12 dollars, you deserve to be pirated, ffs. That’s highway robbery. Find a price below ten bucks that you are satisfied with, and stick to it. (Also, be realistic — your 30-page chapbook better not cost more than 2.99, and then that price only if you’re a big name that people will buy anyway.) The only time you should be charging over ten dollars for an ebook is if it’s a box set of several different books, or, possibly, a really massive tome that is super academic and will take people years to read. Then a higher price tag is forgivable. But if your ebook is more expensive than copies of your physical book (which is common for trad-published books out there)? There is a serious problem.

And just like that we’re back to disability. Here’s the thing about disability — often, disabled people are poor. We don’t have a lot to spend on things like books that will help us religiously because even if we do get assistance, there’s very little in the way of it. Where I live, I can’t get assistance because I’m not “disabled enough” — but I can’t work outside the home, either, and the last time I tried it disabled me further (I now have tendinitis in both wrists, and yet somehow am still blogging. Glutton for punishment I suppose). I am very much fucked, financially as well as physically. So no, I don’t have an extra 16 dollars for your masterpiece on NeoWicca and especially not for a digital file where I’m not also paying for printing costs. Lower the price. (Not to mention, many ebooks bought through big retailers you’re not actually paying for the file; you’re paying for the right to have the file. Amazon can take away your ebooks at any time.)

Where disability and class intersect is also another reason many disabled people might not be able to do physical books: lack of space.

I have 1,000+ books in my house (800+ are mine; the rest are the Ogre’s). I accumulated most of them before becoming disabled, but I still have an issue with library sales or books for donation. I tend to bring more home. And regardless the ecstatic joy I feel in being surrounded by so many books, I need to stop, because here’s the thing: I don’t have space for them. I’m poor and disabled; all I can afford is a tiny little 2-bedroom basement suite with my spouse, and there really is not enough room for more books. Nor is there enough physical strength between the two of us to move them when it comes time to leave this place, whenever that is. I’m just hoping that we’re able to save up to pay for actual movers to do it this time, because all the last times I moved took years off the end of my life.

So, while I’d like to be able to buy a huge hardcover physical book about my favourite goddess, I can’t. I don’t have the space and can’t justify the extra volume. And that’s true for lots of other disabled people too.

This rant isn’t coming out of thin air. None of my rants really do. I’ve been chatting with a friend about their attempts to get ahold of an ebook related to their practice — it’s a book they really feel would help with their path, but there’s no ebook, and without an ebook my friend can’t read it.

Said friend contacted the author and asked about the ebook, specifically why it wasn’t available when it was a donor perk for the book’s IndieGogo campaign. The author said it was up to the publisher, and that they would know more.

So my friend contacted the publisher to ask. And the publisher said they weren’t planning on doing an ebook, because it “degraded hardcopy sales”.

This is the part where Morag blows up.

That is the biggest pile of bullshit I have ever heard in my life. Ebook sales don’t degrade hardcopy sales and even if they did, oh noes, we made more money from selling a book we didn’t need to print and ship! THE HUMANITY!

Look, if you want to be a publisher in this day and age, you better be willing to put out ebooks. And look, I get it — ebooks that aren’t straight, normally-formatted text can be harder to put out. I struggle to create poetry ebooks very often. But harder doesn’t mean impossible, and if you’re not willing to put out ebooks because you think it might degrade your hardcopy sales…well, I don’t know where you learned how to be a publisher, but you are seriously ignorant.

Disabled pagans deserve access to pagan materials. By refusing to put out ebooks, you are refusing them access. You are saying they are not worthy. (A message we get far too often.) And I don’t care if that’s not what you meant to say; it’s what you’re saying. Intent isn’t magic.

I’m really pissed off by this whole thing — not only because my friend is unable to get a hold of a book that they really want to read for their path building; not only because disableism is so bloody rampant in pagandom — but also because the book is about the Morrigan.

Something related to the Morrigan that can’t be accessed by her disabled followers.

Yeah, that doesn’t sound familiar at all, does it? Surely no one has ever tried to exclude disabled followers of tM from anything regarding her. Surely no one has ever espoused the idea that tM doesn’t want broken people, because broken people can’t be warriors. Right?

I’m not saying this is intentional — I’m not saying they’re refusing to put out an ebook on the Morrigan because they are actively trying to tell disabled followers we’re not welcome — but it is the message that comes across.

When you sign up with a publisher and do a crowdfunding campaign for your book on tM; when you make enough money not only to sit around and write the book, but also to travel out of the country on your book tour; when your name has been put on the map of tM people; when you become synonymous with tM to many pagans…you owe something to Her followers.

Even us disabled ones.

And that fact that you didn’t sit down with the publisher and make absolutely sure that this book would be accessible to all of tM’s followers really says to me that you don’t see us. You don’t see the disabled and poor followers of tM. We don’t count to you.

Which shouldn’t even be a surprise to me at this point, but I guess I really hoped this time would be different.

Signed,
a disabled, broken, fat follower of the Morrigan who hasn’t been rejected by Her yet — just Her other followers.

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