Piracy is an endlessly debated topic. Views on it range from “don’t worry about it too much” to “it has a huge impact on sales.” What is often ignored are the reasons why people pirate and, from there, what publishers could do about it.
I’ve hung out in forums with e-book pirates. I’ve read about the subject, and I think I can distill my observations down to three main reasons why people pirate (or why they justify it to themselves). In this article, I’ll examine them. In my next article, I’ll discuss how understanding the reasons can lead to practical ways to reduce book piracy.
I expect this article to generate comments—some of them heated. Please understand that I’m not justifying or supporting the reasons presented below. I’m just reporting on my observations over the years.
1. I Like To Collect Stuff
There are a lot of “collectors” of e-books. I used to hang out on alt.binaries.ebooks, and I saw this syndrome frequently. People would just upload their entire hard drive worth of books. Think on the order of hundreds, if not thousands. I doubt many of them even read the books. In fact, I’m sure of it. Frequently the books in the archives were unreadable, or not even the same book as listed.
By the way, the same syndrome exists in the non-pirating e-book reader. A while back there was a thread on a Kindle group about, “How many books do you have on your Kindle?” I remember one person posting that she had over 4,000, almost all acquired as freebies. I doubt she’ll read even a quarter of them, and she’s probably still downloading more today.
2. I’ll Never Pay for An E-Book
I see this sentiment over and over again on message boards, forums, and in the pirate community. Some express it by only downloading free (but legal) books. Others pirate. While there is some overlap with the collector, many of these people do read the books they download. They either will not or cannot spend money on books.
And before you say something like, “you spent money on an e-reader; don’t tell me you can’t afford books,” stop and consider that e-readers are frequently given as gifts, especially to older adults. A significant percentage of the members of the Kindle Korner Yahoo group are retired adults on a fixed income. They have lots of time to read, but they can’t afford to buy many books. Students are another example. Many of them read on cell phones or their computers, but don’t have the discretionary income to buy books.
3. The Book I Want Isn’t Available As An E-Book
Fortunately, this is becoming less common in the United States. But with territorial restrictions, it’s still a huge problem in other countries. Globalization and the rise of the Internet have exposed us to content we wouldn’t have known about 10 to 15 years ago. It’s human nature to want something that looks interesting. It’s also human nature to be annoyed when we can’t get something, and to look for ways to acquire it.
While this problem is lessened for recent books, it’s still evident for backlist titles. And even when backlist titles are available as e-books, they’re often riddled with formatting and scanning errors. If you can find an older book on a pirate site, it’s often been scanned and corrected by a community of readers. I completely agree with the frustration of “I paid $7.99 for that!” Personally, I deal with it by extensively reading reviews of backlist titles, and avoiding the ones that seem to have problems. And no, I don’t then go pirate the book. I just move on to something else. There are more books available that I want to read than years in which I have to read them.
You can probably come up with other reasons for book piracy, but these are the big three I’ve observed over the years. Next, I’ll discuss ways publishers could reach these readers and sell books to them, assuming they want to solve the problem instead of just complaining about it.
1. I Like To Collect Stuff – This is a relatively benign activity and not really about pirating and probably has next to no impact on sales. It might even have a positive residual marketing impact.
2. I’ll Never Pay for An E-Book – These folks are the ones who are disrespectful. E-books are are cheap in the grand scheme of things and can be acquired or borrowed (legally) in a myriad of ways. To stand on principle “I’ll never pay for that” is frankly arrogant.
3. The Book I Want Isn’t Available As An E-Book (and the corollary, The Book I Want Is WAAAY Too Expensive (cf academic books)) – This is a problem with music, TV and other forms of content. Despite there being literally millions of ebooks out there, many, many more are not. “Information” wants to be in circulation. The challenge is to work out how to make *everything* available while respecting rights holders. If content is actually out of print, I have a lot more sympathy for the pirater/piratee … especially if, once in commercial circulation, the pirate does the right thing and pays for the desired content.
Alexander, first I agree that category two folks are being disrespectful. However, as I’ll show in the second article, some of them believe they are being disrespectful toward an industry that is disrespecting them. That doesn’t justify the behavior, but it does show how to address the underlying cause to encourage readers to change their behavior.
4. Won’t get robbed again (Yeeeeeeeeaaaahhh!) – Remember the early Rocket eBook? I had one. I also had a large library. When Rocket went under, they offered NO method to rescue those books, which means they got $300+ and I got squat when the hardware was no longer produced. Recently, FictionWise (at which I had a huge [paid for] collection) was acquired and shut down by Barnes and Noble. However, they were nice enough to move everything over to their Nook system. Of course, I have a Kindle. All my (paid for) books have now been decrypted against the possibility of such an event happening again. This is, according to publishers, is “piracy”. Reasonable people, on the other hand, expect a certain “durability” in goods, especially those that have no physical existence. Losing their (paid for) goods to the vagaries of business dealings is not to be tolerated.
The eBook vendors may want to consider selling eBooks based on a sliding scale in countries with lower GDPs. So in West Africa, an eBook might be $2, whereas in the US, it would be $8, as an example. Piracy is lost opportunity for the both the vendor and author, and $2 is better than zero.
4. For the lulz
Paul, that’s an excellent idea. I’m still writing article 2. May I quote you on that?
The world simply doesn’t function on the “I won’t pay for that” rule. You may think your apartment is over-priced but it doesn’t give you the right to stop paying rent. You may think milk is too expensive but that doesn’t give you the right to walk out of the store without paying for it. It you stand on principle saying “I’ll never pay for an ebook”, fine, don’t consume them. They are not yours to take.
Scott, I’ve kind of lumped your point under 2 because it’s one of the reasons some people refuse to pay for e-books, and I completely agree that it’s a huge problem. Not saying it justifies piracy, but it does explain why some people believe it’s justified. I’m apparently one of the outliers who did not get a good Fictionwise to B&N conversion. I got only 11 out of hundreds. Since I’d already backed them up, I didn’t fuss about it.
But yeah, telling me it’s “piracy” to back up my books when they could be taken away anytime. Kind of rude.
Paul, Juli Yes, software vendors have done this quite successfully in areas where piracy is rife. Differentially price your goods in Russia, China (and make sure they are well-localized and readily available and sales take off.) People thought that Russian and Chinese markets didn’t exist for software, especially games. They were wrong.
Despite what I say above, there will always be pirates. Even if you make digital purchasing easy, and unbelievably inexpensive. There is a regular software bundle (generally of games) called the “Humble Bundle”. It allows users to pay whatever they want, including as little as one cent to gain legal access to a set of generally quite decent games. Since the proceeds are divided between developers, the Bundle company (a non-profit) and charities according to what the purchaser specifies. Despite being able to pay as little as a penny for games that regularly sell for $20-$100 collectively, some still pirate.
Juli, I find your article decidedly incomplete from my perspective. For myself, the primary reason (speaking purely hypothetically of course) for piracy would be that you already own the physical book and have no particular desire to scan it in (which you’d be perfectly entitled to do in most countries), and feel no shame in letting someone else do that. (granted that extra step would run you afoul of the law in many countries).
A second strong hypothetical reason which you seem aware of given your comments, though one not alluded to in the article, would be the… annoyance… of seeing a title at $1.99 or 99 pence in US/UK at Amazon, but seeing in your country that it is $18.
Disrespect, as you put it.
One could quite easily hypothesize an annoyed and generally honest person who, irritated, even angered by the perceived disrespect of publishers for their country, decides “screw it, let me just download it”. This is quite unfair to the author, but I find it hard in this hypothetical situation to weep for the publisher.
Third, I would not characterize the ebook purchasing experience as terribly good. If one has an Epub device, there is the added painful layer of Adobe to complicate transfers. If one is not American, there are currently some unpleasant bugs with Amazon ebook purchasing in some countries. A trivial example: you can search for titles on Amazon.com and rapidly see their prices. Clicking on them leads to a message that you can’t buy them. Fair enough. Go to Amazon.fr or wherever, and some users have the annoyance that searches reveal only (false) messages that books can’t be purchased. Yes, you can get around this easily enough, but it’s cumbersome and annoying.
Relating to (3), despite Amazon’s excellent work at making Ebook purchasing relatively straightforward, I think companies like Valve (they own the Steam software purchasing service) are well ahead of Amazon in purchase convenience.
A fourth point, which you may or may not count as piracy: Hypothesize a person who has switched from Amazon to Sony or Kobo. This could be (for example) a person who had easy access to Kindles in the US but then moved, perhaps to Hong Kong or Canada or France. On the surface, for that person to strip the DRM from his or her kindle books, solely so as to be able to read them on a Sony would seem eminently reasonable. Of course, in many countries (thanks to Hollywood) that is actually an even more serious criminal offense than downloading — i.e. outright piracy. Bizarre.
A rational person might look at the situation, and note that downloading in country X is a civil offense; stripping DRM is a criminal one. Better, then, to simply pirate outright in that context. (I don’t agree with that logic, but I certainly would start to if I saw DRM-stripping prosecutions).
Me? I’ve purchased about 4,000 physical books over the years. I’ve purchased about 1,500 ebooks. Any other resemblance I have to our hypothetical pirate above is purely coincidental.
Oh and… finally (really this time). There is what one could call “reverse piracy”. Where authors go out of their way to be reader friendly (e.g. make their books available DRM free, make them easy to purchase regardless of where they are in the world, offer generous prices for their back catalogs…), well, if I like that author’s work, I make a deliberate point of spending up to $100 or so to buy up much or all of their back catalog directly from the author’s website, even if I already own the books physically or electronically. Or I just hit an author’s blog and tip via paypal. At least then I know the author is getting most of it.
You’re welcome to quote me if you wish, assuming I had anything worth quoting and that you don’t mind citing someone named ZorkNine.
Juli, if you’re in the US, call 855-654-9332 to talk to B&N/Fictionwise customer service. On the other hand, it’s been a week and I’m still waiting for my eReader books to show up in my Nook account.
Here’s another I’ve observed over the years.
I’M A BRAT/BULLY AND I CAN GET AWAY WITH IT. HA HA!
These run the gamut from brats with low self-esteem to bullies who aren’t brave enough to take a little old lady’s purse but want to steal something.
A subset is “I can’t write so I hate everyone who does.”
Bruce, thanks. I’ll give it a try, just to see if anything happens, but like I said, my books are backed up, so I’m not all that concerned about it. And the Nook app is not one of my favorites.
Scott and Juli: Regarding this quote of Juli’s: “I’m apparently one of the outliers who did not get a good Fictionwise to B&N conversion. I got only 11 out of hundreds. Since I’d already backed them up, I didn’t fuss about it,” … Do either of you have a good sense of many former Fictionwise customers got screwed (or at least feel they got screwed) in the Fictionwise-to-Nook conversion process?
The reason I ask is because I’m very curious to see what would happen if a large number of customers did call the BN/Fictionwise number Scott listed above. I think it’d be fascinating to compile all the various responses and outcomes. Realistically, the logistics of that sort of thing wouldn’t be easy. But I have a sneaking suspicion there are a lot more unsatisfied former Fictionwise customers out there than it may appear.
Then again, I don’t really know. But if anyone could shed any sort of light on that situation, it’d be really appreciated. (Please feel free to share your own Fictionwise-to-BN story, good or bad, in the comments.)
Dan, I don’t have a good feel. I just know that every tech or e-book blogger I’ve read who’s talked about it seemed reasonably happy with the results. Hence, my statement that I’m an outlier. I seem to be the only blogger who had unexpectedly bad results. However, I can toss out the question on a few forums and see what comes back.
4. Because many don’t believe in paying the state-imposed rents that result from the bogus legal concept of “copyright” and “IP”. Information wants to be free; once released into the human ecosystem of the mind, there is no stopping it.
Read on: http://c4ss.org/content/521
Re: Fictionwise to B&N – Well, I didn’t buy a lot of ebooks from Fictionwise over the years (a dozen or two) but none of them made the transition over to B&N.
I haven’t gotten around to de-DRMing them since I can still read them but I was really hoping to get .ePub versions of the Palm (pdb) formatted ones… so that was disappointing.
I bought a few dozen titles from Fictionwise and zero of these have been converted to Nook … because I am a Canadian customer and B&N does not sell Nooks or content to Canadian residents. But I don’t feel I got screwed: all the books I “bought” were delivered to me as promised.
Neither is this crappy customer service a worthy justification for pirating content you haven’t paid for.
My definition of piracy is not breaking DRM (many of us do to future proof what we’ve paid for); but redistributing that content for a fee or gratis … that’s where piracy comes in. And that’s where No 2 “I’ll never pay for an ebook” kicks in — taking someone else’s commercial content on the arrogant notion that the world owes it to them because they have some sort of grudge against the author, the publisher, the system in general. Bah on them!
I already paid for this once as a dead tree book, and don’t feel like figuring out where it is in my house — I’d rather reread it on the tablet anyway.
Also, I download and break the drm on every ebook I buy.
@ Paul Salvette, the only problem with that scheme is that it would, I think, presuppose the use of geographical restrictions, as is now the case, and this practice can lead to understandable feelings of disillusionment from some customers. When you have two different prices on two sides of a border, and when your customers can see both prices, the ones being asked the higher price might feel miffed. I understand it’s got to do with that age-old economic principle that “something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” but when I see that someone else is allowed to pay less, then I feel like chump for paying more. Dan Simmons’ Drood, an excellent novel, is currently on Kindle for the quite reasonable $8.13, but when I see that the Spanish edition of the novel goes for $4.79, I get reluctant to click the purchase button. I mean, they even had to go the additional expense of hiring a translator, and still the book goes for more than a third less. And don’t even get me started on Kindle daily deals that don’t cross borders — Joe Hill’s Horns for $1.99 today in the US, but still $13.67 in Canada: it’s just insulting.
It loses customers. I decide not to purchase those books. I don’t pirate them, but I’m sure there are some who do.
I’m not sure what the solution is, however. I acknowledge that it would be good for publishers to be able to sell ebooks in developing markets, and I am not demanding that my first-world wallet should get treated to developing-economy prices — but the simple fact is that if I’m being asked to pay thirteen bucks to download a book that someone else gets for ninety-nine cents and I find out about it — the sale has been lost.
Personally I wouldn’t buy a format I couldn’t remove the drm from if I need to, I admit to having some pirated books in my calibre collection but they’re all tagged and I’m perfectly willing to purchase them if or when they become available. I’ve even gone to the lengths of using vpns to buy US content when it’s not available in the uk at all. I had a lot of content in both ereader and Fictionwise but made sure I got it all backed up. Haven’t heard much about the b&n migration at all.
The author dishonestly ignores the most common reason for piracy: the thief prefers to steal rather than act honestly and pay. Same reason and same lack of ethics that underlie many other types of theft. The thieves have plenty of rationalizations available, but none of them nor the author’s dishonesty change the simple fact that in almost all cases, the thieves steal because they prefer to steal.
Yes, I think that we need to exclude the removal of DRM from the definition of piracy. The “sticky” part of this assertion is the fact that some eBook sellers are actually eBook renters but obscure that fact from consumers. They also obscure the terms of rental. It would seem that, at best, the rental period is for the life of the consumer or the life of the seller – whichever ceases first. In the case of eTextbooks, the rental period is usually 180 days. AFAIK, no one has challenged these terms of sale or the obfuscation of them. Surely, that will happen eventually.
I agree with the consensus that members of group two are arrogant bullies. If people don’t want to pay for a Mercedes Benz, that’s fine… but they shouldn’t expect that gives them the right to drive one. Similarly, there are plenty of great books for free… with more added every day (and not just public domain books, either). While I’m sure that some of them are, in fact, too poor to afford the books they want, the solution is to deal with poverty, not to expect authors and publishers to join them in poverty. As for the first category, I agree that if they don’t read the book, this doesn’t constitute lost revenue, but it’s still a disrespectful attitude. Just because they can hoard a zillion books doesn’t make it right. As far as #3 is concerned, I believe this has always been an excuse. I understand that international rights may mean that a book becomes available in one market before another (which is something newer publishers like me have avoided) but I don’t subscribe to the right to pirate a book available, say, in Australia, just because it won’t be published in the US for a few months.
I started backing up copies of my Fictionwise books after some of them disappeared from my account online, a couple of years ago. I only realized this because I wanted to re-read one, and while the title and author showed up in my account, there was no link to download the book again. Since I had the rest of my books on my computer, I didn’t bother to sign up for the transfer to B&N so I don’t know how many of my nearly 1700 Palm/Fictionwise purchases would have been lost in transit.
@Hiram Miggs, I don’t think Juli is being dishonest in this article. Her #2 might have been a little easy on the pirates, but she certainly didn’t stint at calling them pirates after all. She’s not falsely ennobling them, and I think it’s disingenuous to suggest she is.
I think there’s another reason why people pirate e-books that several people seem to ignore. It’s easy to get a digital copy of a book (album, TV show, etc.) and in some ways it’s easier to get an illegal copy than a legitimate copy due to DRM and the distributors. Stealing something physical requires efforts stealing something digitally right now is as easy or easier than buying something. I think that can be the foundation for #2 and #3. If the person isn’t a digital hoarder and only wants to read, not own a title, they will be drawn to the easiest path (instead of searching and buying every best-seller, you can get every one in a zipped file).
This is part of the reason Amazon gained traction over physical bookstores: easy of discovery and purchase.
One other thing I haven’t see is any real kind of breakdown on how big piracy is for e-books. I’ve seen estimates from companies trying to sell anti-piracy services, but no solid numbers on how big a threat this is to publishers.
I didn’t get screwed at all by the BN/FW changeover. A few books either didn’t make the change, or I couldn’t DeDRM after they did. That only amounted to 10 out of 1,720 total books, though. Some previously lost books I actually got back after the changeover, because they were killed by expiring format at FW. All in all, I was pleased with the result.
That doesn’t mean I won’t back up anyway. As I stated before, Publishers have a nasty tendency to believe that if they no longer support your reader, the customer has no recourse but to rebuy. That is not acceptable.
@Juli, sure you can quote me. Just an idea of mine. eBooks from Amazon are actually more expensive in Thailand if your account is set up here (they have a $2 surcharge on the delivery).
It might be germane to mention that if you established your Kindle account in a country (like I did for the US), you may continue to use that account no matter where you are. I moved to China for work, and was able to use my Kindle account in the US to continue buying books. The only problem is that I broke my Kindle, and am now waiting for a replacement, since they don’t sell them here.
Paul, information might want to be free, but entertainment has to be paid for, or it stops being created.
pls. don’t forget the geographical restriction also for the ebooks
pls. don’t forget the geographical restriction also
I give you an example, J. Scalzi : Human division #2, Kindle format
If you live in USA , for you 0,99 , for me in Hungary 3,80 , even I’m a fun of his work, it is maybe a masterpiece, to pay 3,80 for an episode …
One contributing factor at least that I think deserves remarking on is the compelling quality of the legally free content available as ebooks. Project Gutenberg et. al. ensure that material which simply wipes the floor with the vast majority of new writing is readily available for nothing, and people become habituated to not paying for it.
Please note that this is *not* an argument to ramp up copyright entitlements even further. It *is* an argument for publishers to wake up their business models, pricing and charging strategies, and editorial standards even further. It’s the same argument that has faced record companies for ever now. Big Media has been penalizing its audience for ages for its slowness and reluctance to adapt to the new environment. There are ways to do this without punishing your own customers, if only companies were flexible enough to do so: Amazon, for all its flaws, is one of the few that’s come closest to doing this. Without Amazon, we would probably all be still waiting for the publishing establishment to test the ebook waters.
Lastly, there’s cause of piracy I haven’t seen mentioned here – and dismiss it if you like. That’s a combination of altruism and vengefulness. People may positively resent certain restrictions imposed by publishers, and respond accordingly. For instance, see my earlier post on the situation with George Orwell in the US. [http://newteleread.com/wordpress/books/a-new-black-orwellian-saga-for-orwell-day/] Myself, I take great pleasure in highlighting the copyright-free sites where Orwell’s work can be downloaded, entirely legally, in Australia, Canada, etc., because the author himself is dead and his ideas live for ever. The importance of his ideas to the entire human experience, to the struggle for freedom, their value as tools and weapons in the face of political and commercial assaults on our powers of thought and action, far outweigh the interests of publishing companies in a situation where the realities of the market and the environment have rendered their enforcement ridiculous anyway – and where no living creator is being hurt.
I don’t agree with the thesis that you should never pay for ebooks. I do believe that creators, though less so their marketers and distributors, deserve their rewards. But the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act is one major contributory factor to piracy, IMHO. People will break the rules of what they see as an unfair system, and once they start that habit, it may become hard to break. But the rule-makers are the cause.
And as for the argument that new works won’t be created without payment, I can tell you as a writer that that is a non-starter. Creators are churning out writing, music, etc, regardless, and will continue to do so. Yes, payment is nice. But the rewards are more than financial, as almost any creator will tell you.
Wow. Lots of good discussion while I was asleep.
Lots of good points. Thank you @David Lomac for defending my honesty. I admit I was mostly focusing on problems that could be addressed by publishers. People who want to steal, will do so, regardless of what publishers do. I’d just like to see policies in place that encourage basically honest people to do the right thing and not feel like they are being taken advantage of when they do so.
Geographical restrictions are a huge problem, and I lumped them under #3, the book I want isn’t available.
Good point, @ZorkNine on piracy to avoid legal scanning of paper books you own. I’ve personally taken to re-buying, in digital, books that fall in that category (when a digital version is available), but I realize not everyone can afford to or wants to do that. I’ve eliminated a lot of paper books I used to own, and didn’t bother to digitize most of them because I didn’t expect to re-read more than a few of them.
Sorry if I missed something I really should have responded to. Keep up the conversation. I assume Dan will release my follow up article later today, and we’ll have even more to discuss.
I’d like to point out a few other situations that should be accounted for in the article,
“I download pirated ebooks because I want to try before I buy” (The limited online previews are completely useless for that purpose).
And it seems to me that the article classifies pirating only as the act of downloading stuff, but I think that one should also investigate the motives of those who upload pirated contents.
PS: The analogy between physical and digital goods at some point cannot be enforced anymore. There is no “theft” of digital goods, as understood in the common sense of the word, simply because digital stuff can be copied at no expense and the owner still has it in his possession.
@Juli – I would also suggest contacting B&N’s phone support. My Nook conversion from FW and eReader got “stuck” at 2 books out of almost 200. When I called, they unstuck it and the rest loaded within a few hours. I got 221 out of the 246 that I had. Two got linked up to the wrong book, and 23 were on the “could not bring over” list.
I had already downloaded and converted them all back in 2010, but I’m glad to have them moved to Nook (even though I dislike their iPad app), because I now have clean ePubs for my Sony T1. Some of my original eReader conversions came out a bit clunky, especial word breaks.
I think other might have said this already, but I think the Mallory Effect is a big reason. They pirate because they can. It’s there, so they take. Afterwards, they justify their actions with some of the reasons states.
Paul St.John, I’ve taught literature to middle school, high school, and college kids, and most HATE to read books that are now out of copyright.
Narrative styles have changed and simplified, and most readers find reading these books is like fighting their way through a field of thorns to get to the good stuff. I seriously doubt that free Gutenberg classics are fueling pirates’ love of stolen contemporary books.
And as a professional writer who knows hundreds of other professional authors, I can say that few of us would do it for free if people stopped paying for it. First, if we can’t make money because people are stealing our works, it’s insulting. Second, to reach a professional level of writing, we spend years learning our craft, thousands of dollars on education, and so much time in front of the computer writing that we have to give up things others take for granted like going to movies, watching a game on TV, and sleeping a decent number of hours.
And what we receive as payment for all that if no one payed for the right to read out work? Very little. I offer hundreds of articles and over a dozen short works for free on my blog and website. I get thousands of hits a week, and readers stay around to read more than one story or article. Do I get thanks? Maybe one or two a year. Do they bother to at least look at my books for sale? Almost never.
Do you really think an author would devote their life to receiving so little?
Sure, some newer writers might, but most of us won’t.
What this means for readers is that they’d be stuck with dreck from amateur authors who have no reason to improve while the talented authors find something better to do with their time.
Marilynn, I’d be very surprised if today’s readers were facing huge hurdles in digesting The Great Gatsby (available free, legally, on Gutenberg Australia), or 1984 (ditto), or The Iceman Cometh (ditto ditto) – I could go on. And if readers do face a daunting disjunction in narrative styles between the Gutenberg US archive and today, how much of that is due to the effect of copyright extension in the US? It does make a difference if you have only 50 years or far longer to cover, but whose fault is that?
And I am not arguing that living writers shouldn’t be paid, and shouldn’t be entitled to the rewards of their work. But publishing companies should not be entitled to the proceeds of writers’ estates after their deaths beyond a reasonable limit which the US system has long since exceeded. Even in ebook format, publishers have plenty of ways to add value to out-of-copyright works, as anyone who has tried reading ill-formatted poetry off Gutenberg can tell you. They don’t need this kind of legal featherbeddding. And there is no sign of the Australian or Canadian publishing industries crumbling because of their respective copyright statutes.
And as another professional writer who also knows hundreds of others (yes, me too), I can tell you that most have day jobs, and many write for the pure love of it. I don’t recall that Emily Dickinson struggled to earn from her pen. Or Kafka. Or Milton. If writers do want and need to be paid for their work, like for instance Chatterton or Baudelaire, of course they should be. But by your count, Dickinson, Kafka and Milton all count as amateurs. How much dreck are they responsible for?
And if this all sounds too dated, look at Thomas Ligotti – supporting himself for years at an office desk and later as a freelance editor while he perfected a body of work that is unlikely ever to have enough mass appeal to support him, no matter what copyright regulations apply. But he’s kept at his writing for important personal reasons that have nothing to do with making a living from it. So does that make him an amateur who purveys dreck at the expense of professional writers?
Repeat: I am not arguing about depriving living writers of their reward. I am not arguing about DRM. I am arguing about the geographical and temporal range of copyright restrictions on the work of dead writers – who of course aren’t around to enjoy the rewards anyway.
Readers are going to be surrounded by dreck with publishers’ help or without, but the professional versus amateur distinction has nothing to do with it – and is deeply insulting to many fine writers who stuck to their craft while knowing full well they could never earn a living from it. And for all writers, pro or amateur, Amazon’s 70% royalty deal is a far better one than the traditional publishing industry 10-15%.
Paul, copyright affects narrative style? Really?
Narrative style is constantly changing. Not only has it changed in the last hundred years, it has changed in the last ten years. It’s becoming so lean I keep expecting it to start looking like stage directions for a play.
Most readers aren’t patient enough to deal with older styles, and I’ve met very few students who don’t have trouble with narrative older than fifty years.
If a writer wants to write with no hope of making money, God speed to him, but I can guarantee that it will get very old, very fast, as the first flush of knowing people are reading gets lost in the silence of the audience and the time sink that is sitting on your butt alone for hours at a time.
I always recommend that, if a writer only wants to be read and wants an enthusiastic audience, she should write fanfic in a fanfic community. Otherwise, it’s hard to connect with readers and the lack of interest will break her heart or take away the fun of writing.
Yes, most pro writers have day jobs. I support myself by teaching online most of the time. That still doesn’t mean that pro writers are willing to spend half their day, all their free time, and their health plugging away at a career that offers no cash back.
I’ve had so many friends stop writing because the writing income wasn’t adequate, the spouse and the kids were neglected, the back and other body parts were falling apart, and the stress of writing 3-4 books a year while maintaining all the promotion, etc., necessary for a professional career was destroying them.
And you expect most would do this for free?
I’m sorry, Marilynn, but you’re not going to convince me that writers never go to movies or watch ball games. With all due respect, there are a lot of things a lot of people are passionate about and value greatly that don’t pay the bills. We all have to engage in that delicate balancing act between our livelihoods and the rest of our lives. Most of us do what we do and only hear ‘thanks’ a handful of times. Most of us have to give up our free time, at least sometimes, because of the dictates of our jobs. That is not special to ‘writers’ or to any kind of artist.
Some writers will make a living at it. Some will make a hobby. That’s just the way it is. If you sell your work and somebody wants it, they should totally pay the price you ask for. But if you can’t convince enough people to do that so that you can pay your bills, that’s life. I do pay for the books I read. But I don’t owe a living to everybody who wants to be a writer just because writers are ‘special.’
Joanna, I don’t expect to make a living, but I do expect that those who read my work get it free legally at a library or buy it, not steal it. Is that too much to ask for the pleasure I give people? That’s all that most writers want with a little respect thrown in.
And, I’ve written for thirty years, some of my friends even longer than that, and we do give up a lot to write.
Do you have any idea of the time and energy it takes to write a novel? In my faster days, I could write as fast as Stephen King, and it took me months, three to four hours every night, to finish a 100,000 word novel. Then there are the rewrites, etc. And where did all that time come from except by giving up other stuff?
To be a writer that has the craft of a pro takes years. It’s the same as being a pro athlete except we do it with our brains instead of our bodies as we perfect our craft. Because I started in the days before the Internet and all the classes available, it took me thirteen years and about as many novels before I sold my first one.
Sure, there’s pleasure in the creating, but there’s also the trade-off the lost time and relationships, the financial losses, and sheer crap I have to put up with jerks who haven’t a clue about what I do.
Very valid reasons, I guess. Some people might think why they should be paying for an e-book when they can have it for free.
FYI all, although slightly off topic – but it’s a pleasure to read anyway. This is Adam Nevill’s take on what it takes to become a writer:
And in particular:
“Forget about deals and careers for a moment, or even for a few years. The writing is what counts. I have a very old-school approach to writing because it’s the only one I know: read the canon of the field you want to contribute to, acquire the craft of good writing through practice, develop a voice. If it takes 10 years or longer, so be it. ‘Apartment 16’ took four years to write and ‘The Ritual’ another two after that. There was no deadline, deal or publisher waiting for either book, or even any readers besides my dad. And during most of that time, little had changed in publishing: No one was publishing horror in the mainstream beyond some series fiction in the U.S. and the big names from the 1970s. So why did I write them? Because I was driven to.”
Marilynn, why are you getting defensive in a forum that is supposed to be about how to *stop* or minimize piracy, and ensure the optimum delivery of revenues from writing to the writers? I don’t see anyone defending piracy here. If writers, like publishers, can make compelling and competitively priced work for readers, it will get paid for. Amazon et. al. have made that terrifically easy. But clinging to the practices of the past, especially when these in fact work far more to the publisher’s benefit than the writer’s, is not going to help. Publishers’ and writers’ interests are not necessarily aligned.
I found it interesting that you didn’t even bring up the reason I have free books from online and the reason Baen became the leading sci-fi publisher in the US from distributing free copies of electronic books: trying out new authors. I’ve bought entire series of novels written by an author I hadn’t read before because I got a free copy online. If making a novel freely available online “costs” you one sale but gets you dozens in return, then both the authors and the publishers benefit. All this is because executives (except the ones at Baen) are incapable of seeing online distribution for free for what it really is…the most cost effective form of marketing available.
This is well worth adding to the debate – Antigua has been officially, internationally licensed by the WTO to launch a pirate website to distribute US-originated content copyright free.
Personally I don’t think this outcome is in the interests of anyone in particular, even the government of Antigua. But it goes to show how academic the whole debate is becoming. If this goes ahead, as the Antiguans point out, it won’t even be piracy per se, as the internationally responsible licensing body has sanctioned it. More like privateering perhaps … ?
Calvert, I didn’t mention it because it’s a huge can of worms I didn’t want to open. I know several authors who have deliberately uploaded their works to pirate sites and seen a large bump in sales afterwards. One author friend of mine, when he discovered his book was on alt.binaries.ebooks had this reaction “Now I’m somebody!”
Yes, giving away content for free can be good marketing. However, with the surge in self-publishing, I think the effect is diminishing.
Paul, I saw the Antigua article. Honestly, I’ve got mixed feelings about it, and I intend to follow the story and see what happens. But I do like calling it “privateering.” Sort of puts a different spin on it. And your point on publishers’ and writers’ interests is well taken. Lots of authors are seeing that and are jumping ship to self-publishing.
Marilynn, nobody here (including me) is saying that it’s ‘too much to ask’ to be paid for the copies of your work that people use. What people *are* saying though is that it IS too much to ask to expect people to feel sorry for you if those copies you sell don’t represent enough to live on. The reality is that for most people, art is a hobby—at least, it starts off that way. If you can parlay it into something bigger, more power to you. But if you can’t and it remains a hobby, the question then becomes ‘do you love it enough to spend your leisure time on it just for the fun of it?’ And every aspiring artist must answer that for themselves. Personally, I enjoy it enough to write for fun, and whatever money I make at it is a nice bonus. But I balance my life too and if my productivity as a writer is less one month because I go on vacation or have something extra going on at work, that’s life. I would never ask anyone to feel sorry for me because I can’t spend as much time on my ‘art’ as I might wish to.
Joanna, have I ever said that I demand to make a living at what I do? I’ve been contributing to this site for a number of years, and you’re welcome to go through all those comments to see if I’ve ever made this statement. A hint. I never have.
All I ask is that I’m paid for what I do.
Writing professionally is a crap shoot. Some make a great deal of money. Others have perfectly good writing careers and make a decent living. The rest of us are lucky to pay the writing bills.
Some who aren’t making much believe enough in themselves they keep at it making a pittance in hopes of breaking out with a bestseller or movie deal. Some burn out and stop writing when the writing stops being fun and the business hell of writing becomes too much. Lucky others get a life.
I always tell young writers it’s time to stop writing when the writing stops being fun because the downside of the profession and the minimal profit aren’t worth it otherwise.
On the Antigua situation, the WTO has no legal right to suspend copyright laws since international copyright laws are part of the New Berne copyright agreement between nations. Good luck on this doing anything but making both parties look like posturing idiots.
On Baen Books. I was on a panel on ebook publishing with the ebook guru of Baen Books in 2001 at Stellarcon. We had a very spirited discussion about the future of ebooks.
Baen built its free ebooks program because they believed that no one wanted to read ebooks and after the first few chapters the reader would give up in disgust and buy the paper copy. This proved fairly accurate for a short time because paper sales soared.
They also believed that ebooks would not mainstream until 2023 or later so they weren’t worried about losing ebook sales by giving away entire backlists of their authors.
To say they were off by lots of years is putting it mildly.
Their webscriptions service has worked well for them as well as their Baen’s Bar connection with their fans.
But they have had to retrench because they were so wrong about the changes in the digital market that they must now move into the ereader market. To do that, they can no longer cut their prices because contracts with Amazon, etc., won’t allow them to. And they must raise their prices to allow for Amazon and other vendors’ cut.
I have not kept up with their free books offered, but I doubt it is so generous as to offer an entire backlist of their writing stable because backlist is the lifeblood of most publishers.
So, Baen’s choices were smart at the beginning but very wrong in the long term.
I will pirate an e-book if I’ve already spent money on a different format. For instance, I own THREE copies of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – one paperback, one hardback, and one ebook I bought for my iPad. I absolutely pirated the Kindle version when I got my Kindle. As an indie author, I see no problem. If someone has paid for a hard copy of my book, I think they should get the digital version for free.
The most important reason for piracy in developing and underdeveloped countries is the price of the book. 20$- that is Indian rupee 1100. The person who earns 10k or even 20k per month in India, that will be one tenth of his salary. I agree authors have put effort, but at the same time when reader cant afford it, he tend to download it. According to me ebooks should be very reasonably priced may be 5 to 8 $, and reader should be able to pay by mobile or other means- since many people are here are afraid to use credit card. –
I think a big issue is the fact that you can’t resell ebooks. Which also means you can’t get reduced “used” copies. With paper books you can buy them used as little as 25 cents, depending on where you got them, or even free at the end of a yard sale where the owner can’t be bothered to replace them all in their home. For more specific books you might go to a used book store, where you will pay at most 50% of the original retail price. This leads to large amounts of paper books around the home, of course. With ebooks you can end up with them in a small file instead, and without killing the trees. But as things stand you can’t legally sell your “used” ebooks.
Another problem is the way the library system is forced to manage the ebook situation. They can only have a couple of copies of the book, much like a paper copy, so the reader often has to wait weeks or even months to get a chance to read a book they are interested in. Then when they do get the book, they are given a set time limit in which to read it (usually 2 weeks). There is no option to renew the book – if just goes on to the next person when the time limit is up, whether you have read it or not. And if you happen to finish reading it early, the book does not pass on to the next person unless you indicate that it is complete in the system. For libraries it is broken – borrowing paper books involves far less lag time, and the library can sell the books once they are no longer in vogue to make money to refresh their collection.
I’m not saying that pirating ebooks is right, but the system as it stands is designed to continually pump money from readers’ wallets, with no long-term return for the investment.