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/

63 replies
  1. littlemousling
    littlemousling says:

    As an ereader (and only an ereader–unless it’s for work, I’m not picking up a paper book, not least because I have miserable vision and printed font sizes are a struggle for me), I buy 98% or more of the books I read.

    That said … sometimes I hit the “if you won’t take my money, fine,” wall. If a book isn’t available as an ebook: fine, you don’t want my money. If a book is only available through one semi-evil bookseller: ehh, 9 times out of 10 I will buy it and rip the DRM, but every successive time I run into this, I’m more irritated that the publisher doesn’t want my money. If a book isn’t sold in Canada: fine, you don’t want my money!

    (And in those situations, the book is rarely library-accessible–if it were, I’d be able to buy it, which is my strong preference, much to my bank account’s dismay.)

    It doesn’t end up adding up to a lot (especially now the ebook seller I use almost exclusively has a massive catalog) but I’m frustrated with publishers–I know it’s almost never the author’s fault–who don’t seem to want my money. It’s sort of the Napster thing: people pirated music because the record companies did not want to sell digitally. Well, if they don’t want my money, I guess that’s a choice they’ve made. In the pre-iTunes era, I pirated; in the iTunes era, I buy. Because now they DO want my digital-loving money, and they make it easy.

    Ebook sellers want my money, and make it easy. Publishers … not so clear. They’re at least getting *better* at making it easy to give them my money–and that, IMO, is how piracy is minimized.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Oh absolutely. The publisher has a huge responsibility to both author and audience to make books available. That’s their part of the bargain with the author.

      Reply
  2. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Stealing is wrong and illegally downloading copies of ebooks is stealing. Period. I will, however, strip DRM for an ebook I purchase in order to read it on my difference devices. I do not, however, “share” my ebooks with anyone, ever. I am also one of the rare birds who will buy the paper version of a five-star ebook to add to my very small, select library of paper books. Bottom line: I expect to be paid a salary for my labor, therefore it is only fair that I support those authors with my purchase, whose labor is equally deserving of compensation.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      I have zero problem with DRM stripping for that reason. Honestly, it’s not like it stops piracy, I see mo reason why we keep it just to inconvenience honest readers.

      Reply
  3. Amy Jo Cousins
    Amy Jo Cousins says:

    I actually pirated once, although I didn’t realize it at first. I thought I was borrowing ebooks from my brother, only to realize that someone had given him access to a dropbox folder full of pirated ebook bestsellers. The two books that I had read (one was Under the Dome by Stephen King, I don’t remember the second), I went online and purchased. Still felt guilty. :) This was in my pre-twitter days, but I did talk about Under the Dome with friends. But I’m a book pusher and enjoy doing that for books I love, period.

    Reply
  4. Ariss
    Ariss says:

    The only case where I might sympathise with ebook pirating is if a book can’t be purchased through legal means mostly due to censorship in many countries in the world.

    That said, I was one of those rare people who didn’t like ebooks because I have migraines and it’s difficult to read on a screen for a long period of time. I have asked many m/m authors to consider publishing their novels in paper format *hint, hint!* so I can buy them.

    And the sad truth is many of the works published in ebook only are very poorly written, in desperate need of an editor, and don’t have proper formatting for their books to be read comfortably on an Android phone or even tablet. Personally, I can trust Dreamspinner Press and Loose ID to have some measure of professionalism in their ebook publishing. And yes, nothing angers me or any reader than paying for an ebook and discovering it needs an editor and a re-write before it should have ever seen the light of day.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Print has heavy cost implications on this publishing model, sadly. Samhain do all their books over 50k in print a year after first publication, I believe.

      Reply
  5. Sarah_Madison
    Sarah_Madison says:

    Every few months I google myself and my titles (since Google Alerts usually fails me on this) and spend a few days sending out take-down notices and asking Google to block pages containing torrents. The sites actually selling your work are getting sneaky now–I’ve had my IP address blocked so I can’t return to a site once I’ve filed a complaint with them.

    Recently, I found a site selling NINE of my stories (so much for the ‘we get them hooked on you so they go buy the rest of your work’ theory), including several free stories I’d written for fests on Goodreads (which is why I will no longer participate in such fests anymore). I ask people if a pirate site will steal my STORIES, how comfortable are you giving them your credit card information??

    I can’t even begin to tally up what this represents in lost sales. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate. I know one thing: it makes the difference between whether I get a new pair of glasses (lenses alone cost $400) or make do with the old, scratched lenses for another year. It makes the difference as to whether or not I replace the eight year old buggy-as-hell laptop, or but off major dental and/or home repairs for another year.

    The sense of entitlement on the part of some readers buying these stories or posting them for others to read for free baffles me. This isn’t fandom, where the currency of reading a free story is leaving feedback. This is an actual transaction that is no different from walking out of a store with a packet of gum in your pocket that you didn’t pay for. I also don’t understand the mindset of someone who can value a $4 cup of coffee from Starbucks more than a $3.99 e-book. If people don’t support their favorite authors, they might be surprised one day to find their favs had to give up writing to take a second or third job to make ends meet. I suspect then, we’ll hear moans about how the overall quality of writing has gone down the drain.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      I’m honestly not sure there’s much point seeing piracy in terms of lost sales. Not that I don’t sympathize with every fibre of my being. But I just don’t believe that all or even a significant fraction of those people would have bought the books. It’s not a sales opportunity cost in the way stealing a physical copy is, preventing someone else buying it. This is not a pro piracy statement, my view re Lego stands, but we can go mad fretting about this.

      Reply
  6. ali
    ali says:

    In ye olde days of just books in physical form I would read reviews etc go into a bookshop, looked at the book, read a bit etc then bought it if I fancied it (you remember that feeling of the mad gamble of getting a book and just not knowing how you would feel once you had read it all?!). I did not walk out the shop with it, that would have been theft, security would have maybe caught me and I would have no doubt been prosecuted and that wasn’t just because of the paper and ink I would have stolen, it was because of the work of the author, editor, publishing house. ebooks contain the same work but are, in the vast majority, cheaper that paper and hardbacks.
    I dont believe the ‘If I liked it I’ll buy’ line because you have sunk to the level of stealing it in the first place, are we supposed to a) believe you b) pat you on the back?!
    I am physically disabled to the extent I can’t work and on benefit, I buy books I can afford and
    they are really important to me. I hate bad editing, formatting etc as much as the next person and I might even hate or be upset by some content I come across whilst reading. I check an authors style as much as I can by reading the free sample. Then I buy it and take the hit if I don’t like it because that’s the way I’ve always done it and because I think you should pay for things. Pay for a ticket to a theatre performance weather it turns out you like it or not, or a cinema ticket if you want to see a film.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      I agree 100% with you except that I do have some belief in ‘if I liked it I buy’. Not masses but I do think there is a separate mentality between simple thievery and people who don’t understand that they’re stealing in the first place, and I am prepared to believe the latter group will pay up as some sort of pat on the head to a good author. /gritted teeth/

      Reply
  7. ameliabishop
    ameliabishop says:

    I love your comment on that forum! Great!! And good point, too, because although I’m sure that most people who go to those sites are indeed “fans” of the works they pirate, I doubt they share their enthusiasm outside of those (pirate) communities.

    I am not popular enough to have a pirating problem, and honestly I don’t have the skills to deal with those kinds of sites anyway. The few times I’ve found my work out there illegally it seemed like the sites were actually scam/phishing type places, and were not actually offering file downloads. I don’t know.

    Generally, I agree with the philosophy of just ignoring the sites. It is almost impossible to stop them, and seems to be a drain of an author’s time and emotional energy. I think that the people who pirate are not the same kind of people who buy books. You don’t get lost on the way to amazon and end up illegally downloading a book. It is an intentional act. These are not “lost” customers, they are simply criminals. They will never buy anything. Thinking of illegal downloads as “lost sales” is not accurate.

    But I also think it is our responsibility (as authors and readers) to call out pirate sites when we are aware of them, and to that end you have done a great job :)

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      I absolutely agree it’s a waste of mental energy to get upset, and that the downloads don’t translate to lost sales, but I think some of them *do* go on to buy stuff. I’ve heard from several repentant pirates since this went up. :) Just a tiny bit of hope for human nature…

      Reply
      • ameliabishop
        ameliabishop says:

        Yes! Actually the comments here have given me a lot more hope. Nice to hear from people who actually turned into fans, I honestly didn’t think that ever really happened, but I guess it does! Good to know <3

        Reply
  8. I'd Rather Not Say
    I'd Rather Not Say says:

    Since you asked… (please don’t hurt me)…

    I used to pirate books. I discovered MM right as I graduated college (this was several years ago, it’s much easier to buy digital books now). I’d made it through school on scholarship and working for the school. The second I graduated I was no longer eligible for my job and had to leave my apartment, so I was living with a soon-to-be ex-boyfriend and had no job, no money, and no savings, wondering when we were going to break up and I was going to lose my room as well. Basically, I couldn’t afford anything but food. I didn’t have an ereader either, just the computer I’d used for school. So if I wanted to read it was library – which had no MM – or pirating PDFs.

    I only pirated a small handful of books, but they kept me sane during that period and grew my love for this genre. And since then I have bought every single one I pirated. I’ve even bought the audiobooks of several as well. I’ve recommended them to every friend I have that is open to MM. I’ve actually gifted a few to people because they weren’t sure if they wanted to try them. I’ve recommended them to a bunch of people I don’t even know in RL on Goodreads through the MM group.

    Long story short, there are some people out there who do become loyal fans/customers through piracy. Is it most? Nah, probably not, which is why I try to convince everyone I know not to pirate – I firmly believe if I want to see more from good writers, it is in my best interest (and everyone else’s) to see that they get paid.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Thank you. Thank you for commenting here, thank you for repaying what you took, and thank you for supporting authors now. This was exactly what I meant about pirate not necessarily meaning thief.

      Reply
  9. ali
    ali says:

    I know life can be hard but there is so much free stuff out there to download if you look that people are in a fortunate position compared to the days of pre-internet when I had to secretly borrow copies of Genet, Forster, James Baldwin and Joseph Hansen from someone I had to stay with. I was young and in a god awful situation and so ashamed and terrified of being found out. Coming to the point of being able to write something I was so troubled about for years and having it stolen is a sore point. Money may be an important point but there can be things behind the issue that are painful.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Absolutely. And there is a LOT of free material. And libraries. Maybe not exactly what someone’s after but since when do we get everything we want for free?

      Reply
  10. Carissa
    Carissa says:

    I am broke pretty much all of the time. I have to limit my book buying to once or twice a month, and surprisingly enough, this has not killed me. Yes I have to wait sometimes (oh the horror!) and not read the hot books right when they come out, but it also means I have things to look forward to. I can also wait around and read reviews and see if the book is really worth spending my money on. And if I really want to read a book, but don’t want to pay full price, I wait for a sale or till i get my hands on a gift card. Like I did with Think of England (which I loved).

    Then again, I’m a reviewer for a blog, so I can get my hands on a reasonable amount of books, if i am willing to write the reviews. Still, I don’t have nearly enough time to write reviews for all the books I want, so some books take longer to get around to buying than others. And if I find myself with some down time, and am craving to read something but don’t have the money to go on a spending spree…i go read fanfics. Which are free, and so varied I can cover just about any craving I am having at the moment.

    So while I feel for all these poor little people, who just want to read the books they love, I am not all that sympathetic. So what, you can’t afford a book right now. There are plenty of legal ways to get your hands on that book if you are willing to put a little effort into it. And even if you are not, it will not actually kill you to have to wait to read a book. Unless it gets pulled by the author or the publisher folds, there is a good chance that it is going to be around for a long time.

    Reply
    • I'd Rather Not Say
      I'd Rather Not Say says:

      I totally agree with you re: there being a lot of legal ways to read fiction for free nowadays. I think the problem is that a lot of people don’t realize these ways exist. I certainly didn’t.

      I think anyone with any knowledge or respect of the publishing industry would know better than to pirate, but I think lots of people really don’t know better, as Emmanuel illustrated above. Unless you know it exists and where to find it, I don’t think people know how to access fanfiction and review copies. Legal lending is a bit better, but if you don’t have anyone to lend stuff to you, you’re SOL. I definitely believe that there are at least some people out there that would choose the legal option if they knew it existed. Although maybe that’s just me hoping there are more people out there like me.

      I actually think Goodreads, or maybe just the MM group on Goodreads, has done a really good job of educating people as to legal ways to read things for free. Posts like this one help as well.

      I’m also optimistic that offering free reads, like the wonderful Remnant, encourages people to try new things without feeling like they have to skip lunch or steal to do it.

      Reply
  11. MishaBurnett
    MishaBurnett says:

    What I find disturbing is how indignant pirates get when you point out that what they are doing is both unlawful and wrong. I live with a photographer, and the reaction of people who copy and repost photographs without attribution is even more vehement.

    There was a person who was using one of my roommate’s photos on an adult site as a profile picture, and when called on it began a long hate-filled thread about how my roommate was trying to “censor” the user.

    What was sad was how many people took the pirate’s side, claiming that my roommate had no right to ask anyone not to use copyrighted work. There is this prevalent attitude that anything digital is automatically public domain and that making a copy of something can’t possibly be theft because the original artist still has the original copy.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Oh yes, that’s awful for photographers. The image thing is chronic on the internet. I saw a post indignantly defending author copyright, illustrated with a whole bunch of Disney gifs. /rolleyes/

      Reply
  12. Marianne McA
    Marianne McA says:

    I haven’t ever pirated – no amount of post-hoc justification makes it okay – but I do sometimes wonder if copyright will ultimately prove to have been a characteristic of printed books (St. Columba excepted) – an historical anomaly almost. You couldn’t, I imagine, have anything like copyright in an oral tradition, and perhaps it won’t be practicable in an electronic one.
    On the bright side, people will always need stories, so readers will need to fund writers somehow – I just wonder whether in 50 years we’ll be doing it quite differently.

    (If I’m still alive and reading in 50 years, I’ll be entirely happy whatever way I’m paying for the work.)

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      I think you may well be right. It’s very definitely a rearguard action. I was talking to a bloke who works for the copyright agency who said the big problem is persuading the new generation that copyright is a good thing, or even exists at all.

      Reply
  13. Madgarena
    Madgarena says:

    I don’t want to condone piracy but I do think its true that pirating communities can spread the word about authors. My short story – I used to visit forums where you could download scanlations of various manga. Granted a lot of the stuff just wasn’t available in the US but I would get hooked on stuff and if I had the money I would buy it if it actually came out in English. I wouldn’t buy everything but I would end up buying a few things every year. This was back in college when I was broke. It’s through these communities that I discovered MM fiction, the first of which I’ll admit I didn’t pay for (plug in typical broke college ardent excuse here). But now that I’m out of college nearly a decade and am actually make money, I buy everything. I spend ridiculous amounts of money on ebooks on amazon every year. I don’t know how typical my experience is but there’s got to be some percentage of people in these communities who “grow up” into paying consumers like myself. And there’s also a percentage who will just never pay for anything. Ever. But I can definitely say that if not for pirate communities I would not hav gotten into mm fiction.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Again, thanks for this, it’s so encouraging to hear these stories. I really do believe there’s a common theme of piracy > keen reader > reader who pays. (For these people I revoke my Lego curse.)

      Reply
  14. katepavelle
    katepavelle says:

    According to Dean Wesley Smith, who publishes with WMD Publishing and who has pioneered certain “go indie but be a publisher” models with his wife: he considers piracy “cost of business” and believes his time is better spent writing than worrying about it. Regardless how indignant we get and how much time and money we spend on DRM, the books or songs will make their way out there. I don’t have much out there yet – my 4 books hardly compare to his best-selling 400 – but I try not to worry about it. He’s been right about everything else so far, so I just try to keep calm and carry on.

    Reply
  15. Kim W
    Kim W says:

    I never pirate books but I know people who do. They seem to download books by the hundreds because they can and then read a few. It’s more like collecting for them.
    Let me also add that Think of England is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. (And I did pay for it.)

    Reply
  16. O.
    O. says:

    So just wanted to let you know, I’m one of those “downloads pirated ebooks by the hundreds” people. I discovered you through that pirating forum. If it wasn’t for them, I would have never encountered your books and would have never read them, and that would be a very sad thing.
    (I live in a non-English speaking country, so no library access, and most online book stores don’t sell outside North America/Europe. Even amazon’s preview doesn’t work for most books.)

    I delete 90% of the ebooks I download after skimming the first 20 pages. If I like the book and I think I want to keep it and continue reading, I buy it, or donate to the author through their website. If not, then I delete it. I know I’m probably not in the majority, but as you said – most research says that people who don’t pay for pirated content wouldn’t have bought it at all if it was otherwise unavailable.

    I work in advertising, mostly with the software industry, so my clients had a lot of run-ins with online piracy. I firmly believe that the classical pricing models simply can’t be applied to digital products, because they seem unfair to the average person (“why would I need to pay for something that costs 0$ to reproduce?”)

    There’s research clearly showing that any attempt to reeducate or “shame” the users into paying have a negative effects on sales. The only way to get the buyer to pay for something that he feels should be “free” since the marginal cost of creating his copy is 0, is to create engagement and an emotional connection between the user and the creator, or to offer some additional value that the user could pay for without feeling like he’s giving money for nothing.

    My point is, I don’t know if online piracy is good or bad but I know it’s not going to go away because human nature is not going to change. So what needs to change is our attitude and pricing models. If you put a “donate” button on your website, people who read your books and loved them might want to give money directly to you, or buy a signed book once they’re printed, or some trinket like a bookmark or a mug from your shop. I know I would. :)

    Reply
      • O.
        O. says:

        Will do.
        If you want to take the discussion somewhere private to avoid trolls – let me know, I’ll send you an email.

        Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      And everyone: KEEP IT CIVIL. O. didn’t have to come here to talk about this, I appreciate the response and engagement, and any shouty or abusive replies will be deleted.

      Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      This is really interesting. And I can see from your situation that you can use piracy to sample in a way that is fairer to the author. Do you also upload books to piracy sites? Or just benefit from other people doing that?

      My issue with the ‘donate’ concept is…I’m a workman. I get paid for my labour. ‘Donate’ suggests the reader is like some kind of patron, beneficently deciding to pat me on the head. If I go to the office I don’t expect to be paid via a donation from my boss at her whim. I don’t decide how much to donate to the restaurant when I’ve had a meal, or even how much to donate to the charity shop when I decide to buy an ugly china teaset. Those things have prices.

      Evidently, as you say, there is an attitude issue here. I struggle with the concept of my work suddenly having no value because the reproduction cost is 0. (You will know that this completely ignores the production cost, which is significant, to me and the publisher.) I don’t suppose you know anything about how a donate model has been shown to work in the past? Radiohead did it but I don’t know if they released figures. And I can’t help feeling, if *every* author was soliciting donations, donations would drop, and if a book got super popular, people would probably feel less inclined to give up their hard earned (‘Stephen King doesn’t need my money.’) So could that really work as an industry model? And if not, how does the author and the publisher get paid?

      I think you have an excellent point that engagement between reader and author changes the pirate reader’s attitude, making them understand the author’s POV, and that definitely needs musing on. Equally, though, I know a lot of self-declared fans will upload as much work as they can to pirate sites. (‘I love X’s work, let’s get all of it up here!’) I have to admit, I struggle with why someone who’s really keen on an author would do that – not just take it free but make it free to other people – and I’d be interested in your point of view.

      Reply
      • O.
        O. says:

        First of all, thank you for the positive reply. I started this conversation because I’m really interested in digital content pricing models (I did some research on this for my MBA) and I think I can provide some insights on this, and I’m happy that you are interested in this as well.

        Also, I can’t say anything about the ethical side of downloading pirated content without paying for what you consume, it is a separate discussion, and one I’m probably not well-equipped to participate in. What I can do is talk about how it’s possible for creators to make money off their work in a world that contains piracy.

        So, to business: I don’t upload books I bought, simply because everything can be so easily found online already. I don’t feel that what I do is more wrong than reading a chapter or two at the bookshop while waiting for a bus and then not buying the book if I didn’t like it.

        I understand your point about being a workman, this is one of the simplest and oldest payment models and it’s very comfortable for the worker.
        However, some industries can’t operate like that, for various reasons. For example, waiters, bartenders and other service professions get paid in tips, according to the service they provide. I work at an office and I get paid a percentage of the profit my company makes on the advertising budgets I handle. It might be unfortunate and uncomfortable, but it does seem that the digital content market is moving towards a different kind of payment model, and the best way to handle changes in the market is to adapt to them as early as possible.
        As a side note – “pay what you want” restaurants are pretty common. :)

        I know how much money, time and effort goes into a book, but to the average user, this cost is already a “sunk cost” – as far as they’re concerned, it already happened sometime in the past and doesn’t really concern them. Making a copy of the book costs nothing, and so appears not to do you any damage, and this is why it doesn’t feel wrong to most people to download pirated content. Research on “pay what you want” (post-usage payment, like in case of reading a book first and paying later) models on software show that calls to action related to “fair compensation to the creator” were not effective to get users to pay more, and in at least one research I can remember caused users to actually pay less, and I think this is exactly why – the users feel like a price of 0 is fair. The question is then, how is it possible to change that feeling.

        The textbook case study on this (other than Radiohead, since they didn’t release their numbers – they did announce that the digital sales of the In Rainbows album made them more money than the digital sales of all their previous albums combined) is Dr Horrible’s sing-along blog, which was released for free online, but was available for purchase on DVD and iTunes. They made back their investment within 5 months, and eventually made more than 3 million dollars, which is amazing for an indie production. They achieved this thanks to massive fan engagement in social media and constant conversation with fans, and encouraging fan creation.
        Other examples are the humble indie bundle, who do a lot of experiments on maximizing profits by tweaking the donation system. They have been doing this for years now, and are quite successful.
        Welcome to Night Vale combine a donation model with selling merchandise as well, they do not release numbers but they say they are financially successful even though almost all their content is free.

        About the “Stephen King doesn’t need my money” issue:
        It looks like average users are less affected by fairness or ethics, but they do want to feel like they are a part of something bigger, or to feel they are getting good value for their money. Since the “fairness” factor was shown to have little influence on willingness to pay, I don’t think the name and popularity of the author are going to make a significant difference. Having the power to use a product for free and then set a price they are willing to pay for it based on their personal connection with the author, or their perceived benefit from the product, makes a user feel empowered and just that by itself can create a positive engagement.

        I don’t know if this can work as an industry model for books specifically, as most of the research I know deals with software and games, where it does seem to work in some cases. It definitely does work for some creators, and I think a donate button can be a great thing in any case – it’s an easy way for fans to show their appreciation beyond the price of an ebook.

        And on why people pirate their favorite authors – it’s hard to say, I would guess they want to gain the sense of community from existing fellow fans and creating new ones – again, need for engagement.

        Whew. There. Sorry for the giant wall of text. :)

        Reply
        • KJ Charles
          KJ Charles says:

          This is absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for taking the time. I have to do a follow up post, may I quote you lavishly?

          I suppose 50 Shades etc are illustrations of your principle. Big fan engagement, text given away free, leading to big sales for a physical product from people who’d already had the electronic free version, as well as the buzz creating a new market. Okay, this is making me think a LOT.

          Reply
          • O.
            O. says:

            Sure, feel free to quote with any necessary editing. (English is my third language, plus that was written at 2am… :) )

            Just wanted to point out a few more things:
            I don’t think that traditional sales models should be eliminated, on the contrary – they should be expanded and made as easy and convenient for the user as possible, removing all geographic and DRM restrictions.
            But I strongly feel in that in the modern world, traditional models must be supplemented by other methods of creating revenue that are adapted specifically for the digital market, and make it possible to monetize users that have (through legal or illegal means, doesn’t matter) gained free access to the content. I believe this can be achieved by creating a personal connection between the user and the creator, encouraging a sense of community among fans, and offering as much ways as possible for the user to pay the creator (merchandise sales, donations, special edition books, extra material and so on).

            In bottom line, I don’t think the right way to think about piracy is “users are stealing my creations and must be stopped”. A more beneficial approach can be “users are gaining access to my content for free and that is a fact, now how do I turn casual downloaders into fans that will become a part of my community and how can I monetize them”.
            There’s a famous theory related to this called “1000 true fans”, it might be interesting for you. http://kk.org/thetechnium/2008/03/1000-true-fans/

          • O.
            O. says:

            Also, now that we’re done with the serious stuff, can I take my business face off and do the “omg one of my favorite authors is talking to me” fangirl squeal?
            Because your books and especially “Think of England” are my favorite m/m novels in literally years. I’m following you on every social media channel, and I think you can count me among true fans. :)

          • KJ Charles
            KJ Charles says:

            Oh, bless you. Thanks. :) I really do appreciate how much you’ve engaged with this, it’s given me a huge amount of food for thought, so thank you for taking so much trouble!

          • Jordan L. Hawk
            Jordan L. Hawk says:

            This. All of this.

            A lot of web comic creators (who on the whole give their comics away for free) are using services like Patreon to generate alternate revenue streams. Amanda Palmer’s TED talk on how to let fans pay you is a must-watch as well.

  17. kathleencharles
    kathleencharles says:

    I’m not feeling very charitable towards a person who seems to be completely amoral…or completely ignorant? I can’t tell. Why on earth would a writer spend his or her creative life to provide the fruits of his or her intellect and soul for free? Do they get food for free? Does someone pay their rent? Did someone buy their transportation, clothing, medical prescriptions, pay for their doctor visits or their children’s education? The answer is a resounding NO. Writing may be a labor of love, but it’s a job, and they expect and deserve to be paid for it.

    Reply
  18. A woman in Sweden
    A woman in Sweden says:

    Any reasonably moral person will agree that people deserve to be paid for their work. Ok. I’m willing to pay for e-books. And audio books. And print books, although I don’t have room for more of those in my apartment.

    I go to All Romance Ebooks and look at their new arrivals a few times each week. Oh, this looks interesting. The sample text isn’t long, but at least it isn’t full of bad spelling and grammar. The two reviews say it’s a good book. The price is ok, too. I’ll buy it. Uhhh…. No. I can’t.

    Who the hell came up with the brainless idea of Geographic Restrictions?

    I’ve heard that it is so the publisher (or author) will be able to sell the rights to the book in that other restricted country. But, do they really expect some tiny publisher in a European country that has English as a second language to buy the rights to the ebook versions of a book in English? Or do they expect some publisher to want to translate it?

    The market for English language books isn’t that big in my country, but it does exist. There are shelves of English books in even the smallest bookstores. But those bookstores don’t and won’t import everything.

    Sure, if there is a paper copy of the book, I can get it from Amazon. It’s more expensive and I have to pay for shipping (money that does NOT go to the author) and it takes a week or two to get to me, but I can do it. Unfortunately, I don’t have space for more paper books, so I am extremely choosy about getting them. Books that I’d be happy to PAY for in ebook format “to try a new author” will NOT be bought in paper format unless I can actually look at the physical book first. And that runs into the problem that the bookstores don’t import everything.

    I don’t pirate books. Partly for moral reasons and partly for fear of downloading viruses/malware. But I also don’t buy the books I’m not allowed to buy in ebook format. So that is a lost sale, because I would have bought the book if I had been allowed.

    And yes, I’ve bought your books (all except the latest and I will get that, too). You don’t have geographic restriction on your books. Thank you for that.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      I can’t express enough how utterly stupid and shortsighted the publishing industry is. It’s been Department of the Bleeding Obvious for years that the only effects of DRM and geographical restrictions on ebooks are to shut off legitimate sales, encourage buyers to get into the habit of downloading and stripping files, and give pirates a huge market share. Drives me insane. Rights sales can be hugely important for traditional publishers on the print model but that cannot be allowed to go on distorting and restricting the electronic market. Madness.

      Reply
    • littlemousling
      littlemousling says:

      I’m in Canada, and the restrictions here drive me up the wall; I can’t imagine what it’s like elsewhere in the world, with the US (and in books, sometimes the UK as well) dominating the market utterly. We complain plenty up here, but we’re at least close enough, big enough, and English-speaking enough to get access to many if not most US products.

      Reply
  19. Marian Perera
    Marian Perera says:

    Something that concerns me about authors’ creating an emotional connection to fans to minimize piracy…

    What happens to authors like me who are introverts? I like talking to people about books and writing and publishing, I blog, I’m on Twitter, I’m on Absolute Write. But that’s as far as it goes. I’m not a huge social media buff and I don’t feel comfortable opening up about myself. For some authors, this comes naturally; for me, it’s not easy.

    And to be perfectly frank, if on top of all the work I already do, I’ve got to think about further ways to establish and maintain some personal connection to people whom I don’t even know in order to convince them not to illegally download my work, or to pay me for it if they do… this gig isn’t worth it.

    Reply
    • littlemousling
      littlemousling says:

      I think that’s kind of a straw man, though. The reason you create an emotional connection to fans is to sell books–the same way any artist must. You can of course choose whichever routes of doing so work for you, but it *is* work for even extroverts, I’m pretty sure.

      I’m an introvert and I’m not an author, but I am a small-business owner who has to do all kinds of marketing things that are hard on me. If I could do my marketing from the privacy of my own home, through social media–damn, that would be fantastic! I’d count myself lucky indeed! But the in-person marketing is part of my job, and at the end of the day, I get paid for that discomfort. (Just to clarify, I’m a lawyer, I haven’t actually signed up to be IN marketing or anything. It just comes with the “own your own business” territory–and authors, really, are business owners at the end of the day.)

      The same is true for authors, and it works. This very blog we’re on is one example; Courtney Milan, Melinda Lo, Jim Hines, and Tansy R. Roberts are a few others who immediately jump to my mind as being people whose books I would probably continue buying even if the quality dipped, just because of their internet presences. That’s not about piracy, really; that’s just marketing, and lots of introverts have to do marketing to make a living.

      Reply
      • Marian Perera
        Marian Perera says:

        But that’s my point. How do I know when I’ve created that emotional connection which causes people to buy books rather than illegally downloading them, or to pay me for my work if it’s already been illegally downloaded? How can I be sure that, as you put it, at the end of the day I’m being paid for the discomfort?

        I’m nowhere near as well known as Courtney Milan or Jim Hines, which I’m comfortable with because we all have to start somewhere. But my preferred method of improvement is to work on my writing (that’s how I like creating a personal connection), to write better and to write more, rather than increase my social media reach beyond what I already do.

        Reply
        • KJ Charles
          KJ Charles says:

          We don’t know. This is part of the problem of being in an industry in flux. Really though, the period in which authors could leave the marketing to publishers, and the period in which books could be sold in an uncomplicated way and easily accounted for, are relatively short in the history of writing. We face this problem; previously authors needed to grovel to a wealthy patron, or couldn’t reach a market outside their home country, or had no recourse but a lackadaisical publisher to market themselves. I’m not comfortable either but we need to face where we are (once we work out where that is…)

          Reply
          • Marian Perera
            Marian Perera says:

            Exactly. There’s too much we don’t know here for me to feel confident telling myself that I have to do X or Y in terms of building emotional connections/marketing, and put up with the discomfort, and it’ll benefit me in the end. Of course, this is just me, and it varies with every author. We’re all at different points in our work/careers and we choose different ways of getting where we want to go.

        • littlemousling
          littlemousling says:

          I think maybe I didn’t explain myself right. What I’m saying is, the job of marketing is creating that emotional connection. You’re not doing that because of piracy; any piracy-related results are, I would say, purely externalities. They aren’t the point. You’re doing it because selling books is part of the job of an author–even an author with one of the big six is, as I understand it, is expected to get out there and hit the pavement, at least online.

          Obviously, once someone reads a good book, they’re likely to look for more from that author. But I think we’re all aware that getting eyes on the book in the first place is the part that requires the extra marketing push, and that’s nothing to do with piracy, really–that’s just “there are many many many many many books, and readers need ways to sort through the chaff for the wheat.”

          (Side note: has anyone else noticed Goodreads ratings getting massively inflated, lately? Not all of them, but where I used to rely very heavily on them, I’m starting to see Harry Potter-level ratings–like a 4.3 overall–on books that are good but not by any means Harry Potter. Concerned this is Amazon putting its big thumb on the scale …)

          Reply
          • Marian Perera
            Marian Perera says:

            I wondered if as well as regular promotion/marketing that we all do (albeit in different ways), there needed to be additional efforts to establish an emotional connection with people, especially people who might be likely to download/file share. That’s what made me feel tired just thinking about it. :)

          • KJ Charles
            KJ Charles says:

            I’m honestly wondering whether ‘piracy’ is even worth thinking about. Not the bastards who sell ‘cheap ebooks’ that don’t belong to them for profit or CC detail farming, who should get hit by the law, but the downloading individuals. Either they’ll never pay for a book, in which case whether they download is neither here nor there, really, or they can be converted into paying readers, in which case I guess you have to regard them as your readers from the start and kind of get them on side via marketing. If that makes sense?

          • Marian Perera
            Marian Perera says:

            If the factor which makes them into paying readers is how well the book is written, then that’s an area where I feel confident. I am *on* it. To me, that’s part of marketing too – building up a backlist and making sure each book is better than the one before it.

            If the factor which makes them into paying readers is whether they feel they “know” me personally, or like me, or whether I have a significant enough internet presence… that’s tougher.

          • littlemousling
            littlemousling says:

            Makes perfect sense. I honestly don’t think there’s much point worrying about them. I know Cory Doctorow has written about this issue A LOT, and pretty compellingly, and that’s (roughly) his thesis–they’re not potential customers, they’re a separate thing, except that some of them will be or may be potential customers, but those people will become customers for the exact same reasons as any other customer: because it’s a good product and easy to buy. So no strategy changes needed, unless the starting strategy involved tons of ridiculous restrictions–which, unfortunately, sometimes it does.

  20. Kat Merikan
    Kat Merikan says:

    As to the discussions above, my feeling is that it’s better to write posts about ‘thank you for buying my books, it has helped me achieve X,Y,Z, thank you for the support’ etc, than ‘anti-piracy’ posts. It’s not a nudge at you KJ :*, it’s just that I keep seeing posts about it pop up and I seriously doubt they change minds of hardcore pirates. I’m more of a believer of positive reinforcement ;). Making people realize the same things by talking to the people who buy, to show THEM appreciation.

    I buy all my e-books, but I live in the UK and even on minimum wage, I can afford to buy all the books I want, since I’m selective and you can always read samples, but I’m always on the fence about jugding people who live on tiny wages in other countries. They want to be connected to culture in the same way we are. I do think that when people really get to like a particular author, if they engage in a community of readers, and respect the entertainment they got from a book, they are willing to scrape the money next time, to show their support. It might be my wishful thinking, but I found stressing about piracy too much doesn’t help my creativity ;). And when it comes to other countries, Amazon – the bastard – prices my books TWICE the price in Poland, Hungary, etc. So it’s very important to make them available on other vendors. AllRomance, and Smashwords, which I use for distribution to other stores, but also make a point of having books there, because you can buy there through paypal, which increases availability for some readers all over the world.

    Not to mention I also know a super-pirate. No remorse, no will to change 😉 At least he always promotes the books to friends, but people like that are set in their ways.

    Reply
  21. tapsy
    tapsy says:

    I admit to having read Magpie Lord in pirated form. I don’t even have the excuse of not being able to afford buying books, it’s just that 90% of what I actually download in bulk is not worth reading more than a page or two. Yeah, I guess I could go to Amazon to do this, but whoever thinks Amazon’s sample method is user friendly is a crazy person. Even some of the books that I end up reading more of say, 30%, sometimes turn out to be extremely trite and horrible and I give up and DNF.

    I did end up going online shortly before finishing up Magpie Lord and bought the entire trilogy. I have since read and re-read them all; you write good fiction, girl/lady/woman (whichever you prefer, I don’t mean to insult.) This is also not an excuse. It’s just a fact.

    I’m an extremely avid (and fast) reader. My weekly read is usually upwards of a 1000 pages, usually closer to 3000-4000. For me, even a novel is a hour or two or three. The second and third installment of the Magpie series I read on a work-related day-trip. And then I started a third book, which was probably fanfiction. Around 95% of what I read this year was fanfiction. Magnificent, magnificent, great fanfiction. Seriously, some of the work at ao3 is quite a lot better than the works I have downloaded, books I bought/had been gifted/gifted to others.

    I apologise if this feels insulting, but I do want some proof that the IP I purchase is worth purchasing, just as i would with a television, if I owned one or had plans to get one. I spent my teenage years basically living in the library. I purchased loads of books I read in my student years after I graduated. If there were electronic libraries that contained books I want to read, I’d pay to access them, and then again to buy the ones I appreciated. I considered subscribing to Amazon’s whatevet-it’s-called, but I looked up several authors I had planned on reading and I saw that their books were not available.

    I understand that it feels insulting to authors/other producers of IP that a lot of people treat the internet as a giant free-for-all, and pirate whatever they will from it; but increasingly so, people want to very much try before they buy. I’m happy to see that you’ve realised that these people do not represent lost sales, because they really, really don’t. They are either potential customers or people who would otherwise not buy you books either.

    And as to reply to a local availability (either for purchase or library) of books: People who are native English speakers have no idea how shitty translations can be, and how little availability ‘niche’ or unconventional books have. If I saw an LGBT book in the local bookstore that did not receive at least 10 international awards, I’d probably faint. And foreign language bookstores are incredibly a niche that mostly caters to students, so the above applies.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      It’s a really weird time all round. I do struggle with my gut feelings here, which are (unsurprisingly) that you pay first. At the same time, I happily buy second hand print copies in the full knowledge that the author doesn’t get a penny for those sales, and I can’t say I’ve ever gone out and bought a copy afterwards. I think I’ve mainly concluded this is a lot more complicated than it first appears.

      Reply
  22. ksc
    ksc says:

    I admit to pirating. Quite a bit. Sorry. But maybe I can give you some aspects to ponder.

    I’ve been a bibliophile since I was 7. Thirty five years of being a book-buying consumer. I have paperbacks. I have hardcovers. I have trade paperbacks. And for much of my life maximizing my reading consumption within my budget has been a hobby and passion for me. Typically, I start reading and purchasing a new author through the library. Or maybe through a used book. Very rarely would I ever purchase a new author sight unseen. At the *very* least I could flip through a book (especially the end). I only started developing a digital library after I discovered mm in the last year.

    But my traditional model doesn’t work that well for mm. I can’t go to my library or a local bookstore and find the books. Maybe gay literature, possibly some afterschool special YA, but none of the meaty stuff. Many works aren’t physically in print at all and certainly won’t show up at used bookstores or yard sales.

    So I have a book buying budget. About $20 to $30 a month. The equivalent of a couple of mmo subscriptions or netflix and hulu. Now that $30 gains me about 15 hours of reading entertainment. If I were as into gaming or tv right now, I could get hundreds of hours of entertainment for the same money. Just a point to think about.

    The people who like mm or even reading in general? I think they are more valuable to you than all the people who aren’t interested in reading. Don’t spend money on reading. Would burn mm books on a bonfire. All those multitudes of people who will NEVER buy your work … don’t they suck the worst? But somehow you have to connect with the person who might like your work. Then you have a potential customer. A potential has to be better for you, right? Companies pay gobs of money through so many devious ways to try to identify potential customers. You don’t have to put an ad in the back of a magazine for nose clippers to try to identify 60 yo conservative men. Instead your work is out there advertising for you. And if people like it, they may very well start helping out too with reviews or word of mouth. I don’t review everything I’ve read but I do leave some reviews in a month.

    If I only stuck with what I could afford to buy, I would never have read any of your work. I wouldn’t be a potential customer. I’d probably be sticking pretty closely to my favorite sub-genre — contemporaries with involved relationships. If I’d somehow started reading mm, I’d buy Tere Michaels and Tara Lain and KA Mitchell and ZA Maxfield and Jay Northcote and some others, but I wouldn’t strike out on something new that often. And what happens then is what the old print model of publishing created — pyramids. You have your Danielle Steeles at the top because she’s generally likable to a lot of readers who encourage each other. And then you also have a lot of good writers who don’t get noticed. And then you have readers like me leaving the genre (as I did traditional romance) because there are only a few authors regularly publishing and it all starts seeming like I’m reading the same book over and over again. One think I love about the state of current mm is the diversity of types of books and how many authors there are with distinct voices. Can’t have that without the e-side of things.

    Friday nights I often buy an ebook. In the pay model, I probably stick to my favorite and most dependable authors. In the pirating model, I take a chance and buy Diary of a Teenage Taxidermist by the previously posting K Merikan (I presume). It struck me as quirky and interesting, and the characters stayed in my head from the sample I read. And no one was putting it up to dl. Wouldn’t have been interested if I hadn’t read her stuff for free before.

    Other parts of my recent book buying budget have gone towards $.99 book followups or a cheap new author to me who put out a lot of words for $2.99 or towards other stuff I was just too impatient to wait for. Especially parts of series. Value is important. I’m used to spending x amount and having a physical book that I can resell or pass on or just admire on my bookshelf. Ebooks just feel different. I’ve had one ereader die from a bursting battery and another one won’t charge. It gets irritating. It diminishes the value of my ebooks to me. I really want to buy a $6.99 book that came out today but I am resisting. Too expensive.

    So next time I’m spending part of my budget it might be on your next work. Maybe I’m going on vacation or know I have a dr.’s appt. coming up. This is possible because I became your fan through reading your work, even though my *initial* valuation of your book (historical time, blurb, cover, etc.) vs. my particular preferences came up short. I.e., I have a couple of mm and sports books in my recent buying history but no mystery/thriller/adventure stories. But I *would* consider *your* next book because you did such a good job on Think of England (even though I flipped through the plot to some extent to get back to the super-tasty relationship goodies).

    I’d suggest reading about the Baen Free Library and David Weber’s experiences (he started printing cds with his books included with his new hardcovers.) Granted sci fi is a different beast, but mm has its own challenges as well. (Especially the history of free slash as the genre developed. There is still a lot of awesome free fiction out there that was never intended for profit.) Sharing apparently helps sales of writers’ backlists a lot.

    What I do wish is that people would refrain from putting up work for at least a week and probably longer. A month maybe. I think that would strike a balance between fans buying to get their fix and indulging the people who weren’t going to buy it but might buy in the future. Or might if the stars aligned. (I don’t actually put anything up to be downloaded.)

    Best wishes!

    Reply

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