Updated on 01.04.08

When Is Frugality Stealing?

Trent Hamm

In response to my post, When Is Frugality Too Much Frugality?, the following comment was left:

Trent, I’d say you missed the whole point of people’s posts regarding the copying of part of a book from a bookstore and using a coffee shop as an office without buying anything from the owner. The debate was not whether you were being “too cheap”; rather, it was whether you were, in fact, “stealing” and calling it “being frugal”. Simple as that…

I am disappointed that you didn’t address the real concern. We’ve been waiting to read your thoughts. Hiding it in between holes in your socks and washing Ziploc bags shows you a) were unwilling to address the legitimate concern or b) missed the whole point. Oh well.

Honestly, I didn’t really feel that it was worth addressing, given the other comments in the thread, but apparently some readers want to hear my views on the topic, so here goes.

Many businesses offer free things simply to entice you to come in the door and also to bring other customers with you, and I consider those things completely appropriate to use whenever I wish.

Take the coffee shop, for example. Most coffee shops offer a free or inexpensive water as a beverage option to non-coffee drinkers. Why? It gets the non-coffee drinkers into the shop. Almost always, non-coffee drinkers are only going to be at a coffee shop in a group with other coffee drinkers. Since the cost of the water is negligible to the shop, and not having water and forcing coffee upon the people in the shop would probably make the group as a whole not be patrons, the coffee shop makes money by serving water. Thus, I see nothing wrong with going to a coffee shop and ordering water.

Alternately, look at the book store. They offer seats for people to sit in the store and read the books that they’re selling, because they encourage people to dabble. It increases the likelihood of a sale greatly, but it doesn’t guarantee a sale. But there’s another bonus – the bookstore that happily lets customers browse and read is going to generate a lot of positive good will and repeat business. And it works – if I go into a shop, read a snippet of a book, remember it, and go home with it, I’m going to remember that bookstore as a very good customer-oriented resource and I will go there again. I’ve been a patron of that store for years, and I intend to always support it. In other words, the book store makes money by letting me browse and take notes from the books on their shelves.

What about the larger argument of stealing from the author of the book? If you think that reading a book without buying it is stealing, then you’re likely also opposed to the public library system, as well as services like PaperBackSwap. For me, I see them both as ways to keep me interested as a reader – without them, reading would become a very expensive hobby quite quickly and I might instead move more heavily into internet reading or to reading the free daily newspapers – and away from the book industry.

The point is that any service business worth their salt will offer such perks for their customers. It gets people in the door and creates a good reputation for the business, building word of mouth. These are businesses that cater to frugal people, and it makes them money.

Here’s another example of the same philosophy, left as a comment on my post about the McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger:

I personally enjoy the 99 cent Texas Double Cheeseburger from Wendy’s. It comes with mustard, but if you say, “No mustard, add mayo and ketchup…” it is just like the more expensive Wendy’s Double. And it is light years ahead of McDonald’s with lettuce, tomato, and onion already on it. For me, its hard to beat from a price point and a taste point.

Pretty much any Wendy’s restaurant you go to would gladly do this for you, and it’s something that would basically be expected. They’d be happy to whip you up a Texas Double Cheeseburger, not put mustard on it, and instead add mayonnaise and ketchup – it’s good customer service. And what would a store manager say if they heard about it? If they had any semblance of customer service, they’d smile and say, “That’s a pretty nifty way to give a better deal to our regular patrons that would know about it.”

Stealing is taking something from anyone – a business, a person, even a pet – an item that they’re not freely giving or selling. If I walk out of the door of the bookstore with a book in my arm, that’s stealing – the store is not giving me the book. However, if I walk out of the door with knowledge in my head, that’s something they’re fine with, because a piece of that knowledge in my head is tied to that store, almost like an ad into my mind.

When a business is giving something away for free – like a comfortable seat to read a book, or water to patrons who don’t drink coffee – they’re getting something else in return – a customer who values the store, or another customer who does drink coffee. As a customer of that business, they’re giving you this for “free” with a smile – you’d be a fool not to take it if it’s something of value to you.

Since frugality is all about finding the best value in something, if you deem that exchange to be of value to you, then you should of course take it. That’s why I’m happy to order water if I go to a coffee shop with friends (alternately, I could demand to not go to that coffee shop, not giving the coffee shop any business) and I have no objection to reading pieces of books at the bookstore and not buying them (because the store’s wonderful service has made me a loyal customer and evangelist) – I don’t feel bad about it in the least, and I don’t feel bad about taking advantage of other deals like the Wendy’s one mentioned above.

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  1. Amanda B. says:

    Wow, just wow. I suppose you could take it one step further and say any type of sharing is stealing because if I give you my muffin tin for a week, you wouldn’t go out and buy your own. I think that the argument is ridiculous. Coffee shops and book stores put magazines and wireless internet in there stores to entice you to stay longer. They do this because they want you to eventually give into temptation to buy the coffee that smells so good or the books you are now invested in. Even if you were by yourself, Starbucks would like you to come in a drink some water because they believe that their product is good enough to sell itself after enough exposure. The only time I would exercise caution is: if you go to a restaurant where you have a server and you order coffee and sit for hours, consider the tip rent for the table and adjust accordingly.

  2. Sallysadie says:

    You are correct that businesses offer perks *to their customers* with good reason. But if you’re consistently consuming the perk and not making a purchase, you’ve become a parasite.

  3. Kat says:

    We went to a Chinese place once and the worker there actually pointed out how to get the best deal with what we were ordering. Sure he could have given us the egg rolls at full price, but he pointed out the deal and you can be sure when we want Chinese, we go there over the other 5 places around.
    I see nothing wrong with ordering water or looking at books. Sure there are people who take it way too far. My bil used to work for a large chain bookstore and they knew the people who used the store like a library and sat reading all day and never bought a book. But overall the store loves browsers. They encourage people to take the plastic off of the books and look through them. They also know 6 out 10 people will end up purchasing the book after leafing through it.

  4. MS says:

    I think some of the comments didn’t take issue with browsing in a bookstore, but reading a books contents into a voice recorder.

  5. That One Caveman says:


    I believe you are correct for the most part concerning these value-added incentives the stores offer, but I also urge restraint in using them. For example, showing up daily to the coffee shop every day, ordering a water, and plopping down with a water is a losing proposition for the store – no matter how you spin it. If too many people do this, the company will eventually remove the incentive since it wasn’t doing what it was intended to do.

    I also agree with the caution posed by Amanda B. Servers rely on a moderate amount of turnover to bring in fresh customers with more tips. If you’re taking up space for 3 hours (watching a football game at a sports bar), I believe you should tip accordingly. That doesn’t necessarily mean tipping as much as 6 customers would have tipped in that time (assuming 30 mins per customer), but it also means the “standard 15%” rule should no longer apply.

  6. Anne says:

    I’m disappointed with this post because it still does not address most of your readers’ concerns. It’s not that you looked at the book, it’s not that you remembered the information, it’s that you COPIED the information. Yes, the book store lets you READ the book for free (and good for them — you’re right…it’s good business sense), but it doesn’t provide photocopy machines for you to COPY the material. Most people don’t have photographic memories or use voice recorders.
    I love your blog, and it’s okay to have disagreements, but I just wish that you’d address the real issues commenters have with your actions.

  7. KellyKelly says:

    I think that making a “music mix” tape or CD for someone as a gift is stealing.

    People have often offered to record some of their music for me and I always decline, for this reason. To me it’s stealing from not only the musician by the entire supply chain (tho that chain is shrinking these days, given internet distribution of music directly from artists’ websites.)

    Trent, I HAVE had had some uneasy issues with the public library system for exactly the reason you note. When I tried to debate this with some people they wouldn’t even do it. Attacking the library system is just too “out there” for them!

    But I did kind of wonder … I’m using the book, movie, newspaper, without paying for it. I guess the trade-off is I don’t OWN it permanenatly, just borrowing it.

    Some say I think too much. :-)

  8. Dan says:

    I think when you patronize a business there is an implicit contract that you’ll actually spend money with them. You can probably get away with getting water if you go into a coffee shop with a group and they all buy drinks, but if you go in with the same group and everybody gets water and you all sit around and use their internet then you’re being jerks. Likewise, you’re being a jerk if you pay $10 to go to a buffet and then eat obviously would have cost you $30 somewhere else or bring a book so you can sit around between lunch and dinner and get a second meal for free–even if the buffet was advertised as “all you can eat.” These rules are rarely codified but the behavior is still bad.

    You’re right that frugality is about finding the best value. Practitioners of frugality, however, must be careful not to confuse that with abusing the hospitality and expectations of others.

  9. eh? says:

    I see nothing wrong with using a voice recorder, taking advantage of free coffee/water, etc. I think they would rather you come in the store and “copy” from one of their books rather than just going to the library instead. They want you in the door. If they don’t get you in the door, they can’t sell you their product.

  10. Peggy says:

    Trent said: If you think that reading a book without buying it is stealing, then you’re likely also opposed to the public library system, as well as services like PaperBackSwap.

    The difference is that a copy of that book has already been purchased in both of those cases: The library system bought one, and the original owner bought one. In the event Trent describes, NO copy is purchased, thus costing the author money, ultimately — whether or not the bookstore makes money.

  11. Tana says:

    I don’t take notes from books at bookstores, though I do read enough to decide whether or not it is something I either need more time to read or will reference enough to make it worth my having. The thing about treating the bookstore as a library is that the library plans for wear and tear on their books – the bookstore is trying to sell the book to someone as “new.” A beat up copy of a book is not “new” and thus sitting there and treating a bookstore like a library crosses the line, in my opinion.

  12. Eden says:

    Yeah…wasn’t really worth addressing at all. Don’t let the comment trolls take control! :)

  13. Thea says:

    I disagree with you again today.
    You mentioned in the original post “taking notes” which implies paper/pen and significant time to copy what you’re interested in; the intent is to not purchase the book. The library and paper back swap analogy are weak because the books have been purchased already. Book stores exist to make money, by taking only the notes you feel are relavant, you are circumventing their livelihood and those that work there for minimum wage. If less people buy because you can just as easily sit in a chair and read or take notes, less staff is going to be needed, etc.
    In today’s attempt to excuse the behavior, you’re essentially saying that you take “mental notes” which is something totally different than physical notes. Mental notes are quick thoughts like, “That’s a good idea” or “I like that, maybe I’ll come back and buy the book later when my budget allows”. It’s more akin to window shopping or browsing. The perks that you mention are there to entice you to get comfortable while you browse, not to give you a decent chair to sit in while you take notes.
    Would you honestly go into a coffee shop by yourself and order only a water so you don’t have to pay for anything? With a group it’s different, the shop and the wait staff make a little bit of money. It’s thier job, that they (hopefully) will get paid for.
    Do to otherwise, is just stealing, no matter how you try to justify it.

  14. Rick says:

    I agree with this post completely. Trent states stealing is taking something from someone that they’re not already giving away. In my rather long comment yesterday, I stated stealing is doing something that increases a company’s marginal costs. Sort of the same thing.

    @Anne: Maybe the post doesn’t address most of the readers’ concerns because these readers simply disagree with Trent (and also myself). I won’t go so far as to say these readers are wrong in their opinions, but we definitely differ. There is no placating someone when we simply disagree on something. You think it’s wrong to copy information from a book. Trent doesn’t. He stated his reasons, and you stated yours. Anyone with an open mind can use these arguments to decide for him(her)self what to do. In other words, I think Trent did address your concerns; you simply disagree with him, and that’s ok.

  15. Gerrell says:

    You are paying rent for anything you take out from a library…in the form of local or state taxes that support the library.

    Granted, the rent it REALLY cheap, depending on your usage, but it’s still there. Also, public dollars aren’t the only source of funding for libraries, but I’d guess it a major one.

  16. Heidi says:

    I have remained silent on this topic because I keep thinking it will pass, but since this is the third time you’ve posted on it, I have to comment.

    I work in a college neighborhood where this kind of “borrowing” occurs often. My favorite coffee shop used to cater to students by allowing them to take up a table and use their free wi-fi without purchasing anything from the menu. When it became evident that paying customers were leaving because of the lack of free table space – they changed their policy and now have password protected Internet, and they change the password regularly.

    You can only give away so much “with a smile” before it becomes a losing proposition. As someone who banks several coffee shops and diners – I can tell you – their profit margins are already razor thin, the last thing most of these businesses need are “customers” who exploit their value proposition (ie: a nice place outside of home to socialize and check email).

    As a former server, I consider occupying table space and not purchasing a good theft. If you really just want a glass of water, then you should tip the server/order taker for their time. They are providing you a service and deserve something in exchange for it.

    As far as the book store goes: flipping through a cookbook to see if you may want to buy or put it on the library reserve list is one thing – copying content into a voice recorder is entirely different, and that’s what I believe you did. When you took a part of that book outside of the store without permission, it became theft.

    I don’t care if you’re frugal or a cheapskate – you have a right to be either or both. I understand there is some gray area here, and I can’t say I’ve never grabbed an extra ketchup packet or took advantage of “free refills”. But before making an ethically questionable move, I do ask myself “what if everyone behaved in the way I am considering now?”

  17. H-Bomb says:

    *Golf Clap* Nicely put Trent.

    I do disagree with Dan about the buffet thing though. If it is an all you can eat buffet they even have it advertised so I really do not think getting all you can (note: at one meal), is an issue (minus obvious health issues). I do hate when people get more than one plate at a time though.
    The sitting there reading to waist time between meals is a whole other ordeal altogether. Does anyone know people who do this?? That is kind of much.

  18. Amanda B. says:

    OK, he didn’t copy a whole book; he copied a recipe. Most likely, if it turned out great, he would buy the book. If he makes it for other people, they might buy the book. There is no loss there. Perspective people, really.

  19. H-Bomb says:

    If I remember correctly it was not an actual recipe, it was only a couple of helpful hints. So it was not like he even stole a recipe.

  20. KellyKelly says:

    You wrote,

    “Trent said: If you think that reading a book without buying it is stealing, then you’re likely also opposed to the public library system, as well as services like PaperBackSwap.

    The difference is that a copy of that book has already been purchased in both of those cases: The library system bought one, and the original owner bought one. In the event Trent describes, NO copy is purchased, thus costing the author money, ultimately — whether or not the bookstore makes money.”

    Actually, didn’t the book store purchase the book from the publisher?

  21. Jessica says:

    I have to disagree with some readers’ comments and agree with Trent, both in this post and the previous post about “how much is too much?”. Basically, short of breaking the law (walking out with a book in hand without paying, for example), it is up to each individual to define what is acceptable frugality and what is not. I personally don’t think I would use a voice recorder, but as Trent has explained — he does not in anyway mean to defraud this bookstore. He is a frequent, repeat customer. He stated previously that he will most likely buy this book in the future. This bookstore is making more money off Trent by allowing him to browse (and record) information than by requiring a purchase before reading. Even if Trent never ever buys this book that he was reading from … his point is true. The ability to browse brought him into that store … and once in, he will eventually buy something. Maybe not that book, or even that trip … but going to a store to browse will result in sales. And Trent knows this. He knows he may not be buying this trip, but he will be back to spend money and support that business. Each person must decide the ethics of their own actions (within the scope of the law of course). If a business is offering something for free or cheap, then it is not a crime to accept it. I personally agree that you should “thank” the businesses who allow such discounts. As Amanda B pointed out, if you park at a table for hours, reward the server and business with a good tip. If you go to a coffee shop on a regular basis to use their free wireless internet, then buy coffee (or a muffin) occasionally, and bring your study group there, so you can all enjoy the internet (and buy coffee or a muffin). If you read and take notes from a book at a bookstore, then remember that store and go back when you are ready to buy 6 books for christmas presents. But you are the one accepting the free or discounted product or service, and it is your decision how and when to “thank” that business for its service. If a business found that they were losing money from such offerings, they would stop offering them. But many businesses, as Trent pointed out, actually MAKE money by offering these values to their customers.

  22. turbogeek says:

    Are you people serious? Have any of you who have criticized Trent’s comments actually run a business? You act as though these businesses are helpless, and if the frugal army descends on them like the swarm of inconsiderate locusts we are the whole of western free market economy will collapse into ruin.

    The concept of the public library goes back to Ptolemy c. 300 BC. The very first public library was funded by those who owned the first books; merchants. They had to give up books in their possession, have them copied at their expense, and placed for public use. At least today’s publishers get paid for one copy per library location.

    KellyKelly and Peggy are both missing something. Barnes & Nobles has bought the book (at least to some extent) before you read it in their shelves. Authors are typically incented on ‘cleared print runs’, not on cash register sales, but I digress.

    Barnes and Nobles put larger couches and Starbucks in their stores so you will read entire books, not so you will browse. You can even order a water at the Starbucks, sit on their comfy couch, and read B&N’s book — all for free. If you do so daily, you will still get to do it for free. These are both successful businesses. I do not know what their policy is to determine when a person crosses the line from ‘potential customer’ to ‘loiterer’ — but I assure you they have one, and the store managers will not be shy about using it.

    Regarding 3 hours at a sports-bar and a ‘15% only’ tip… The U.S. and Canada are the only 2 countries I am aware of, and certainly the only 2 I have been to, in which any turnover at a table is expected at all. Throughout the EU and S.Amer. once you sit at a table it is “yours for the night”. We have taught ourselves to blast through life. It wouldn’t take very many years for us to alter this little cultural issue. By the way, it is a frugal concept the EU has captured; that restaurant is my ‘living room’ for the evening, creating a shared environment in which dinner is a full evening, reducing driving, movies and other consumerism phenomena. You ever used the word “Pub” for that sports bar? That’s short for ‘Public House’ — or the ‘community living room’.

    Polite is important, but we must understand as Customers that we are being courted; the businesses that compete for our money will compete for mine each and every time I walk through the door. They do not get to assume I will buy just because I walk in — whether I am a regular, or if it is my first visit. They do not get to assume I will leave soon; they have to try to make it enticing for me to stay, and possibly spend more of my money…. … … or maybe even, come back.

  23. In Debt says:

    Good point, Trent. I think that a lot of people are a bit too quick in jumping to conclusions before thinking things through.

  24. Heidi says:

    To those who think that bookstore buy books and then mark them up for sale – you are mistaken. Publishers take on all of the risk, big book retailers get the opportunity to return all unsold books to the publisher, who has to eat the loss.

    For some reason publishing is one of the few industries that the retailer doesn’t have at least some of the risk when they order inventory.

    See: http://www.iuniverse.com/community/blog/?s=returned

  25. Ryan says:

    Interesting debate! Am I correct in thinking that libraries must pay “institutional rates” (higher prices) for their materials since they will have multiple readers per copy? I think university libraries do for journals and such, but what about public libraries?

  26. Mary says:

    Bravo, turbogeek.

  27. Sandy says:

    Thumbs Down to Trent for copying material via a voice recorder, rather than paying for the information, and Thumbs Up! to the vast majority of posters who restored my vision of the common decency and courtesy of mankind. Thank You.

  28. Amanda B. says:

    @ turbogeek:
    As an engineer, I love you comments. The “Pub” mentality may actually be better, but until we have the cultural shift you described, waitress will still only be compensated (normally $3.15/ hour) based on the system we have. So be nice to them.

  29. robtwister says:

    This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where they spent almost the whole half hour debating who had the right of way in parallel parking. Somehow I find this conversation interesting yet pointless.

    Let’s ease up on judging Trent, we all know he’s a good guy.

  30. acidspit says:

    Trent, please check to see if a copy of the Economic Naturalist is in your local library. I just read this over my Christmas break and it talks about why businesses entice/lure people in and don’t mind browsers. I think the section was about why bars offer free peanuts but charge for water, when water is readily available to the bar owner whereas the peanuts had to have been purchased.

    In any case, I agree with you. It’s not stealing, it’s frugal. Any discussion that calls the fact that you copied down some information from a book that you may or may not purchase “stealing” is moot, and has gone beyond the discussion of frugality into morality/ethics. Clearly, someone has missed the point and I would venture that many of us who read this site don’t have any problems with the fact that you happened to voice-record or jot down some notes in a book you perused in a bookstore.

  31. turbogeek says:

    I had intended to be finished, but I’ve got to clarify something Heidi just posted.

    Bookstores do buy books and mark them up for sale, your post is incorrect. I did read the link, and that article is addressing Author/Publishers; cases where writers have additionally taken on the responsiblity for their own marketing and business management.

    Bookstores then have the ability to return unsold books to publishers for credit. Publishers will provide credit, less a restocking/distribution fee, typically no more than 10% to 15%. The bookstore’s risk is tying up capital for long periods of time on inventory that doesn’t move (what if 100,000 books for 9 months each @ 10.75% avg price $9.95… that is just under $1million tied up costing roughly $80k+ in money cost. The Publisher’s risk is having returns large enough that sales plus fees don’t cover costs. The Authors are still, typically, insulated by the Publisher to some extent. This insulation is melting away, per the post Heidi linked, due in large part to the self-publishing movement.

    Now, the bookseller’s decision to allow browsing (as is the case for B&N) as a marketing tool is theirs, as the books do belong to them. The Publisher’s decision to allow returns with only a nominal fee is theirs. Author’s decision to become publishers is also theirs.

    The day this arrangement no longer works is the day the browsing will be limited. Until that time, there has been no breach in this responsibility chain.

  32. James says:

    Interesting. I’d personally have no qualms doing it, but there are always extremes.

    If taking notes is ok what about going in and copying a few pages with a handheld OCR/scanner thing. Essentially the same.

    Lots of bookstores have music sales (at least B&N does). And they have kiosks where you can listen to music. Could I plug my ipod into the headphone jack and record a few songs? Hmm.. I’m a bit uncomfortable with that.

    But then how’s that much different than recording music off the radio? I have to wait a bit longer for the song I want?

    I hate ethics!

  33. librarygal says:


    Libraries pay the same for books as anyone else–it’s only journals or magazines that have an “institutional” rate.

  34. turbogeek says:

    @ Amanda B. — don’t fear…

    Consistent with comments that Jessica put up earlier, if we all keep in mind that we are people who have relationships then those servers will end up well served.

    If I’m slow about a cup of coffee, I may not tip more than 15%, provided my server did not have to do anything additional for me, and no one was ‘waiting for my table’ (which I can’t stand).

    My wife and I have 3 small children. When we go out to eat my kids often make a mess (which is an unavoidable issue that only parents can understand). In these cases I’ll ensure my tip is 20% to 25%, and I’ll also tip the busboy directly a further $10 to $20. How, you may ask? I watch for who he/she is (they are people, afte all), and walk up to him/her after the meal, apologize for the mess, and hand them a $10/$20.

    Similarly, I stopped at the same local diner for coffee on the way to/from the airport for several years. This was my ‘return sales calls / write e-mails / go over notes’ time. I rarely had anything other than a $1 cup of coffe and rarely left anything other than $0.25 for a tip. One day ‘my waitress’ announced she would be married, and told us how she had always wanted to go to Paris for her honeymoon. He next tip was two round trip airline tickets to Paris plus hotel accomodations.

  35. Meg says:

    I agree with whoever mentioned that bookstores have large cushy couches and offer food and beverages for one reason: so that you will sit and stay awhile. If they expected you only to browse and not to use/read their stuff until you purchased it, they wouldn’t have the seating areas and amenities that they do.

    I used to go to the B&N by my college campus all the time and sit for hours studying; sometimes I wouldn’t even touch their books. Other times I’d get a stack of their books (usually financial) and sit read. I even took notes on their contents a time or two! I didn’t always buy books when I left, but sometimes I would. Usually I would at least grab a coffee or two, maybe even a snack. All in all I probably spent at least $50 a month at that bookstore for the entire duration of my college career.

    People who hang out in bookstores are generally booklovers. People who hang out at Starbucks are generally beverage-lovers (they sell a lot more than coffee, after all). They may not make a purchase every time they’re in there, but people who have no interest in ever purchasing books or coffee/tea/snacks/etc are unlikely to repeatedly enter those establishments for free water or to “steal” information they could get online or at a library. WHICH IS WHY SO THOSE ESTABLISHEMENTS WELCOME THE BROWSERS, NOTE-TAKERS, STUDENTS, AND WATER-DRINKERS WITH OPEN ARMS.

  36. Beth says:

    @Ryan: Libraries typically get a discounted rate for purchasing books. As an interesting side note, they can also buy “library edition” audio books which are quite expensive, but can have single damaged discs/tapes replaced, rather than trashing the whole audio book because of one damaged item.

    The voice recorder still seems extreme to me, but the fact that Trent is a loyal and repeat customer does a lot to alleviate my concerns there.

    As far as the coffee shop, I have no problem with one person in a group ordering water. The initial post created an picture in my head of Trent and one potential business associate meeting – in that scenario just having water seemed a wee bit chintzy, but I still didn’t have big concerns.

    And, hey, turbogeek, I want to go to Paris too! *grin*

  37. Jayrengo says:

    Looks like the posts are up that’s good news for you Trent congrats!

    He set up a meeting @ the coffee shop then drank H2O. He brought someone else to that store that may never had been there. That is appreciated by the owner. As a small business owner I promise you that.

    Voice Recorder? I could go either way but he was taking a general tip as I recall to see if it worked. If it did he talked about going back to purchase.

    Stealing would have been dining and dashing or putting the book in his pocket. Let it go people!

    Nice BLOG Trent keep it up.

  38. Man people need to get lives!! I can’t believe anyone cares that much about this stuff. I am a non-coffee drinker so if my friends go into a coffee shop and I want to join them what am I supposed to drink. I also don’t do caffiene or high fructose corn syrup so soda is out for me. And, you are so right, I would not step foot in a coffee shop if I was by myself, but I bet I could make a group of friends choose another shop if they didn’t offer something I could drink too. On top of that, I am a librarian. I hate when I don’t have books that people want but with a limited budget what can I do. I see no problem with getting one piece of info from a book without buying the whole book. You did not get the entire contents so you did not “steal” anything. Also you said you put it on your wishlist so eventually someone will probably buy it for you. Is Amazon stealing when they allow you to “look inside this book” I read snippets of a book I really wanted but couldn’t afford one time this way. I have the knowledge in my head now so does that make me a thief too? Thank you for the tips Trent. I appreciate them even if others don’t.

  39. Sorry, also had to add as the librarian around here…. haven’t you ever noticed the copy machines in libraries? They are for people to COPY PAGES out of books for later use (research whatever) so this is an accepted practice. And, I would like to know where I can get these discounted books people are talking about. Library books are crazy expensive. ALSO… to the person with the problem with the library system… if publishers or newspapers had a problem with it they simply would not pander to us the way they do. They want their books, etc in libraries just as much as in the book stores… okay… library rant over.

  40. Seth says:

    I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. The letter writer asks about using the coffee shop as an office. I agree with Trent that if one person in a group of people doesn’t want coffee at a coffee shop that is ok. That group without the non-coffee drinker would probably take up the same size table as with.

    Now using a coffee shop as an office is different (i.e doing work alone at a table). I don’t think it is stealing, but it seems bad etiquette to sit in a coffee shop and not buy anything. A lot of coffee shops will ask you to leave or buy something. They should! Also if you use a coffee shop regularly or for long periods of time, tip well or order something more than a small coffee.

    Maybe it is the uber frugal types who would order nothing or just a small coffee that causes Starbucks to charge for internet.

  41. K12Linux says:

    Trent, based on the extra info you provided, I can only applaud your efforts to not waste money.

    To anyone who thinks copying a bit of a book, song, etc. is stealing then you better talk to congress and have them repeal copyright law which includes fair use *rights* for the public. I can very legally use a reasonable (though limited) in an article about that book even if I never bought a copy. Whether it is ok to make that copy at the book store is up to the book store owner.

    To those who think that Trent went too far by using a recorder, I’ll repeat part of myself from a comment on the previous article on this subject. .. If Trent is a regular customer at this store do you really think the book store owner would mind? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to find that he would, if asked, even take the book back to his office and copy a page or two for Trent to take home. Foremost because Trent is a good customer. Another reason might be in hopes Trent would come back and buy.

    Lets face it. Big media companies want to charge you. Not only for each copy you touch, but also for any every copy you own (want to listen to a song at home, at work and in the car… buy three copies of the CD!) Heck, they would really like to charge you a small fee every time you read, watched or listened to a work.

    Most would love to see resale shops, swapping and libraries go away. Considering how vocal they are, I guess it’s no surprise to find some people think they are stealing a book if they borrow it from the library.

    While this is really an ethical or moral discussion and not one about frugality, I can’t see where Trent did anything wrong. It sounds like he takes advantage of free services and amenities but is reasonable about it. Copying a paragraph out of a book in a bookstore where you are a regular paying customer isn’t going to raise the eyebrows of anyone except the busy-body who thinks the only thing that matters in the world and that all things should be paid for even if nobody and nothing is harmed when they are not.

    Since I’m rambling anyhow… which is actually better? 1000 people who read a library book (wow, 999 stolen copies!!!) or 1000 people who buy their own copy of a book, read it and then put it up on a shelf? Is it better that a publisher and writer gets 1000x the $ or is it better that 1/1000 of the paper, ink, chemicals, and carbon emissions for logging, manufacturing, shipping, etc. are used? It depends doesn’t it?

  42. Mary says:

    @KellyKelly: mix tapes are stealing.

    This makes me laugh because it makes think about a mix tape one of my friends made me back in 1990.

    It was the BEST mix tape ever and because of that tape, I became a huge fan of an artist who I never would have known about otherwise. Since she gave me that tape, I’ve purchased at least ten CDs by the artist, including a first edition, signed copy specially ordered from South Africa. I’ve even traveled across the country to see the artist perform. (it’s Johnny Clegg in case anyone is curious) In addition, I purchased the CDs of several other artists from the tape and purchased all of the songs by the artists from the mix tape from itunes in an attempt to create a mix-CD matching the tape that is now barely operational!

    That one mix tape can be credited with at least $200 worth of music and related purchases.

  43. Marcus Murphy says:

    I really think a lot of you posters who view this is stilling real only have a skewed opinion and perspective. Morally there are points where a line needs to be drawn but I don’t think Trent ever crossed them.

    All of you who disagree really need to take a class in economics and marketing. These actions are encourage for marketing reasons and the cost that you say is stealing is already built into the cost of the product. If everyone started doing it, a)either you would see a change in policy, or b)you would see an increase in the cost of the products that you do buy.

    If there are loiterers who are taking up table space at a coffee shop, it is the job of the manager to say something or else lose customers and ultimately lose their job. But that is not what Trent is doing here.

    Say 5 different books all had recipe’s for brownie’s and I wasn’t sure which book to buy. Copying down all 5 recipes and making them isn’t stealing, even if I don’t any of the books. This is part of the book buying process and is built into the cost of the book and the overhead of the store.

    But I am not trying to convince you of your opinions otherwise. By you not taking advantage of these services, it keeps the cost of the books, and drinks I do buy down and saves me money in the long run! =)

    I am not trying to debate anyone because most of the comments were just that, quick comments that didn’t really take a lot of deep thought or debate in your minds. You are just speaking off the top about how you feel, and that is fine. But quite a few of the remarks I feel were coming close to attacking him for his actions because they were not in line with your opinions and self morals, even given him trying to defend himself because you want to call him out on it.

    Also for those of you who still feel the way you do about the subject, stop posting comments on blogs while you are at work because your company doesn’t pay you to surf the net for personal use. You are stealing from your employer under your own morals.

  44. John says:

    Is a bookstore that much different than coming to this site and reading the articles every day for free? It is very unlikely that I will ever donate to the site but it is likely that I’ll be back tomorrow for the next entry.

    This topic was such a great read that I’ve copied the entire text to post as an entry in my own blog. What? It’s not like I copied the whole web site.

  45. lucky says:


    Mix tapes might be in a grey area, but I think one can safely use the library without hurting anyone. Find an author and ask them if they mind if people borrow their work from the library. I think you’ll find that, above all, they just want someone to read it.

  46. Ms. Clear says:

    I don’t think Trent did anything wrong.

    Some people at this blog have bought into corporate serf mentality more than a little too much. Good for the plutocrats, but a sad state for the populace as a whole.

  47. You tell ’em, Trent!! I have your back 100%!!

    To the skeptics: think about a night club. Is it OK to go in and enjoy yourself on the dance floor without paying a money. NO, IT IS NOT. Probably they charge a cover and have drink minimums, and if you violate any rule, a 300 lb. bouncer will be quick to show you to the door. And the rules are VERY CLEAR. The fact that book stores and coffee shops don’t have strict rules and bouncers suggests that they don’t do business that way. Their business model is not to make sure they extract money from every single customer who enters the store. I’ve been to bookstores where every book was wrapped in cellophane and nobody was allowed to browse. The way people are talking, maybe book stores should be ran ‘warehouse’ style and if you want a book, you have to ask person behind the counter for it and you won’t be able to even see it until you’ve paid for it. B&N can run their business that way, but chances are they would make a lot less money.

    My guess is that these stores work on the law of averages. They will attract X number of customers a day and some percentage will buy something and the others won’t. By making the environment as inviting as possible and getting as many customers in the door as possible they are maximizing the sheer volume of sales that will be made. I look at the numbers – Barnes & Noble: $253 MILLION in profit last year. Starbucks: $1.053 BILLION in profit last year. Hardly companies to feel sorry for, or question their business practices.

    Anybody who feels obligation to buy something is a salesman’s wet dream. Ever went shopping for a car? The salesman may spend a couple of hours with you, maybe you take the car for a test drive (putting wear and tear on the car, and using gas which the dealership paid for). They run your credit which they have to pay for. But, you choose not to buy the car. They maybe invested $100 in you, but guess what, you don’t owe them a dime, and I’ve never heard anybody feel bad about that. Ever went to look at a house? Same thing, the agents spend lots of time with you. If they make the sale, they get a humongous commission, if they don’t, they don’t see a penny, and they wasted their time/money on you. There’s no in-between but it’s the cost of doing business and they wouldn’t be doing it this way if they weren’t making lots of money.

  48. Sean says:

    Holy cow, the RIAA’s marketing campaign has been far more effective than I thought.

    Haven’t you people ever heard of fair use?

  49. Odalys says:

    Wow, I’m amazed at how many people are considering this an ethical issue. I believe businesses “factor in” the fact that some people take up space without buying the product/service.

    “Well, what if everyone did what you do?” is a rather silly question because in reality, most people who go into a store do patronize the business.

  50. brent says:

    when you’ve stolen something from someone they don’t have it anymore.

    how can you steal a book that the bookshop still HAS when you’re finished ‘stealing’ it??

  51. Anna says:

    Clearly, many people have strong opinions on this subject. Legality, morality, ethics, good taste, and all sorts of issues have been touched upon.

    The fact that so many people have chimed in shows how important we all consider these issues to be.

    And oh, the variety of opinions and second-guessing that we’ve seen. Each of us has an opinion, but who knows for sure what the proprietors of the coffee shop and the bookstore think?

    As the first person to have posed the question on the original post (“Why is this not theft?”) I would now like to request that Trent go and ask them. Yes, ask them.

    Trent, please go to both those shops, describe exactly the situation, respectively, as you experienced it (no modifications, please), and then ask each proprietor these questions:

    “Do you think that was theft?”

    “Do you think it was ethical?”

    “Do you think it was in good taste?”

    And come back here to report their replies, word for word, with as much body language and facial expression as possible.

    Let’s hear it from the people most intimately involved. I think that might settle some of our concerns. We will still have our own standards of conduct to maintain, but at least we will be able to hear from the people most closely involved.

  52. Steve W says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me. This debate is a lot of sound & fury about … not much. These behaviors aren’t “stealing”. Get real. When was the last time someone was fined or jailed for drinking water in a coffee shop? And businesses build these behavours into their costs & pricing, if it’s even a factor. And when it is a factor, businesses respond with a correction.

  53. Anna says:

    No, Steve W, not kidding. Very few people have mentioned fines or jail time. Just count the number of posts on these three threads, and see how many people care about these issues.

    I still would like to hear from the only two people who haven’t been heard from–the proprietors of the two shops involved–and only Trent can make that possible.

    Trent? Please? Will you do that for us?

  54. Rolltimer says:

    I work out of my home as a field rep for a government entity and spend many hours traveling from place to place in my car. Since I have no bathroom facilities, obviously, in my car, I frequently stop at a convenience store, fast food restaurant or other business that has public facilities simply to use their restroom. I make no purchases but use their toilet paper, water, soap, and paper towels or hand dryer. To the pricked consciences out there, am I also “stealing”?

  55. frank says:

    I agree that it’s not stealing but it’s not ethical either. Once in a while OK but on a regular basis it’s a bit mean-spirited especially to those who work there trying to earn a buck the hard way.

    My best gauge in such circumstances is to ask myself what would my mother say if I told her I do that – and I know she’d give me a frown of disapproval.


  56. frank says:

    Another comment on this.

    You said
    “Since frugality is all about finding the best value in something, if you deem that exchange to be of value to you, then you should of course take it.”

    Remember that our basic system of trade is about fair trade of goods, services and/or money.

    In the coffee/water and book/note-taking cases you’re not being very fair to the other party – admittedly Starbucks, Barnes & Noble won’t really miss the $$$ but that’s just not the point.

    I guess my point is – it just makes you seem so greedy and self-serving.

    Still you have a great blog and this is a great topic to discuss!


  57. st says:

    Anna, please get real. I’m amazed at some of the above posts. If coffee shops don’t discourage people from lingering, then it’s ok to linger. Plain and simple. Some people here theorize that it’s hurting the shop because you’re using up a table, but did you consider that they may WANT more customers filling up their tables, whether they’ve bought something or not? I know if I have two proximal coffee shops to choose from, and one is full and the other nearly empty, I’m more likely to go into the full one. Just like if I was choosing a bar to patronize for an evening drink. I want to be out and about among the populace, and people-watch. Also, maybe I or others are (consciously or subconsciously) thinking the fuller establishment is the better one in terms of quality or service.

    If you’re lingering in a shop that you know discourages lingering, then that’s one thing. But that is not the case here, Anna. Same goes for the bookstore. Bookstores have become hangout joints more and more lately as they try to compete with online bookstores. They may notice some people copying recipes, but it’s entirely possible that they could be happy to have them in there, and making their joint look more lively and valued by the local consumers.

    Trent is absolutely right and you’re absolutely off. If you’re doing something that’s a little “grey” like these behaviors, and you don’t get discouraged, it seems PERFECTLY reasonable to assume that the shops don’t mind at all. They are quite capable of discouraging behaviors they don’t want to see. They do it all the time.

  58. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Great discussion. I think the big gap between the two sides is whether or not they see that the business is getting something out of such behavior. It’s very, very obvious to me that a coffee shop selling me water is getting something out of it – it’s getting the other members of the group in the door to buy the coffee and also getting my goodwill and interest in bringing coffee-drinking guests in the future. The bookstore is getting a very loyal customer and a probable evangelist for their business out of the deal. In neither case is the business directly out any money, other than perhaps a penny’s worth of water and paper at the coffee shop.

    Here’s another way to think of it: grassroots advertising.

  59. Jason says:

    I confess, I’ve taken an extra packet of mayonnaise or two from Chick-fil-A and used them on homemade chicken sandwiches that I take to work. After feeling some guilt over this my wife reminded me that the night we ate in and I grabbed a few packets we returned to the counter while the kids played and ordered an ice cream cone. I guess from Chick-fil-A’s perspective the cost of the mayonnaise packets were covered in the ice cream, and the pleasant experience of letting the kids play in a safe, indoor environment out of the elements.

  60. I never feel bad for working the system. The system works you back in 1000+ different ways. The small amount of things we do to save a little dough doesn’t really hurt anybody. Your frugality is only going to teach your kids how to be price conscience.

  61. Andy says:

    I took alot of ketchup packets from mcdonalds a long time ago (before the dispensers), I put them in the refrigerator and used them when needed. Now I bet you guys think that is stealing but it is it not!!, each packet had the mcdonalds logo on it so everytime I grabed and opened one I saw there logo. The end result is I got ketchup and they got advertising, fair deal.

  62. infix says:

    “The difference is that a copy of that book has already been purchased in both of those cases: The library system bought one, and the original owner bought one. In the event Trent describes, NO copy is purchased, thus costing the author money, ultimately — whether or not the bookstore makes money.”

    So Peggy, does that mean that it’s OK to voice record a small section of a book in a used bookstore then since all the books in there have been purchased before?

    Trent did nothing wrong (legally or ethically), why do we keep beating this dead horse?

  63. infix says:

    “Holy cow, the RIAA’s marketing campaign has been far more effective than I thought.

    Haven’t you people ever heard of fair use?”

    I was thinking exactly the same thing, sean. The RIAA is trying to turn people into copyright nazis. Their brainwashing has been effective.

    Oh, since I mentioned “Nazi” does that automatically invoke Godwin’s rule (please, please) and thus kill this thread?

  64. Sher says:

    KellyKelly- I think you’ve missed an important distinction with public libraries and using their materia. Your statement that you, or other users, don’t pay for materials isn’t correct. Libraries are typcially supported by tax levies on property owners and some state funding. The public pays its taxes, part of that goes to the library, and the library pays for the materials.

    Trent–while I enjoy your site, I’m less concerned about the book store than I am about the author. If you think it’s okay to copy matieral try this experient–go to the manager and ask. If they say yes, post it here and I’ll retract my judgment.

  65. Chris Conley says:

    not sure if i agree with you on this one trent.

    it’s a fuzzy line and i see what you’re saying; i’m just a little further on the other side of the line i suppose

    i always feel the need to buy a bottled water/coffee when i set up shop to do some work; maybe i should take on your stance?

  66. cv says:

    I think one reason the coffee shop scenario is causing such a stir is that it really depends on how it fits into a larger pattern of behavior. If Trent is even a semi-regular customer of the coffee shop, then ordering water once in a while isn’t a problem, for all the reasons he outlined. If he goes there a lot and rarely orders anything, or always counts on the others in the group to be the ones buying something, then it seems wrong to me – maybe not unethical, but cheap and tacky.

    What bothered me about Trent’s scenario as it was originally described is that most people seem to agree that groups in coffee shops should generally have someone who is ordering something, and he was with someone he didn’t know well (a potential business associate). Ordering water in that scenario could be, in effect, making his business associate spend money because Trent didn’t want to (maybe the other person had been counting on Trent to order something, and was planning to order water), and that’s just cheap. Now, I imagine that it didn’t play out that way – the other person ordered first, or suggested the place, or whatever, but that’s what caused my negative reaction.

    One lesson I’ll take from this is that people’s opinions vary widely, so if I’m with someone I’m trying to make a good impression on, I’ll just shell out the buck fifty for a cup of tea, even if I don’t really want it.

  67. sistah says:

    Wow! This reminds me of the conversations we used to have in the hallway of our dorm freshman year in college. Discussing ethics and personal moral rules is like discussing religion; everyone will have a differing opinion and each person will think s/he is correct.

    I applaud Trent for doing something that I would probably be too embarrassed to do (read into a voice recorder). The point is that if you really want to save money, these are the personal choices that you will have to consider.

    My personal moral code tells me that I although I usually browse his site, I should sometimes “buy” by donating to him!

  68. tightwadfan says:

    I think you really missed the point on this one, Trent.

    1. The coffee shop. If you go with other people and they order stuff, and you don’t want to spend the money so you get water, that’s FINE, because the shop is getting business from your party. The problem is if you order water and take up a table for your meeting and NOBODY SPENDS ANYTHING.

    2. The bookstore vs. the library. NOTHING WRONG WITH BROWSING. The problem is when YOU USE A DIGITAL RECORDER. And when you use the library, the library bought that book, and you do contribute to its purchase of resources through your TAXES.

    I don’t think either of these things is particularly bad, the OBJECTION IS THAT YOU USED BOTH AS EXAMPLES of good spending avoidance.

    Sorry for the caps but I’m tired of having our objections deliberately misunderstood.

  69. kim says:

    I think there is nothing wrong with one person in a group ordering a water in a coffee shop. I’ve had people tag along for coffee before just for the company. I didn’t expect them to buy anything. I tipped the waitress for my purchases. I wouldn’t have been given a single chair if I were alone, I would have still been given a table with two seats. Why should I feel obligated to tip for someone occupying the other chair at the table who is not consuming anything off the menu?

    As far as the books situation, I keep a pen and paper in my purse. On occasion, I have jotted down a recipe from a cookbook while in a bookstore. I have done so while chatting with an employee. I’m never there because I plan purchase cookbooks. I purchase children’s books. I take a stack of cookbooks with me to the kids section. Our local bookstore has a small climbing structure and a train set in the kids department. I have sat there and looked for good recipies. I have watched people read entire books cover to cover while their kids play. I own about three cookbooks that I have purchased because I tried a recipie and it was fabulous. My small library didn’t own the cookbook and I wanted more regular access than interlibrary loan could offer. When that is the case, I finally buy the cookbook. I’m quite certain that our bookstore is well aware of the “stealing” going on in broad daylight by the parents in the kids section. Trust me, they don’t care if I jot a note. They know that my kids won’t leave without a new book. They’re making their money.

  70. Mike says:

    There are many people who come to this site and never click on any ads etc. Would that be considered stealing as well? Just because Trent has this site free for you and me, we go back with knowledge in our heads, and don’t pay a dime for it. I don’t think this would be stealing.

  71. Kate says:

    I worked at an independent bookstore, and we did have a specific policy about “patrons” copying from travel guides, which is the area where most of this occurred. Browsing in general is great for bookstores. But when people come in, copy exactly what they need and want from a time-sensitive reference book, there’s virtually no chance they’ll ever buy that book. And if someone has the attitude that they don’t want to pay for *that* guidebook, which by its very nature will soon be obsolete, they probably are the sort of person who will *never* shell out for any guidebook. That’s different from cribbing a single recipe from a cookbook. Folks willing to copy out recipes are probably going to be buying a cookbook here and there over the years.

    So yes, there was a policy about copying from *those* books. There wasn’t a 300lb. bouncer to enforce the rule, and the rule was broken often by students. Another bookstore in the same town catered specifically to travelers, and they enforced the same policy with more rigor, since a greater portion of their business was vulnerable to such practices. Incidentally, both independent booksellers eventually closed their doors.

    Using the library analogy doesn’t work all that well in this instance. Travelers always want the most up-to-date information, which can generally only be gotten online or in a freshly published guide. Libraries *might* have the most recent guide for the destination you’re interested in, but there’s no guarantee it’ll be on the shelf when you want it, and you can’t take it with you when you travel.

  72. mp says:

    I really don’t agree with the rationale that the coffee shop makes money by serving free water. Huh? The coffee shop makes money by selling coffee, other beverages and food. Last time I checked, free water is not a god given right. In Europe, many places make you pay for a glass of water.

  73. Anna says:

    Although I still believe the initial actions were unethical (which is quite different from illegal) and sleazy, I withdraw my request that Trent go ask the proprietors their opinions.

    Reason: they are not likely to be completely honest with a potential or actual customer. So we wouldn’t get a clear answer from them anyway.

  74. Matt says:

    Trent, you’re on solid ground with your “coffee shop” explanation, but you’re _reaching_ on the book store. While I agree that book stores do want you to browse and peruse their wares in the hopes that you’ll buy, now or perhaps later, capturing information from a book, without paying for it, for your current use is indeed stealing. You cross the line when you take a “piece” of the intellectual property out of the store and use it for gain.

    I know there are all sorts of rebuttals to this, taken from different parts of society and our economy, but they woudl be off-point. Transcribing a recipe or technique from a cookbook that you will use in your every-day life, soon, is not (ethically) ambiguous; if you want the information/wisdom/technique, now, *buy* the book *now.*

  75. Nicki says:

    In Europe, we are charged for bottled water. When I worked in the US after school in restaurants, the water came from the tap (which is still free, right?). Maybe it’s not the same anymore and it is bottled water that the coffee shops are giving out for free but I doubt it. I think the point is that the coffee shop is making money on the group of people as a whole who might not be there in the first place if the one non-coffee drinker said they wanted to go somewhere else. If coffee shops were losing money hand over fist because of the hoards of people coming in and nursing a free glass of water, don’t you think that they would simply start charging for water? Or having someone surveying the book stacks to make sure no one had a pen and paper out? I’m not sure I understand why copying down a tip or two from a book in a bookstore is different from simply reading the book and remembering what you read. If you memorise it, it’s not stealing but if you write it down, it is stealing? Or do you have to forget about it after walking out of the store? Or is it only stealing if you write it down while actually in the bookstore? If you wait until you are outside, you’re safe? Makes me think of the guy arrested years ago for stealing sound because he had used his walkman headphones to watch a movie on an international flight. I’ve always wondered what happened with that…

  76. db says:

    I spend a lot of time at my favorite coffeeshop — there are occasions when people come in and don’t buy anything — 99.9% of the time they are with somebody who has bought something. I don’t see why anybody should have a problem with that.

    As far as the bookstore copying thing — I really think it’s being blown out of perspective. If Trent had read an entire chapter of the book that would have really been an instance where he just needed to buy the book. If he wanted a single paragraph out of the book — well, who cares?

    What I really think is it’s time for a new topic — this one’s getting boring.

  77. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “There are many people who come to this site and never click on any ads etc. Would that be considered stealing as well? Just because Trent has this site free for you and me, we go back with knowledge in our heads, and don’t pay a dime for it. I don’t think this would be stealing.”

    I think this is a pretty compelling counterargument to the bookstore issue. If you come here and read every day, take away ideas, or print off articles, but never donate or click on ads, how is that different than going to a bookstore, reading a piece of a book, and taking away that information yourself? If you’re saying the latter is wrong, isn’t the former wrong?

  78. Eric says:

    I happen to own two chain bookstores, and I would welcome Trent or anyone else to walk in the door, read books, and even take notes out of them. When you walk in the door, you have some potential for buying books, and the more hospitable I am to you as a customer, the more likely you are to buy a book, return to buy books, and tell others about my store and convince them to come there.

    By all means, please come to my store, open a book, and take notes! Kick back in a comfortable chair, and maybe even buy a coffee to sip while you read! Want some water to sip? Just ask at the coffee counter. Need some paper and a pen to jot down a note? Just ask at customer service, or ask any of the employees – we’ll be glad to help!

  79. Cheryl says:

    I have to admit, my initial reaction on reading this post was a horrified “He did WHAT?” But, on reading the comments and considering what actually happened, I’ve decided the issue is really generational rather than ethical. All he actually did was browse through a book, notice a bit of interesting information, and retain it for future use.

    Did he actually break any laws?
    No. As mentioned in several comments, copyright laws allow for fair use.

    Did anyone lose anything in the exchange?
    No. The author caught his attention. Trent will probably buy that book in the future, and may well search for other works by the same author.

    The bookstore retained him as a regular customer and will continue to profit from his future purchases, of other books if not that exact one.

    The real issue we’re having is with how he did it; with technology. While certainly not old enough to be Trent’s mother, I am enough older that I didn’t grow up with technology in the way he likely did. So if I wanted to retain a small amount of information from a book, my response would be to jot a quick note. For Trent, the equally logical response was to record it. There is no real difference in ethics, just in means. My own children, to whom technology is as natural as a record player was to me, would probably have the same response.

    Finally, we need to remember that Trent is an author himself. Would he do, and openly admit doing, something he would not want repeated with his own work? Of course not. We all read and retain Trent’s works in some manner. Some may bookmark a favorite post, print a copy, take notes, or possibly digitally record a hint. None of this takes away from Trent. It increases his readership if we pass on his ideas, and it increases the probabilty that we will someday buy his book.

  80. rebecca says:

    Re: inqstitutional rates for libraries. This is true for most academic journals, but most books (depends on publisher) are purchased at discounts up to 40%. This is might be considered a volume discount. A large library system like Los Angeles (with many branch locations) might purchase 100 or more copies of a bestseller. My local library purchased 300 copies of the latest harry potter book + more copies in large print and on cd. Since this discount is offered by the publishers, they obviously don’t mind that libraries then make the material available to their customers for free.

    Out local big box book store also offers storytimes for kids where the staff reads books to the kids — for free. They do this because they know on average it will bring in more customers — and even if the parent only buys a coffee to drink during the program, they will make money. When I was taking my kids to this I didn’t always make a purchase,but sometimes I did. And while some families might never make a purchase directly because of storytime the program increases goodwill in the community for the business. The expenses that are caused to the store are deductible business expenses, so they aren’t losing as much money as you would think.

  81. Sammy Sosa says:

    I don’t think you can compare your blog/site to a bookstore. Companies who advertise are aware that not everyone clicks on their ads. You are asking for a donation. It is not the same at Borders or Barnes and Noble.

    I think that by making that comparison you are still trying to justify what you did. I agree with the majority of posters. Browsing is one thing, copying into a voice recorder is another.

    Are you going to feel the same way when your book is published? Can I park myself in a comfy bookstore and voice record the things I want to remember later, and not buy your book?

    I had a friend with a small independent (and very cool) bookstore that went out of business. The profit margin was very thin. I guess his experience makes me more judgemental on this issue.

  82. DebtDefy says:

    It has been an interesting topic, that’s for sure. Personally, I think it’s a personal taste issue more than anything.

    For those who think Trent is stealing – Ever borrowed a movie, or a book, from a friend? Ever gone to a friends house to watch Pay-Per-View? Ever bought something second-hand? I thought so… thieves, it would seem, by your own definition. You didn’t compensate the original content provider, nor any of the supply chain. I guess buying new is the only way to not steal?

    Businesses know what they are doing, they are not stupid. Most are aware that whatever incentives they offer are going to have a varied response. Some will not take advantage of them at all, some will use them in what may seem a normal fashion, and some will use them to the fullest extent. In addition, pricing mechanisms account for marketability, including people who will NEVER buy a book or movie, but will wait for someone else to so they can borrow it.

    Personally, I do not use the couches/chairs at bookstores, as I prefer to read in quiet in my home – sans noise, registers, coffee bars, and loud patrons. So, that incentive does not appeal to me and I do not use it, however, I do browse the content of books. Typically I’ll glance at chapters or a table of contents, maybe read an intro or a sample of a chapter to see if it appeals to me.

    Is voice recording too far? Again, personal taste. It’s too far for me, but that’s because I don’t carry a voice recorder, and because I love books, so if I read a paragraph that interested me so much as to record it, I would probably just buy the book. However, that’s my own taste. If I did decide to sit down and read a full chapter, I’m glad that option is available to me.

    The bookstores are perfectly capable of monitoring whether their risk/return of perks is weighing more in their favor or not (and if they are not, well then they needed better ways to monitor). At some point, they may raise an issue with voice recording passages. At that point, they may lose Trent – and it may cause bad word of mouth. However, they do get to choose that route if they feel it is better to do that than to allow the voice recording to continue.

    The opinions are amazing, really. I’m curious if Trent knew he had so many bookstore owners and lawyers reading this PF blog. :)

  83. Bc says:

    There is no absolute right or wrong in this situation, it just depends on each person individually.

    Personally, I feel compelled to compensate for things that I used, services that was provided, and spaces I take up as NOTHING IS FREE in this world.

    As long as Trent regular visits the book store and purchases books / coffe and other items, he is in fact compensating the book store for the notes that he took on few occasions. It only becomes questionable if Trent never purchases anything from that book store and just goes in and browses the book from time to time.

    Same with the Coffee Shop. It’s not wrong to go in and ask for a cup of water, however if you make it a regular occurrance then you should feel obligated to compensate the store by purchasing something.

    This is different from Internet browsing as the main purpose of these Free sites are trying to get you to visit them. By visiting their site, they get higher traffic and eventually attract advertisers. So in a way, you visiting a site is a form of compensation to the blogger.

  84. Andre K says:

    I used to work in an independent bookstore (one well run enough to have lasted 30 years), and while we strictly prohibited people from photocopying books, we freely allowed people to take notes. Some customers would spend several hours with a book, sometimes with a legal pad (though this was rare).

    Proprietors have to make judgment calls about how much goodwill they seek to monetize. Any owner not realistic enough to acknowledge that a small fraction of customers will abuse the spirit of that goodwill has no business extending it in the first place. There will be occasional customers who use free wireless, water or what-have-you without patronizing. One cafe I know still, to this day, has a no-plug-in policy for laptops (“They’re stealing our electricity,” a friend of mine quoted the owner as saying). This, in an era where opening a new cafe without free WiFi send your customers elsewhere. In my experience, moochers make up less than 5% of a retail establishment’s traffic, so any entrepreneur preoccupied with that level of antisocial behavior probably lacks the risk tolerance to run a business effectively anyway. They would probably look at a full glass and say, “That’s not empty.”

  85. you gots to be kidding says:

    As all the holyer then thou throw stones at Trent lets take a look at our selves. Have we used the copier at work so we didn’t have to go to Kinko’s, have we surfed the net when things got a little slow at work and then printed off something we liked, have we talked on the phone to friends or family during working hours on the work phone so you don’t burn your own cell min. Have you “forgotten” to leave a tip for the server. Have you hitched a ride and not offered to pay for gas because it’s now $3 a gallon even if the person is going a little out of the way and you are trying to save a couple of bucks. Taken that extra free pen from a display booth. Take an extra sample because it tasted so good, but you know you wouldn’t pay that price for it. Borrowed something from a friend and not taken the time to clean it up and return it in the same condition as you got it. Eat grapes in the store just to see if you like them.
    Theft is not just taking things, it’s not giving full attention to your job that you are being paid to do. It’s the extra time you take from someone else to do what you should have done in the first place. It’s the extra refills you take as you walk out, it’s parking in a handycapped place when you could walk it and the person who comes in right behind you has to walk from the back of the parking lot causing them problems because that spot was for them.
    So folks can we move on now please.

  86. Sharon says:

    Someone mentioned goodwill. I think that is the reason many bookstores/coffee shops offer the chance to browse/drink water. Congeniality like this creates an atmosphere they are looking for. If a coffee/sandwich shop requires a five dollar order PER PERSON, then it will die out quickly. I knew one which did. I led a German group in it every week for several months and many, many comments were made about that (in German ;) ) It really was awkward, we felt we were a large group and while we would be willing to support a five dollar per person overall…ie if there were 15 people then the order should be $75. But she complained about the one or two people (often students) who drank tea or ordered small milkshakes rather than a $5+ meal. Needless to say many of our discussions were about finding another location for meetings.

  87. cv says:

    Trent, comparing reading in a bookstore to reading a blog is like comparing a record store with the radio. In one case, the content is being provided by the creator (or distributor) free of charge, supported by ads. In the other, the content is being made available for consumers to purchase. I don’t think that what you did is a problem, but it’s a completely false analogy. Bookstores aren’t intending to provide content for free. Bloggers do provide free content, protected by copyright law, unless they choose to require readers to pay for a subscription

  88. Ken says:

    @ Nicki

    Reading with your mind and taking note of things are two different things. Following your analogy but replacing books with music, so are you saying that recording a music piece and listening to it with our own ears and remembering it is the same?

    I think the problem with this thread is everyone is throwing their analogies as if it applies generally for everyone. Come on, its not fact. If you think of an analogy hard enough, you can compare anything to everything.

  89. Evan says:

    Trent, I’ve following your blog for a few months. Now that I know your unethical, I will stop reading it. Good bye.

  90. Kasandra says:

    Love reading Trent’s blog and I had to laugh when I saw this post had 86 comments! I enjoyed reading through them all and I would like to point out what impressed and struck me the most:
    ..you care about Trent
    ..you care about waitresses
    ..you care about business owners
    ..you care about authors
    ..you care about patrons

    What a great bunch of people and you were all willing to share your concern with others. Keep up the debate, the discussion, the caring and sharing. It’s what makes our countries great.
    Aren’t we blessed to have the freedom to read, to have bookstores to browse in, to have libraries to borrow from and to have coffeeshops to drink in!! If I owned a bookstore (like Eric who said he owns two) you would all be welcome buying or not, why, because I am just so happy to see you reading! Reading changes lives!

  91. Aaron says:

    It is most definitely not stealing to be frugal and to take advantage of all the best deals that stores are offering. Reading whole books is certainly not right, but buying the double cheeseburger at Wendy’s for that price is simply smart, not unethical at all.

  92. Kate says:

    Fair use would not apply in this situation. Although a certain amount of copyrighted material may be duplicated (10%) there are stipulations involved. One is that the material may not be duplicated in lieu of purchase. Trent acknowledged that he duplicated it in lieu of purchasing it. Therefore he is in violation of copyright law.

    Although bookstore owners may be happy to have people come in and copy material, the author and the publisher may not be so happy about that.

    As for Google books: Google has already been sued by The Authors Guild of America and The Association of American Publishers for massive copyright infringement. Google says their project falls under fair use–it remains to be seen how it shakes out in the courts.

  93. mou says:

    Well, then I guess it is OK to grab a handful of free samples every time stores put them out, and take ten little cups of whatever Starbucks is passing out instead of buying a drink – and hit Costco during the hours they give food samples and just re-visit each station until you are full – gee think what you could save on dinner! Sometimes frugality is pretty darn selfish – with a sense of entitlement that was never “offered” in the first place. A frugal person, knowing they were not going to buy a book would in all honesty NOT go to a bookstore to read, but a Library. They are not the same! Our taxes support libraries, and you are free to browse, copy, do research – whatever. Get on the web for your recipes – don’t make a new book in a bookstore a used book, especially if you have no idea of buying it. Bookstores have overhead, and if you are not a customer, or intend to buy a cookbook for $20-30, well, don’t even pick it up. Go to the library, borrow books from friends….
    Sometimes all I hear when “frugal” people talk is ME ME ME – and the delight they take in “getting away with” stuff like this far outweighs the savings. Whatever happened to manners – or the Golden Rule?

  94. Brendan says:

    I have to agree with alot of the people here that this has gotten way out of hand.

    A few posts back Eric, a large bookstore chain owner, confirmed what most reasonable people thought. That bookstores and the like want you to come in and browse, maybe take a few notes, relax and read. Getting people in the doors of brick&mortar shops these days is part of the battle against the online stores.

    Even without that some people seem to have gone way out of hand with this. What if I did have a great memory, maybe even photographic. Am I stealing from “someone” every time I flip through a book in the bookstore? Or what if I have a normal memory and just so happen to remember a line or quote from a bookstore book. According to you that makes me a thief.

    If these stores didn’t want you doing these kinds of thigs (getting a few bits of information from a book, sipping a free water at a table, not tipping enough at a sports bar) Trust me that they would find a way to prevent you from doing so.


  95. WendyB says:

    I believe you said that you recorded your voice reading a section from the book. . . you didn’t photocopy it or in any other way break any copyright laws. I guess those that say this is stealing would also consider anything you remembered (especially if you had a photographic memory) to also be stolen.

    Lighten up, people.

    The books aren’t sealed or locked up. Trent, I think you’re an ethical person.

  96. Anne2 says:

    There have been a number of times that I’ve gone into a coffeeshop intending to buy a cup of coffee and stay there to read or work, but there have been no tables available. When that happens, I’ve left and gone elsewhere. So, if people are just drinking free water and taking up tables, it’s definitely costing the coffeeshop because they’re losing out on my business–at that moment and, if it keeps happening, in the future.

    That said, it’s up to the coffeeshop to kick people out if they use the space without buying anything. If you go in and order a glass of water “for here,” of course you aren’t stealing if they give it to you. You are, however, being incredibly cheap.

  97. Charlie says:

    Two points:

    1. I think intention has a lot to do with the perception of the behavior. If you’re killing time in a bookstore and find a recipe you like, but really have no interest in the book, jotting down notes isn’t such a big deal. If you’re going to bookstores regularly with the intention of copying things and never buying, that’s another story.

    2. Many of the comments here give me the impression that some people think they can dress up “cheapness” by calling it “frugality.” Generally speaking, if you need to try so hard to rationalize the behavior, you’re probably not being frugal, you’re probably being cheap.

  98. Ram says:

    I haven’t read all the comments here, but from the post, isn’t this a 80/20 rule for any business model? 80 percent of the revenuew are generated from 20 percent of customers. They don’t expect every individual walking in the store to buy books/materials although that could be a great day if that happens. However, most of that 80 percent category would certainly spread the word about the store and the wealth of books and knowledge the store has – and that creates further more customers walking in the store.

  99. Jennifer says:

    I don’t agree in using the coffee store as a free office. Hey, at least buy tea (which is about $1.35 for a large at some places).

    If you’re just mooching off the place and not buying anything, stay home.

  100. Jennifer says:

    just elaborating on my last post:

    However, if all your friends want to go get coffee and you are with them (and you hate coffee)…I think it’s fine if you just order water. You are just going where your friends are going.

    Hopefully, you aren’t a “regular” that never buys a thing.

  101. Ron says:

    Free culture is a free book for one perspective. You can find it free online.

    Sometimes I am wondering about how much resource/time/money are spent on getting advances on exchange, that is, you need to earn from what you do. The rules are set as social normal, but does it have to be in place? Are we supposed to be living together to make our lives better by all kinds of interaction? Money is used everywhere to measure your success to a huge extent, but do we have to do everything that is measured/exchanged based on money. Everyone wants to take your money–whatever you have, –as one extremity.

  102. Andrea says:

    Trent, I think in your effort to defend greedy and manipulative behavior, you’ve forgotten the Golden Rule and thereby tarnished your halo. I’d have a lot more respect for you if you joined your coffee-drinking friends at their table and ordered nothing. No water, no glass, no dishwasher in the kitchen to have to clean it for the next customer. It is perfectly easy to be frugal and cost-conscious without exploiting other people. In any kind of restaurant, your chair is real estate and should be holding someone who is buying something.

    Situational ethics is a topic about which much has been written, and we face decisions about our behavior every day. Hope you take the time to think again.

  103. Ashley says:

    I used to work as a barista, and if the person was with another paying customer than it was not a problem for them to only order water. In fact, it is advantageous to encourage this because otherwise the paying customers accompanying them will choose to go elsewhere. Not everyone likes coffee, so we didn’t expect everyone to buy it. However, if someone was alone they had to make a purchase in order to stay in the store. This was mostly because the area I worked in had a large homeless population. I think suburban stores are more relaxed about this.

    And I read at bookstores all the time. The bookstores blatantly encourage this behavior with comfy chairs and in house coffee shops. My favorite bookstore (Powell’s in Portland, OR) allows you to sit in their coffee shop and read their books for as long as you like. And you know what? They were rewarded with my customer loyalty. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars there over the years, but I’ve also read many books for free as well!

  104. Ashley says:

    P.S. I also think it is hilarious that so many people are shocked and previously unaware of the bookstore trick. Students and other poor types have been doing this forever. Get a frugal clue.

  105. half-baked says:

    I tend to choose politeness over frugality. If I go in now and then and take my free water and peruse a book, I don’t think anybody minds. If I walked in and the staff recognized me as the mooch, I would realize I have gone too far. If there’s a tip jar and I’m asking for something that they’re giving away, I still tip the same as if I’d made a reasonable purchase.

    I generally love every word you write, but I think repeatedly taking free things from stores takes it too far. It could possibly discourage businesses from continuing to do these kind things in the future. A few bad seeds, and we know what happens.

    The biggest issue for me, however, is that some actions go too far, and they give frugality a bad name. That makes frugality less socially acceptable, and isn’t part of our common goal to make frugality acceptable?

  106. TheEpicure says:

    Your examples are highly inappropriate and unethical and, as many have mentioned, give frugality a bad name.

    Ask the owner of the bookstore if his intent is to allow people to copy the sections of a book. No.

    Ask the owner of the cafe if his intent is to have non-paying people sitting in his cafe, drinking his water out of his cups. No.

    Taking something that is not intended to be given in the way you are taking is, simply, stealing.

    The fact that it’s easy to do doesn’t make it correct or ethical.

    And your circuitous rationalizations are laughable. People like you make me vomit.

  107. K says:

    If you took this far enough, you could say that buying sale items at the grocery store is stealing. They clearly offer some items at prices that they lose money on to get people into the store and buy the higher priced items on impulse. No one says that it it your moral obligation to buy anything but the items on sale, even if the store loses money. That’s why some stores say “only valid with $15 purchase.” But if they don’t specify, it’s clearly not stealing. And therefore it is the same with other businesses. If they offer something for free, it’s not stealing to take advantage of it.

    Same discussion could be had about “sneaking” food into a movie theater. They make a ton more money on the sale of snacks but is it stealing to bring your own? or just to not eat during the film?

  108. Rachel says:

    Hi Trent,

    I’ve been a bookseller for a decade, and I’ve encountered the flimsy justification you’ve written in this post many a time, usually when I’m telling people to put down the travel guide that they’re copying from.

    Having people walk out of my store with knowledge in their heads is perfectly fine with me. Having knowledge in their _pants_, however — whether that means a stolen book, or a notebook crammed with recipes that they’ve surreptitiously copied down — is not fine with me. Either way, you’re deciding that the information I sell is something I can afford to give away.

    Bookstores provide seating to aid browsing, and to control where people are sitting, because people are going to sit down whether or not there are chairs. Browsing and making notes are not the same thing. Browsing is reading the first few chapters of a book, or comparing field guides.

    And the people who copy things down might tell me that they support the store (as you have just said, above)… but the truth is that the people who copy stuff down aren’t people who also buy books. It’s nice that you, Trent, have a warm feeling about stores that let you copy stuff down, and that you feel connected to them, but as your posts about getting books for free or cheap show, you’re not actually helping the stores where you copy stuff stay in business.

    I write this without rancor — despite my profession, I don’t buy books either. Ironically, I agree that the cost of a book doesn’t generally reflect its usefulness or entertainment value. But I also feel that bookstores don’t deserve to be mooched off of. If you’re going to copy down something, copy down the _title_ of the book full of recipes or information that you need… and then get it from the library.

    And if the library doesn’t have it, and your seven ways of getting books free don’t work, suck it up and buy the book. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.

  109. A says:

    I’m sorry–as an academic and researcher, I am floored by the idea that taking notes from books could be considered stealing. Whether they are in a bookstore or a library, of *course* one makes notes from texts in order to write papers or lectures. That’s not theft, it’s research.

    If I am making a note of one passage from something in a bookstore, I will make sure that the book remains in pristine condition. If I damage it in any way, I have bought it. My local bookstore encouraged people to hang out, even if they didn’t buy, because the store looked busy and therefore inviting. They made MORE sales when people were hanging out reading and making notes in the seats or the floor. The same for the next-door shop. If I sat and had water, I made sure to be aware if people needed tables. If noone waited, I’d stay as long as I liked. If the tables got crowded, I’d leave and let the paying customers have the table. Nobody ever thought of that as theft.

  110. aj says:

    I find it interesting how many people have commented (both pro and con) to this post.

    For the poster who recommended buying nothing in the group at the coffee shop- my take is this:
    If I were going out in a group to a coffee shop and wasn’t a big coffee drinker, I believe it would help the general attitude in the group to be able to have the water rather than nothing. I don’t know about you, but if I noticed a friend at an outing that was obviously to get drinks and socialize sitting there with nothing, I would feel some pressure to offer them something or perhaps choose a different location in the future so that everyone can enjoy the time. (sort of a passive push to meet elsewhere to make sure everyone is included.) If I were the one who didn’t want coffee, then the water is a way to minimize the appearance of “not fitting in” in the situation/environment if I didn’t want people to feel like they had to offer to buy me something. This way, we could just enjoy the time and go on our way. I don’t want people making a big deal that I didn’t get anything. Also, if I enjoyed the atmosphere enough, I may recommend it to others or try something new myself in the future.
    I think we all agree that this depends in large part on if this is a habitual ‘freebie’ or if I am contributing to the store’s profits in the long run. *shrugs*

    As far as the book browsing goes, it’s all a matter of opinion and what types of ‘notes’ are being taken. If someone is taking time sensitive materials and copying only what they needed without intending to purchase the book, then there could be a problem with that. However, Trent was taking a very small snippet from one book to analyze and if it worked, he fully intended to go back and purchase the book. I see no problems with this behavior in part because Trent was also researching into something he promotes regularly– how many books does he review and promote on this blog– and how many additional sales come to the authors of the books from this ‘free advertising’ provided by Trent? Who is to say he wasn’t going to take that book and promote it on his site once his initial research was complete and he was able to delve more fully into the book?

    As with many questions of ethics (or even just “good/poor taste”) it seems there are many variables here and everyone will need to decide what lines they will cross and what is unacceptable. Also, if the owners of these stores do not approve of these actions, they have the full right to confront the customer and (politely or otherwise) ask them to refrain from it or leave the establishment.

    Interesting thing to think about and decide which way I would go… Thank you Trent for opening up this conversation!

  111. Steven says:

    to the guy who left comment #85

    No, I have not done most of those things… because I’m not an A**hole.

    Listen, I believe a little bit of bad behavior is awesome and goes a long way but pretending to forget a tip or taking handicaped parking is low, shallow, and selfish. Alot of people don’t do those things. You do them. Don’t try to throw it on us using the old “come on, everybody does it.”

    No, you do it and your being an A**hole

  112. Lisa says:

    Trent: “If you come here and read every day, take away ideas, or print off articles, but never donate or click on ads, how is that different than going to a bookstore, reading a piece of a book, and taking away that information yourself? If you’re saying the latter is wrong, isn’t the former wrong?”

    I commented on this subject after your 1/3/08 post. I don’t click on ads unless I really am interested in something. But I have purchased your book, Trent, as well as each of the e-books you have offered for sale on this site – because I do receive daily value and enjoyment from ‘The Simple Dollar’. But I’ve not yet found a Paypal link, or other avenue for appreciative readers to easily send in a “readership donation”. I think you might be surprised (pleasantly, I hope) at the number of readers who would like to pay for the value they receive from your site. Just a suggestion, and a BIG thank-you for ‘The Simple Dollar’.

  113. lvngwell says:

    Just a random thought – to those who think that speaking a few tips into a recorder when you are in a books store is stealing – would it still be stealing if he remembered the tips and then when he got home spoke them into the recorder so he would not forget?

    Not at all.

    So what is the big deal?

    If he jotted down a few lines to help remember something later (which I have done) and then found that to be useful he would have a good chance of wanting to return to buy the entire book based on the helpfulness of the original information taken away. As someone who has worked in book stores I assure you that this is the book stores intent.

    What book stores don’t like is when you man handle the books. Don’t dog ear them so someone else would not consider purchasing it or the store would have to sell it at a discount to get rid of it.

    And further ….

    Book stores (at least ours did) have return policies. So if he purchased the book, went home and copied the whole thing (he can since he owns it), then returned it (the policy did say for ANY reason – “I want my money back” is a reason!) would THAT be stealing?? Technically no – morally yes.

    I think the issue all boils down to manors, socially acceptable modes of behavior and being a “good” consumer. “Do unto others” applies not only to your neighbor but also to the businesses you hope will stay around long enough to be a resource for your purchasing needs for a long, long time.

    You can press the boundaries of any hospitality policy or privilege to the breaking point if you like but doing so would make you a bad consumer.

  114. wickham says:

    I am one of those who will only purchase the book if it is pristine condition – and I buy hundreds of dollars of books each year from the local store, and online. So, it is possible that the local Barnes and Noble will lose my purchase because the one copy they have of the book I want has been thumbed through and the spine cracked. I’ll go home and order it from Amazon (and I order from Amazon at a greater rate than I buy from the local store.) Of course, one other reason I don’t head down to Barnes and Noble is because I can rarely, if ever, find a place to sit for all of the purusers and note-takers, and so I carry my stack of books around the store, then buy them, and remind myself that it would have been easier to just order everything online.

  115. Alexandra says:

    Hey Trent,

    Great idea – I just finished taking notes from the copy of “365 Ways to Live Cheap” from my local Chapter’s bookstore. I saved myself $8.00.

    I would advise everyone else do the same.

    Hmmm, maybe now that the money is coming out of YOUR pocket, you might have changed your stance on people stealing ideas in books that are for sale without paying for them.

  116. Davud says:

    The right with respect to books (and other media) is called “copyright.” It is the right to copy. The owner of the right to copy sets the conditions of others’ copying, from none at all to whatever they like. (Of course, legislated standards apply to how we are actually able to use and enforce this right–such as “fair use” all the way to pirating.)

    It is not “readright.” (Or “listenright” or “viewright.”) That’s what it would have to be for a compulsory payment to the artist per use by a different user. We don’t have that, so library readers don’t pay per read. (In England, I believe, they do.) If we did—hey, why not charge a book owner for EACH read? If I read something three times, should I have to pay for each?

    So it’s not stealing to read from the library—or from the bookstore. And notes aren’t copies.

  117. Henry says:

    I’ll use Google Books or Amazon’s Look Inside to steal content. Sometime’s I can search right inside the book to find what I need to copy, other times I recall a key phrase I read in a book from the Library or at a bookstore and Google will take me right to the page on Look Inside or Google Books if the services want to limit the amount of pages I can look at. Hey, if it’s stealing, catch me at it. I usually only need the references so I can cite arguments, not really because I want the book.

  118. Steve says:

    Treating a bookstore like a library causes wear on the book and costs the store money. I would not do that. Everyone expects library books to be used (on top of the whole “my taxes paid for them” thing) so it’s not a problem there.

    On the other hand, taking a business up on an offer they freely made to you is not stealing. And no amount of classist revulsion will change that. (Nor willing it make negotiating wrong)

  119. Jean says:

    This discussion is interesting for me because of Borders and Barnes and Noble going belly-up and closing stores in our area. I loved going to the stores and would browse there and drink coffee but often bought books on Amazon because it was so much cheaper. Now I feel dumb and guilty because the stores are closing. I justified it to myself as a money saving measure because often I would go and buy books impulsively because I wanted to spend money. Any new thoughts with the failures of these retail bookstore giants?

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