Don’t Pirate Indies

A buddy of mine has a very successful book series that he self-publishes on Amazon. Popular enough that he started earning “Quit Yer Job Money.” Although writing is actually a new job. The fans were voracious, and couldn’t get enough (Some even bitched when he tried to branch off and start a second series). Then one day, a week after a new volume came out and was flying off the virtual shelves, suddenly sales plummeted to about 10%, which killed his rise through the Amazon rankings – a key to getting new fans and continuing sales – and decimated his income. He had seen this pattern before. His new book had just been pirated. He went to the usual pirate sites and did his best to persuade them to take it down, but of course, the pirates were adamant. His sales were disappearing, but his bills were not. Now he is back in the day job market, which will slow down his writing, meaning the fans will have to wait much longer for new books. And that’s provided he doesn’t hang up his writer’s hat for good out of frustration.

Now, I understand a bit of what’s going on, there’s an awful lot of piracy going on out there, and yeah, in strictest terms, virtually every picture you’ve got on your phone or hard drive that you didn’t take yourself is some kind of copyright violation. I’m not going to go down that puritan road. But let me go through the usual excuses and explain why they don’t apply to indy books.

Information wants to be free! – Yeah, sure, the most facile argument of the bunch. Okay, the information should be accessible, but who is going to pay the person who went through the effort to gather it? Hey, Global Temperature data is out there, all you need is a thermometer. Oh, you don’t want to go measure it yourself? You want to get someone else to do it? Either get volunteers or pay someone. Making someone a volunteer after the fact, involuntarily, by not paying them for their work… there’s a word for that.

But Big Corporations make all kinds of money, what’s it matter to them if I pirate a copy of Photoshop? – You know, on an individual scale, that’s probably true. Lots of people took advantage of the “Free” Creative Suite 2 “mistake” Adobe made where they published lists of valid product keys and provided downloads of what is in reality, 10 year old versions of their products, with the winking assertion that it was only for people who actually bought it because the authentication server was being shut down. Technically, if you grabbed that without owning the product, you’re a pirate. (It’s now behind a sign-up wall, and pirates are a little less willing to put their real names up for that kind of thing). Frankly, it was probably a shrewd marketing move that also takes the pressure off their newer products. But, when it comes to industrial scale software piracy like what comes out of China, yeah, that’s a significant problem, which is why they aren’t going to come after you for that single copy you use non-professionally five or six times a year. But this is also why we don’t really own software any more, and have DRM out the wazoo and license codes and online verification servers that screw us when things go wrong.

But I’m broke! – No, you’re not, you just can’t prioritize, or childishly can’t manage your budget. We’re talking an e-book in the $2.99 to $5.99 range. Hell, Comic books are about that much apiece these days. You just bought the latest video game for enough to buy TEN eBooks. You could stock a library for what you spent on that Con. Give up ONE Latte? (Furries are particularly notorious for pleading poverty when their favorite artists put out a $10 portfolio, then drop $50 for a single commission of their personal character in some sexual position – go fig.)

Hey, I’m doing you a favor, it’s free publicity! – Bullshit. In my friend’s case, it’s costing him plenty – hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Free publicity is writing reviews, having discussions, all that stuff they call “Word of Mouth”, and actually BUYING the book so that its Amazon Rankings go up. If you actually Love the author’s work, why are you destroying it?

But you pirate Anime, you hypocrite! – Anime fandom is pretty unique when it comes to piracy. They make the effort to be symbiotic rather than parasitic. They know not to kill the golden goose. For one thing, Fansubbers add value – they put actual work into doing translations. They also target a market that the original publishers do not, foreign languages. The popularity of a particular fansub is often used as an indicator of which shows will resonate with the American market, and can be beneficial when it comes to negotiating licensing deals. And the producers actually know this, and allow it, because they know the value to adds to their offering. But the single biggest difference is that once a show is licensed in the US Market, the torrents come down. The fans stop circulating the tapes. They don’t cannibalize their own fandom, and often buy the dubbed DVDs of the shows they liked as Fansubs. In short, they don’t fuck over the creators.

Unlike the Anime Fans, the book pirates are not adding any value to the things they are stealing. The financial justification isn’t there when eBooks are so cheap. And they are NOT hurting a “Big Corporation.” Amazon only gets about 30% of the book price for eBooks in that price range, 70% of the money you’re stealing from the author you claim you love. Wanna prove it? Find the author’s web page, and see if they have a PayPal button, and send them 70% of the cover price and an apology for costing them rankings and not giving them a positive review.

Of course, a lot of these pirate hosts don’t actually read the books, they just want bragging rights to having the most files, or the fastest release times, or most downloads (that is, if they’re not actually Russian Mafia sites looking to infect your computer with Botware). They don’t love your favorite author, and they couldn’t care less if he’s driven out of writing by the financial losses they cause. There will always be hopeful new writers whose dreams they can uncaringly crush.