Monday, August 6, 2012

Pirates Aren’t Sexy

I was at the beach all week and several of my relatives asked what I was working on since I had my laptop out every chance I got. I told them I was fighting pirates. They thought I was writing about them for my next book. I wish. No, I was fighting real pirates on the internet seas. The piracy of ebooks has become a scourge like the old days of Napster and the music biz. I’ve always known about piracy, but that was something that happened to other authors. Not little ole me. But then a pirate in Canada set up a Facebook page and pretty much said, “I’m Canadian and I don’t have to obey your stinking US copyright laws. Stop me if you can.” Needless to say, he painted a big old bulls eye on his back and authors by the hundreds came after him. Then pro pirate folks appeared to defend the pirate movement. It was very interesting to hear from the people who support ebook piracy and their varied reasons for doing so.

Ebooks are too expensive.

A Lamborghini is too expensive for me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go and steal one. If you can’t afford an ebook, get it from the library, a used book store, or skip that grande latte from Starbucks so you can afford it. I’m sorry, but if you can afford an ereader, you can afford the ebooks to go on it. You may not be able to get every book you want, but since when does everyone get everything they want the minute they want it? You’ll have to pick and choose, just like everyone else.

Now I do agree that SOME ebooks are overpriced. I don’t think an ebook should be the same or more than the paperback. When that happens, do you know what I do? I wait and get it from the library, or wait until the price comes down. Unless you’re an indie author, ebook pricing is controlled by the publisher. The author has no say in how much their books cost. But buy “sticking it” to the publisher by stealing the overpriced ebook, you’re also sticking it to the author, who depends on those sales numbers for their livelihood and to get them a contract for the next book.

People who download pirated books probably wouldn’t have bought them in the first place.

This may be true. It’s like people who go to an all-you-can-eat buffet and load up their plates with more food than they ever intend to eat. But there are also people who would pay for those books if they weren’t available for free. Those are lost sales for the author.

It gives me a way to try new authors without the risk of paying for a book I might not like.

Amazon, B&N and Smashwords offer samples of most of the ebooks they carry. They’re free. You should be able to tell within the first 3 chapters whether or not you will like a book. I always sample a book before buying it, even from my favorite authors.

It’s not really stealing, since the ebook is still available online.

Technically, that’s correct. If you walk into a bookstore and steal a book off the shelf, that particular book is no longer available for sale. If you copy an ebook, the file is still available for sale. So, for the sake of argument, the proper term for what pirates are doing is copyright infringement. Copyright means only the rightful owner (the author or the publisher) has the right to copy and distribute the book. Every book is automatically copyrighted under International copyright law. When you upload to a pirate site, you’re making copies and distributing the content. That’s against the law.

Isn’t file sharing just like giving a book to a friend after I’m done reading it?

It would be, if you only gave the book to one friend just like you would a paper book. Many Amazon ebooks are lending enabled for this purpose (you can only loan a book once and it returns to the original owner’s Kindle 2 weeks later). But by uploading an ebook file to a pirate site, you’re in essence giving it away to hundreds or thousands of people, few if any of whom are your friends.

How is it different than going to the library or the used book store?

A library pays for every copy of an ebook it loans out. If they want to have 25 ebooks of The Hunger Games available for their customers, they buy 25 copies. They don’t buy 1 ebook and loan it out to 25 people at one time. That would be copyright infringement. And the author gets paid for each ebook copy bought. In some countries, the author even gets paid a small royalty for each time the ebook is loaned out. Even though an ebook is virtually forever, US libraries treat them like paperbacks and repurchase the ebooks after every 65 loans or so. As far as used book stores go, it’s still just one copy of the book that someone originally paid for. That used book can only be bought again by one person at a time, not hundreds. An ebook file can be copied and distributed to thousands in minutes, if it’s a popular title.

Authors are just being greedy. Money, money, money is all they think about.

Is it wrong to want to get paid for your job? You pay the girl who to cuts your hair. You pay the painter who paints your house. You pay the babysitter who watches your kids. YOU get paid for YOUR job. Why shouldn’t authors get paid for the books they write? People seem to be under the misconception that every author is rolling in the dough, getting million dollar advances and sitting in their mansions dictating their next novel while they eat bon bons. This is so wrong, it’s not even funny. Many debut and midlist authors barely make minimum wage on a book that takes them a year or more to write.

All creative content should be free for everyone.

So exactly how are all the artists, photographers, and authors suppose to live? Appreciation for their work is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills. If authors don’t get paid, they’ll have to stop writing and get a job that does pay them a living wage. If authors stop writing, there won’t be any more books written to pirate. How does that benefit anyone?

Pirates are actually helping authors, saving them from obscurity.

Tell that to Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and JK Rowling. I don’t think they are having any problems with obscurity, and yet their books are pirated, too. No, people who support pirate sites just want something for nothing. I’d rather not be famous and able to make my house payment with a respectable amount of legitimate sales, than have the most downloaded pirate ebook in the world and without a roof over my head.

Pirating actually increases sales.

Maybe for a select few, but for the majority, it hurts sales. Be honest, if you download the first Hunger Games book for free and loved it, are you really going to go to B&N or Amazon and pay for the other two when you know you can get them for free on the pirate site? I don’t think so. Once a person gets a taste of free, they’re going to keep going back for more until the pirate site is shut down and they can’t get them for free anymore. It’s a sad side of human nature. Sure, pirates buy some books. But if you pay for 10 books and download 300 free from a pirate site, you aren’t supporting all those authors, just the 10 you deemed worthy enough or couldn’t find pirated somewhere else.

I’ll give you a few examples of how piracy impacts midlist authors. One author discovered her book was being downloaded over 800 times a week for months. If only half of those people had bought her book, she would have hit the NYT bestseller list. Another YA author saw a dramatic drop in sales on the 2nd book in her series. Her publisher dropped her because of the low sell through. She later found out her books had been downloaded over 6000 times each on one pirate site alone. She still gets emails from fans who tell her they got her 1st two books from a free (pirate) site and wanted to know when the next book will be out. Guess what? It won’t because those free downloads didn’t translate into sales, and sales are what counts when it comes time to negotiate a new publishing contract. So if you’re wondering why an author stops writing books in mid-series, a good bet is because too many people were downloading the books for free from a pirate site instead of buying them and the series got dropped by their publisher.

You can’t stop piracy, so you might as well go along with it.

I’m not so naive to believe that piracy can ever truly be stopped. People who feel entitled or want something for nothing will continue to take what doesn’t belong to them just because they can. I’m not talking to them, because until the law comes knocking on their door, they aren’t going to stop what they’re doing, feeling safe in the anonymity behind their computers. But I am hoping to educate the people who don’t realize how downloading free books from pirate sites is hurting authors. I believe most people would like to get their books legally and support authors. After all, if authors don’t get paid for their hard work, they can’t afford to keep writing the books we love.

But wait! You can get free books without swimming with the pirates.

There are lots of places you can download free ebooks legally. Amazon has tons of them. So does Smashwords. Check out Free eBooks Daily, Ereader News Today, Frugal E-Reader, Cents-ible eReads, Bargain ebook Hunter and Kindle Daily Deal among others. These are places where the authors post about their free or cheap books and want you to download them. The difference is that the authors listed their books on these sites themselves. It was their choice. Pirate sites post the books without the author’s permission, taking away the author’s control over their creative product.

Just remember this:  If you wouldn’t take a print book off the shelf at B&N and walk out without paying for it, don’t treat an ebook any differently.  The author worked just as hard to create the story for you to enjoy. Please respect their right to earn a living doing it.


  1. Amen! Excellent points.

    Off to tweet this.

  2. Another GREAT post, Lori. Everything you said is 100% true. Off to share this link now...

  3. WTG, Lori. I couldn't have said it better myself.

  4. Excellent blog, Lori ! All the spurious arguments by the pro piracy supporters listed and dealt with in intelligent, reasonable and understandable terms. Ebook parasites are a scourge, they can destroy authors and put small publishers out of business.
    Thank you for stating our case so perfectly.