While cruising the f-list, I saw a writer's opinions on pirated e-books
linked many times, and as usual, it got me thinking.
In that post, pbray
discusses how she feels that downloading or providing free, pirated e-books is wrong and tantamount to theft.
I won't say I disagree with her basic premise. She's right. You download something you didn't pay for and didn't get permission to take, something the writer, editor, and all the other folks involved didn't get paid for, and yeah, you're stealing the results of their hard work. And that's not cool
. No matter what your reasons, downloading books you didn't pay for (with a few exceptions) is completely wrong.
I speak both as an aspiring, completely unpublished writer and an avid reader. Let that inform your opinion of what I say as it will. But mostly, I'm speaking as a reader and a buyer of books.
As justified as pbray
's anger is, I don't know that it's ultimately useful, nor do I think the tactic of going after the end users or the providers of such pirated wares is at all fruitful. The problem with that is that when you focus your energy on being angry at these folks, you're playing an unwinnable game of wac-a-mole where there are infinite moles and infinite holes and they can work much faster than you.
You take down one site, you take down a few downloaders, good for you. Their replacements are already been trading their black market literature under your nose and will continue to.
I think there are two things are work when people download these books illegally. One is an attitude, the other is a set of market conditions that is actually chasing away
readers, making easy downloading a much more viable option.
The attitude at work is one that stems from ignorance of how the industry works (from the reader's perspective) and an economic climate that encourages people to cut corners wherever they can. Whether those corners can or should be cut. pbray
says (with no shortage of sarcasm):
Everyone knows authors are rich and we don't need the money.
Well, actually, that's sort of the problem. How much can you really expect the average reader to know about how much an author makes from a book? After all, it's been much touted in the media that J.K. Rowling is richer than the Queen of England. We see books that tell us over and over that this author is a Best Selling Author
and 500,000 copies sold!
. Where, precisely, do you expect your audience to get information on your income from?
You're not exactly doing a lot to convince the reader that you need the money when you do that. Or rather, when your publisher does that on your behalf. Readers have no way of knowing what your cut of the profits (if, indeed, there are any) are. So as rightfully angry as you are, there may be a reason that readers are making such assumptions.
Yes, you're hurting for money. So are your readers! Many of them are in the same boat as you are, or even worse boats. Their jobs (if they've kept them) aren't paying enough, their houses have been devalued, their dollar isn't going as far as it used to, the price of everything is just going up, up, up. You think you're alone in your economic woes? You're not.
Which is where the market conditions come in. The current system of publishers and booksellers is just not working for the reader. Not at all. I wish I could find the right statistics to back me up here, but it's clear that the publishing industry is not doing well. I can tell you that retailers are definitely not doing well, including the big chain booksellers.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Some of which are the industry's own goddamn fault. Not the writers, not the readers, but the companies that have been doing business in the ways that lead to them needing to make record lay offs.
And it doesn't need to be that way. The way to lick piracy is not to take a defensive, entrenched position. It's to make piracy less and less appealing and less and less necessary. I think nothing has done more to stem the tide of piracy in the music industry than such things as iTunes, where a song can be easily and reliably downloaded for a mere 99 cents. I, like most people, feel that 99 cents is a fair price to pay for a song you want to have. Especially when you can, if you like, cherry pick from albums to get only the songs you care for without having to buy the inevitable crappy studio songs that some artists do.
Somebody in the publishing industry needs to understand the principle behind this. iTunes works because it's cheap and everything you want is there. The problem that piracy has is that no matter how unstoppable it is, the collections that people are able to offer are always incomplete, unreliable. Very new or very old texts are not to be found. Rarer books by an author are also not to be found. Not even the best piracy sites can offer everything.
A legal, cheaply available library with an extensive collection would easily attract people AWAY from illegal downloading, and ebook formats have, so far as I am aware, lower overhead. Plus, if there were some company that were willing to share collections among major publishers? They'd own the market.
Second, if somebody, somewhere would invest in making a viable and affordable e-Book reader, the revolution would finally begin. While the new Kindles are sexy beasts, I can't afford that shit, to be blunt. At $359, it'll be years before I can afford that shit. I can't think of an ebook reader that is currently a viable option for me to buy.
Not to mention that formatting is a problem, and availability of books.
These problems are not insurmountable. If somebody in the industry would actually make the push for a cheap eBook reader that is under $150. If iPod can make a device that plays music, videos, and games and sell it for $149 (the price of an iPod nano) and a tiny shuffle for under fifty bucks (before tax), then somebody ought to be able to make an eBook reader that's actually affordable for those of us who have to pay rent next month.
The problem is that the solution to these things does not lie with the readers. The solutions lie with publishers and booksellers.
So, yeah, you're right to yell and be furious with the purveyors of these illegal goods, but save some of that vitriol for your publishers, because they're hurting you as much as anything else. In fact, I'd submit that they may be doing more to prevent you from getting the sales you need and turning away YOUR potential readers. More than that, I'd wager that it's not piracy that's taking your sales. The people who pirate those books were probably the least likely to purchase those books anyway and probably would just have given you a pass if they didn't have the piracy option. Not that it justifies their actions or makes them right, but it does mean that your anger may be more beneficially redirected in a way that ends up putting money in your pocket for the hard work you've done.