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.

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26 thoughts on “Don’t Pirate Indies

    • John Van Stry. His “Portals of Infinity” series is very popular, but the “King of Las Vegas” was about a character from his earlier “The Hammer Commission” book.

      He can be a bit controversial himself, so I didn’t want to distract too much from the point of the post.

      • Interesting feedback as a software developer I am quite abreast of how that market works and how the pirates work, but I had not realised how hugely piracy can affect book sales. I have to say i was tempted to put up a “Verifed purchase” review on a book or two of his with something sarcastic about piracy. I am a fast reader and read quite a bit and I can’t even keep up with everything I buy let alone if I started copying .

  1. Part of the problem is the major publishers. They either over-price eBooks so horrendously that they encourage pirating or in some bizarre cases don’t have books out on electronic formats (most surreal is one I did pirate, although I spent the money saved on indie books by the same author as a better option than buying second-hand; only the first of the series was unavailable on eBook and I know for a fact that the author had asked the publisher to release it because I asked her on her website contact; more than a year later it still was not there*, I no longer ever read paper books so I made the compromise).

    If an eBook costs more than the paperback of the same title (which I have seen) then it is hardly surprising that people turn to pirate copies.

    Once people start reading pirated books they are far more likely to continue with indie authors who have eBooks at reasonable prices.

    * just checked; still not available on eBook

    • Yeah, Big 5 publishers are trying to kill eBooks by overpricing them, then saying they aren’t a viable market when they don’t sell. But the point here was to focus on the very narrow section of the digital world, the one we WANT to thrive, the Indie author. What I’m trying to say here is even if “We all do it” here’s one place where the usual excuses don’t really apply.

    • I just sighed, a couple of weeks ago, to discover that (shocker!) there was a major book from a big name publisher that I wanted to read. It’s been out for years, sold in gazillions, even had a major movie made from it – and the Kindle version was going for $11.
      I bought a used paperback edition for a penny plus postage.
      Not certain that the Big 5 are trying deliberately to kill eBooks – I think they’re just trying to squeeze every possible cent out of the reading public. They have all these expenses to cover …

  2. Pirates gonna pirate, and free riders gonna free-ride. There isn’t much to be done about it, especially given that “for every engineer, there is an equal but opposite engineer.” The tragedy of it is that indie writers come as close to providing free entertainment as it’s possible to get without completely sacrificing their own interests.

    The transition to digital means of creating and distributing content always had this possibility embedded in it. We can deplore it as much as we like — being an indie writer who’s been stolen from, I certainly do — but the battle against it will always be bloody and any victories over it will be temporary.

    • It’s a cultural war, rather than a technological one. The technological solution to Piracy takes us down a really nasty road. Anime fandom proves there is a cultural solution.

      • Agreed. Rose Wilder Lane caught it right when she noted that our property isn’t protected by the police, but by other people’s attitudes toward property. The culture has been degraded; it must become strong again. God only knows how long that will take.

  3. I’ve had some of my own books pirated – in that they are advertised as being available on various pirate sites. I complained without result to the purported site managers. I’m not certain if I am losing much in sales, as they are older books and I am hardly a big name author.
    But still – it is annoying.

  4. Some years back, I had some surreal discussions with a self-admitted pirate, who explained to me how many pirates are file hoarders (i.e., they download files with no intention of reading or playing them) or use them as a sort of virtual currency to keep their accounts on private torrent sites. He gets together with friends and they bulk-copy entire hard drives full of stuff (movies and TV shows, mostly) while playing games. I’ve often heard that pirated copies are not (all) lost sales, and this may be because a lot of pirates never look at the files. I mention this only as evidence that The World Is Truly Stranger Than We Can Imagine.

    • Very true, and as hoarders, and people who lord the size of their collections over other people, appealing to them to stop won’t work, but on the other hand, John had direct evidence of the effect on his sales with the immediate drop he experienced. It’s one thing to cost Sony $1000 in sales, but quite another to do it to an Indy author.

      • My point was simply that piracy is an exceedingly weird business. I’ve been hurt by it too; both my novels have been posted on Usenet, and as best I know there’s no way to reliably remove anything from Usenet. When I had a publishing company one of my jobs was to patrol the Web for pirate sites, and ask that they take our books down. Generally, they did–and next week there were two more sites with our books that I’d never seen before. I’ve been trying to figure out a solution for ten years or so, and I’m coming to believe that there really isn’t a solution.

        • There certainly isn’t a technological one. It has to be a sociological one. At best, I can try to make a small inroad here by staking out a territory where the usual excuses (such as they are) don’t work.

  5. I’m glad to hear the author is back in the day job market. Now maybe he’ll do something that’s actually useful rather than writing mindless SF/Fantasy books. A very good reason to get rid of fiction copyright entirely – at least some will still get written, but the practitioners will also do useful work.

  6. Something to think about is a book may not be the product an author uses to make money but rather as a means of promotion. This was only tangentially addressed because the author thinks promotion would lead to increased book sales, not increased sales of another product.

    What if you are selling books for $2.99 but t-shirts for $15? A board game for $25? Posters? Statues?

    George Lucas made a lot of money off Star Wars but he made fu money off of merchandising. Publishing is part art and part business. Normally a publisher takes care of the business end but as a sole proprietor, you have to think of the business end for yourself.

    I don’t bring this up to minimize the potential loss of revenue from piracy but to point out indie authors may be losing out on other potential revenue. Writers are businesspeople and businesspeople sell products and services, not all of them will be books.

    • Late to the party. Can’t argue with the parts quoted for once. As for the snark, ALL of my blogs have been named “Shoplifting in the Marketplace of Ideas” since I came up with it for my original LiveJournal in 2003. It’s kind of my trademark.

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