25 Thoughts On Book Piracy

Here’s the deal. I want to talk a little about book piracy. I’ve been blabbering about the realities of publishing recently, and this is one of them. It seems easy to assume the post should be as short as, “HEY FUCK THOSE GUYS,” and to a degree, yeah, absolutely. But it’s a sticky wicket, this wocket, and so it deserves a way-too-long-post from yours truly.

(The tl;dr –? I don’t like book piracy but recognize it’s a very complex issue for a lot of reasons.)

Grab and oar and let’s sail the foam-tossed seas, buccaneers.

1. It Stings A Little

We’re all egomaniacs with improbably frail egos, and we all have our little Google Alerts for our names (mine’s easy because who the fuck else is named Wendig?). We see when our books pop up on file-sharing sites or when some forumite somewhere is asking for a free copy of one of our e-books. We see it. And it stings. And it doesn’t sting because we think about lost revenue, exactly — it stings because silly as it may seem it hurts our feelings that you don’t feel our work is worth the same amount of money as an inhaled cloud of dog flatulence. It erodes us, like the ocean eating the shore. We pretend that it’s professional. But sometimes, it feels personal.

2. A Big Mushy Poopy Pile Of Gray

It’s that stung feeling that leads us to get angry about piracy and turn it into a very black and white issue where we talk about pirates as if they are the same scum who pillage villages or punch orphans or whatever. We think of them as dehumanized robbers, evil robot invaders with all the value of a bloated tick clinging to that spot between our shoulder blades we just… can’t… reach. But we have to take a moment to recognize that piracy — like with so many of our modern challenges — is actually a very gray, very smooshy, very non-concrete issue.

3. You’ve Probably “Pirated” Something At Some Point

Ever copy a CD for someone? Or, if you’re a cranky old man like me, have you ever made a mix tape for someone? (The art of the mix-tape is a lost one.) Ever lend a book to someone? Buy or sell a used book? Copy a VHS tape? Give someone your DVD copy of Emmanuelle VIII: Porny French Chick Soft-Core Boning A Bunch Of Moon Colony Astronauts? But here you stammer, “Tha– bluhhh — fnuhhh — that’s different.” And it is in terms of magnitude, but take away magnitude and you still have theoretically lost revenue. (It’s why companies resisted allowing devices that copied content.) It can’t be wrong when someone downloads your book but okay when you copy a cassette tape — that’s like saying, “It’s okay for me to steal five bucks from that guy but not okay for you to steal five bucks from those 1,000 guys.”

4. Except It’s Kinda Not Theft, Exactly

It’s easy to call this stealing, but it’s not. Stealing is the act of taking something that does not belong to you — and here, “taking” implies that the other person does not get to keep it. This isn’t stealing. This is getting water on Gremlins. This is doppelgangering. This is motherfucking multiplication. That’s not to say it’s right or fair or legal, but you cloud the issue every time you call it “stealing.” Yes, it feels like stealing. But this is copying. Illegal duplication.

5. Arrr, Shiver Me Kindle

The “thing” that gets pirated is, from the author-publisher’s perspective, our story. Our, as the phrasing goes, intellectual property. The “thing” that gets pirated from the perspective of pirates is a file. They’re not stealing a book off a shelf. They’re copying an e-book file in the same way you’d copy and transfer a Word doc, a Quicktime movie, an Excel spreadsheet, a filthy animated GIF of Bea Arthur simulating hand-sex. This is important (not Bea Arthur hand-jobs, but rather, the pirate POV) in that it explains how easy it is to do — and how easy it is to justify.

6. It’s The Internet’s Fault

The thing we love about the Internet is also the thing that makes piracy craaaaazy easy. The Internet distributes information very quickly and efficiently. And it does so by connecting people quickly and, drum roll please, efficiently. The Internet has increased demand for non-corporeal information delivery, meaning: MP3s and YouTube movies and, of course, e-books. It’s ghosts and vapor. Couple this with the fact that we’re used to a culture of wide open access to a bunch of free shit, (again, YouTube or Pandora or Hulu) and you start to see that piracy is as much about cultural attitude and rapidly-evolving technology as it is about “crime.” The Internet connects people. It offers technology to move lots of data really quick. It provides moist, open access 25/8. It’s no wonder that illegal fire-sharing is the result: that’s like running a marathon and not showering and wondering how a cluster of jock-itch spore-pods decided to grow from beneath your sweat-frothed undercarriage.

7. Broken-Ass Data

We don’t have a lot of great data on book piracy. Some will tell you there is — there ain’t. We have almost no idea what impact it has in a practical sense. We need better — or any — data.

8. Theoretically Lost Revenue Rather Than Actually Lost Revenue

Every stolen e-book is lost revenue in a theoretical sense. If the book costs five Amazon ducats, and the author would’ve made twenty solar chits from that pile of ducats, then when a pirate copies that book without buying it, that equals a small pile of theoretical ducats-and-chits that do not go to the publisher or the author. But from a practical sense, that’s not accurate. It’s not actually lost revenue — I didn’t steal a Blu-Ray player off a truck so that the device can no longer be sold. If you’re thirsty and I pour you a glass of water from my tap (or if I don’t like you I scoop it out of my toilet bowl ENJOY THE TASTE OF A THOUSAND FLUSHES JERKPANTS), then Dasani or Aquafina may say, “That’s lost revenue because that person with the free fucking water isn’t buying our water, that asshole.” You can see where that logic falls apart.

9. DRM Probably Creates More Piracy Than It Deters

Digital Rights Management is when the company that owns or distributes the content places a metaphorical chastity belt on the content itself to ensure it doesn’t go sleeping around with other distributors or wayward devices. It’s also notoriously weak and often annoying. Implementation of DRM is frustrating and frustration will lead to piracy rather than away from piracy. It’s like the old Leia-telling-Tarkin, “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

10. Piracy Helps Some Authors

The “piracy hurts authors” meme is obvious — theoretical or no, it surely represents some lost sales, and further, sometimes the versions of our work that get passed around are incomplete or are early drafts, which only makes us look like amateur hour a-holes. But, you also have to recognize that piracy has helped some authors (Adam Mansbach tells a story about how Go The Fuck To Sleep‘s pages leaked all over the Internet before release, and at first he was pissed off about it — until he realized pre-orders had skyrocketed as a result.) The problem here is, this is not an outcome you can foresee and control: an author can “control” piracy in much the same way you “control” a housecat or a housefire. Or worse, an arsonist housecat who started a housefire to get back at you for that shitty store-brand food you’ve been giving it. Jerk.

11. Pirates Have Their Reasons (Even If Many Of Them Are Crappy)

Pirates don’t appear to illegally share files because they relish being shitheads. They have, like any antagonist in any story, reasons for what they do.

12. Sometimes It’s About Lack Of Access

A reader may be driven to book piracy because that reader lacks access to the book in some way. A reader in a territory where the book has not been released may have no other way to get the book (and this is sometimes why you’ll often find your book on some torrent site in, like, Flarzblargistan). Further, publishers and libraries have not yet become besties-forever on the subject of e-books: so, many digital books (and even print books) are not available through a library service. A book may not even be an e-book yet (cough cough the final Wheel of Time book). Or it may not be platform-agnostic and lives only on, say, the Amazon Kindle, or the B&N Nook, or the Toyota Yaris (that’s an e-reader, right? I’m pretty sure it’s an e-reader).

13. Sometimes It’s About The Cost

The excuse is sometimes that e-books are just too expensive. The hardback is $15, the e-book is mysteriously three dollars more. And there exist plenty of justifications for why that price is as high as it is, just as there are plenty of justifications for why someone thinks that price is too high no matter the excuse. A customer has very little interest in why a price is too high — they only believe, sometimes rationally, sometimes not, that it is. And it’s here that a customer can be turned to the Dark Side of the Capitalist Force and choose instead to seek the book for free. A spurned customer will become an eager pirate if it’s easy enough.

14. Sometimes People Are Just Dicks

A lot of the reasons for book piracy amount to: “Because I want it.” It’s not driven by evil, but rather, selfishness. Selfishness is rarely seen as that; it’s often bound up in excuses that make a person feel okay for what they’re doing, but at the end of the day, it boils down to acting upon one’s wants without considering the needs of others. (And here let me wax political: the myth of America is that we’re a troop of hard-working capitalists who pulled ourselves up by our boot-straps, and you can see this in all the talk of our personal liberty, our individual rights, but the reality is, that individualism can sour and become the reason we refuse to ever play advocate for others — couple that with our crass consumerist tendencies and you start to see why I want it so I’m going to take it becomes such an easy decision to make. Further, the door swings both ways, and explains why a publisher will implement high prices and DRM regardless of the market wisdom that suggests it’s a craptastic idea that hurts instead of helps readers.)

15. Downloader As Potential Fan

Consider the possibility that the person who has downloaded your work is not your enemy but rather, your fan. Maybe an old fan, maybe a new one. You may say, “I don’t want that fan, that fan is a thieving fuckswab,” and you are within good reason to say so. (This is definitely the reaction you feel when someone walks up to you and tells you they love your new book and you rock and high-five and oh by the way I downloaded that book for free. Your immediate response feels like it should be, “Oh, cool, well, I downloaded my semen onto your toothbrush for free, you little shit-ferret.”) Just the same, consider the possibility that this person could be an evangelist for your work. Consider that they could be an engine of that most potent of marketing creatures: the slippery eel known as word-of-mouth.

16. Your Pirated Books Might Not Be Your Pirated Books

You will sometimes find your book smeared across the Internet in the gooey handprints of a chocolate-spackled toddler, but be advised, that might not be chocolate. You’ll see a site and it’s like, “OH MY GOD I SEARCHED FOR MY NAME AND THEY HAVE 80 BILLION ITERATIONS OF MY BOOKS AND NOW MY BUTTHOLE HAS TIGHTENED UP WITH SO MUCH ANGER MY BODY IS BEGINNING TO IMPLODE.” But do realize that programmatically some of these sites are there to deliver viruses and spyware: the actual download of your book may just be some shifty, shitty .exe file that is meant to harm the user and doesn’t have a single word you wrote inside its code.

17. The Danger Of Letting Legislation Be The Answer

It’s easy to say that we want the political process to protect us creative-types from this sort of intellectual intrusion, but remember: politicians frequently co-opt causes and use them as Trojan Horses to shepherd other more problematic legislation into existence. You may just want to firm up intellectual property rights, but they want to punish some kid who lip-synced to a Justin Bieber song on fucking YouTube. They want to make it okay to spy on your Internet traffic. They want to lock up the Internet in an AOL-flavored box and hand the key over to a bunch of untrustworthy companies (“THE INTERWEBS: SPONSORED BY THE BLACKWATER-MONSANTO CONGLOMERATE. PLEASE INSERT DNA STICK SO THAT WE MAY SEND AGENTS TO YOUR HOME TO ELIMINATE YOUR WEAKNESS I MEAN WHAT NOTHING.”). They want control and need an excuse to take it. Do not give them that excuse.

18. Our Primary Source Of Revenue Is Our Books And, Oh, By The Way, We’re Fond Of Not Starving And We Also Like Paying Our Mortgages And Feeding Our Kids And Sweet Jeebus This Header Really Got Away From Me Didn’t It?

Artists and authors need to eat. If our books won’t feed us, we’ll stop writing them. Yes, yes, we’re capitalist swine. Just the same: no, really, we need to eat. And pay bills. Which is why we’d like it if you bought our books instead of just, y’know, plucking them out of the ether.

19. Publishers Need To Eat, Too

Just a reminder through all of this talk: artists need to eat. Further, publishers need to eat, too. Er, not the actual publishing companies themselves, because as it turns out corporations are not actually people so much as they are unthinking entities. No, I’m talking about the people in publishing. The people who love books. Who edit them. Who do awesome covers. Who make phone calls and do marketing and all the crazy shit a book needs that you didn’t realize it needs. It’s frequently the artist and author who, understandably, is seen as the one who suffers here — but a book is the product of a whole ecosystem of people. Some pirates will offer to give the author money directly, but this is why some authors — like Pat Rothfuss — will say, “Fuck no, my publisher is why this book exists and the people there deserve their cut.”

20. That Old Chestnut

Some will say that obscurity is a fate worse than piracy. That may be true. That may not. Like all such pithy sayings, it’s always more complicated than what the pithy saying contains — but it is worth considering, isn’t it? Is a pirated book, at the least, a positive sign that people know of and want that thing you wrote? I mean, it’s not a compliment exactly, but…

21. The Napster Conundrum (Which Is Not The New Dan Brown Novel)

I, like many early intrepid Internet yeomans, once used the services of Napster before it became a paid site — meaning, I used to grab all the free music my poor little hard drive could hold. Here’s the trick, though: that was also a period of my life where I bought more music than ever before. Not saying the same thing is true with book piracy, but it’s worth a mention. (I don’t grab anything off torrents or file-shares anymore; I pay, or I don’t play.)

22. Let Your Publisher Fight The Battle

It’s a tremendous waste of time trying to play the vicious Whack-a-Mole game of finding and calling out every instance of book piracy of your work. Do that and you’ll end up awake for 37 hours straight, twitching, drooling, peeing, seeing thievery in all corners of your life (“I SEE YOU POTTED PLANT, YOU SONOFABITCH. YOU’RE TRYING TO STEAL MY EMAILS WITH YOUR PHOTOSYNTHETIC MIND!”). If you see it, alert your publisher. Don’t fight the battles yourselves. Your time is better spent writing new and awesome things.

23. Combat Piracy By Adding Value

Piracy is predominantly about digital, so bring value to the work beyond the digital. Do not restrict digital, but consider limited edition physical prints, or other deals like, say, “Buy a physical copy, also get a digital copy.” (More publishers need to be doing this, stat.) Or maybe, “Buy a physical version of the book, get a taco.” Because FUCK YEAH TACOS, SON.

24. Fight The Culture Of Piracy Rather Than The Pirates Themselves

The problem with piracy, like most ingrained problems, is not one of crime, but one of culture. It is a tremendous waste of emotional and intellectual energy to combat individual instances of book piracy: you’re better off yelling at the waves rolling in and knocking over some kid’s sandcastle. In fact, to carry that metaphor: you don’t fight the effects of climate change, you fight climate change itself. You don’t fight the symptoms of a disease, you fight the disease. You don’t fight individual bears, you fight the culture of bears. … okay, maybe not that last one.

25. The International “Please Don’t Pirate My Book” Day

Here’s what I’m proposing:

Tomorrow, February 6th, will be Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day. On that day, you writer-types should take time — as little or as much as you can manage — and hop online to talk about piracy. About how it has affected you, or what your thoughts about it are, but most importantly, why you’d like people to pay for your book instead of, say, just taking it.

Speak your mind, whatever that may mean.

So, tomorrow: blog post, Tumblr text, tweet, whatever.

Talk about book piracy and how you feel about it, specifically.

I’ll do it. Won’t you?

(Probably not, and that’s okay. I know that you’re busy. After all, you’re not answering my texts. I’ll just sit here in your shrubs and keep eating these Goldfish crackers while flipping through my iPhone photos of you on the toilet. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.)

125 comments

  • I’d like to share a story of the time I was an e-book pirate.

    Way back in the summer of 2008, one of my friends and member of my gaming group came to us and said “I signed us up to alpha-test this new game.” None of us but him had ever heard of it before, but we were willing to give it a shot. We had an absolute blast with this “Dresden Files” game and I wanted to know more about the world we were testing the system for.

    Now this being 2008, I had recently graduated from technical school but was unable to find a job in my field (and I never did, btw) so money wasn’t something we had a lot of. Our local library is alright, but they didn’t have the first book in the series available. I was definitely fueled by “because I want it.” I found the ten books that were out at the time, pirated them, and then promptly consumed them in nine days.

    By the time we played session two of our alpha-test, I had as much knowledge of the world as my friend did and I was completely hooked. I convinced one of my other friends that YES HE REALLY DID NEED TO READ THESE BOOKS. Slowly, I legitimately purchased all of the books and now own all 14 books in hardcover. I own a copy of the Dresden Files RPG, both Your World and Our Story, as do all of the members of our group (our names are in the book, how could we *not* buy them?). As an interesting aside, we are *still* playing the game we started with that alpha test, with me moving to GM right at the end of the official testing.

    I eventually went on to purchase more of Evil Hat’s offerings, like Don’t Rest your Head and the upcoming Race to Adventure game. Dresden Files was my first real delve into Urban Fantasy and I was completely hooked (it now being my favorite genre). I’ve read so many other series (including this fascinating one about a smart-mouthed psychic named Miriam Black) that I never would before had I not gotten into the Dresden series. I would have never even given them a chance.

    I’m not saying piracy is right. I’m not even saying what I did was right. But I am saying that me, personally, I would have never purchased and loved all of the books I have almost five years later had I not pirated those ten Dresden Files books. I became a fan of Jim’s and so many more authors beyond him directly because of it. (Now my book budget is larger so I do not pirate anymore ebooks, though I am sometimes prone to forcing books I own on friends to try and make them fans of them too.)

    • Just about the same here on the Dresden files – AWESOME books and AWESOME audio books too. No way I can fork up $350 to buy them. I will though when the price becomes “sane” or I become rich.

    • I had a similar experience! When I was about 15 (and had absolutely no idea what piracy was; I think Napster was still a thing back then!) a friend of mine recommended that I read a book called Phantom by Susan Kay. I wanted to read it, but none of my local bookstores had it in stock, and Barnes and noble said they could order it in paperback for $24. I was like, “I don’t even get an allowance, I can’t order a $24 paperback. Also, my mom isn’t going to make the 40 minute drive to take me out there since she doesn’t go to bookstores.”
      The friend who recommended it said that was okay, she had a PDF copy that she could send me. It wasn’t a perfect copy by any means, and I had to read it on Adobe reader (and this is NOT a short book) but she emailed it to me and I devoured it, loved it, and still love it to this day. I have also purchased two of those $24 copies (the cover on the first one started peeling), as well as two copies of the smaller, mass market paperbacks so that I had the different cover and a second one to loan out to friends. So, because I read that “pirated” PDF copy that was emailed to me, I have purchased 4 copies of that book. If I never would have gotten the PDF, I never would have read the book.

    • Aside for the superfluous and unnecessary cacophony, I read most of your post and found it interesting.

      A book pirate is selling copies of my book in e-format for half the price. The share program on Kindle is based on exclusive rights but the pirates do not care. I also do not care if the pirates read my book, but they sell my work and do not share the profit with me. Kindle makes money lending my book, the pirate makes money selling it. I do not believe in this new form of slavery – you work, I profit, good bye.

      In the good ole West I should have the right to settle it with the gun: kill the cheating pirate bastard, or why not hang him barefoot in the public square, set Kinlde storage on fire, jump on my horse and move to Oklahoma to start a new life as a John Smith. Then sell my book under my real name. Robyn Hood shared, Zoro defended, thieves… they just steal. After reading your post I now feel guilty even singing my favorite tune along the radio… so I will mumble the words but not repeat them exactly.

      Obama made sure that intellectual property should be protected – if you can afford a $350/hour lawyer.
      Lady Justice seems to be a prostitute and who sells her services to those with lots of money… but at least she is very expensive and thus gives a reasonable expectancy of satisfaction – never a guarantee though.
      About the real justice…. that is for the heaven and for those who get there…if.

  • Re: “Buy a physical copy, also get a digital copy.”

    If Marvel can do this for comic books, which have essentially no standardised format or distribution, then hells yeah it can be done with books. Amazon / iBooks / whoever: TAKE HEED.

  • It has never occurred to me to ‘pirate’ a book. I wouldn’t even know where to start, actually. Back in the day I did a little Napstering, but outgrew it quickly (oh, the guilt!) These days, if I think a book is too expensive on Kindle, I will buy the usually available ‘mass-market paperback’ for $.01 (and $3.99 shipping) and go on with my life. If it’s not available at a price I like, I wishlist the bitch and either forget about it or eventually find it for a price I can live with (yay Goodwill!). Too scared of viruses and malware to torrent anything. I need my harddrive intact!

    I did like this post, especially how you explored both sides of the story. A thought on #15: an evangelist for a book is great, just as long as they’re not spreading the ways to get said book free while they’re at it.

  • One of my biggest issues with piracy (whether it be books, movies, music, role-playing game supplements) is that SOMEONE ELSE is making money off of the material. File-sharing sites and torrents may not charge for the pirated file, but they do make money off of advertisements and in some cases membership fees.

    They are exploiting the piracy culture to make money off of hardworking artists without these artists getting a cent of income. It is closer to bootlegging than stealing, I think.

      • Excellent point! I’d suggest an accompanying website listed in the book. Plop some juicy advertisements on that site and a reason for people to come back.

        I’m sure YA mystery books could do this easily with a “secret code” or something.

      • You could, but I fear it would engage in the race to the bottom.

        Most torrent sites (the one’s I’ve seen anywhere) are either pretty awful to find anything on, full of scary looking mal/porn-ware, or both. A publisher could create an easy to use, friendly, safe advert containing, king of all torrent sites for their books. And then make money off the ad revenue, possibly even distributing to the author / editor / etc in relation to download ratios of each book. You could even change premium rates to reduce the adverts and get more books. Basically, create an e-book Spotify.

        But! I fear that this would add to the culture of content should be free, and make it harder than ever to get people to pay for the books. While this step would direct *some* money in the right direction, the next step… ?

      • We post our own books (Which are Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licensed anyway) on torrent sites, with an additional page that asks people to buy the books — either print or electronically — if they like them, complete with referral links so we get a few extra cents (and some data) if they do.

        People pirate for a lot of different reasons; spending a bit of time interacting with them can earn a lot of goodwill and future dollars.

      • Tim Ferris used BitTorrent to release parts of his newest book (4 Hour Chef), parts he cut from the book and behind the scenes footage from him prepping the book (like the things he wrote about and experienced, the actual take-placing of the events) as a torrent in one bundle to build up hype for the book and to get paying members.

        Based on his overall sales, I would be lying if I said I didn’t think it had a small part in helping the success of the book.

  • I too think that piracy/DRM is a complex issue and my feelings on it are ambiguous at best. On the one hand, I know that artists need to eat, and should be able to eat by being artists. On the other, cultural information should be free–great works of art (paintings, books, whatever) that enrich and beautify the world, and in turn inspire and educate generations of new artists, should be readily available, particularly those who’d never be able to see the original due to economic or physical circumstance (i.e. they live in Flarzistan). But how do you determine what’s free? If it’s in a museum? That puts all the power in the hands of a few cultural arbiters–curators and gallery owners. It also emphasizes the fads in the art world. If the artist’s dead? That’s.. a bit nuts, and also stifles that rush of ‘cutting edge’ innovation-type ‘movements.’ I’m thinking of the Beats in particular. I realize these are largely concrete vs. philosophical considerations, but I’m also aware (which I think the various Art/Entertainment Industries should take their heads out of the sand to see as well) that the world is changing. I don’t know how far off a Ghost in the Shell-style cyberized life is, but I know it’s coming. The world, and its information, is being changing with digitization–and with it the way we view our relationship to that information. The Industries need to change too.
    I completely, 100% support the “Buy a physical copy, get a digital copy” thing. Did you know that Amazon is doing this with MP3s now, FINALLY??? It’s called AutoRip. On select CDs, buy it, get a copy of the album in your CloudPlayer. If they’d done this YEARS ago, I’d never have started filesharing music–which has led to filesharing of tons of other types of content. Why don’t they do this with books? Taking a quick look at my Calibre library, I can tell you over 90% of the “illegal” eBook files I have there are just copies of physical books I’d already bought and didn’t feel I should have to buy twice, just so that I could read it on my Kindle/computer as well. This is doubly true for books I had to buy for school/research purposes because my library didn’t have them.
    (Please, guys, fund your local libraries. We’re not all so lucky to have a NYPL-type in our towns.)
    As for the other 10% of eBook files, I have them for the same reason I have some pirated music. A combination of word-of-mouth and curiosity. This happens to me a lot more with music, so I’ll go ahead with that example.
    The radio sucks. (You could say the same of book-radio, essentially, the publishing publicity engine that promotes popular, but not necessarily good, books. (Awesome alliteration in that sentence.)) If I don’t like Ke$ha/Rhianna/Pop Girl Group #42/Dangerous Enough to Get Bad-Boy Cred But Still Not Offend Your Parents Band, I’m pretty much fucked. If you don’t have a college radio station in your town, how the fuck are you supposed to hear anything different? If you do… well, my NPR radio station plays “The Klezmer Hour” during prime time, and let’s just leave it at that.
    So yeah, I’ve downloaded albums before, and I probably still will in the future if a friend is like, “OMG YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO THIS BAND.” (Especially if that friend’s taste is a bit dubious). Here’s the thing, though. If I like the band after listening to Album E, I’ll go BUY Albums A-D, and probably E again as well, to get a better bitrate. And I’ll go to their concerts and buy their t-shirts. I don’t really see how that’s lost revenue. They made a fuck-ton more money off of me than they ever would have otherwise. Of course there are cases when I don’t like the music, and then don’t proceed to buy their shit. But that’s the difference between “theoretical” and “actual” lost revenue. In this case of word of mouth, I was likely never to have bought the CD to begin with. I’d have nodded and smiled and assured the friend I’d check the band out, but I’d never check the band out–under the old, going-down-to-Best Buy paradigm. I mean, shit, I’d have to put a bra on for that. So if I download it, hate it, and delete it, that doesn’t in particular feel any different from For Illustration Purposes Friend lending me the CD. If I love it… then I become one of those rabid evangelists you mentioned.
    About DRM sometimes more of a hindrance than a help, there’s two specific example I can think of. The iTunes Match fuckery, which frankly PISSES ME THE FUCK OFF. I get a new laptop, so iTunes won’t import the MP3s I *bought* on Amazon?! Fuck you. I’ll go BitTorrent that now. The other case of Fuck-You-BitTorrenting I do is of “Album Only” MP3s. I see this a lot with OST, in particular. I hear the one song I like on TV or whatever, but OF COURSE it’s Album Only. (Back in the day, the bad-old bra-required trip-to-Best Buy days, only the most popular songs would be available as physical singles. Now the opposite is often true, that the ‘big’ songs from the OST area always Album Only, to try to force you to get 12 songs you don’t want to get the one you do.) This is an example of *actual* lost revenue, because they were going to get one of my dollars, but now they get none of my dollars, because Fuck You. BitTorrent. I see that as being primarily record company greed, and don’t feel any of the guilt I normally do when downloading music. (Which is one reason I DO delete stuff I don’t like).
    Honestly, I download fewer eBooks than I do MP3s, because I can often find that penny-plus-$3.99 MMP mentioned above. It’s when I can’t, and when I can’t find a copy at my library, that I turn to the Internet. Another is that despite my 6 a.m., pre-caffeine philosophizing about the digital revolution, I want a physical copy of a book, whereas I don’t with a CD. I think it’s because that as a visual activity, reading is also fairly physical. Turning the pages, underlining passages–the smell of the glue and paper. All that is a part of my enjoyment of a book. A CD, on the other hand… wrestling with the shrink-wrap, popping the CD into your stereo–none of that has any bearing on my enjoyment of the music, which is somehow a less-tangible thing than words on a page (or screen).
    I like eBooks for the same reason I like digital music on my iPod: I’m a bit schizophrenic in my art consumption, and my back much prefers carrying around one Kindle instead of five or six paperbacks/hardcovers; one iPod instead of one of those huge CD folio things. (Take a moment and appreciate the nostalgia: remember that day when you figured out how to fit TWO CDs into one sleeve without scratching? Good times).

    I know I’m not the norm. I think most pirates are just I-can-so-I-will consumers. But not all. And people, especially people who favor a legislative solution, need to recognize that not all pirates act out of careless disregard or selfishness. We’re not evil. There’s real truth to limited access/exposure. There’s real truth to word-of-mouth publicity.

    But I don’t think I have the solution any more than you do.

  • I’ve had a friend download albums for me, and while I’ve never read a downloaded pirated book, I’m loaning the first book or two in a series out to friends and they loan their books out to me. If I like the music or series I’ve been loaned I’ll go out and buy the CD or all the books in that series when I have the funds – because they’re worth it. It’s how I got hooked on the Dresden Files early on, and how I’ve managed to get others in my book loaning ring hooked onto at least four or five different authors, which results in multiple sales for those authors. If they didn’t like the author they don’t lose any money, and they know the book well enough to suggest it to someone who might.

    It’s not a perfect system, but with economy (and personal income) being on the low side, I think of it more as test driving a car before you purchase it. Hell, anymore I lurk at B&N and read a little of a potential buy to make sure the author’s writing jibes with my brain – I almost never blindly pick up a book anymore. If I can’t do that, then I’ll try a Kindle sample. If that isn’t an option then I move on until I either I can get a sample or someone I really jibe with says “Yo! Get this, it’s really good” (or the rough equivalent).

  • I have pirated books, and probably will again. I agree that pirates have a variety of reasons for doing what they do. I most cases for myself, its a money issue. I love to read, but really have you checked out your local library lately. eeeeeek! The cost of a paperback, little own a magazine – again EEEEEEK!

    My fiance and I had a long discussion after reading this post. He is a video and audiophile. Me I am a bibliophile so between the two of us we have alot of the bases covered.

    Top 2 reasons for downloading any torrent file(according to us)

    1) How many times in how many formats am I going to have to rebuy this F@#%&$ movie/book/album because the technology has changed YET AGAIN. The artist/corporation/publishing company has already soaked me for X amount everytime they have a change in the tech… I should not have to pay for something I already own 4 times in 6 different formats.

    2) What do you mean I buy it once and I cannot share it with friends…..excuse me????? books/movies/albums of the physical variety you can make some of your money back by trading them in, for OMG more or different books/albums/movies. Yes DRM is a major issue. if I pay 8 ducats for an e-book /mp3 albumn/digital movie and I want to loan it to my mothers sisters naked cat’s penmonkey I own it, how I choose to distribute it, that is MY business. Otherwise you can close down all used music/book/video outlets. Secondly there are NO trade ins on digital media…you bought it, it is literally yours love it or hate it. The (sometimes) cheaper price to purchase digital media does not make up for this fact.

    Piracy…is it right…is it wrong…

    i respect both sides of the coin as both are valid

    • I totally agree on the format issue – which is, as Chuck says, one of the reasons why DRM is counter-productive. And it’s why I’m very happy to be with a publisher who understands that same issue and sells DRM-free, non-geo-locked books to begin with. Buy it now, convert it to whatever format you want, totally legally.

      Technically you could share those ebooks with your friends – but unlike a physical book that one has to return (or replace), you’re actually creating more copies so your friends have no incentive to buy their own in due course.

      The digital model – copies that cost nothing to make – totally breaks all our existing mechanisms for “using” physical books, which is why it’s such a headache for all parties. There’s no easy solution, because the paradigm just doesn’t translate.

      What irks me most is that many big corporations are actually supporting piracy by advertising on those torrent sites – sometimes, no doubt, the parent/sibling companies of the publishers getting ripped off. The whole situation is just crazy…

    • Shannon, #1 is one of the main reasons why I think it’s important to support publishers who give you files in open, standard formats, like ePub. Even as file formats change in the future, you’ll almost certainly have the ability to use open formats, and at the least, convert them into “the next big thing.”

      (ePubs are actually just zip files full of html/xhtml. Very adaptable and hackable!)

    • Hi, Shannon —

      My two (ok, two and a half) cents: Even being pro-Pay For Everything You Want, there is a grey area for me. If I buy a CD, I should damn well be able to put it on my computer, and on my iPod, and listen to it in the car, and hand it to my wife to listen to at work: I feel I’ve paid for the right to have that music played when and where I want it to be played, which seems to me to be the spirit of the purchase. That’s what actually drove me to finding an alternative to Microsoft Word, actually: I’d naively (/reasonably) thought that since I paid for it for one laptop, I could then transfer it to my new laptop that didn’t have it so I could keep using the product I paid for. Finding out that they expected me to pay for it all over again was my first real, “Ok, then fuck you, hard” moment with DRM, which is (on the bright side) what led me to discover the glorious Open Office Suite. But I digress…

      I treat things like individual downloaded songs the same way: I’ve duly paid to have this mp3 available to listen to. Oh, wait, you’re telling me it’s proprietary on only THIS software/computer/whatever? Oh, nonono, dear music publisher… there shall be an mp3 of that song to play when and where I want to hear it, because that’s what I believe I paid for.

      I do, however, think that elements of your second point can be countered with the fact that you aren’t being made to get the newest format of (whatever). I mean, it’s not like previous versions of it are no longer usable. If you bought The Beatles White Album on vinyl, you didn’t NEED to buy it on tape, then on CD, then on MiniDisc, then the mp3 version of it. You COULD (and certainly they’d really like you to), but you don’t need to, so their hitting up the same people for more money for the same product is entirely optional on the part of the consumer. Same with movies: I still have plenty of VHS movies that I watch, because I don’t have the DVD version of them (and may never have them), because I haven’t wanted to pay for the same things again. I don’t have a Blu-Ray player, so most of my movies are on DVD. Is there a newer, shinier, better option than that available? Yes. (Not surprisingly, the production companies want to make more money from their existing products.) But I’m not required to buy into any of it, and am quite content to not do so. So while I understand what you’re saying in your second point, the fact is there’s always the option to not keep paying for the same product you already own, which to me negates justification for getting it for free in each of its following newer/”better” formats. You paid for the best version of what technology at the time could offer.
      We have a 2008 Impala. Does that entitle me to get each new version of it for free? Of course not. I bought it then, newer, shinier versions are coming out all the time, and I’m free (nay, encouraged) to buy one of those updates, but I prefer to stick with what I have for as long as it’s practical and useful. To me, that’s fundamentally no different than buying music or anything else: you get what you paid for in the format it came in at that point in time. No more, no less.

    • Shannon, I agree with you on #1, but it’s #2 that I disagree with.

      Your example of sharing physical books/movies/albums, doesn’t work with e-books/mp3 albums/digital movies. If you loan out an e-book, it’s like Anne said, you are creating a new copy. Plus, and this is the important part, you still have your own copy. When you loan out a book/dvd/cd, you no longer have it. you have to wait till it is returned to you to use it again. It is the same thing with selling it or trading it in. You may have sold it, but it will still be on your ipod/e-reader/hard drive.

    • The money issue is NEVER a valid reason to pirate a book. I can’t afford an iPad, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not okay to just walk in and take one because WAAAAH I’M POOR, YOU CAPITALIST PIGS! Not having enough money to buy something isn’t an excuse to just take it. Yes, I know, it sucks being poor. I’ve lived below the poverty line for my entire life, and there are many things that I just can’t afford, books being one of them. But that’s what used bookstores and paperback copies are for.
      As for #1, you don’t have to buy a book in more than one format. That would be ridiculous. If you already have it, why buy it more than once? I do agree with you on #2, though. I don’t personally use torrent files (mostly because I don’t have the technical know-how), but I do think that people should be allowed to share a little bit.

  • Okay Chuck – you convinced me. I was thinking about doing a post on it, but I’ll write one up tonight. So I won’t write up a big post here, but I will say I’m ehhh on #3 and HOLY CRAP YES to #9 and #23.

  • Damn, but I love this. An actual nuanced discussion of eBook piracy, the tons of grey areas surrounding it, and the fact that publishers need to wise up and realize that a lot of “piracy” is a direct reaction to stupidity in the industry (ie, expensive eBooks, weird territorial reproduction issues, etc).

    Posting tomorrow.

  • Loved this post. It brings to light a subject that causes almost as much conflict from one person to the other as political shifty. I use to pirate music all the damn time. I don’t even remember why I did it, oh wait, I do – free. Books have always been different for some reason. If I really want a book and don’t have the money I’ll pick someone’s pocket. (Not really… or maybe really.)

    I also once knew a girl that went through 6 years of college without purchasing one text book. She’s a lawyer now. Go figure.

    Point is – Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If someone really wants something and they don’t want to pay the money (whatever those reasons may be) they are going to get it. I’ve accepted that as an entrepreneur.

  • Wow where do I start. Stealing is stealing. If it had a price and you obtained it without paying for it you are a thief no matter your justification. I may have pilfered some music or borrowed some books in my lifetime but I was very aware it was stealing no matter my reasoning. Do I still do it. No. I work a shity job everyday and use that money to satisfy my crack compulsion for books and music. Hell all you have to do is not buy lunch one day to put the money in the pocket of the person who created the diversion from reality you craved so much. And being creative types your pretty much a selfish asshole to steal from other artists. Take a look in the mirror and watch it crack.
    I’ll be blogging tomorrow dude.
    Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  • One of the problems, from a consumer stand point, is that often enough to be relevant the pirated copy of a game or movie (unsure with books) is a better quality “purchase” for them at no price. I bought a few DVDs recently and one of them has about 10-20 minutes of trailers that you can NOT skip unless your player has a button designed to bring you to the menu on it. The button on the remote I have is small and out of the way (to prevent you accidentally hitting it while watching the movie.) Fast Forward, Rewind, and Skip Chapter bring up “not available at this time.” That same DVD had I pirated it? No trailers. Heck, no menus either if I dont want them. Just the movie I want to enjoy.

    the same thing happens with video games on the PC. The best example I can recall is the first Bioshock where a lot of the people who bought store bought copies couldn’t play their game because 2k’s DRM server crashed under the load. Paying customers then turned to piracy just to get a working copy of their game. My copy of Far Cry 3 (legitimate copy) still won’t let me play multiplayer because it can’t find the authentication server to make sure my legitimate copy launched through their launcher is actually legitimate.

    Some of the companies put the consumer in the position of “you pay us money and have a worse experience” and that shouldn’t be the case. Ive always loved how Viz animation handled this problem when fan-subbers were cutting into their profit with Naruto. They asked the fansubbers “how do we compete with you?” The response “match our quality and our speed in a reasonable time frame.” Now, on Crunchy Roll you can get new episodes of Naruto at a decent price (at least you could, unsure if it is still true) within hours of air time in Japan.

    As a content creator I’d love people to not pirate things. As a consumer though, I almost wish I could have the pirated copy and then just somehow donate the cost of the product to the people who made it directly. That way they get paid, and I don’t have to sit through crap that either tries to sell me stuff I don’t want or treats me like a thief for buying the product.

    • “As a content creator I’d love people to not pirate things. As a consumer though, I almost wish I could have the pirated copy and then just somehow donate the cost of the product to the people who made it directly. That way they get paid, and I don’t have to sit through crap that either tries to sell me stuff I don’t want or treats me like a thief for buying the product.”

      Well, you can, theoretically. That’s not actually a difficult problem: you pirate the copy you want with all the crap removed, then buy the physical copy which you promptly, I dunno, shove in a drawer or feed to your dog or use to balance an off-kilter coffee table.

      — c.

      • Pirating then buying a physical copy to donate to a library, hospital, school, etc is a great way to get what you want and not have the physical copy cluttering up your house. Though if you don’t want books cluttering up your house there is something seriously wrong with you. They make great support for forts, cover up crummy wallpaper, potential fuel for the coming apocalypse. And I am sure the dog needs that fiber.

        • The only problem with this approach, however, is it gives credence to the publisher that dreamt up the screwy DRM scheme that caused you to acquire an illicit copy in the first place. Downloading the better version, donating to the artist, then sending an anonymous letter to the publisher explaining why you did what you did seems to hit all the right bases.

          I’m really, really tired of being treated like a criminal by media publishers.

  • Thank you, Chuck, for taking on this subject. I’ve been thinking about all this for some time, but, as usual, you’ve given me a little clarity. I tend to get lost in the twisty corridors. Now excuse me while I go look for bleach and a scrub brush for those mental images. Bea Arthur. *shudder*

  • A couple of things:

    1) If you really want to address the culture, stop calling it “piracy.”

    The GOP managed to kill the Inheritance Tax by successfully renaming it the Death Tax. Death Tax, Death Tax, Death Tax — that’s the only way they’d refer to it. The Democrats starting defending the tax using the same name, which allowed the GOP to set the terms of the debate, and now folks like Tagg Romney are insured that the benefits of their grueling hard work of being born are not subject to taxes, and all because Cooter in South Carolina doesn’t like the idea of his Momma being roughed up by Revenuers on her death bed.

    By calling it “Piracy”, you romanticize it for supporters (“I’m a dashing, swashbuckling rogue!”) and demonize it for opponents (“It’s theft! A crime!”) — both of which neatly avoids the *actual thing that’s happening*, which is simply Unauthorized File Sharing. Unauthorized file sharing is a natural result of our communications technology outstripping our copyright laws. Calling it something else prevents us from reasonably approaching the issue and updating our laws to match technological reality.

    2) The only way to reduce unauthorized file sharing is through cost and convenience. That’s it. …And note, I didn’t say “prevent” or “stop”, because it won’t — nothing will. That genie is out of the bottle. The best we can do is make it *really easy* for people to compensate us and get our files. If we do that, most will.

    Look at Apple. Damn near everybody has downloaded unauthorized mp3 files. Chuck used Napster, so did I, so did millions of others. Music is one of the most-shared things on the planet. And yet, Apple bet literally *millions* of dollars on the idea that people would be willing to pay for that music, rather than share it — and they bet that money AFTER file-sharing was already pretty common. They went after it with cost (99 cents a song — an impulse one-click purchase) and convenience (easily searchable, instantly delivered, and guaranteed to be free of malware and viruses).

    The result? A multi-billion dollar business. Selling things which are STILL available for free as unauthorized file shares elsewhere online. They bank on the fact that the cost and convenience makes them a better choice than digging for a free file that might be low-quality, or a virus trojan, or just even mis-labeled. And they’ve been proven right.

    Cost and convenience, kids. Make your digital stuff available easily and cheaply. If your publisher doesn’t do it, carve out those rights and do it your damn self. It’s not hard.

    • Agreed that the term “piracy” is a bad one — though as shorthand, it works, particularly since saying “Unauthorized File Sharing” is a mouthful. :)

      Cost and convenience will battle “UFS,” indeed. Though I think in terms of fiction there’s that “value add” aspect, too — which is true of some music, as well (d/l from iTunes, get a video, some exclusive track, liner notes).

      Though the question isn’t which publisher will fix it but rather which company outside the publishers. Apple kind of… forced music publishers to get in line (which was ultimately a good thing), so who’s the analog here? Not Apple, I’d bet. Amazon?

      — c.

    • (Though, on an added note, “Carve out those rights and do it your damn self. It’s not hard” is one of those things, like most, where this is easier said than done. Self-publishing is harder than most proselytes will tell you, and many authors are never going to be cut out for that, which means we still need publishers — ideally, proactive and progressive ones that can change course when needed.)

      – c.

      • It’s hard for me to remember that my skill-set makes me an outlier. Yes, perhaps I was a bit glib — but in all honesty, I truly do not think it is that difficult.

        There are a number of how-to books already available — I’m strongly considering adding one of my own to that mix. :)

  • I’m glad that you talked about the Napster thing, not enough people do. So many of the late20s to early 30s out there were all over it. We were in high school and college back in 2000. itunes didn’t exist, if you wanted to try out a new band, it was $20 for a whole cd which may only have one good song. Now you can hear clips right before you download for just a buck. I’ll take a chance for a buck. When I was making six dollars an hour in high school, no way I would take a chance for 20. I still have a lot of the mp3s from back in the day but I’ve gone out and bought a lot of cds because of those mp3s.

    ebook vs music piracy is like apples vs oranges, but I’m starting to see the same “have a sample to try” mentality now. A lot of publishers offer the magical first 5 chapters now. My nook gives out samples too. In a bookstore I can read a couple pages before I buy so there’s no reason not to with ebooks. I think the try before you buy idea will go a long way to combatting piracy with a lot of types.

  • I’m glad that you talked about the Napster thing, not enough people do. So many of the late20s to early 30s out there were all over it. We were in high school and college back in 2000. itunes didn’t exist, if you wanted to try out a new band, it was $20 for a whole cd which may only have one good song. Now you can hear clips right before you download for just a buck. I’ll take a chance for a buck. When I was making six dollars an hour in high school, no way I would take a chance for 20. I still have a lot of the mp3s from back in the day but I’ve gone out and bought a lot of cds because of those mp3s.

    ebook vs music piracy is like apples vs oranges, but I’m starting to see the same “have a sample to try” mentality now. A lot of publishers offer the magical first 5 chapters now. My nook gives out samples too. In a bookstore I can read a couple pages before I buy so there’s no reason not to with ebooks. I think the try before you buy idea will go a long way to combatting piracy with a lot of types.

  • My completely unasked for take: Just complete the race to the bottom, and ask your readers to make up the difference in pay based on how much they like your book: I’m calling it Free Fiction.

    How it works is this:

    1. The reader downloads your book for free/pays the absolute minimum for printing and shipping.
    2. The reader reads it.
    3. The reader donates the author money directly, based on how much they think the book is worth.

    It sounds crazy, and it probably is, but I’m trying it out right now. We’ll see how it goes. My site below has the relevant details.

    http://www.whatwewrite.ca/freefiction/

    • Aidan, see #19 above. Giving money directly to the author cuts out the publisher. Now, if the author is self-published, no harm no foul. But if the author went through, for example, Tor, this cuts out all the editors, artists, marketers, etc. that helped bring the book to everyone’s attention and favor in the first place. Not only does this not reward them for their efforts, but it could land the author in a lot of hot water if he or she accepted the money.

      • I’d agree, if the author was accepting the money. But in a publisher-run world, there’s no reason the publisher wouldn’t take in the money still – I doubt Rawling or King or anyone would set up a direct paypal account to solicit donations – they’d still go through the intermediary of the publisher, who could in turn pay royalties to the designers, editors, etc. who worked on said book (or just continue to take their direct slice of the pie and apportion to those employees as necessary).

        The only thing that’s changing in that case is when the money is exchanging hands – after the product is already consumed. Again piracy is not an issue, and everyone still gets paid.

  • It’s a tough topic and an interesting discussion. I’ll give it my best shot on my blog tomorrow. I’ve not yet been pirated (to the best of my knowledge) and I never have pirated music or books, but I really appreciate Chuck’s multi-faceted take on the issue.

  • Interesting that discussion of piracy issues never questions basic capitalist model that artists should sell their work on open market and allow market forces determine income. (With the unexamined corollary that cultural artifacts should only be available at a cost ; so that copyright laws prevent access to most cultural output for decades to protect the 5% that earn enough money to make policing worthwhile.) But there are plenty of other funding models that are equally valid in which piracy would be irrelevant: having a patron; government grants; working as a prof; crowd sourcing; seeing making art as responsibility of all adults like parenting (no money in parenting yet we do it); instituting art Sabbaticals as mandatory benefit for employees after six years; etc etc. We are all still hung up on a publishing model that stopped working for 90% of writers when plupmags went under.
    Just saying.

    • Patronage? Seriously? I don’t want to write some rich jerk’s vanity project. Crowd sourcing is not much better – if you don’t write in a genre that attracts mass fandom, you’re out of luck.

      The reason we’re “hung up” on the capitalist model is because the rest of the world still subscribes to that model for everything else. Your idea of “art sabbaticals” is a kind of socialist ideal that I would personally love but just won’t happen. As for “working as a prof…” Gee, tell me how that works.

  • I haven’t experienced book piracy because I haven’t published, yet.(Coming soon!) I did have someone use and quote some research of mine, recently, without any reference to me as the source. I was hopping up and down with fury when I found out. It might not technically be robbery but that was what it felt like. When I challenged the person who did it, he was mortified. He hadn’t realized he was doing anything wrong, hadn’t even heard of the phrase ‘intellectual property’. I asked him if he would take my car for a spin without asking me first. He said no, of course not. I said my writing belongs to me just as much as my car belongs to me. Its not free for all unless I say so. So I think a lot of it is down to ignorance.

    • “It might not technically be robbery but that was what it felt like.” It wasn’t robbery or piracy, because it was plagiarism. Do you and your plagiarist seriously not know this? AFAIK, any reputable academic institution will boot a student for even being suspected of plagiarism, and this person didn’t realise he’d done anything wrong? Or, as is more likely, he played you like a violin.
      Not that this has anything to do with piracy, or unauthorized file sharing. If your work was pirated, you’d still get credit as the author. You just wouldn’t get any money.

      • This wasn’t research in a formal, academic setting.It was historical research I’d done out of personal interest. I’m not a student and neither was he. He’d borrowed what I’d written from a family member then passed information on to a third party, as if he’d done the research himself. You’re right, it’s not piracy, it was just someone trying to take credit for something that didn’t belong to him. I was just citing it as an example of the hurt that is caused by someone trying to take something from you for free. Think I might go and lie down now.

  • This may already exist, but I’d like to see a Netflix type service for books (NetLits?). I know quite a few people, myself included, who stopped pirating movies and TV shows when Netflix began offering their streaming service, which made it easier to find new content than scouring shady torrent sites.

    I understand that this is yet another case of “easier said than done,” especially considering the relative ease of copying print media compared to streaming video, but I have to agree with Gareth: it really comes down to cost and convenience.

    • I know the service is fairly limited (both in what they offer and geographically), but check with your local library. Many are starting to offer electronic copies that disappear off your e-reader after 2 weeks. Although most libraries only offer it for the Nook (epub format), Kindle versions (mobi) are becoming more common.

      But I like the idea. Might be worth investigating for publishers. Almost like a text-based audible.

  • So, I can put my name on a waiting list and get just about any book from the library, yet most all good e-books can’t be “borrowed”. And if I buy a book, I can lend it to my friend, but not ebooks. Libraries are not a new thing! Borrowing books from friends isn’t illegal either! And yet the authors and publishers survived! Fed their families, many even made a shit ton of money! So why can’t I borrow best sellers? Why can’t I lend books to friends? That’s my point of irritation…not saying “stealing” them is ethical, moral or otherwise, just wanting to know why it’s ok to borrow a real book and not an ebook?

    • An important distinction, and ne that might be #26 on this list, is that libraries buy the books you borrow, e-book or otherwise (and they do lend e-books). Further, they tend to buy in bulk and they let books out the door only so many times before they have to re-buy the books.

      But the biggest thing is that the publisher and the library have that deal in place. It is an accepted exchange of funds for book loans. Illicit file-sharing of books has no such contract and doesn’t guarantee that anybody ever paid for the book even one time. Further, the magnitude is far larger: a library lends the book to ten, twenty people before buying a new copy. An e-book on a site may go to 100, 1000, 10000 people.

      That doesn’t make either right or wrong, but it’s important to see the distinction.

      — c.

    • Yes, what Chuck said below – libraries need to buy copies of the e-books that they loan out. Library funds are low these days. So it sometimes takes a while before they can get the new bestseller.

      (Side note – I LOVE getting books from the library on my Kindle. Do they have EVERYTHING? No. But it’s convenient and free to me and legal.)

      Also, I’m pretty sure you CAN “loan” e-books to your friends (at least on Kindle). It’s like a 2-week loan or something, like the library does it.

  • Then why don’t libraries and publishers/authors have that same agreement for e-books? I would even pay a yearly or monthly membership fee, gladly!

    • They really should! I think what libraries really need is a single provider they can give all their users access to for ebooks. It would be a middle-man between the publishers and the libraries (unlike physical books), but it would provide consistency and uniformity, and a large economy of scale the libraries could share the cost of. In fact, I’m surprised Amazon hasn’t tried building such a thing yet. The Kindle user base would probably explode if they partnered with all the libraries…

      • Amazon has partnered with libraries. It’s still small, but growing. They saw the demand for e-book borrowing and jumped on it. And there’s no middle man. You “check out” an e-book like you would a normal book, it shows up on your e-reader, and then disappears after 2 weeks. But, like I said, it’s not available everywhere, and it’s far from every e-book.

        Of course, there’s still room in the market (I think) for a premium, audible-like service that is subscription based and with a wider catalog for those who don’t want to be on a waiting list or want an e-book the library doesn’t provide.

  • Following up on #3: I suspect the biggest source of piracy right now is … YouTube. Music, television, movies — both current and old. Some stuff on YouTube pays the actual creators/publishers, but the vast majority doesn’t, and of that vast majority, some of it is paying entirely different people, those who uploaded it!

  • February 5, 2013 at 4:58 PM // Reply

    The library connection is more complex than it sounds. Currently Overdrive has pretty much a monopoly on it. . . except many publishers (I think 4 of the big 6) refuse to play. The ones that do, set prices for libraries much higher than the equivalent for paper books (even at library rates). They either charge per borrow, or allow only about 20 borrows before the library has to buy it again. This is a clearly unsustainable model that makes ebooks very expensive for libraries, all out of proportion to the size of the collection.

    The best solution is probably to set a standard format–but let competition arise for the delivery. Also for the publishers to realize that they are losing market share by not letting the libraries have the books.

  • My novel Anomaly was pirated when it only cost .99c which made me realize it wasnt about the money, someone really, really valued the story way beyond a lousy buck and wanted to spread the word in their own Blackbeardian way. Go figure.

  • I’ll blog about this tomorrow and explain the justification made for torrenting and how it doesn’t apply to books and authors.

    Chuck, will we all be meeting back here to post up links?

  • DRM and geographical restrictions are the big problem for me. I live in Australia, the 0.1c paperback is a dream, MMP are $20-$25 here, postage from the US is also about $20 (or more and I think it just went up again) and takes 2-6 weeks. UK is worse. So Amazon.co.uk has the ebook for a fair price, but I can’t have it because I live in the wrong country? F*%& you. If my money isn’t good enough I will go elsewhere. Publishers/booksellers need to realise that the internet is international and stop punishing people for where they live.

  • February 5, 2013 at 6:17 PM // Reply

    Duplicitous thoughts and ramblings, made in a vain ( albiet shallow attempt ) to justify what amounts to nothing more than ” age old” common thievery; are,” the direct result ” of a symptom occassionally referred to as ” classic short- sightedness ” usually ending in disaster. Pay for what you want … sleep well; without having to look over your shoulder . Setting the record straight … { * _ * } Later.

  • #23. I wish any physical item that also could have a digital item (movies, music, books) could have the buy one + get one option. I would in a heartbeat spend a few extra dollars to get a digital copy of whatever it is I want, and would in fact be MORE likely to buy physical copies of things so that I could have both. I know that a lot of DVDs are starting to go this route, and Amazon has been doing it as well, and I really enjoy it. I like having the option to get both without having to spend and arm and a leg to do so.

  • Too often with eBooks, Book Privacy requires Book Piracy.

    My little story: I want to buy 5 books of a certain author, keep them after paying, and have nobody snooping in when and where and what with I am reading them. And not re-buy when technology changes.

    Don’t want to pirate them. Publisher even publishes them without DRM, yay! But one distribution channel adds DRM afterwards, the other doesn’t accept my money. (insert rageface of your choice here)

    So – what can I do now? Can’t see a good solution, your suggestions are welcome.

    ceterum censeo: DRM is not a solution, it’s a sympthom of the problem.

    And by the way, thank you very much for this article – and for making it FREE TO READ, so people can take notice and react.

    • The solution is potentially “Pay for a copy so you’d paid what’s due, but then pirate that particular content till your heart’s delight.” At the very least, you paid money in the till toward author, artist, publisher, and you still get a versatile file format to do with as you see fit.

      On the one hand, that goes a little against voting with your dollar — by which I mean, that’s not sending the publisher or the distributor any kind of “message” if a message is your thing.

      On the other hand, it also unkindly punishes writer and all the other people who work in the country but whose hands are not on the rudders of that company and so, in the end, it makes it harder to create these books and stories in the first place.

      — c.

  • Excellent look from several sides at the issue, Chuck, and the comments have also been enlightening. I’ve been thinking about this ever since reading Mark Lawrence’s post on Reddit and the many comments there. Even before that–I had a heated argument with my beloved but torrent-addicted nephew at Christmas. I’ll tweet on this and may post something longer and more reflective on FB. (I just put up a new post on my blog today that I want to leave there for a couple of days.) Thanks!

  • Oh man, I remember the first and only time I pirated a book. I couldn’t find my copy of Dracula, and had to ask a friend to find an e-book that I could download. I felt so bad I went to Amazon to buy it and found it on there for free. That was when I learned it was in the public domain. :l I am bad at this crime stuff.

  • I happily bought the e-books of one of my favourite authors because I had read the Library copies of her series so many times. Then I couldn’t access the legitimately purchased e-books because I live in Flarzblargistan and they were never released here. So I have pirated copies of the books I bought so I can read them despite living in a third world country. Come on Publishers & DRM nuts, I spend 1 million pacific pesos on books a year as part of my job at the Library and we buy from EveryWhere! Why limit e-books when people want to read them and will pay money for the privilege?

    And thank you for your excellent books Mr Wendig.

  • The problem with pirating at all is it will get you in trouble. As a fan of manga and anime I am forced to buy overpriced volumes and terrible translations or I am labeled a ‘criminal’. Yet do you imagine that if I can show the authorities that I have a legally obtained (yet sub par) version, or that I am slowly buying the series as my budget allows I will not be judged just as guilty if I read a better copy or the newest chapter online? What you or I perceive as justifiable does not mean legal.

    I have written my #25 here- http://onethemis.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/e-pirates-tides-they-are-a-changin/

  • Other than the folks who are distributing pirated e-books, the only way anyone would know whether Person X was downloading them is if Person X talked about it. Why would they do this? Maybe it’s my lack of understanding of the downloader mentality but is it bragging rights that they are after for doing it? If Jack pulls a Brinks job, it would be the dumbest thing in the world for Jack to then go on his FB page and say, “Hey, I just pulled a Brinks job”. If I downloaded music, books, whatever, and am enjoying the fruit of my labor, why would I care whether someone else knew about it or not. I would rather they didn’t.

    Piracy, like porn, prostitution and drugs, is here to stay because the track record for curtailing those other things says so.

  • I just spent way too long on writing a comment, then scanned for something on the page, and discovered that the whole comment had been erased as if it was never typed in. Perhaps the WordPress furies telling me I was rambling? So I’ll just add the most relevant items from my spiel:

    PAY PEOPLE FOR THEIR WORK.
    Hey, folks, I like to get paid for work I do, don’t you? So how is it different than paying a writer, or a band, or a production company, for work they do? Answer: it’s not, it’s just a whole lot easier to tell yourself that, say, they’ve already made enough money so they don’t need yours (as I’ve heard stated again and again), than to admit that what it boils down to is that you’re getting something that they worked on and not paying them for that work. Would you have someone come in to paint your house and then not pay them for the work? Or find a shirt you liked and just walk out of the store with it? It’s no different: if someone has made something you want — books, music, movies, games, whatever — you should pay them for it.
    If you can’t afford the entertainment product, then simply don’t get it. I promise you you’ll survive.

    ANTICIPATION.
    Added bonus to buying something instead of pirating it: if you can’t afford something and have to wait until later to get it, it’s far more satisfying than just grabbing it for free online somewhere on a moment’s notice. Anticipation makes everything better, from the succulent meal you just ordered and have to wait for, to the sex you and your partner(s?) have been hinting is in the offing. In this society of every kind of entertainment being available on demand, anticipation has a genuine value that’s far too often ignored.

    • In this day and age of shrinking buying power for many people especially the American middle class, publishers and authors are just going to have to accept that a lot of people just won’t buy the book because when compared with buying groceries for the week or paying bills, a book is a luxury. Also, the competition is getting a little rough out there and many people are opting for cheap over what you, a reviewer or an author might consider good. Good book costs X to download, less good book costs X minus 5 to download. It may not be good but it’s in the same vein and buyer can justify that expense. Let’s say piracy disappears tomorrow, just means less people will read a book let alone buy it unless the price is right.

      • Exactly. Lets just put this to manga for a moment. I can read a manga volume in say 30 mins to an hour. Each volume costs at least $10 and for the most part really good stories run at least 10 volumes. If you look at Naruto its currently in the 63rd volume ($630), Bleach is at 57 ($570), and lets end with a great one, One Piece at 68 ($680). Now that’s just to CURRENT, these stories are not even over yet. That’s a chunk of change for just three stories.
        Yes I agree people should get money for the work they do but some people have an unrealistic idea of how much of a persons income their work is worth.
        I myself work at a sewer plant, and we don’t make ten bucks (or even ONE) every time you flush, and I’m pretty sure we can all agree flushing is important.
        Something has to give. I’m not endorsing piracy I’m just saying looking at these amounts is eye opening. Maybe an adjustment somewhere can be made to make things more realistic. I also understand that novels don’t cost as much and are usually not consumed in an hour its just an example. However I have paid $40 for a hardcover before just because I didn’t want to wait the long months for the softcover. Right now audible is the most economical for me with the added bonus of me being able to ‘read’ while I work. With audiobooks I have ‘read’ more in the last three months than I have had time to in the last three years!

  • I have and probably will pirate books again.

    Not as a thumbing of my nose towards the author or just because I can, but because I cannot afford it. I LOVE to read and I don’t just stick to one genre.

    The only time I can afford to purchase books is when gift cards are bestowed upon me (which they are at least twice a year). In between then I either spend 10cents per book at the library on used books OR pirate them.

    Have I pirated a lot of books? Surprisingly, no. I have actually pirated more for my wife than I (and she has admittedly higher standards in this arena than I do, since most of my music is of the “free” variety).

    If it does make you feel any better Chuck, I have bought 4 or 5 books from you (all of your 250/500 books and Bait Dog)..so I haven’t pirated any of your books.

  • I scanned through all of the comments fairly quickly, and I recognize that this is not a simple issue. It was certainly not a simple issue in Napster’s time (and it sounds like some of you are about my age too.) I’m going to stay on 2 points, and not address the more complex political, socioeconomic, and philosophical debates that are being discussed thus far.

    We had 2 main issues wrt music piracy (10k foot level please):
    1. bootleg sales
    2. gross licensing infringement by individuals

    An author stated above that his ebooks are being sold unlicensed and at a fraction of the cost. Of course, this requires legal redress on his part.

    But we learned some interesting things about individual piracy:
    1. Little known and moderately known bands benefited from the distribution of their singles. Their sales of CDs increased.
    2. It created the paradigm shift to single purchase full CD purchase. The ROI for the music industry (once pay sites were established that supported what we really wanted) grew exponentially.

    We need to take a look back at the music industry’s fight with “piracy” and apply it to this same issue, along with DRM issues as well. Not everything translates directly–there will be gaps. But the little known and moderately known author, both self-pub and small print, could stand to gain quite a bit from the exposure.

    DRM is another long discussion, and I agree with the author here.

    Thanks for reading! And I apologize for any grammar issues, lack of clarity, and such. I’m on my first cup of coffee!

  • Kind of an old post, but I just read your “Search terms bingo” and decided to search “i want to pirate chuck wendig’s books” and here I am.

    I’m curious about your feelings regarding authors who give away their content. Full disclosure, I’ve made my book available for free, as well as pay-what-you-want. I’m not a professional writer, it’s just a hobby and I have a good source of income as an engineer, so I fully understand that giving away my content is a luxury that professional writer’s don’t have. Further more, I’m self published and have put precisely 20$ into marketing (that being the cost of my website for a year), so pretty much my only hope of having anyone read my book is to just let them have it. But anyway, I’m just curious if you have any thoughts on this, if you think it has some kind of bigger implications in the publishing world.

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