My Thoughts on eBook Piracy

I’ve been thinking about this recently–and a tweet from a reader reminded me that not everyone knows as much about this biz as I do. To keep this serious topic light, I shall periodically break up the Wall O’ Text post with LOLcats.

So.  I’ll give you the short version first: Piracy is bad for (most) authors.

Stick with me.  This is going to be a bit long-winded.

Now, while I love writing guest posts for my blogger friends, those free articles serve as a promotional tool to entice people into reading my books.  I don’t mind sending those bloggers free copies of my books in advance of publication because they will review them, which in turn results in word of mouth, excitement by readers, and eventually–I hope–sales.

Also, every once in a while you’ll see my first book, HUNTED BY THE OTHERS, available as a free download on Amazon or Barnes & Noble for a limited time.  Again, this is a promotional move designed to get people to download and read the book, and then, hopefully, enjoy that book enough to buy more of my work.

The thing is, those free downloads are done with my permission, and the permission of my publisher.

Pirate websites are offering all of my work for free. Without my permission.

That means that I don’t get paid for my work.

This is called stealing.

I’ve heard many sides to this argument. The entitled: “Well, someone bought one copy, it’s like loaning it (to thousands of my internet friends)” and the “these websites are like a digital library–libraries let you read lots of books for free” and the “we’re just copying a file, therefore we aren’t stealing anything” versions don’t hold water.

Are you downloading illegal copies because the book you want isn’t available in your country/region?  Book Depository and Alibris ship anywhere.

If you can’t afford the book you want, go to your local library and ask for it there. If you simply must have the ebook version, there are tons of ways to get free books online that are completely legal.  Just because you can’t pay for, or you simply must have the book you want right this minute because you feel it’s not available to you for some reason, doesn’t entitle you to download a pirated copy. Read some of the free stuff until you can afford the thing you want, or wait for the book to become available for free or at a discount as part of a publisher’s promotion.

Would you walk into a restaurant and eat their food, then walk out without paying because you didn’t have the money or you just didn’t feel like it? A book may not seem as tangible, but writing my books is still a great deal of work that takes a hell of a lot more time and effort than preparing a meal, and I’d still like to get paid for it. When I want to write or offer free stuff for your amusement, I’ll post it on my blog, my website, through my newsletter, or as a guest post for my blogger friends.

There are other arguments for piracy, but those are the two big ones I want to address at this point.

I don’t go out of my way to hunt for them, but it’s disheartening to see the number of pirate sites that pop up in my Google alerts, Twitter feed, and in the writer forums I frequent. Every time I see my work on these websites, I have to report them to my publisher.  Now and then, I will go out of my way to send a DMCA notice (Digital Millennium Copyright Act — a type of cease and desist letter). If I don’t report it, I’m not defending my copyright, which is bad.

Now, I’m going to take a moment to give you all a confession.  I’ve been known to put on a pirate patch when I sail the cyber seas.

Yes, it’s true. An author who has pirated books and music.  Le gasp! Sacrilege!  Say it ain’t so!

That was before I was published.  I now pay for a subscription to Rhapsody’s music service, listen to Pandora, and occasionally buy stuff on iTunes instead of heading to the nearest bit torrent to get my hands on whatever it was I “had to have” right that minute. Sometimes I’ll favorite songs on YouTube so I can go back and listen to them there instead or share the videos with friends.  I’ve also made some decent inroads towards buying legit copies of all of the ebooks I illegally downloaded, though I still have a ways to go.

So what made me mend my ways?

To give you an idea of how piracy can hurt an author–with actual statistics–take a look at what happened to Saundra Mitchell:

If the 800+ downloads a week of my book were only HALF converted into sales, I would earn out in one more month.

And let me tell you guys… the sales figures on SHADOWED SUMMER had a seriously detrimental effect on my career. It took me almost two years to sell another book. I very nearly had to change my name and start over. And my second advance? Was exactly the same as the first because sales figures didn’t justify anything more. I don’t blame my publisher. There’s weak demand for my books, according to my sales figures.

Meanwhile, 800 copies of my book (worth about $1200 toward my advance, if everyone paid for a copy,) are being downloaded a week.

As literary agent Rachelle Gardner pointed out in her recent post on piracy:

One source says media piracy is costing the US economy $58 billion in losses every year. That’s billion with a B. Every year.

So Saundra and I are not alone in our financial losses.  This is particularly stinging as I used to be one of those people who would download illegal music, books, movies, and even computer programs, without a second thought.  Now, I work a full time job on top of writing books for you to enjoy because the money I make from my books is not enough to support me on its own.

Would that change if some percentage of the pirates started paying for the copies they download? Maybe. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

I would like to point out that there’s another side to piracy, too.  Notice how I said in the beginning of the post that these illegal downloads are bad for most authors?  There are exceptions.  Some of them actually do well with it and use it to their advantage. Neil Gaiman, for example, is known for an interview where he states piracy can be advertising for your book.

If word of mouth was making my books take off and reach bestseller lists like Mr. Gaiman, I probably wouldn’t be complaining about this right now.  Alas, I’m not quite as popular as he is just yet, so I am getting my grump on.

Here’s the deal–if you found my work through a pirate site, I’m not going to be pissed at you. Just don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear why you did it–but I would like to ask that you make it up to me.

Hold up–I sense the incredulity from here. Don’t let me lose you–just hear me out completely before you consider I’m talking out of my ass. Feel free to call me nuttier than a fruitcake after you finish reading the rest of this post.

Now, I know that I’m not going to make much of a dent on piracy all by my lonesome, and that not everyone feels the way that I do about it, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not even trying all that hard to stop it. I figure it’s an inevitable part of the internet for the time being, and I’m not going to get up in arms if I hear someone is pirating stuff.  Though I might get a little annoyed if my name is on that illegally downloaded file and you happen to brag to me about it.

Here’s what I would like you to do if you found my work through a pirate site:

  • Obviously, I’d like you to buy whatever books or music or movies you downloaded without paying for, and stop taking stuff that isn’t legitimately offered for free. If it seems like an insurmountable hurdle as you’d go bankrupt because you have 500GB of MP3s alone, then start paying for the things you’ve already downloaded in small chunks. It has taken me years to buy all of the CDs/MP3s and books and DVDs that I previously downloaded, and I’m still working off that debt I owe to the artists I stole from.  I’m not proud of it, but I’m doing something about it. I encourage you to do the same.

  • If that’s not going to happen, then first and foremost, please, please, please ask your local library to carry my books. It may not seem like much to you, but if you go in and ask them to carry them, that will show there is demand, and they may buy and shelve my books.  Then there will be legitimate “free” copies available to you and anyone else who wants to read them. When the library buys copies, I do get paid for my hard work. They buy new copies when the old ones wear out and after a certain number of eBook checkouts, and re-sell the hard copies when people aren’t checking them out anymore.

  • No local library? Then please “pay” for it like Mr. Gaiman suggests by advertising the book somehow. Help start a word of mouth campaign. You can do this by posting a review on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing, and/or some other book review site/blog. Talk about the books to your friends offline, on web forums you frequent, or, hell, you could even post a LOLcat about ’em. That way you’re getting your exchange in with me by sharing an opinion about my stuff with others, which might encourage someone else to buy something (or not–though even a bad review is better than no one talking about it at all).

  • Ask someone else who you think might enjoy my work to buy the book(s). Even if they don’t buy, at least you’re encouraging someone else to pay me for my work, eh?

I know fighting piracy is an uphill/losing battle.  Please do me the kindness of not telling me when you illegally got your hands on my books unless it’s to say that you’ve gone ahead and done something to make up for it like I suggest above.  Maybe it’s unrealistic of me to think that the pirates will read this and agree to any part of this post, but these are my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

Feel free to pitch in your own thoughts on the subject in the comments. Agree with me? Think I’m full of it? Want to offer up some advice of your own? Let’s hear it!

…but please keep the flames to a minimum, thanks.

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4 Responses to My Thoughts on eBook Piracy

  1. Sullivan McPig says:

    A very honest and great post!
    I myself buy the ebooks I really want to read (not much, as I like print books better, but now that I got an ereader my ebook buying will most probably increase), but sometimes the urge to go of the straight path comes over me. This is usually when there’s an ebook only release that is restricted to the US. So far I’ve been able to refrain from straying though.

  2. Nikki-ann says:

    A lot of people just do get (or maybe they just don’t care) that it’s wrong to download something illegally for free. I’ve got friends who do it and they seem proud that they managed to get it for free when in fact they should have paid for it.

    I must admit that when I was younger and in college (we’re talking more than 10 years ago now!) friends would point me in the direction of some pirated MP3’s I might like. But you know what? If I didn’t like them then the files got deleted, if I did then I went out and bought the album! (I’ve always much prefered owning a physical copy of something).

    I’ve had people trying to make money off from photos I took so I know what it feels like to see somebody basically taking money off me.

    Anyway, brilliant post Jess! 🙂

  3. Gaige Alexander Heiner says:

    well according to this i guess im not so bad. i almost always download things with the intent to buy it later if i like it. i just dont want to pay to see/buy a movie if idk if ill like it. And i have quite the expansive dvd collection, its what i spend most of my money on.

    • Jess_Haines says:

      I know how you feel. I have a ton of DVDs, but some of them are really awful movies because I used to buy anything that caught my eye instead of renting it first. Now I have Netflix. Gives me a chance to try before I buy. 😉

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