Reddit has an interesting thread soliciting reasons (or rationalizations) from people about why they pirate e-books. There are people who say things like “I’m poor and I like to read, but I can’t pirate food, so I pirate everything else,” or “I limit myself to pirating things that are out-of-print or otherwise unavailable through a legal digital outlet.”

And there are even some who admit, “I don’t justify it, just like I don’t justify speeding or rolling stops. It’s wrong (in whatever way you want to define ‘wrong’), but there’s an infinitesimal chance of getting caught, so I’m just going to do it.”

There are some who have longer responses, too, though they aren’t so easily quotable.

One hopes that the publishers are paying attention to discussions like this, because these people are basically doing their market research for them. “How can we convert more pirates to paying customers?” the publishers might ask? Well, they could start by addressing some of the issues that make people feel like they are entitled to help themselves instead of paying for an inferior, overpriced, or unavailable product.

Yes, piracy is wrong, and people shouldn’t do it. But telling them that generally isn’t the best way to get them to stop. Nor is sighing, “Won’t someone please think of the children authors?” Piracy is an unmet need (or a number of unmet needs) in the marketplace. Publishers won’t ever meet the needs of people who say they just like getting stuff for free, but there are other things they can do to convert some of the others. (Like getting rid of DRM, which some publishers to their credit are.) So stop complaining about piracy and do them.

(Found via GalleyCat.)


  1. Mary – I don’t know what size city you live in or how big your library’s budget is, but cutbacks in my town have so restricted the library’s budget here that only the most mainstream books are purchased. Even interlibrary loan that accesses other counties only expands ones options a fraction. If a reader enjoys anything even slightly toward the fringe, the library is of no help. I do not pirate, but I know that the library isn’t the easy alternative for many readers.

  2. If you want to read books published before, say, 1970 then your chance of finding them at your local library are nil. Interlibrary loans in NSW now cost more than it would do to buy the book at a second-hand shop, assuming you could find it. Online purchase prices for classic detective fiction vary between $3 and $200, plus exorbitant postage from wherever. I don’t even WANT to buy the books — I’m quite happy to let the collectors have them — I just want to read the content; but all too often the content is not legally available.

  3. Jon, I guess I’m in a pretty good place, one of the suburban library systems of metro Chicago. We have lots of books published before the 70s. It is extremely rare to put in a system search for a book and not find it. We are also fortunate that a request within the system is still free. Outside of our own group of suburban libraries, I think there is a charge for an interlibrary loan, but I haven’t found the need to do that for maybe 15 years.

  4. Jon, I am fortunate to be in one of the suburban library systems in metro Chicago, and we have no problem in getting access to books published before 1970. It is rare that the system does not have a book you are looking for, and thus far, having these books sent to your local library for pickup is still free. Going outside this suburban library system does incur a charge, I believe, but cannot remember needing to do that for at least 15 years.

  5. Wow! I just never thought about that! I know that there is a problem with paperbacks. This is why I went to e-books. I still cannot change my philosophy that there is inherent good in all people. It is not only poor people who pirate…but publishing company’s and company’s like Amazon and Barnes & Noble who perhaps unintentionally protect pirates, therefore they are just as guilty. I would much rather that a poor person steal from me than someone who has it all! No matter how I look at it, I loathe a thief and a lair.

    Thanks for the article.

  6. The publishers won’t pay any attention to this information. They don’t want anyone to to pay attention to it. They are making huge political mileage out of their campaign of vastly inflating the cost to them of illegal downloading, and the last thing they want is people realising that only a tiny fraction of illegal downloading represents actual lost sales – which is what comes out loudly from this and other surveys.

  7. The defeatist attitude Howard puts forth is typical and shows that few people pay any attention to the fact that there is an entire portion of the industry (indie press) that has not only paid attention but further caters to (in fact is RESPONSIBLE for) many of the wonderful things ebook readers have come to expect from the experience, including the lack of DRM, pricing at or below mass market prices, worldwide distribution from day one and not waiting 6 months or more for the ebook release. The idea that “publishers won’t pay any attention” should rightly be phrased as “it’s highly unlikely most NY conglomerate presses will pay attention.” They fight these ideas, tooth and nail. Most of them do, I’ll repeat. Some of the Harlequin lines have their heads on straight…and a few others are taking an interest.

    Sadly, people will claim they are only pirating the conglomerates/only the books that offend their sensibilities, when we can see their downloads of indie books that shouldn’t offend their sensibilities at all. It’s just one more rationalization from people who are actually pirating much more than they say they are, in my experience. It’s very enlightening to see what pirates say when they know others are watching vs. what they do when they don’t.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t have a problem with people downloading what they already own in another format. If they’ve been my paying customer once, I don’t begrudge them enjoying my work in other formats. I also believe it is a reader’s right to break DRM to access ebooks they have purchased, and I don’t begrudge someone “lending” my ebook to a friend or using the lending I set on books loaded on Amazon or B&N. The two things I will categorically say I think Amazon is doing wrong are linking lending to the 70% royalty rate and the way they allow people to pirate using the “ebook returns.”

    Jewels… You might be interested to know that when one of the forum-style pirate sites was still up, a thread was started there, asking what people did for a living. I read it, hoping against hope that most of them would be poor or in countries where they couldn’t purchase the books. Nope. Of course not. The majority earned more than 80K a year and lived in the US and Europe, where you can purchase the books.

    As for the “inflated idea of losses” Howard refers to, anyone with common sense knows there’s no correlation you can give of X number of pirated copies means Y number of “lost sales.” At the same time, I’ve seen the “cost” of piracy. You see, it’s all well and good for Doctorow to proclaim loudly how piracy has helped HIM, but it ignores the fact that he has an established audience already. He’s not a new author, making a fraction of the sales he does. Piracy of 2000 copies of a first-time author that makes 60 sales in the same month those copies are pirated does not compare with piracy of a few thousand books from an author that reportedly sells more than 600 copies of his books per day. It’s not the same ball park. But no thought process goes into the adverse affects it has on authors trying to BUILD a base of people who purchase their books legally. In many ways, Doctorow had it good, building his fan base BEFORE piracy is the issue it is today. Not begrudging him that luck. Just putting a realistic face on the situation.

    Because much as the odd pirate in the bunch will claim he or she only pirates the first book in a series and then purchases the rest, if he or she is interested in reading them, I’ve watched pirate sites and know this isn’t the rule; it’s the exception to the rule. I’ve seen people come on, thank the person that passed them a title illegally, say they enjoyed reading it, then list all the rest of the titles in the same series and ask for those illegally as well.

    Moreover, I can safely say that the illegal sales of books hurt authors even more directly. People believing (or wanting to believe) they are purchasing legal copies at a huge discount mean sales I will never make from people that do pay for books (not one to one but lost sales, definitely). I spend a lot of time having to convince these misguided buyers that the authors get NOTHING from these people selling thousands of copies illegally of the same title at a pittance of the cover price.

  8. I suspect that the pirate point of view focuses too much on *Sales.*

    Sales are not the only way pirates and host sites and search engines monetize copyright infringement. What is the value of Traffic? Who monetizes traffic, how, and why? Why do advertisers support pirate sites?

    Take ebookee which recently sold for $2 million. If there were no pirate sites and search engines that direct people who do not want to pay for their entertainment to sites that make illegal copies available, presumably that traffic would go to publishers’ sites and authors’ sites and legitimate review sites, and to book-related forums.

  9. Brenna – you are correct in that my use of the term Publishers should have need Legacy Publishers. My lazy mistake.

    I don’t see where my comment could be classified as defeatist. Cynical maybe. And I still see no evidence whatsoever that piracy is costing anything remotely comparable to what is claimed.

    You wrote:
    “I’ve seen the “cost” of piracy…… I’ve watched pirate sites and know this isn’t the rule; it’s the exception to the rule. I’ve seen people come on, thank the person that passed them a title illegally, say they enjoyed reading it, then list all the rest of the titles in the same series and ask for those illegally as well.”

    I find this a rather dubious and at the same time gullible comment. Unless you are involved with or close to someone actually running a criminal pirate site, you can only read what the criminals post on their sites – and it is deeply gullible to believe that these posts and downloads are real. I mean they would never falsify that … surely !! like the pretty little web cam girls that come to chat with me on Yahoo … they seem to reply so quickly when I ask a question .. you would SWEAR they were sitting there all ready to chat with me ………. yeah right …

    And you never got around to explaining how you have seen the ‘cost’ of piracy. Not piracy in action, but the ‘cost’ of piracy ?

    “Piracy of 2000 copies of a first-time author that makes 60 sales in the same month those copies are pirated does not compare with piracy of a few thousand books from an author that reportedly sells more than 600 copies of his books per day.”

    You are right. Absolutely ! But where is the evidence that this is has happened ?

    Oh yes it’s easy for some attack me for going on and on and on about evidence in this thread and others … but without actual evidence then this kind of ubiquitous discussion is, as it always is, a yawn-fest of masturbatory whining about the awfulness of something no one has any clue about the scale of. And please please, people, spare me quotations of what it says on the criminal piracy sites … I have this personal allergy to what criminals say in support of how ‘popular’ they are … and it brings me out in hives.

  10. Piracy. I just do not go there. When it comes to writing, it takes a lot of effort. You have deadlines and stress and yet some books are juicy juicy juicy. I’ll pay for the effort after checking out the book reviews to see if it worth my eyesight. Music? I do not STEAL that either. What’s yours is yours. Movies? Nope. What’s yours is yours.

    But what the public sees is a celebrity having a $50,000 birthday party for their 13 year old son/daughter. People look at them as selfish therefore, people feel justified to get theirs even if it is STEALING. Nature of the beast. The haves v. the have nots.

    I’ve had my house broken into and have had my wallet stolen and have been lied to just to get what belongs to me. Each situation BROKE MY HEART!! So, guess I’ll continue to live HAVING NOT !!!

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