E-Book Piracy: That’s Not the Enemy

The enemy of a writer is not e-book piracy. It’s obscurity. This applies specially to the indies. Don’t believe me? How about the University of Chicago?

“The University of Chicago Press recently digitized many of its titles believed to be of interest to its general readers. When they did a check on which were pirated, they found, to their surprise, most came from the more obscure, less lucrative parts of their list. This led Garrett Kiely, director of the University of Chicago Press, to observe, “ Obscurity might be our biggest problem, rather than piracy.”

You could also ask Neil Gaiman or this other dude who does a pretty good summary of the piracy debate. Then there’s O’Reilly Media, a company which discovered that sales actually increased after their books showed up on pirate sites, an unexpected benefit. Plus, the most pirated books are not even your books. Unless you are the author of 1000 Photoshop Tips and Tricks. Check this list of the 10 Pirated eBooks at The Pirate Bay and see for yourself.

OK, here’s what I think the pirate situation is like. Remember that high school buddy who would always bum your cigarettes but never buy his own? You waited and waited for the day when the bastard would purchase his own smokes but invariably he’d come to you and take one? Yeah. Some book pirates are like that. They’re that dude who will never purchase cigarettes. In fact, the day you stopped smoking he stopped smoking! It is futile to argue with cigarette-guy because if he couldn’t get the smokes for free, he would have never bought them. It’s not a lost sale. It’s the freeloader you always hated.

The other type of book pirate (which may overlap with my cigarette friend) is the hoarder. Hoarders hoard. Virtual hoarders hoard virtual books. They don’t care what they’re downloading. Down it goes into the computer. But these hoarders are not customers either. They’re non-discriminating and, like cigarette guy, if they had to pay for every book they’d likely move on to hoarding pebbles.

The third e-book pirate is the one who can’t get the damn thing in his or her own country. And, while worldwide distribution of e-books is getting better, there is more than one title that I, here in Canada, can’t get for my e-reader. For example, a Dance With Dragons is available in the Amazon.com site for the Kindle but not in the Amazon.ca site. If I had a Kobo reader I could buy it from Chapters or I could turn the Kobo file into something I can read on the Kindle, but now we are jumping through hoops. And I’m in Canada. Think of my cousin in Mexico, how he feels because I’ve got the book and meanwhile he’s starring at a screen that tells him he can’t buy it because he lives in the wrong region of the world.

You’re going to say that all this is poppycock and if I were a publisher I’d be outraged about pirates.

Fact is I am. A micro-publisher, but I still want to pay the bills.

I have seen pirated copies of our stuff. In fact, I’ve seen pirated copies of our free PDF issues. How’s that for you? Free issues! I want people to read them and yet someone uploaded them to a site because there’s always a hoarder willing to do it.

So here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure my real enemy is obscurity. It’s probably yours too.

And if you ever want a free copy of one of our e-books, all you have to do is ask. I’ll send it to you as long as you review it and talk about it. I need more eyeballs, folks. Pirates? They’re not a big concern.

How do you feel about e-book piracy? Are you afraid of it? Do you do something about it?

silviamgE-Book Piracy: That’s Not the Enemy

Comments 6

  1. Arinn Dembo

    Honestly can’t say whether e-book piracy is harming anyone or costing them money. i can certainly say with great confidence that DRM will cost you more repeat customers and sales than piracy will, however, in virtually any medium.

    I suspect that almost all piracy alarmism is a waste of time and energy. If your real goal is to succeed in the marketplace and attract paying customers, devote your time and energy to putting out the best possible product and marketing it to the largest number of consumers. DRM accomplishes neither; it degrades your product and reduces your customer base every time. Behaving aggressively toward “bad readers” doesn’t attract “good readers”.

  2. LC Hu

    Since I’m more interested in being read than making money so as long as they’re not stripping the author/copyright info, I’ve never been too stressed about piracy. I totally agree with your breakdown of who the pirates are, though. I think if they weren’t pirating, the people I do know who download books would just get them from the library; they weren’t the type to buy loads of new paperbacks, even when ebooks didn’t exist.

    Also agree with Arinn Dembo above–DRM hurts more than helps IMO. The people who want to get around DRM *will* and a majority of the people who don’t know how aren’t the type to go casually downloading stuff anyway. Instead it penalizes the legitimate buyer, forcing them to buy things in multiple formats if they ever change readers, their reader goes out of business, etc. It honestly looks more like companies trying to find ways to squeeze more money out of their paying customers than trying to protect their interests–which ends up making the pirates look almost justified.

  3. Dr. Runte

    I tend to agree with you. I’m not into writing for the money (what money?) I’m in it for the immortality….

    But seriously… how many people make their living from writing? Its a vanishingly small number…we twist ourselves and our culture out of shape for the sake of a few profit makers while the other 99% languish in obscurity. Harry Potter will continue to sell for generations and I suppose that Rowling and her heirs deserve some protection from pirates. But the normal author has 8 to 22 weeks to sell books before they are remaindered or pulped. Better some hoarder has my book tucked away on his hard drive waiting to be discovered by his heirs than my publisher/distributors going around actively destroying existing copies of my books. Authors go nuts over pirates handing out free copies of their books, but have nothing to say about publishers selling half their printrun to distributors without paying a cent to authors. All those $5.99 specials at the bookstore are remaindered books, which means that the money goes to distributors and a token to publishers and 0 to authors. And that doesn’t bug anyone? That or pulping your book seems reasonable? Hello?! What am I missing here? We’re told not to worry about remainder sales because it may generate readers for the next book, but that argument is different when applied to pirates how exactly? And remaindered books are by definition the books that didn’t sell, so not a cost to authors — yet I’ve heard lots of people in books stores put down a $38 hardcover and tell their friend, “I’ll wait until its in the sale bins”. What exactly is the difference here, except the pirates selling our books without paying the authors are the distributors rather than some third party? I don’t care for and won’t subscribe to pirate sites; but I’d rather not see my book remaindered or pulped either — sell me the remaindered or to-be-pulped copies and I will store them in my basement and sell them at readings are give them away to my students or libraries or whatever.

    Indeed, if we were concerned with author revenues, rather than publisher/distributor income, then the sensible thing to do with left over books would be to donate them to public libraries. Not only would that significantly increase Canadian content in libraries, it would mean that authors would come into a share of the public lending funds payments….

  4. silviamg Post
    Author
    silviamg

    Hi Dr. Runte,

    You bring a very good point about remaindered books. Also, books that you purchase at the used book store do not benefit the author financially, but people often talk about future readers.

    LC and Erin: the DRM can be a pain in the neck. I pay for my stuff, yet when I had to migrate my device a while ago I lost a bunch of my e-books because the stupid DRM did not recognize the new hardware.

  5. Justine Graykin

    I know a place where you can download just about any book you want for free. All the big names and most popular titles. Great quality, too. You can get the hardcovers, if you prefer, and it doesn’t cost you a thing, but you do have to return them after you’ve read them, so someone else can read them for free.

    That’s right, I’m talking about a lending library. It’s a place where folks try out new authors, risk-free, all the time. But they do tend to stock only the big names. Still, the principle is the same. I haven’t made a penny off the copy I donated to the library, but every date-due stamp on it means another reader has discovered my work. Is a pirate site really so different? Okay, it is. But from where the author is standing, especially the little guy who isn’t getting rich off the royalties anyway, it’s getting the work to the readers.

    As far as I’m concerned, being pirated is the sincerest form of flattery.

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