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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.

Comments

mtlawson
Jan. 18th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
I believe there are three separate things at play here:

--It's easier (and cheaper) to let someone else in another state do the educating, and then lure the highly educated here with lucrative jobs. Trouble is, those highly educated will want their kids to be highly educated too, so they won't move just for the sake of pay.

--There's an attitude of "if it was good for me (or my grandpa), it's good for today". We see this in our dealings with tech in our current school district. People seem hellbent on using smartphones, laptops, and all sorts of tech in their lives, but if you try to integrate that into the classroom a good portion of those same people will go bananas. (A corollary of this is the number of people who still think it's good to use corporal punishment in classrooms, and forget how much in living terror they were of the nuns who wielded the Yardstick of Death.)

--People up at the statehouse somehow think that the blue collar jobs of the 1950's and 1960's --with only a high school diploma needed for employment-- are going to magically return if you sprinkle enough tax cuts in some corporation's path. Trouble is, they won't.
georgmi
Jan. 18th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
Re: My .02
Yours is a much less cynical view than mine.

I look at education initiatives at the State and Federal levels, and I see policies that create direct, "if-you-want-to-keep-your-job"-level incentives for teachers to spend all their time with the underachievers in their classes, and completely ignore the above-average students, delivering the message that if you want attention, your only option is to be an underachiever, and killing in the bud any chance for the best and brightest of the next generation to ever contribute to society commensurate with their potential.

I know I'm liable to be labeled as a heartless a-hole by saying this, but any reasonable long-term cost-benefit analysis would tell you that that's the exact opposite of the correct approach. Allowing above-average students to settle for average success screws over the whole damn society.

I look at that, and I cannot believe that the "thinking" going on at the policy-making level rises even to the level of, "if we cut taxes, maybe the working-class jobs will come back", but rather that it is purely a question of, "if we cut taxes, those corporations will help us get reelected."

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