Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Piracy. Five reasons not to worry.

There's a little debate going around in which writers are calculating the millions of dollars they've lost, as well as that wonderful, lofty perch on the bestseller list, because of all those meany pirates out there dumping their book files into torrents. I tweeted last week that 10,000 illegal downloads doesn't mean 10,000 lost sales, it means maybe five lost sales. And I'll bet it was because the book was overpriced to begin with. (Which almost universally means either someone else is setting your price who has their own agenda instead of the writer's best performance and income in mind, or else you have not paid one bit of attention to the digital market in the past two years. Or, in the case of New York publishing, both).

My books have been stolen for years. Ironically, it's only my corporate books that are illegally shared; my DRM-free ebooks don't show up there, yet they could easily be shared, swapped, ripped, and even rewritten. I only even notice the piracy when I do Google alerts of my name and see them in the rapidshare and torrent streams. I don't even know what those streams do, or how they work, and I don't care. It would be like sticking my thumb in a river to try to plug a dam six miles downstream. It would be a full-time job and all I would get is a wet finger. And the pirates would never even notice.

Why do I not care? It's stealing, and stealing is wrong. Anybody who says it's not stealing is wrong. I don't even make cassettes or copies of my own CDs, not even for personal use. But I am not casting stones, because I've conducted other illegal or immoral acts. None of us are without sin.

But I'm a writer, not the world's morality cop. And I have plenty of my own shortcomings. Anyway, the author has many antidotes to piracy:

1. Quit freaking out--stealing or not, this is how people communicate in the modern age. They share. They mutually create content and their shared experiences. They aren't as hung up on "ownership."

2. Take control of your content (from a corporation) and make it cheap. If your book is a buck or two, all but the most ardent thieves (who are spending their time stealing instead of reading anyway) would rather just buy the book and save the hassle. And you'll make the same amount of money, anyway. Actually, far more.

3. Find your own translators. Even if you gave up control of your English rights to a corporation, you can still seek translators on your own. If somebody cracks your book, translates it, and puts it out, that's an incredible homage--many hours of their life. This way, you can make a little money and pay them a royalty.

4. Use it as a positive. In five years, you'll be "selling" your download stats to sponsors and advertisers. And getting ripped off big-time then becomes an asset. Think of them as your future shares in the new market.

5. Why do we write in the first place? If you had told someone 100 years ago you could widely spread your ideas to millions of people at no cost, they would have said you've gone to writer heaven. Or you've gone insane. Which, when you look at it, is basically the same thing.



Neal Hock said...

Great post, Scott. Like it or not, there are people out there who are going to steal no matter what. An author can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to stop piracy. In the end, pirates will keep pirating and the author has lost all that time that could have been spent writing. True fans will support the author's efforts and go through proper channels to obtain a copy of the work; pirates most likely would never have bought the work in the first place, so it's not like it's a "lost" sale.

Pricing is an important issue too. I work in retail, and the higher-priced items make up the vast majority of thefts. Same thing seems like it would apply to e-books; the $9.99 book is much more likely to be pirated than the $2.99 book.


Layton Green said...

Great post. I for one would much rather have the word of mouth that comes with piracy than try to protect my ebooks. My view is that pirates probably won't buy it in the first place -- but they will spread the word if they like it. And as Scott said, it's going to happen, so it's not worth stressing over.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks, Neal and Layton, I know not everyone agrees with me. But those who fight piracy and those like me who don't care will achieve the exact same results. I'll just have lower blood pressure.

Scott Nicholson

Brenda said...

Great blog, Scott. Who knows? Maybe a pirate chats up your book so much that their more honest friends buy it.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Brenda, that's assuming the pirates even read them, which I think is a huge assumption.


Anonymous said...

If anyone bothered to steal my ebooks, I'd be honored. And quite surprised.

Charlie said...

I just had a conversation with my husband about this tonight. I guess the digital book world was not in attendance during the digital music revolution. Did we learn nothing from Napster and itunes? Corp. will spend millions on encryption and anti-theft devices, walls and software --- Then, they will give in and sell at a low price. Surprise, problems solved. Lower the price, lower the piracy. ARGH matey!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Charlie, who is this "We"? I learned plenty. Like, it's going to happen. And not to waste energy on it. Instead spin it to an asset instead of tilting at windmills.

Scott Nicholson

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Someone stealing my book? Sounds exciting. What else do people steal? Expensive Swiss watches? Jewelry? Money? Famous paintings? So, if someone steals my book, that would mean, it's worth something, right? Sure, the jerk could have paid for it, but, hey, at least, it got someone's attention.
Happy Reading!

Lex said...

An arc in my learning curve is figure out how to comment on blogs...;o). I commented previously, but it didn't post (at least not here) so, I'll do it again.
I am about to embark on ebook publishing and, like writing the book itself, research is essential. Other than buying (not stealing) ebooks by some of Amazon's most prolific and successful author's; I also worried about piracy. Thanks for the post, I'm no longer worried about it!

Brent Wescott said...

Interesting post. I'll admit I used to copy CDs from the library, but it was always music I wouldn't have known about otherwise. All that copying did was make me go out and buy more music because now I knew about more music. When someone downloads a book for free, if they like it, chances are they'll buy the next one. If they don't like it or don't even read it, then they wouldn't have bought it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old forum but I wanted to say that it was well written and well said. Keep up the good work!