This weekend, the inevitable happened: my book was pirated.
I’ve got a Google alert set up for “Sex, Bombs and Burgers,” so I periodically get emails popping into my inbox to tell me that the book has been mentioned somewhere online. I got a number of messages this weekend that directed me to various Torrent sites. Sure enough, when I clicked on the Torrent file, a PDF began to download and, when complete, there was my book in all its electronic-version glory. Whoever pirated it did a pretty nice job - it’s a pretty crisp scan, complete with a chapter index. The cover is the Australian version but the blurb accompanying the Torrent file is a mish-mash: it has the Canadian publishing info, but the text from the Australian book. That makes it a little tough to figure out where it originated.
My initial reaction was shock - how dare someone rip off something that I put so much work into? For a moment, I completely understood Lars Ulrich, the Metallica drummer who years ago became the poster boy for the anti-file-sharing establishment when he and his bandmates sued Napster.
Fear not, though - my anger was short-lived, and not just because I’d like to avoid becoming a self-important douche like Lars at all costs. I’m certainly not the first author to get pirated, and I won’t be the last. It’s an inevitable reality that everyone today must face. And no, I don’t think any number of Draconian copyright laws are going to change this. Technology has let the cat out of the bag, permanently.
As someone who has partaken of the occasional Torrent, it would be hard (and thoroughly hypocritical) for me to be angry. I’m also not of the mind that file-sharing necessarily hurts the artist or creator. In my experience, most people who download something for free weren’t going to buy it anyway, or they already have and just want a digital copy, so it’s not exactly a lost sale. Moreover, if they like the product they’ve downloaded, they may recommend it to someone else, who in turn may actually choose to buy it. In a way, the so-called “pirate” can become a good sales advocate.
There is also the argument that file-sharing is good for building and expanding a creator’s profile - see the post about Brazilian author Paolo Coelho that I put up the other day. (Coelho pirates his own e-books and swears it has dramatically increased sales of physical books.)
I’d actually be hard-pressed to think of how sharing a book or other artistic work over BitTorrent directly harms any author or creator. In the case of big-wigs like Metallica, it’s not like they’re hurting for money. Similarly, the pirating of Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer books isn’t exactly making them poor. In the case of little guys like myself, the income from our work is hardly contingent on sales. An author’s main income usually comes from the advance received at the beginning of the process, and additional royalties only start to pile up once a book sells a lot of copies and that advance gets paid back. From what I understand, the large majority of books never earn back their advance, so authors generally don’t get a nickel more than what they got from their advance. So pirated books don’t exactly take food off their creators’ tables.
Who file-sharing may hurt are the publishers, since they’re the ones who make most of the money from a book sale. It’s easy to follow the chain of logic, of course, in that if the publishers make less, they’ll have to pay less out to authors, which means either lower advances or fewer advances. From what I hear, that’s happening anyway as publishers are banking more and more on established names, like the Browns and the Meyers, and less and less on the unknowns. So does piracy really matter in the grand scheme of things? I’m not so sure.
What file-sharing - whether it’s with books, movies or music - has always illustrated is that there is an appetite for quick and easy access to digital content. If you ask me, if piracy is happening with any level of seriousness in a particular industry, it probably means that industry has not moved quick enough to meet that demand in a reasonable manner. If file-sharing of Sex, Bombs and Burgers hits dramatic levels, I would say that’s pretty clearly a result of there not being an easy-to-get and affordable e-book out there for people to buy.
Luckily, I’m working on that, as I have been asked about an e-book many times. I’ve requested a concrete on-sale date of an e-book from my existing publishers, and if they can’t provide one, I’ve asked for them to return the electronic publishing rights to me so I can make one available. Wherever I do have rights, an e-book will be available soon - I actually spent part of my weekend formatting one. More on that real soon…
In the meantime, if you do download my book through a file-sharing site, I’d ask that you log in to its page on Amazon and tell the world how much you loved it!
June 14, 2010 at 10:43 am
Put me down as not only interested in the e-book, but also an audio performance (audio book). Many of the books I’ve purchased recently I have purchased twice: text+performance. And of course, for reasons you know well, I’m only interested in DRM-free content.
I really want to see legal alternatives, and that means DRM-free alternatives to be comparable, for everything available in infringing form. I think that will go much further to reducing infringement and increasing author revenues than anything that can ever be done in copyright law. In my case the most common reason I don’t buy a copyrighted work is because it isn’t available to sale to me. Heck, even audio performances of Atwood books are sometimes available in the USA but not in Canada.
June 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm
Cory Doctorow has had good results by just making the text available directly from his website. Folks even translate it for him.
June 14, 2010 at 5:08 pm
I want to hear you sing it.
June 15, 2010 at 10:44 am
I think the idea of e-books is great - I have been reading them since 1992. However, the execution leaves something to be desired. When I buy a dead-tree book, I can re-sell it, destroy it or give it away. When I buy an e-book, I am stuck with it (thanks, DRM!), so it is consequently worth less to me.
I would pay a $3-$5 for an e-book. Naturally, the publishers want a lot more, so I’ll just vote with my feet and borrow it from the library instead. Then they can bleat about “piracy” when sales fall short of their expectations.
Personally, I am not sure that I want a book with a title as sensational as “Sex, bombs and Burgers” on my bookshelf - that is, of course, a matter of taste - but I would buy the book if the price and format (currently Palm!) were acceptable.
I suggest that a lot of the “piracy” is more “pushback” against what most people perceive to be overly-high pricing than the “theft” that the publishing industry would like us to believe that it is.
June 15, 2010 at 6:34 pm
Wizardprang: Excellent comment. I’ve heard from a number of people that they’d like to read Sex, Bombs and Burgers, yet the title is not something they’d want to show off in public. Yet another good reason for an e-book. As a side note, I suspect the whole e-book explosion is going to be very, very good for smutty books that people would normally be too embarrassed to be seen reading (not that mine is one of them - it’s thoroughly PG!)