Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Hello Dear Readers - welcome to Tuesday. Today I have some thinky thoughts to share about readers and book piracy. I strongly suspect that I am about to be controversial, or at least that some people will think I am, but you know me - when the train to crazytown pulls into the station, I can just never resist hopping aboard. Anyway, I'm not handing down pronouncements from on high or anything. I'm just working out what I think about stuff through writing about it. So here goes.

In the last week I've read a few of pieces that talked about this stuff from different viewpoints. First there was MaryJanice Davidson's defence of fellow author Charlaine Harris, who was apparently receiving an online battering from some fans for not giving them the ending that they wanted/expected/demanded in the final Sookie Stackhouse book. Then there was this post about how authors are increasingly being expected to happily offer their work for free (usually by people who are getting paid for *their* work - and apparently have no sense of irony). And this in turn made me think about Neil Gaiman's notorious post on entitlement in which he uses that now famous phrase: G.R.R. Martin is not your bitch (which is also referenced in the first post I've linked, by Mary Janice Davidson). Finally there was this post by Cassandra Clare in which she responded to a reader who was indignant at being asked to pay to read The Bane Chronicles.

There's a theme to these posts, and the theme seems to be... a lot of readers don't seem to like writers all that much these days. So what's up with that?

On every kind of social media now there's a level of interaction between readers and writers that would have been unthinkable ten or even five years ago. When I was a kid, if you screwed up the courage to write a letter to your favourite author (on paper, of course) you never expected in your wildest dreams that you would get a reply. And unless you were a mega-bestselling author you frankly didn't expect to ever get much in the way of response from readers about what you wrote, either. Today, readers have countless outlets which allow them to respond to and discuss books, and they contact writers all the time - on Twitter, Tumblr, on blogs and websites - in expectation of a response.

But the internet has wrought more changes than increased contact. I think it's fundamentally changed the way that readers - all people who consume entertainment, really - expect to access content that they enjoy. Entertainment downloads have gotten us used to instant gratification. If I want to own a book or a song or a TV show I expect to be able to have it NOW. And most of the time, I can. Which is why the times I *can't* surprise and frustrate me.

Then there's the rise of fanfic. I love fanfiction. Adore it. Some of the best stuff I've read over the last two or three years has been fanfiction, offered up freely online by its creators for no more reward than being able to share their love of writing with others who care about the same characters they do. And this, along with the two other factors above, has encouraged many traditionally and self-published writers to offer up free content that allows them to connect with and reward their readers - blogs like this one, Tumblrs, Pinterest boards for their books, deleted scenes and short stories, book trailers.

So now we have a literary scene - and this applies particularly to YA - where readers can generally expect discussion and interaction with writers (whether traditionally published, self-published or fanfic), where they expect to get stuff they want quickly - instantly in a lot of cases - and where a lot of that stuff is free. And all this is great.

Until it's not.

Like sometimes when I'm reading fanfic the writer will add an author's note responding to reviews. All too often they are begging forgiveness for the delay in an update and asking people not to get angry at them. Or they'll mention reviews which accuse them of 'hoarding' chapters or being a 'review whore'. Or they'll request people not to flame them for the twist that just happened, or apologise to those who are disappointed with the lack of a certain character in this scene, or respond to people who've told them their last chapter was sucky.

This makes me blink every time. These guys are writing amazing stuff for us in their spare time for free, and they also respond to reviews and make themselves available to us to discuss their work - and the response to that is to bitch them out if they didn't give out the free stuff exactly when people wanted it? Call them a review whore because they don't give *enough* free stuff? Abuse them because they wrote about character A when you wanted character B instead? How can anyone think THAT will encourage these writers to continue to update after a long hard day at school or work, when they just don't feel like writing? Many fanfiction writers do want constructive criticism, but apparently some readers are so blinded by their entitlement issues that they can't tell the difference between concrit and just being a jerk.

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that if there are people who are willing to be this mean and unappreciative of writers who are giving them stuff for free, there will also be those who are just as unpleasant - if not more so! - to writers who are actually asking to be paid for their work. For instance, not long ago a certain writer's new book was shipped early from some retailers, but the ebook version wasn't available until the official release date. The response to this from some readers was to send this author messages in which they not only swore at, insulted and abused this author for the fact that they couldn't get her ebook RIGHT NOW... they threatened her with physical harm.

All of this leads into my thoughts about the piracy problem the publishing industry is facing right now. Clearly, people who will send an email to an author threatening to do unspeakable things to her just because they have to wait for a week to read her book will not care about fairly compensating her for her work. In fact, if I remember correctly, the author mentioned that several of the threatening messages made it clear that they would be illegally downloading the book as another way of punishing her for (in their eyes) daring to thwart them.

But it's not just those extreme types who think that it is OK to take an author's work without their consent and without paying. It's just so goshdarned easy to get books (or music or TV shows) for free now that among quite a lot of people it's considered gauche and naive to actually pay for stuff. Like, why would you do such a quaint, backward thing?

I've heard the argument that piracy doesn't harm professional writers. In a polite debate on Twitter, Neil Gaiman himself told me that he was certain that his publisher giving away copies of his books for free online had only helped his sales. I'm sure he's right. But a publisher giving away books for free is entirely different from people pirating those books, because a) the publisher could track the downloads and get an idea of how popular the book was was and b) Mr Gaiman and publisher had agreed to give the books away for free. The income from sales had not been stolen from him without his consent and in such a way that it would damage his standing with his publisher.

My first book, The Swan Kingdom, sold around 20,000 copies. It hasn't, as far as I can tell, been pirated at all. Perhaps because it tends towards the younger end of the YA market. Perhaps because it came out in 2007 and didn't have an ebook version until 2011. But in any case, because my advance was small, this level of sales was considered quite a success by my publisher. However, almost immediately after my second book Daughter of the Flames, was released, I started getting Google alerts from websites where the book was available for illegal download.

When I investigated those sites, I was able to work out that my second novel had been downloaded approximately 30,000 times (this was in 2008-2009 - it's probably been downloaded a lot more by now). 30,000 sales would have earned me back my advance AND considerably impressed my publisher. In fact, if even half those people had paid for the book, I would have gotten my very first royalty check. But they didn't. And because they didn't, that book was and is considered a sales failure by my publisher even though apparently more people read it than my first book.

I've got to tell you, guys - that doesn't feel good.

Very successful mainstream authors can look upon 30,000 illegal downloads as a drop in the bucket. But for newbies and midlisters like me, that many lost sales makes the difference between being seen as a good risk for a new contract and getting dropped by the publisher (it can also make the difference between a royalty check that would pay the electricity bill, and never earning the advance back at all). There are a lot of newbies and midlisters out there who will probably never sell more than a few thousand copies of their books - but their books deserve to be published nonetheless. They deserve a chance. If those books - books with fresh new voices, unconventional stories, different and diverse characters - stop being viable for publishers because illegal downloads are so rife that only mega-bestselling books now make a profit for them, then our bookshelves will be a barren - and boring - place indeed, in a few years time.

A blogger that I otherwise respect once made the argument that illegally downloading things (music or books or whatever) wasn't stealing because you weren't actually taking anything away from anyone. He compared it to taking a Mars Bar from a shop in which there was an infinite supply of Mars Bars which could never run out. This couldn't possibly harm the shopkeeper, right? But the very impossibility of that scenario - neverending Mars Bars that constantly replicate no matter how many you take - ought to have made it clear that his analogy was flawed. Let's follow this flawed analogy to the end, shall we?

Because now that you have a your Mars Bar, no one ever needs to go to the shop again. Your stolen Mars Bar keeps replicating infinitely, allowing everyone that you know to eat Mars Bars forever more without ever compensating the shopkeeper or the Mars Bar factory. The shop closes and the shopkeeper is out of a job, the Mars Bar factory closes, all the Mars Bars workers are out of a job, and no new Mars Bars are ever manufactored, meaning that the copies of your stolen Mars Bar are all that's available to anyone now. Does that sound like a good outcome?

Illegally downloading a piece of entertainment is not like taking a Mars Bar from a shop. It's like going to the cash register and taking the price of that Mars Bar out of the til. And every copy that is made from your copy takes more and more money from the til, until the til is empty.

Does this sound drastic? Well, it is - but that's what happens when an industry collapses from the bottom down. Imagine how the furniture business or the stationary business or the fashion business would work if people simply stopped paying for their sofas, pens and trousers. Publishing is no different than those industries.

When you pirate books or other media, you *are* taking something away from someone. At the very base level, you are depriving a creative person of the income that they are legally and morally entitled to from their work, and you are depriving them of the ability to show their publisher/record company/production company that there is a demand for their work.

But you're not stealing from the creative person! You're stealing from faceless corporations that are only taking advantage of the creative people AND the customers anyway! It's all their fault for making it hard or expensive to get hold of the stuff that you want! If it weren't for those darn corporations we could come up with new - cost free! better! - ways of sharing entertainment and everyone would be happy and singing and dancing through fields of daisies!

Um, no. There may indeed be issues with those faceless corporations, but nevertheless they are still acting on behalf of the creative person. Regardless of what kind of artistic product is being produced - paintings, TV shows, sculpture, music, art - it is always the perogative of the person who does the work to decide how they want to distribute it and what they want to charge for it. In the case of traditionally published writers, they appoint a body (the publisher) who does so on their behalf, but this is still THEIR choice. Not the customer's. The customer doesn't get to decide the price for someone else's work. They don't get to decide how the work should be distributed or when. It's not their work.

The customer has the right to refuse to pay for books, TV shows and music if they don't want to, or if they disapprove of the distribution method. But they don't have the right to refuse to pay for these things and still get them anyway.

This isn't groundbreaking stuff, right? I mean, if you really want the latest iPod but can't afford it and think it's overpriced, as well as disapproving of Apple's business practises, you don't expect to register your protest at this state of affairs by walking out of the shop with it without paying.

But the fact that huge numbers of people are willing to steal income from writers whose work they actually enjoy isn't as shocking to me as the fact that the people who do the stealing act as if they're on some moral high ground. As if the writers are backwards barbarians who haven't caught onto 'the new paradigm' and who ought to be ashamed - yes, ashamed! - of themselves for expecting to actually get paid for their work. They should want to give their stories to the world for FREE like the fanfic authors do! Authors who try to make a living from writing deserve to be stolen from and get dropped by their publisher. So there.

That is not only a self-serving argument, it's a cruel one.

As readers we invest a huge amount of ourselves - our feelings, thoughts and time - in the books we love. Those characters can sometimes feel more real to us than people we actually know. But though we cringe and cry and laugh and fall in love with them throughout the pages of a book, those people aren't actually real. The only person in that book who is real? Is the writer. The one who put their own feelings and thoughts and time into making it something that touches you. If you would despise a character who brought harm to the fictional people in the story, then you should think twice about harming the REAL person who brought those characters to life.

Writers are not faceless word machines cranking out pages to meet demand. Try to remember that. Try to remember that writers are people. People who can be damaged, by your actions. I know it's hard to wait for the books you want, to have to save up or ask for them at the library and hope they come into stock. I know because I have to do all that stuff myself. But the feeling of having to wait for that book isn't nearly as bad as the feeling that a writer gets when they realise half the people who have read their book stole it from them without remorse, and that this has probably damaged their career. Trust me on that, too.

I hope that readers and writers will continue to find new ways to connect and develop relationships online as my career goes on. But my most fervent hope is that by the time I pass on to the great Writing Cave in the sky, we've passed into a place where readers and writers like each other a bit more.

(With thanks, smooches and snuggles to my own beloved Dear Readers, of course, whom I adore and respect more than words can say).

P.S. For my thoughts on the relationship between writers and bloggers/reviewers, you can click here. In fact, you might want to before you start flaming me for hating readers, or you'll just end up looking silly.


Unknown said...

I fail to see why anyone would flame you for both thoughtful and logical opinions. Humans are flawed creatures and I think we are failing as a society in raising them to know right from wrong. That's not to say there aren't decent people out there but things have definitely changed over the last decade or so. Patience is no longer a virtue when gratification is usually instant.

Anonymous said...

Hi Zolah,
The Cassandra Claire link also goes to Neil Gaiman's blog, just thought you'd like to know and fix!


Zoë Marriott said...

Chris: Well, people can nearly always find a reason to flame you if you're challenging their thoughts - so if people who regularly illegally download see this, I imagine they won't care how thoughtful this post is. But thanks :)

Hob: Damn. I'll go and fix it. Thanks!

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Absolutely fantastic post, Zoe. I'm a new author, and I know my future career utterly depends on each book to sell, and sell well. If money isn't being made, my publisher won't keep offering me contracts, it's that simple. If publishers won't take me on, then I'm left with self-publishing, and then not only do I have to make sales to keep my career going, but to earn back the money I've invested in publishing the book.

Zoë Marriott said...

Paul: It's a lot of anxiety, isn't it? Just the fact that no one can predict which books will take and which will sink is hard enough - knowing that some people will actively sabotage you by stealing your work as well makes it almost unbearable.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

It's terrifying! I'm already plenty concerned that my first book isn't selling well enough to gather momentum for the sequel, without thinking that people out there will pull this kind of thing.

Kate said...

I chewed out someone a few months ago who heard me recommending an ebook to a friend and offered to find a pirate copy because "what kind of idiot pays for something they can get for free?" He didn't listen to me but my friend bought the book and enjoyed it.

Apparently in America they have a system where you can borrow ebooks between kindles but it's only available on one device at a time. I think it might cut piracy over here as a lot of people pirate out of frustration they can't lend an ebook to friends like with a physical books.

SJ Egan - Fragment Designs said...

Really interesting read, I'm not a writer but I a self employed creative person (jewellery) and I know it would hurt to see someone taking my stuff and not paying for it and that I wouldn't be able to keep doing what I love if that was what was happening.

I have never downloaded a book or a movie with the reasoning that I want books and movies to be continued to be made, I have downloaded TV shows, but only stuff I can't get here in any legal way. And to be honest I think if box sets were released within a decent time frame ie not 2 years after downloads are available, a lot of people would buy then instead of download.

I read the Charlaine Harris books and hope to receive my copy of the new one in the post tomorrow, it's shocking what has happened. The book is only due out today and due to some selfish reader the ending is all over the internet; for the most part I've managed to avoid it, but that means I can't be all excited and in forums discussing what I think or want to happen, and Charlaine can't have fun teasing her readers and building up excitement. On the back of that the author has been attacked, there was no ending she could give that everyone would be happy with but the people are attacking her without even having read it! It seems so unfair and a horrible way to end such a long and well loved series.

Caite said...

I pirate things. I admit it. I have a limited income, limited space, and I live in a part of the world where tv, movies, and books can take months or even years to be released, and I would like to be a part of fandom.

But I also buy a lot of books, and movies, and tv shows on dvd. Because I do love these things. If someone recommends a new author to me, the first thing I will do is pirate one of their books, so I can read more than just the first chapter that amazon lets me sample. If I love it, I'll then go and buy a copy, often while I'm still reading it (meatspace or digital, depending on the amount of love and if it's a book I can envisage sharing). I'll put the author's next book on my wish list or preorder it, because I do love books. I've found some of my favourite authors this way. I guess I see it more as a library loan than anything else, although that's not a particularly accurate analogy.

I try not to be one of the bad pirates ruining the careers of authors and creative types, and I'm sorry about those who love but don't buy your books. I haven't read any yet, but I'm impressed by the thoughtfulness of this post.

Hannah @ Once Upon A Time said...

Think of the fanfic authors who apologise for not writing something the way people want and ask people not to flame them - if people flame you, tough. They're the idiots who... no, just idiots.

Seriously, this is a subject that bothers me so much that I have an unwritten draft sitting there.. and now it has an amazing post to refer to.

I'm unemployed. We barely afford the bare essentials. I definitely cannot afford to buy books. Occasionally I borrow from the library, or buy second hand, and I FEEL A LITTLE BAD that somewhere along that line I'm taking out of author's pockets, BUT I'm also happy in the knowledge that I'm not stealing. I would never consider pirating, no matter how destitute we became. Especially not books. Beg, borrow, and get second hand sure, but never steal. Makes me so sad and that number of people who pirated your second book?! Angry.

Aonghus said...

There is a delusion in the content creation space that every pirated copy is a lost sale*. This is, frankly, rubbish. Most people who pirate something had zero intention of buying it, and in a world where piracy wouldn't exist, would just not interact with it. However once they do pirate it, if they enjoy it, they'll recommend it to their friends. They'll go out and buy the sequel. They'll pick up copies as presents for people - or just a copy for themselves. But even if all they do is say "X was pretty good" to a friend on the bus, that might cause someone to have enough reason to go ahead and buy it.

You mentioned Neil Gaiman noticing an increase in sales after free copies, and speculated that the same feeling wouldn't apply to piracy - That's not correct. Mr. Gaiman has spoken out that it doesn't bother him that his material is pirated - he sees it as equivalent to lending and borrowing (Source:http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110211/00384413053/how-neil-gaiman-went-fearing-piracy-to-believing-its-incredibly-good-thing.shtml). And how many people discovered their favorite authors through a friend loaning them a book, compared to a random buy in a book store? Or even just a friend telling you "Go buy X, I've read it and I think it's up your street."

If you see pirates as people stealing food from your mouth, then you're grossly simplifying a complex problem, and doing no one any favours.

*There is an equivalent delusion, by the way, in the content piracy space that no download is a lost sale, and it's equally rubbish. The truth lies somewhere in the middle

Zoë Marriott said...

Kate: I suppose 'because it's wrong' would simply never occur to this person? I could probably quite easily walk into my deaf, nearly blind next door neighbour's house and take her diamond engagement ring without anyone ever catching me at it or suspecting me. But since I don't chose to be a thieving b*****d, or hurt other people simply because they can't defend themselves, I don't. Why is this such a hard concept? *Sigh*

S.J.: And think how horrifying if you knew that each person who stole a piece of your work could copy it infinitely and give those copies away, too.

Hannah: Please don't ever feel bad borrowing from the library, or buying second hand. In each of those cases the author has had the income from the initial sale, and in the case of libraries continued borrowing hopefully prompts more library sales. Plus, that's how I get a lot of my books, so if you feel bad, I have to as well :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Caite: Well, I'm impressed by the thoughtfulness of your answer. I do sympathise, because I too have limited funds and limited space, and sometimes things take a while to migrate across the pond to the UK as well (manga, for instance. Waiting for Bleach is torture, I tell you). I solve the problem of limited space by buying books for my Kobo (which was a combined birthday present from my parents and sister) when I can afford them, and borrowing from the library a lot. But I can sympathise with wanting to know something is actually GOOD before you spend good money on it when your budget is limited. And I'm sure your efforts to actually go out and buy the things you enjoy does help their creators.

Q said...

YES. This.

Zoë Marriott said...

Aonghus: Well, that's not my perception, hence why I pointed out that if only half the people who had pirated my second book had bought it, it would still have made a huge difference to me. It's best if you attempt to refute points I've actually made; I'm not going to be derailed by defending assumptions which don't belong to me.

Do you think the friends of the pirates get a recommendation to go and buy something? I doubt it, especially since I've met several people who attempted to persuade me that I ought to be illegally downloading films and music just like them. What friends and relatives of a pirate get is a link to the same illegal download, which means that a pirate's 'recommendation' doesn't help me or my books at all. It's just more people stealing my stuff; and even if each and every one of those people love my books to bits, somehow I don't get a warm and fuzzy feeling about it. I know very well how word of mouth book recommendations work; I do live in the real world (surprise!) and I get and give book recommendations that way all the time. What you're apparently not getting here is that this process happened brilliantly via cheap used copies, library loans, gifts and lending books from your own collection for a couple of hundred years before illegal downloads ever came along (each of these methods, by the way, ensures that the author recieves the correct income from the original sale of their work). Authors do not demand that people stop doing any of those things. We LOVE people doing those things. What we want is for people to stop stealing our work without our consent and then making out we should somehow be grateful to them for it. Taking things without consent is wrong in essence. You can call that simplifying if you want, but it won't make it any less fundamentally true. I'm not grateful to a pirate because he mentioned that he liked the book he stole to someone on the bus. I'd rather he never read or recommend it at all if he had to steal it in order to do so.

I'm afraid you've misread my mention of Neil Gaiman. I was referring to an exchange which I had on Twitter with him. I assume you weren't there for that, so you'll just have to trust my memory of what we discussed. I have also read his posts on piracy and I don't agree with him because, as I've pointed out in my post, it's impossible for someone who expects to sell millions of copies of their books to understand what a huge difference mere thousands of illegal downloads make to a newbie or midlist writer.

Kate said...

For the record the guy I mentioned (the one who offered to pirate a book for my friend) also shoplifts as a hobby so I'm in no way defending him. I don't have a good answer as to why he thinks that's a reasonable way to behave: honestly I try to tune him out most of the time.

Zoë Marriott said...

Q: Thanks :)

Kate: Oh no, I didn't think you were. I just found your quote from him so utterly mind-boggling that I had to respond. I wonder if he also takes candy from children when their parents aren't looking?

Rebecca Lindsay said...

I am really shocked that so many people pirated Daughter of the Flames. It is one of my favourite books and I have always thought it was unawknowledged by many people. I never understood why more people hadn't bought it. I'm really gutted for you.

Zoë Marriott said...

Rebecca: Thanks, Hun :) DotF seems to be the most pirated of all my books, although it continues to have the lowest sales figures. I've never been able to figure out how/why it was pirated so early and so vigorously, but I try not to let myself get too sad about it anymore. There's nothing I can do.

Mike Briggs said...

This was an excellent and well-written article. My wife is a best-selling author, and I am perpetually astounded by the number of sites offering all of her work for free download.

The worst part is that being an author is a solitary profession, and it takes an incredibly amount of time and dedication to craft a good novel. The massive scale of the piracy (combined with the entitled readers who can't resist writing to brag about how they don't have to pay) is disheartening. It's disrespectful. Piracy is way of saying that "You don't deserve to be paid for your work. The greeter at WalMart is more deserving than you." And, some days, even an author with multiple #1 NYT titles just has to wonder if it's worth the effort to create another book for the ungrateful, entitled pirates to steal. Maybe, just maybe, working as a WalMart greeter would be more worthwhile. They certainly get more respect than authors!

Anonymous said...

Just out of interest Zoë, (and thanks for fixing the link and having this great discussion) - how well has "Shadows on the Moon" and "FrostFire" sold?


Zoë Marriott said...

Mike: Exactly. People who steal books (and then act proud of it!) are basically telling authors that a year or more of our hard work is not worth the same amount that an hour of the McDonald's drive-thru clerk's time is worth. I'd love to know how all these pirates would feel if someone came along and told them that their job had been reclassified as 'art' and they should be willing to work for free from now on, just for the love of it. Oh, you have to feed your family? Well, you should have thought of that before and chosen a different job, shouldn't you? (BTW, I love your wife's books - I have the new MT on preorder. Can't wait!).

Zoë Marriott said...

Hob: I would like to know that myself! I've asked for figures, but so far no one at the publisher is being forthcoming (to be fair, they're busy people). The only way for me to work it out myself would be to dig out all the royalty statements for the past four years and try to add it up, but the way statements are laid out makes it so incredibly complicated that I'm not sure that would be possible even if I was decent at figures. Oh, well.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I had a thought last night about the argument that pirated copies increase sales figures, or that someone who pirates a copy will later buy one legally. It comes down to this:

You make $20,000 a year. You're getting by, but you'd feel more comfortable if your income was higher.

Someone asks you to give up $5,000 of your salary for a year, on the condition that you'll make $30,000 the following year.

While a 50% increase in your income is fantastic, the average person (midlist/new author or not) can't afford to lose 25% of their earnings for a whole year. Bills would go unpaid, mortgage payments would be missed. It's just not reasonable to ask someone to put themselves through that on the promise that it'll turn out well in the end.

Obviously this is an over-simplification, but I think it stands. Piracy does not have the same impact on higher-earning artists that it does on lower earners, and I think that fact is overlooked very often.

Zoë Marriott said...

Paul: I don't put much credence in the idea that most people who pirate books eventually buy a copy anyway. Perhaps they buy future copies of that authors books (if they can't wait until the scalped version turns up online) but I don't know that you're likely to ever get back the income from the first two or three books of yours that they read in order to decide for themselves that your future work might be worthy of their money. This is with all due respect to Caite, above, of course. But even she admits that she only goes ahead and buys the books that she enjoyed. So the authors whose books she didn't enjoy (which doesn't reflect on the quality of those books, afterall, merely Caite's own personal and subjective taste) or enjoyed but not enough to pay for them, are still losing out. It seems so very unfair, and I can't understand why people don't grasp that.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I don't, either. And I don't believe any significant number of piraters buy legal copies of the products they download. Maybe some do, but if it was anything more than a tiny minority, I'd be truly shocked.

Regardless, I believe that the argument that pirates will eventually buy legal copies, even if it were the case for the majority of pirates, is inherently flawed, because it's asking artists to potentially lose money on the promise that they'll get that money back later.

Mike Briggs said...

Wow, my previous comment is almost unintelligible -- that will teach me to post when I'm exhausted!

I just wanted to respond to the idea that piracy is less of a problem for established authors. Piracy affects everybody. It's true that we make a good living from my wife's writing. We're comfortable, but not wealthy. We still have a mortgage payment, and three kids in college. When we look at the number of pirated copies of Patty's books being offered I often think "If only a quarter of those people were paying for their books, we could afford . . ".

I feel guilty when we see obviously poor people coming to a book signing with a newly published hardback. Why should those fans spend money they probably don't have to support an author, when so many thousands of others don't bother? It's not fair for the dishonest people to prosper on the backs of good people.

For us, it's not honestly a question of survival. We're living well, and the next book will probably sell. But the financial impact is certainly felt, and the issues of fairness and MOTIVATION to write another book are very real, and very serious.

Thank you again for such a well-written and insightful column!

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Just to be clear about what I'd said back there about difference between high-earners and low-earners. By high-earners, I mean the superstar authors. The JK Rowlings and Stephen Kings and Neil Gaimans, who can write the ingredients of a candy bar down and it'll sell, who could decide to never write again and still live on the money they've already made.

Anyone depending on a continuing income from their writing is going to feel it when any earnings are lost.

Mike Briggs said...

Thanks for the clarification Paul. I agree with you entirely! :-)

Cluisanna said...

I really don't understand pirating books, because a library membership costs, what, 10$ a year for all the books you could ever want.

However, I do download TV shows, because I want to watch them in the original language and not one year or two later. If there was something like Netflix in my country I'd gladly pay for that to be able to watch shows, but of course it's blocked here.
I think the difference is that TV is essentially free already - I can just turn on the TV and watch things, so why would I pay for them just because I have the misfortune of living in a different country? I would also have no problem with watching TV shows with ads included, but again, that option simply isn't there.

Megha said...

This is all so true :) People always claim that piracy doesn't hurt anyone but if I was a writer, I would be quite annoyed if I COULD HAVE earned so much more if my book had been BOUGHT and not pirated.

iucounu said...

Hey Zo,

I meant to post this months ago, and your post today jogged my memory.

It's simply this: you can't trust download stats on pirate sites. It may *say* a book has been downloaded 300K times. It's almost certainly nonsense.

Inflating stats like this is done to increase the level of trust in the site felt by the downloader - it's designed to suggest that lots of other people have done the same thing, presumably without problems. Whereas it's reasonably likely that the download link is a vector for malware, etc.

In many cases, the file isn't even being offered for download - the listing is being constructed out of your initial search. Until fairly recently (and I am not sure what's changed) you could go to Google and search for "the swan kingdom 2: swan harder ebook torrent" and be directed to a faked-up download page for this fictitious book, complete with impressive-sounding download stats and "100% working mirrors" etc.

Zoë Marriott said...

Hi E.,

Well, that is comforting! Although the site where I initially found DotF was actually a forum, one of those filesharing sites where people post requests and then other people get points for fulfilling them. I assume that it's far less likely for those sorts of sites to be offering up malware, although if a bunch of people did end up with infected computers after trying to pirate my stuff, I would be tickled pink. Justice, by God.

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