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Arguing Book Piracy

Last week, I saw a lot of authors linking to “Free” Books Aren’t Free, a blog post by author Saundra Mitchell talking about the costs of book piracy.

Let me state up front that illegally downloading books is stealing.  If you’re doing it, at least have the guts to admit you’re committing theft instead of spouting off excuses.

That said, I disagree with some of Mitchell’s reasoning.  She argues:

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list. If the 800+ downloads a week of my book were only HALF converted into sales, I would earn out in one more month.

Yes, and if my dogs pooped gold, I could quit my day job.  But it ain’t going to happen.  Author Scott Nicholson guesses that 10,000 illegal downloads equates to maybe 5 lost sales.  I suspect he’s underestimating, and the true numbers are somewhere between his and Mitchell’s, but I don’t think there’s any way to say for certain.  I’m just not buying the argument that half of those downloaders would have actually bought Mitchell’s book (particularly since we’re talking about a hardcover.)

She goes on to say:

[M]y book is never going to be available in your $region, not for lack of trying. My foreign rights agent is a genius at what she does, and has actively tried to sell it everywhere- UK, AU, China, France, you name it, she tried to sell it there.  SHADOWED SUMMER will only be coming out in Italy, because that’s the only place there’s a market for it.

The implication being that piracy killed her chances at foreign sales?  I’m confused on this one.  Does the availability of a pirated English book really reduce demand for a Chinese edition of said book?  I suppose it’s possible … most countries are more multilingual than the U.S.  But it’s a stretch, and I’m not convinced.

[T]he sales figures on SHADOWED SUMMER had a seriously detrimental effect on my career. It took me almost two years to sell another book. I very nearly had to change my name and start over. And my second advance? Was exactly the same as the first because sales figures didn’t justify anything more.

The thing that makes me hesitate here is that piracy is an across-the-board problem.  Every commercially published author’s books end up on torrent sites.  Some authors are still doing quite well.  Others, not so much.  So does it make sense for struggling authors to blame book pirates for low sales when other authors are selling well despite said pirates?

Mitchell says a lot I agree with, too.  If you can’t afford books, go to the library.  Try to get review copies.  Or maybe if you can’t afford the books, you just don’t get them.  Wanting a book doesn’t give you the right to steal it.

I agree with her that, “People who illegally download books are more interested in their convenience than in supporting the authors they want to read.”

I’m NOT saying book piracy is harmless.  (To authors or to readers either, for that matter.  Laura Anne Gilman recently pointed out another example of a torrent site installing malware with downloads.)  Bottom line, it’s a dickish thing to do.

And it does hurt authors.  How much, I don’t know.  I suspect it will hurt us more in coming years, as electronic reading becomes more widespread and book scanning technology improves.  Lost productivity alone is a serious cost for authors who try to keep up with DMCA notifications to various sites.

It pisses me off when I find people illegally sharing my books online.  And I think it’s important to educate readers.  But I don’t think it helps our cause to distort or exaggerate the problem.

Discussion welcome and appreciated.  I expect some disagreement on this one, and as always, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Jan. 18th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
I sympathize with the tangent. I still carry emotional scars from the first time I learned that my unsold paperbacks wouldn't be returned, but would instead be stripped and discarded...

With discount bins, sales, and so on, it depends. My royalties are based on cover price, so if someone decides to discount my book, I still get the same royalty. On the other hand, I don't get paid for remaindered copies, so when my books go out of print and the remaining stock is sold off, I'm out of luck there. (The current plan is for me to buy as many copies as possible directly from the publisher when that happens, though.)

As for the person you were talking to ... yeah. I don't get it. I know there's a huge entitlement mindset going on, but really? "Gosh, my neighbor just got a sweet new car. I want one. Guess I'll head over to the dealership and steal one off the lot, 'cause I don't want to pay for it or anything, but I deserve it anyway!" Logicfail.
Jan. 18th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
Yeah, being a book lover, I hated seeing those HUGE bags of books going into the recycler every week. We are talking 2-3 60gal size bags (and this was a small Wal**rt). Even if they were mostly romances, still... its a waste to me.

Heh the person I was talking too does have a huge entitlement mindset. One of the reasons we are NOT friends. She is definately one of those who thinks EVERYTHING should be handed to her.

I actually rarely find books in discount bins that i am interested in. I am getting aggrivated with the in stock selection of our tiny book stores here. I still have to find stepsisters here to gift to friends(found 2 copies of Jig at Hastings) and am STILL looking for the first book by Harry Connolly, and C.E. Murphy's stuff. But this means hitting the store sites to me, once I get off my duff and go to the sites =p.
Jan. 18th, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
I actually rarely find books in discount bins that i am interested in.

-->There's usually a reason they're in the discount bin...

(Okay, not fair. I've found books in the discount bin that I was interested in. But generally people who want Book X will buy it before it gets remaindered.)

As for books you're still looking for, is there a reason you can't buy online? I am definitely part of the problem for bricks-and-mortar stores, because I buy 99% of my books online. (Though by funny coincidence, I bought Harry Connolly's first novel in my local Borders.)
Jan. 18th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
No, no reason I cannot buy online. I use an excuse to go to the store as a reason to get out. For many reasons I am at home atm (for another month or so) so its kinda a social outing for me =p. Call a friend or grab the hubby and spend an hour or so looking at all the books.

I do use the ship to store option when I do buy online.

Its waaayyy too easy for me to do the hermit thing if I get things shipped to the house. Making myself go out is a good thing in my case =p.
Jan. 19th, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
Re: My .02
At the book wholesaler I work for, every two months the tie line (where all the "new" and "best seller" mass markets go for the people to pick them to fill orders) gets redone, and all the "old" books get stripped (well, the stripable ones) and put into the huge recycling bins, of which we have five. I hate walking past those bins--it hurts, to see all the books not going to good homes. I don't even like it when we have to clip the prices from the inside covers for some of the books (depending on pub and the library they're going to), so seeing all the discards is just...I don't think I even have the words.
Jan. 18th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
Hey, you don't have to steal a whole car. First you need an inside person to seed the car. Then a bunch of friends who can provide you pieces of the car. And in no time at all you'll have all of one. *grin*

Jan. 18th, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
Jan. 18th, 2011 06:26 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
You reminded me of one of Johnny Cash's last songs " One piece at a Time"

Jan. 18th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
I had the same thought, but was too lazy to track down a pointer.

(And I probably would have gone to find a YouTube clip, which may have been a poor choice given the topic of the thread. :) )

Edited at 2011-01-18 08:38 pm (UTC)
Jan. 18th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
I have trouble with equating illegal downloads and theft exactly.

Stealing a car from a dealership takes away the car.
Downloading a book/CD/whatever does not remove anything from anywhere.

If I'd steal a paper book from a shop, the shop would lose whatever it paid the publisher or wholesaler for it, plus the profit from the lost sale (or maybe not - maybe it wouldn't have sold).
If I'd download an illegal copy of book, the worst case is that the profit from a lost sale is lost. But there is nothing that could have been sold to someone else if I had not taken it away.

One definitely takes money away, the other doesn't.
Jan. 18th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
Stealing: take without the owner's consent.

I'm not going to go into a long discussion of this because I just did that yesterday on my own blog, and arguments over definitions are boring. But saying "this kind of stealing is different from that kind of stealing, therefore it's not stealing" is not particularly convincing.


Jim C. Hines


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