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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Arr, Me Hearties - Let's talk about book pirates

The whole book piracy think blew up on my face-book feed last night. It's one of those things that swirls up every few months; it swims around a bit, taking chunks out of both sides, then disappears temporarily. It's the book-world equivalent of a shark attack, and it leaves people bleeding.
In a further demonstration of my sometimes stunning naivety, I'd been self-published for a couple of months before I realised that book piracy was a thing. (Before this post goes any further, I should probably make it clear that as far as I know, I've never been pirated. I think I need a few more years and a lot more name recognition before that happens.)

There are sites out there where people go to download PDF's of books. I've never quite got the logic of this - for the time and effort it takes to scan in each page and upload it, it would be a lot faster to either push the button on Amazon, or go to the local library and check it out, or just, I dunno, buy the book from a physical bookstore? Unless there's some magical ninja tech happening that I don't know about, it seems like a lot more time and effort to go to in order to make someone else's work available for other people to steal, which is probably why I'll never make master criminal status.

Perhaps surprisingly, not all authors are against this - J A Konrath has stated he believes his sales increase every time one of his books is posted on a pirate site. I've seen posts by the folks that actively do this stating that if they like the book they'll then go and buy a copy. I don't mind saying that made me twitch, because that's kind of like shop-lifting a chocolate, enjoying the taste, and then going and buying another bar because you decided it was worth your money. You still stole the first bar. (Although if Konrath is right, part of me is tempted to quietly upload one of my own books and see what the results are. Since tech and I are not friends, this likely to remain speculation.)

Another interesting thing is that the same folks downloading from these sites would react with horror and indignation if you suggested walking into a brick and mortar store and stealing a book of the shelf. I'm not sure when we came to the conclusion that writers don't deserve to get paid for entertaining us for a couple of hours, but that's the end result.

 I totally understand the frustration of not having the book you want to download available in your country. Been there, got that, wept hot salty tears over having to buy the tree-book version and wait nearly a week for it to arrive. Or not being able to read across devices. It's one of the reasons I don't have DRM active on any of my ebooks, because as far as I'm concerned if you bought my book, I want you to read it.

See the thing is, writers want readers. We want you to read our stuff, fall into our world, and hopefully come back for more. If you're an indie writer, odds are you've enrolled in the Kindle KDP programme at least once, where you get five days to give away your book for free and hopefully increase readership that way.
Most of us give away a lot of ebooks (I say ebooks because although there are plenty who give away hardcopy, I'm not one of then. To put it bluntly, I can't afford the printing and shipping costs, but it doesn't cost me a penny to push the send button on my p.c.) and those go out to bloggers, reviewers, and readers who'd like a copy.

I don't like the idea of pirating, because I know the work that goes into writing a book. When you download a PDF from a pirate site, you aren't screwing over The Man, or sticking it to the publisher; you hurt the writer, because if that writer is attached to a publishing house they are only earning a percentage of the cover price of that book any way, and that's after they've earned their advance out. Which if they're lucky, came to around $10 000 dollars. If you figure it takes about a year minimum between signing a contract and seeing your book in print, that ten grand starts seeming pretty damn small. Every single book that isn't sold officially is money that the author doesn't see, and if you don't sell enough books, your publisher will drop you so fast you get wind burn. Self-published authors have it a little better - we get 30% to 70% of the cover price - but again, only through the authorised channels. 

I work a day job, and sell hand-made cosmetics on the side as well as writing to try and make ends meet each month, so every book I don't sell means I'm that little bit further from my dream of writing full time. 
Most writers never get there, whether self-publishing or traditionally published, so every time you download from a pirate site, you make the odds of that writer publishing something else a little bit higher on the negative side. It's a high price to pay to save a couple of bucks.

Here's another reason why I don't like book piracy: I don't know what the figures are. I have no issues giving my books away, but doing it through Smashwords or Amazon means that I can track the downloads. I have at least a vague idea of potential sales; if 20 people download a book this month, and ten of those read it in the next six weeks, and of those ten three people like it enough to move onto the next one, I have an idea of where I'll be in three months to two years time. 
I'll have an idea of which series is working and which isn't because although reviews are lovely and appreciated, sales figures and downloads speak a lot more. They mean the difference between eating well and stocking up on vienna sausages and cheap bread, and logging on gloomily to my bank account to watch it drop towards the minus column. It means the difference between getting medication when you get sick or trying to wait out the lovely flu-viral infection-glandular fever combo I seem to specialise in every year. 

If, on the other hand, you cannot afford or get hold of one of my books, let me know. Reading is one life's few genuine pleasures, and I'd hate to think that someone who desperately wants to read my stuff, can't. For any reason. Leave your contact details in the comments (be smart about email addresses though, let's not feed the spam bots here) and I will personally email you a copy. No review required, no quid pro quo. But when you get the chance, pay it forward, and buy an author's book (doesn't have to be mine), and make someone's day a little bit brighter. And try not to feed the sharks. Blood in the water is never pretty.