Whenever I hear a recently-successful author say of their book’s achievement, “I never in my wildest dreams thought this would happen,” I think one of two things:
- They’re lying for the sake of humility or
- Their dreams are rather bland.
As someone who relies on their imagination for a living, I think it’s typically door number one. Who wants to say “Yes, I totally knew my book was going to rock the world”? No one does.
Short of walking the red carpet at their book-to-movie premiere, all authors hope to live exclusively on their craft. That could mean making enough in book royalties to support a mortgage payment, insurance for both house and car, groceries, and all other living expenses. Perhaps the occasional dinner out and shopping splurge. You know, daily living. Writing as a profession, a job, a way of life. That’s a dream all of us want to see fulfilled quite desperately.
What gets in the way of the practical dream of author-as-job is online piracy. Illegal book downloads per month, even if they range from the low hundreds, are killing a writer’s dream of surviving on their passion. Illegal book downloads in the thousands are the difference between a book slumming it in low rankings to becoming a bestseller and soaring into the wildest dream territory.
Tell any of the above to a pirate or plunderer, and you’ll likely receive a communist-inspired rant, anything from “I’m poor and I deserve to read your book for free” to “You shouldn’t want to profit from your own work, just the enjoyment of writing it.” Some pirates will think of themselves as freedom-of-information heroes, sharing the work of others with the poor masses.
My ebook is $3.99, hardly an expensive book considering its length. You may even be able to find $3.99 in between couch cushions or walking the streets. It’s hard for me to muster sympathy, considering all the work that was put into Jaden Baker.
Combating Online Piracy
Since learning of my first pirating back in March, I search for pirated copies online a few days per week, and I always–sadly–come up with results. I report the offending links promptly.
As Jaden Baker climbs in the rankings, so the pirating increases. To help me combat the pervasive issue, I did what I usually do and Google searched and found this helpful post written by Stephanie Lawton. I’ve put her advice into practice and have so far spent all morning reporting pirated copies of my novel to the ISPs and FBI. If you are an author, go to her post and take her advice. You may be shocked as to how many copies of your work are out there for free. You’ll feel mad, sick and betrayed. How many thousands of dollars have you lost to thieves? I personally wonder if I would’ve been able to afford a down payment on a house.
In my heart of hearts I have to believe that most people are good people. I know that Hollywood and other entertainment entities have tried passing sweeping anti-piracy legislation (remember SOPA) before, but I don’t think going thermonuclear is the right approach. SOPA would’ve killed online creativity and innocuous sharing online, while the pirates, like cockroaches, would’ve survived the explosion and adapted. To keep with my warring analogy, what we need are precision strikes, snipers who know their targets and can take them out without harming innocent Internet users. I’m not sure how we could hire online-piracy snipers, or how much it would cost to hire people to hunt and destroy online pirates. Likely Hollywood and large corporations like Amazon.com have looked at ways to search and destroy. For me and my novel, it feels like a part-time position is required to deal with online piracy. I can’t imagine what a monumental task it would be for a novelist of greater renown.
Will there be job openings for Pirate Hunters? I read a comment on a blog from an author (who kept himself anonymous) about hiring software engineers to design a virus. He then uploaded his “epub” to one of these file-sharing websites, and whoever downloaded what they thought was his book would have an infected computer. I must admit I like that idea. A lot. If you’ve read my novel, that admission cannot shock you.
To my fellow authors I say Good Luck as you search the net for pirates. To any pirates who’ve read to the end of this post: really? Jaden Baker costs so little! It’s also available to borrow and lend on Lendle.
I actually don’t know who you are or remember why I’ve added your blog to my RSS feed. 🙂 That said I found myself reading your post and it got me thinking. In my opinion there are people who:
a) can’t afford your book (even if it’s priced at $3.99). Developing countries, students living hand to mouth etc.
b) stumbled across your book on a piracy-related site and didn’t even know how inexpensive the original is. Out of these people I can imagine a few of them will buy the original to support you if they like the book.
c) in the case of books in general, there are people who like to check out the product before they buy it, like browsing through it in a bookstore. They can search for a free copy to download and if they enjoy it, they buy the original to add to their collection. This is how I’ve done with a lot of music. Of the vast majority of my favourite music I have either physical or legal digital copies of.
You won’t lose profits from group A since those people wouldn’t have bought your book anyways. From group B you’d actually lose paying customers if it wasn’t for the piracy sites as those people likely never would have found your book otherwise. And with group C you win some and you lose some, because some won’t like the book and will never buy it, and some would have bought it just to check it out if there hadn’t been a pirated version. Though to say which weighs more in your case. But from all groups you’ve recieved more exposing/publicity which overall should do you good, assuming the book is any good.
The whole digital industry is now slowly moving in a better direction. Piracy blossomed in the 2000’s because publishers and the music/movie industry were very slow and reluctant to adapt to new technology. Nowadays you can buy most books in legal digital formats (Amazon and others), you can download and stream most music (iTunes, Spotify, Google Music etc) and you can watch streaming movies and TV shows through services like Netflix. There is still a lot of piracy out there (I still download favorite TV shows illegally because I don’t care to wait a year for the show to air in my country even if I did own a TV!) but my guess would be that the majority of the people who would’ve bought your book in the old days will buy it legally today (largely thanks to Amazon and Kindle). And that it will just take some time for all of us who felt screwed by the conservative music/movie/book industry and learned how to pirate simply because there were no alternatives. I see it as something of a recovery period. It’s getting better, I promise! 🙂
I’m going to try a, b, and c with real world examples.
a) “Yes officer, I have a used Honda because I cannot afford a BMW M3. But I wanted the BMW. I’m living in the USA and not Dubai. It’s easier for people in Dubai to afford the BMW, and that’s not fair. Please don’t arrest me. I’m poor.”
b) “I found a purse nestled in a box that no one was attending. I haven’t a clue how much it actually costs, there’s no price tag on it. I’ll just take it because I want it. Is it available for sale in a store somewhere? Probably, but this one is here and I’ll just take it now.”
c) “Yes, I’m taking this computer home with me, but I don’t want to pay for it until I’ve tried it out. If I enjoy the computer, if it does what I want it to, then I’ll come back and pay for it. If not, I’m going to keep the computer and won’t pay.”
Regards the publicity/exposure bit, I’ve heard that more times than I’d like to with my graphic design business. Here’s the deal, though: exposure and good publicity doesn’t pay my bills. Money does. I can’t tell my landlords “Well, but I’m getting great exposure and publicity! But I can’t afford to pay the rent.”
At the root of all the excuses pirates use to justify their theivery, it all comes down to “But I wanted it.” In our society at large there’s a pervasive trend of applying the word “right” to something you want. “I want to read that, I have a right to it.” Tell yourself whatever you want, taking something and not paying for it is theft, no matter if you can afford it or can’t. No matter if you’re doing it over a computer or in a brick and mortar store. It’s easier and anonymous to do it digitally, but it’s still theft. And you’re harming the person(s) whose product you have taken.
I understand the frustration of TV shows not being available right away. I’m still waiting for the latest season of Breaking Bad to stream on Netflix. But I don’t pirate the series becuase I’ve grown impatient. It’s available through Amazon and iTunes, but I don’t want to pay for the season. Therefore I wait until it is piped through a venue I can afford. Radio stations exist to broadcast music and profit from advertisements. If you like the song you’ve heard (artists get paid royalties when they’re songs are played), you can get it on iTunes. Movies release movie trailers, which give you an idea of what the movie is about. In my opinion, most trailers give too much info and kill the plot. And I don’t want to pay the high cost of a movie ticket, so I wait for the films to be released on DVD and rent it. As for books, eBooks through Amazon and I believe through B&N give readers the first 10% of the novel for free, for the purpose of browsing. Ebooks can also be returned and refunded if the reader is unhappy.
As I stated in the post, pirates have many excuses and, when confronted with their crimes and how it harms others, jump into their well-rehearsed and trained responses. It tells me that they don’t want to think what they’re doing is wrong. They explain, they excuse. The point of this entire post was to give pause, to explain from my perspective–the person being pirated–that piracy is harming me.
When you get to the other side of things, perspectives change. If you were to put years of hard work into a novel, a song, whatever, price it low so people could read it, and then you saw how others just took it with no regard, just took it out of a sense of entitlement, you would be upset. You would try to stop it. If anything of yours was stolen right now, something from your home, even your cellphone, you’d want to get it back.
Spot on, Courtney! They keep on defending themselves about robbing other people’s pocket is not a crime. I’ve seen several sites/forums pirating free stuffs too! That’s low and ugly. And some claimed ownership of those files by tagging it with their initials/site names in it. Shame on them!