If you have a strong opinion about the subject of piracy, specifically ebook piracy, this post may either interest you or ruin your morning. If the word piracy makes your stomach turn and cause anger to well up inside you until you feel like spewing venom all over the computer screen, you may want to give it a miss, especially if you’re very attached to your side of things no matter what anyone says…
Piracy is bad.
Right? That’s what we’re all supposed to believe as authors. Pirates are evil thieves who might as well come into our house at night, take money out of our wallets and crap in our beds. It’s the lowest form of sharing entertainment or knowledge, because its creators do not get direct compensation. Every pirated movie, song, book, whatever, that gets downloaded in this world, is a slap in the face to its creator, nothing else.
I tend to disagree.
Before Christmas, a group of us launched Gratis: Midwinter Tales. Because I’m obsessive like that, I did regular google searches for our title to see if we’d got any blog mentions. Within days, I found a hit from a torrent website. For those of you who aren’t aware, torrents are tiny little files that give a torrent software all the data it needs to download the contents of the file from random strangers online who were kind enough to share it to the world. You can use torrents to download movies, songs, books, software, for free. Usually people use them to share and obtain paid content for free in which case it’s illegal and often what is meant by the term “internet piracy”.
Anyway, back to Gratis: Midwinter Tales. Someone had put this book into a massive collection of Anthologies. Gratis is supposed to be free anyway, but that’s not the point. I don’t know if the other featured anthologies were free or paid. When I downloaded the torrent (selecting only Gratis, before anyone gets their panties in a twist that I downloaded a shit ton of potentially pirated other books), it transpired that it was one of the first versions I’d uploaded to Smashwords.
My first reaction was one of shock. The book had only just gone live, and already someone downloaded it and put it into this collection. This was unexpected and filled me with pride because to me it meant that someone thought it was WORTH putting into that collection. When I was about to share this happy news with others, I wondered though, if perhaps they wouldn’t be equally excited.
Every time I see the subject of piracy come up on Facebook (today is no exception), the affected author feels hurt, outraged and betrayed. Of course there’s a big difference between having a free book “pirated” rather than a paid one, but in truth, when I search for my name on google, I would welcome to see my paid stuff shared freely as well.
More often than not you’ll see statements like:
“I spent ages sending take-down notices to the sites, this is such a pain in the ass and I’d much rather not have to deal with this!”
“It was a review / giveaway copy. I feel so upset, I don’t think I’m going to give out review copies any more or hold giveaways, because you just can’t trust people to be decent nowadays!”
“Pirates are thieves and should understand that when someone downloads my book on there it directly affects my bottom line as an author. I wish people would understand it’s EXACTLY THE SAME as stealing a physical item from me personally!”
And then underneath you’ll see dozens, perhaps hundreds of comments from sympathetic well wishers who join in condemning the evil pirate. Looking at it all, I am often forced to sit on my hands to prevent me from saying something wrong. I want to be balanced and offer another view that might alleviate the frustration the author feels at finding his/her content pirated, but really I feel like starting off with the following:
“Fucking get over yourself!”
This may make me a cold-hearted bitch, but really, I fucking hate seeing all these melodramatic rants about how the author’s children are going to go hungry just because a book got “leaked”. They’re not. It doesn’t fucking matter.
Piracy = lost sales
This is what a lot of people think. If my book is pirated, more people will get it for free and not pay for it. This must be correct, because the music industry keeps crying about exactly the same thing (and they are wrong). Therefore, finding a pirated version of my book is a potentially world-ending disaster which will leave me penniless. Fuck, no!
The biggest problem is, it’s impossible to measure exactly how many sales are supposedly lost by piracy. You can’t go back and test how much you would’ve sold, had your product not been pirated.
Let’s think about this by looking at why people might download stuff for free instead of paying for it:
1. They’re cheap bastards who don’t want to pay for anything.
While you may feel that these people are filthy criminals, such a person does not represent a lost sale. If they don’t download your book for free illegally, they might move on to the thousands of free books legally available on Amazon. They’d have reading material to last their entire lives without ever having to pay a penny.
2. They’re after a particular book, but couldn’t easily find it for sale, or upon trying to purchase it legally found the cost to be prohibitive.
This applies more perhaps to traditionally published books, or self published books which are available only in some regions or on some platforms. If someone’s got a Kobo reader, but you publish only on Amazon, they’re not going to buy a Kindle just to read your book. They may not know how to download a book purchased on Amazon and convert it for use on the Kobo reader either, so the easiest thing to do is perhaps to find out if someone’s already done the hard work for them and put it on a torrent website. Similarly, if you want to sell your 20 page werewolf gangbang story for $9.99, Mr. Pirate is likely to get pissed off and download it for free out of spite. Again, if your (traditional) publisher has in all their wisdom decided that the US gets your release right away, and the rest of the world can wait, because readers there are clearly not as valuable, the same might happen. Piracy may have lost some sales, but really, publisher / author stupidity had already lost the bulk of the sales before Mr. Pirate comes along.
3. I really love this book I purchased on Amazon/wherever and I’d like to pass it on to a friend who I think will enjoy it.
You can do that with a paperback fairly easily, and noone will say it’s piracy or theft. Digital content somehow is subject to different rules and as a reader, I don’t know why that should be the case. To me, a book is a book. But apparently according to Amazon, any ebook I’ve purchased, is actually “licensed content”. If they want to (and they have in October with controversial titles), they can just take it away from me without refunding my money. I’m not easily able to lend the book to a friend. And if I ever buy another ereader, I’m technically not allowed to keep my books and convert them to a different format, because they want to lock me into the Kindle ecosystem. As a reader and a consumer accustomed to free choice, this pisses me off greatly. Just because I want to buy a new, prettier book case, doesn’t mean I will throw out all the books I already own!
If I take a file I purchased legitimately and email it to a friend and openly admit to doing it, I have to worry about the anti-piracy brigade to group together and tell me I’m a filthy thief for not buying the paperback and giving it to that same friend. How the fuck is that fair, I still paid for the damn book in the first place?
Anyway, let’s now look at the possible consequences of piracy:
Your title up on a torrent website may make more people aware of its existence. It’s like free advertising. Indie filmmakers tend to see the value in trying to get more people to find out about their new movie, so they may even share it themselves.
“The biggest threat facing authors and publishers today is not piracy, it’s obscurity.” – Smashwords founder Mark Coker. See the article I stole that quote from here, it’s well worth it.
2. If it’s any good…
Someone who gets the book for free, who may be new to your work, perhaps really ends up loving it. Maybe they’ll take you seriously as an author and actually go out and buy the rest of your books. Even if they don’t, or you don’t have other books, perhaps they’ll tell their friends about how awesome you are. This, of course is a win as well.
The entire Music piracy debate I’ve referenced above, has actually stirred up some data that music piracy has been shown to increase sales rather than hurt them. Think about that for a moment. When something is good quality, and someone gets it for free, they are motivated to then spend money on it or related products. A reader who gets a free copy of your book, may love the story and the characters that they’re not content with their free version. They may buy a paperback version to proudly display in their home or buy the audiobook to listen to on their way to work. They may turn up at signings and conventions just to see you and buy a hardcover just so they can get your autograph.
How to prevent piracy
People are lazy, we all know this, because deep down every one of us is lazy too. We want to get the maximum result with the minimum effort from our side. We want awesome books, right now, at a fair price and for the ereader of our choice. Some of us think $4.99 is a fair price, and some of us think 0 is a fair price.
If you’re a self published author, you’re in luck because you can effectively counter a lot of the reasons I mentioned in the previous section that might drive a reader to piracy. Make your book easily available in as many places and on as many platforms as possible, and make it a fair price. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher may be to blame for any piracy issues you face. Good luck to you, but it’s still not worth getting that upset about something you cannot control.
Treat your readers right
If you’re anything like me, you value your readers. You still feel that excitement every so often at the thought that someone out there actually wanted to read something you wrote. It’s even more exciting to think someone not only wanted to read it, they were happy to pay for it as well. But don’t forget that just being willing to spend time (as opposed to money) to read your work is a pretty big deal.
A lot of us need to earn something from this writing gig, but don’t be a cheap bastard about it, because readers don’t like to be treated like criminals.
If someone pirated a review copy, and you know who it is, don’t give that person another one if it bothers you so much. But reviews are too valuable to stop giving out copies altogether.
If someone pirates a book received in a giveaway (similar though unrelated, if the very next day after winning a paperback on Goodreads, someone puts it on Ebay), don’t stop doing giveaways of any kind.
Don’t be an asshole to all your readers, just because one of them shared a book of yours on a torrent website. Some of your readers will understand why you’re upset, a lot may not.
Don’t worry about emailing every website to take down your work, it’s a lot of hassle and often has no effect anyway.
Instead, try to feel pleased that at least you’re “famous” enough to be pirated in the first place. Make yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or grab a glass of wine and take a deep breath.
It’s not the fucking end of the world. And be glad you weren’t plagiarised instead, because that’s way worse.