24 December 2008

How pirates hurt writers

Several days ago, Jude Mason posted a great blog post about e-books, piracy and the laws surrounding them. A few days before that, Charlotte Boyett-Compo posted one in Bitten By Books about the same subject. over at EPIC, Rob Preece and I have articles on the subject. A few people with the subject on the mind at the same time? Unfortunately, no.

e-Piracy is rampant. Between those who don't know better and really need to read one or more of the articles I've linked above...and those who do know better and get off on being the bad boy/girl online, stealing in such a way they think they can't possibly be prosecuted for it...authors and publishers (especially the small fish who are trying to survive and make a career flourish) are being monetarily discouraged and/or destroyed.

How bad can it be? Even I can't say for certain. I can say that I've found 800 entries for my books on a single pirate site and fought to have them removed. Multiply even a fraction of that number by the dozen or so pirates I've had to address in just the last year or so, and it's easy to see that my losses from piracy (me...a very small fish in the big pond) are upwards into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Now, before some self-righteous pirate goes off half-cocked about that being a drop in the bucket, it's not a drop in the bucket for me. Like most authors trying to build that career, it's a long hard road. I don't make $10,000 in royalties in a year yet, let alone enough not to notice the loss of it. I'd be writing even more, doing more appearances, and so on, if I were seeing that $10,000 per year more in my budget.

Lie #1 that pirates tell themselves and others... Some actually tell people they are playing Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. That is a load of crap. Even if we dismiss the NY publishers laying off editors, not buying new books, and so on... The fact is, there are only 7 NY conglomerates vs, 70,000+ indie presses. Half or more of the e-books pirated come from the latter. These people aren't rich, publisher or author. Most are lucky to be clearing a few thousand dollars writing in a year. We'll come back to that. But, the bottom line is, by pirating, these thoughtless, self-centered wastes of air are taking the food off the table and presents from under the Christmas tree from authors' (publishers', editors') families.

So, why do pirates steal?

For many, it's simple ignorance of the laws. For more information on the laws, read Charlee's article and mine from the list above. Be sure to read the responses to Charlee's post, as well, since it has even more information for the uninformed that will help you recognize pirates...as does Rob Preece's article on the subject.

Many readers don't realize that e-books are inherently different than paper books. You aren't buying the e-book, as you do a paper book. You are purchasing the license for a piece of book software, as you purchase the license for Windows or Adboe or ReadPlease or some other program.

For others, it's a matter of the entitlement mindset. What they were never taught (or have abandoned) is the solid fact that no one OWES them anything, certainly not free entertainment they don't want to pay for. These are the selfish wastes of air of which I speak.

So, what are the other lies pirates tell themselves and others?

"I love authors and books. I'm just giving them more readers." NOT! They're hurting the authors and publishers. That means they might decide to stop offering the books the pirates claim to love so much. That's right. Discourage, dishearten or monetarily strap an artist of any type enough, and he/she might decide to stop offering his/her creations, altogether.

Not only that, but every pirated copy is a copy that doesn't SELL. Okay, not every copy, because there is the rare individual out there who is going to purchase a copy of a book he read for free. Back to the subject.

The vast majority of pirated copies don't SELL. The choice of a publisher putting out the next book is highly entrenched in the subject of what sold before...previous books. If the books don't sell, the publisher drops the author.

If you really love an author, give him/her word of mouth. Pass along the approved excerpt and blurb. Write a review of a book you like. Rate it on Fictionwise, Amazon. Library Thing and Goodreads. Encourage friends to buy it. I'd even go so far as to say letting a SINGLE friend read your copy of it is good, but don't pirate to hundreds or more people. There is nothing helpful in that.

"Information wants to be free." Or some other idiocy, loosely based on the Freedom of Information Act. All of that is bull. Sorry, but that particular law deals with public records NOT IP (Intellectual Property, which includes copyright and trademark). Any spouting to the contrary is just that...mindless attempts to excuse breaking the law...copyright, at least, and possibly Millennium, if you are breaking DRM or using a hack or hacked copy to bypass DRM.

This is another entitlement issue. Because the law "frees" one type of information, these people feel it's "unfair" that creative literature isn't covered too. (Need I mention that life isn't FAIR? It should be either equal or equitable, and this law is equitable.) Back to their twisted mindset... We're infringing on their "rights" to freedom of information, if ALL printed material isn't free.

I won't go into my full discourse again, but... That's not a right. It's a privilege, and you only get privileges, if you use them responsibly, in the first place. Pirating books is not using the privilege of freedom of public records responsibly...or several other privileges, either. This is a good time to suggest you read Rob Preece's article on the subject of pirates. It fits very nicely here.

"There is no close book store, so it's okay for me to..." Even if you live in a place where you can't order print books to be delivered to your door, which is true of some overseas readers, you can order e-books, in all likelihood. I've had friends stationed in (or expat in) China and the Middle East (and not just on military bases), which are usually portrayed as the hardest places to access what you want to on the net... I've had these people check several key e-book resellers and publisher sites. They can, in fact, access the resellers like Fictionwise, even if they can't reach certain publishers (and those are few and far between).

In fact, my friend who was expat in China thanked me, because it saved him a monthly flight to Singapore to purchase English-language print books and the money to send those books home, when he was finished with them. Reading e-books on his laptop and/or PDA was the method of choice for him overseas. Friends in the UK also tell me they prefer e-books, because they don't have shelf space to hold all of their paper favorites.

So, the lack of a physical English-language bookstore selling paper books is NO excuse for stealing e-books. Buy the e-books...or borrow them from a REPUTABLE public library that offers e-books for lend. They exist.

"I can sell or trade or give away paper books. You're infringing on my rights of ownership. Help! Help! I'm being repressed." Okay, my own time to acknowledge copyright here... That final part is from Monty Python's Search For the Holy Grail, Dennis the Annoying Peasant. See, always respect the copyright of others!

Back to the subject... Entitlement insanity again. The truth is that e-books have much more in common with software than with paper books. The pirates that don't know better don't understand this. The ones who do and are self-righteous entitlement freaks do know it and disregard it. Digital media is covered, at length, in my article linked above.

Authors love their readers. We sweat and bleed and go without sleep to give you the books you love to read. But any creative person eventually feels put-upon by pirates.

Don't argue that X author specifically put his book out viral and... Sure, there are some who elect to, either to increase sales of a newer version of the book or the second book in the series... I've done something similar to the Baen's Free Library model with one of my series, and it worked well. I won't argue that it CAN work. But, as Rob Preece says, "If one restaurant is offering free pizza, it doesn't give you the right to go to another restaurant and demand free steak." It's only common sense.

To end, I want to quote the lovely and talented Angela Knight. On the subject of how lack of sales can harm a career and the psychological effects of pirating can affect a rising author, she commented: "Don't steal from artists, whether it's downloading pirated books, music or movies. It's stealing, and eventually you will destroy the very artists whose work you enjoy."

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