Yo ho here we go again: Piracy and who pays when

New book, new theft.ThinkOfEngland72web

I don’t usually spend that much time worrying about ebook piracy. It’s one of those things that could keep you awake all night if you think about it. But when a new book comes out, as Think of England did last month, and I check for reviews, and a piracy result comes up on the first page within a week of publication…

I’ve read several articles on justification for piracy. They all line up a variety of reasons why people pirate books, and tell publishers and authors to take note and address these concerns. A typical example quoted in GalleyCat:

 “I’ve pirated electronic versions of books I already own physically.”

“I limit myself to pirating things that are out-of-print or otherwise unavailable through a legal digital outlet.”

“I’m poor and I like to read, but I can’t pirate food, so I pirate everything else.”

“The library rarely has the books I want to read.”

“I only pirate textbooks from school … They are ridiculously priced an I have a hard enough time paying tuition.”

“If the ebook is more expensive than the paper-version I sometimes pirate it out of annoyance.”

“Pirating also lets me sample things i would not be willing to pay money for up front”

Hang onto that last for a moment. Now, here’s a lovely exchange one author had.

lawrenceThanks for clearing that up, Emmanuel, your a star lol.

But, sarcasm aside, look at that line:

I do believe in being able to read or listsin to someone’s work before taking home for good books and music being especially of those sins there a million of you guys all calling your selfs artist

Which I interpret to mean:

As there is a great deal of work on the market and quality can be variable, I like to sample goods before spending my money.

Hang on to that one too as we go back to my pirate site experience.

So I went to the site that came up on the first Google page for Think of England. It’s a forum for filesharing, where you post a request for a book or game or film and other people post links to offsite places you can get it for free. Here’s the request. If you are profprofferson, please feel free to step on Lego any time.

mobilism 2

Now, we’ve all heard plenty about the benefits of piracy. Exposure! People discussing your book! Building an audience! As it goes, my bank doesn’t currently accept exposure for the mortgage, but hey, it would be better than the nothing I otherwise get…if it actually happens. So I joined up and asked.

mobilism 1

Yes, I like to stir.

Within five minutes they’d deleted my comment. No kidding. However, I also got this message.

mobilism 3(NB that I haven’t sought or received Lee’s permission to reproduce this private message. What goes around comes around.)

Several things to note here:

  • Apparently, I ought to be pleased that people steal my books in an enthusiastic rather than a lackadaisical fashion. Oh, wow, you guys really like me! I feel so…unpaid!
  • They did indeed take down all my books on my request, at once.
  • Total lack of apology. Friendly chat, smiliness, pleasant, genuinely positive and helpful, from the person who had uploaded my book illegally for people to download for free. Remorse? Embarrassment at being caught? A sense of having done something wrong? No.

But mainly

I adored it, so bought it. … If I like something I’ll buy it.

Lee even linked me to a thread on her forum where members discussed how many ebooks they had actually bought rather than stolen. (I think this was meant to be encouraging.) There were people saying, ‘Well, I have at least a hundred books I paid for!’, claiming the moral high ground in a forum dedicated to taking things without paying. All of them were adamant that you should buy the book post-piracy if you liked it.

I do actually believe the people who have told me that they take for free and pay if they like the book. (‘Believe’ should not be confused with ‘approve of’. You can get a 10% free sample off Amazon if you want to try before you buy.) I think it is actually probably true that piracy helps many new authors build a name and a readership because it’s done by enthusiastic booklovers to a surprising degree.  I know really nice, committed, passionate booklovers who give their own time and effort for free to promote books, yet who have pirated. I know of people who will upload the books of authors they love to pirate sites, apparently in the belief it’s doing the author good, or no harm.

It simply seems that the burden of risk, for some people, has shifted from the buyer to the author. Previously if you bought a book and didn’t like it, you were out of pocket; now the author takes the hit. I suspect Emmanuel the Illiterate’s comment was referring to the explosion in availability of poor-quality product that’s happened with the self-publishing boom (and NB that the quality of trade editing has dropped like a rock in recent years as publishers cut costs, so that is not a dig at good self-publishers). It is undeniable that there’s a lot of crap out there. Equally, there have been some gigantic successes of authors who started publishing free fiction on the net, whose fans have gone on to buy the same work in book form over again.

Basically, it looks like a section of the market is moving to a model of payment by results, rather than payment in advance. Which is not, of course, legal, and it’s not how meals or haircuts or widescreen TVs work. But it looks more like that, in these cases, rather than simple theft to me.

Ebooks have brought much wider availability along with much wider stealability; access to bigger markets means we reach wilder shores. Maybe being involuntarily moved to a ‘payment by results’ model for a section of the market is part of the price of the huge reach authors now have.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for you. I might be completely wrong. But it’s worth authors remembering, for our own sanity, not every pirate is a thief, not every pirated copy is a lost sale, and piracy is not necessarily the catastrophe it feels like.

I still hope they tread on Lego.


Think of England is on dozens of torrent sites, or you could buy it here and my children will eat. /big puppy eyes/