Authors and Book Piracy
Lately I’m getting more frequent emails from my authors, reporting that they found another piracy website illegally offering their books. Everyone wants to know what to do about it, and understandably there’s a lot of hand-wringing over potential lost revenues. So I want to (briefly) address the topic of book piracy.
I spent significant time reading dozens of articles and opinions about media piracy — there’s enough out there to make your head spin. I’m going to boil it down to a few things I think you, as an author, should keep in mind.
•Piracy IS going on — and it’s much bigger than you.
Music. Movies. Television shows. Newspapers. Magazines. Games. And books. All are pirated, content being aggregated and sold or given away without the content creators and producers receiving a dime. One source says media piracy is costing the US economy $58 billion in losses every year. That’s billion with a B. Every year.
As much as you get frustrated and mad as hell when you stumble across a pirate site illegally offering your material, remember you’re not the only one suffering. This is a big, big deal. It’s a global disaster, facilitated by the Internet. Pirates are making billions of dollars on professionally-created content; but by stealing that content, they are hastening the day when good quality content is no longer available because media companies will no longer be able to afford to produce it. Sound dire? It is. This is why so many people are trying to figure out how to fix this problem.
•You’ll hear some people argue that piracy helps authors by giving them more exposure.
In isolated cases, the sales of a book, song, or movie can be helped by pirated copies circulating around the Internet, giving exposure to something that people hadn’t heard of. For example, this seemed to be the case with the recent publishing phenomenon, Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, which gained popularity after pages were leaked and went flying around cyberspace, causing thousands to purchase the book.
But these are isolated cases. Overall, piracy is clearly a threat, not a help. (See above statistic. 58. Billion. Dollars.)
•Some people argue that those who illegally download your work were not your potential customers anyway.
Many who visit pirate sites looking for free songs, movies, and books are the kind of people who wouldn’t have paid for it anyway. Okay, maybe this is somewhat true. But if there were NO way to get these products without paying, and these people weren’t habituated to “free,” wouldn’t we have avoided creating a whole generation of people who feel entitled to intellectual property without paying for it? In any case, plenty of freeloaders can afford to purchase books/movies/songs. They just choose not to.
•Fighting piracy costs a LOT of money — with no guarantee of effectiveness.
Many large publishers are devoting considerable time and effort to combat piracy. David Shelley, publisher at Little, Brown, stated at this year’s London Book Fair that one of the reasons publishers couldn’t increase digital royalty rates to authors was because of the increasing costs of fighting piracy. While many have questioned this and claimed it was just one more way publishers are trying to avoid paying authors, there’s certainly some legitimacy to it, even if piracy is only one of the financial pressures on publishers right now.
Fighting piracy can cost millions, and many say the only people who benefit ends up to be the lawyers fighting the battles. There’s no proof any of the anti-piracy efforts have had any appreciable effect. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) reportedly spent $64 million on lawsuits fighting music piracy — to earn back less than $2 million. Whatever’s being done isn’t working, as piracy has increased, not decreased.
•Recognizing the futility of spending millions fighting piracy, some are advocating instead spending the money to better connect with customers so they’ll be drawn to legal rather than illegal sources of content.
I don’t know how this is going to be done, but it seems to me it’s probably the most logical way to approach the piracy problem. Rather than spending millions simply trying to put pirates out of business, everyone in the media business can instead look at the pirates as competition and try to come up with ways to beat them at their game… ways to bring customers the content they want, easily available in many formats, at a reasonable price. This, I think, is the long term solution that everyone involved in the creation and production of our cultural content should focus on.
So what should YOU do?
In my humble opinion, as an author you should:
If you come across a site that appears to be illegally offering your book, report it to your publisher in whatever way they’ve established. (For example, here is Simon & Schuster’s statement on piracy and a link to report it.) You can also report to various writer’s groups in which you are a member, such as RWA (here is their piracy statement).
Seek out articles from a variety of viewpoints about piracy, and stay informed. Beware of reading only articles from one type of source. Every angle has its own bias. Try to form an educated opinion.
Whenever you’re aware of someone illegally file-sharing (nice euphemism, huh?), remind them that it’s stealing, it’s illegal, and that the people who created the music/movie/book deserve to get paid for their work.
Your publisher is most likely doing what they can to fight piracy, according to the resources they have available. Don’t overly concern yourself with how hard your publisher is working on this front. They could be spending millions and it still might not do any good. It’s better to concern yourself with how both you and your publisher will continue to connect with your readers and make it easy and attractive for people to buy your books.
Build relationships with your readers as best you can. Building a loyal following of readers who are willing to pay for your books is your most effective way of personally combating piracy.
At the end of the day, you want to try and let go of your anger and frustration at these criminals who are stealing your stuff, and turn your mind toward more productive channels. When all else fails, go for a jog, take a yoga class, or practice deep breathing.
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I came across a fascinating book in my research for this post — one you may want to look at if you’re interested in the topic of piracy. Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back by Robert Levine.
Author Neil Gaiman isn’t worried about piracy and in this video, he explains his view that it’s NOT a lost sale, but is in fact advertising for your books.
And here are a few of the online articles I read:
Book Piracy: Less DRM, More Data (O’Reilly)
The Millions: Confessions of a Book Pirate
A Book Author Wonders How to Fight Piracy
Fighting piracy is the dumbest thing you can do
E-book business should take a page from music industry and go DRM-free
Authors demand drive to raise readers’ awareness of book piracy’s cost
Ebook piracy – one author’s opinion
ISPs Fight Piracy: Meet the Six Strikes
P.S. I don’t pirate the photos I use on the blog – most are purchased from iStockPhoto.