Why I Hope You Don’t Pirate My Book

Yesterday I wrote a thing about my thoughts on book piracy (or whatever you want to call it, including “thievery” or “unauthorized file-sharing” or “warez” or “Dave”), and there I suggested that we make today — February 6th — International Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day, where authors and writers and creatives of all types hop online to share their thoughts about piracy. This, then, is my entry serving that goal. If you join in, let us know.

It’s not about the money.

I mean, maybe it is. In the long run. About the money.

I need money, being a human being who lives in a capitalist society and all. I have bills to pay. A roof to keep over my family’s head. I have to keep my Internet turned on. I have to buy whiskey. I need to afford all those unusual sexual devices in the shapes of various mythological figures (though I find “Hephaestus’ Forge” more than a little uncomfortable).

So, to clarify, it’s not just about the money.

I have this notion. I believe that art has value. I believe that this value is not purely or even necessarily monetary — art and stories make the world go around. They change the creators and they change the audience. They make us think and feel. They teach us things. They challenge us. And, at the base level of it all, they can entertain us when we’ve just plain had a dogshit day.

The value of art being separate from money does not unfortunately remove the artist from this world of ours, a world that is at times comfortably and other times crassly capitalist. Because the artist lives in this world and not some other perfect world (WHERE WE ALL HAVE PET UNICORNS WHOSE HORNS ALSO SPRAY DELICIOUS WHISKEY INTO OUR MOUTHS wow that got phallic really fast), we must then suggest that for the artist to create the art that moves us and challenges us and entertains us, the artist must be given a means by which to survive.

“Starving artist” is a cliche that, like most cliches, comes from a real place.

It’s hard to make money with art. Not impossible. And maybe “hard” isn’t even the word.

But it is, at times, a challenge.

Which is where this whole issue of “unauthorized file-sharing” comes in. Meaning, you or someone else downloads my book without paying for it. I don’t consider this stealing. And without effective data on the subject, I don’t even know if it’s really hurting me at all.

Hell, maybe it’s even helping. (More on that in a moment.)

This isn’t about that.

This is about what people see as the relative value of art. File-sharing expresses the value of that art at baseline of almost zero. It takes ridiculously little effort to click a button and tickle the Internet and make it poop out my book onto your respective e-reader. I’d be impressed if you had to… I dunno, throw a trash can through a window and grab my book off the shelf before the ED-209 police-bot tromps over and fires a photon torpedo up your slurry-chute — at least then I know you really wanted that goddamn book. But file-sharing is so… simple, so effortless, even careless it feels like it dismisses the entire thing we do.

So, let me be clear about it: it’s hurt feelings I’m talking about. I get a twinge in my gut when you pirate my stuff. A tiny little prison shiv of sadness.

And maybe you don’t give a lemur’s left nut about that. I don’t see why you would. Certainly if you’ve nabbed my book by some illicit Internet means you probably have your reasons for doing so. Some of those reasons might not even be terrible. Many of my books are DRM free and are not exactly expensive, but just the same, maybe you’ve got your knickers in a twist about blah blah blah whatever. Maybe you want to stick it to me. Or to my publishers. Or to Amazon. And this is your way of voting with your not-dollar, a splinter in the eye of commercial publishing. Maybe you don’t have access and I don’t realize it — certainly the International Internet Laws are both byzantine and bizarre. I don’t know if you can buy my book in Papua New Guinea.

If you pirate my work, I don’t hate you. I don’t think you’re scum. I mean, unless you’re taking my work and slapping your name on it. Or you’re somehow making money off the pirating of my work. Then you officially get squished sloppily into the “scumfuck” category, thanksmuch.

Here’s all that I’m asking:

I’m asking you to try to support art. Which means, when you can pay for it, please do pay for it. The more content drifts toward free and open access, the  harder it will be for the content-creators to continue creating content, at least until some major paradigm shift in crowdfunding or patronage models offers up a revised revenue stream that won’t cause me to starve and die.

If you find that some component of the books doesn’t work for you — some kind of DRM or issues of access, I might suggest pirating the book but then paying for a physical copy. And then taking that copy and either using it to shore up a crooked table or, even better, donating it or passing it along to a friend. Don’t donate directly to me; my publisher helped make my books exist. Publishers catch a lot of shit for a lot of shit. Some of it is deserved. But the truth is, my books — and most of the books you’ve loved in your life — are due to the publishers getting to do what they do. They’re an easy target but they deserve some back-scratchings once in a while.

If you find the pricing practices of an author or publisher problematic, you should at least let that author or publisher know. Voting with your dollar (or with your unauthorized file-sharing) only has value when the author/publisher knows why.

At the very least, if you nab a copy of my book from some shady smut-shellacked Spam-Bot peddling them in some dimly-lit corner of the Cyber-Webs and you happen to like it, I’d love for you to tell other people about it. And maybe, one day, consider buying some other book of mine.

That’s what this guy did. He grabbed Blackbirds without paying for it.

And then bought all my other books.

Which is, you might say, a way to ethically share files, unauthorized or no.

Mostly, I just want you to think about the artists and authors and even the people in publishing once in a while. We like what we do and we want to continue to have the means to do it. If that means you buy the book through normal means, great. If that means you ethically support the ecosystem through other, less authorized means, hey, I can’t stop you.

Just be aware of what’s happening. Be aware that you’re not the only person involved in this exchange. This story didn’t fall from the heavens, dropped out of some heavenly sphincter. It took work. And love. And pain. And time. Think beyond the button-click it takes to snatch it from the etheric 1s and 0s. Take time to realize that art and stories have value.

To you, to me, to that guy over there.

Art is rad.

Stories are awesome.

Try to pay for them once in awhile.

Especially if they’re mine, ’cause I’m saving up for that fucking whiskey-jizzing unicorn.

68 comments

  • Dear Author,

    Here is an honest opinion hiding behind anonymity. It is simple:

    1) I cannot afford buying all the books I wish to read; as simple as that.

    2) It is digital data and if I read it without paying, you don’t lose anything since I was not going to buy it anyway. It does not cost you anything at all (other than a highly speculative opportunity cost which is blown out of proportion significantly). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opportunity_cost
    I am not even sure if the term even applies here properly due to point 1.
    Bottomline: All this lost revenue thing is mostly bullshit and you know it!

    3) You need to make a living which is a very important point (those who really add value to the book: editors, illustrators, etc. need it, too.)

    4) “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_segmentation” is a well-known concept. Learn the basics!

    5) So, to maximize your revenue:
    a) please put a donation button to your website.
    b) those who can afford make a donation to writers who honestly make a plea to their readers reminding that they need to buy bread, too. (I was going to paypal you some amount if I it were there because I liked your first two books a lot)
    c) you share a portion of it with editors, illustrators as you see fit.
    d) Stephan King may not benefit from this solution but he does not need it anyway. For him point 6 below would work better.

    6) The current publishing business has way passed its expiry date despite point 3. As alternatives to point 5, one can try the good old “poor artist” model, try to make money from performances (reading to your fans), appearances, ads, whatever. Then, all this pirating/free-give-away-to-some-segment-of-the-market becomes free advertisement for you and helps your bottom line. You recoup opportunity costs elegantly with no effort.

    *** Angry for hearing unsolicited advise from a pirate? Now, take a breath and re-read points 1 and 2. I am just trying to think of a good solution here that will work in 21st century.

    7) Alternatively, you keep complaining and nothing constructive happens. We all live “in a capitalist society and all” and got constantly screwed by big companies, publishers, etc every day. Don’t expect people to give up free reading/pirating just because fucking businesses (big or small) are responsible to their shareholders and have to maximize their quarterly profits. Fuck that! Do you know how much they charge for even an ebook where I live?

    8) I get screwed to some extent in my job, too, though in other creative ways. It is a fact of life “in a capitalist society and all”. You are a good author and obviously a clever guy. Stop whining! BTW, your stop pirating day is the stupidest idea I have heard. What are you, a fucking shill of mafiaa companies?

    *** Again: All this lost revenue thing is mostly bullshit and you know it! I cannot afford the price you asked anyway…As simple as that…How my not reading will benefit you or me is beyond me so I will continue reading. BTW, go to point 4 again for solutions.

    9) If you say: “fuck you, I don’t need unpaid readers like you” as an answer to all this, then fine. If it is going to make happier, I would respect it and delete all your pirated books from my library. Funny that you will not even know it (Point 2).

    With regards,
    An unofficial reader.

  • I have to own up to being a habitual pirate… but I don’t feel good about it, and I do think it’s wrong (not so much morally but because it’s fundamentally counterproductive: if readers don’t buy books, there won’t be an industry to sustain writers). I WANT TO PAY FOR BOOKS. (Movies is another matter.)

    So…. why do I pirate?

    Partly it’s because I’m actually very broke, constantly, but I read a lot and read fast. Although I re-read, if I literally don’t have the money to buy books at full price at the rate I read them.

    Mainly, though, it’s the practical barriers.

    Amazon dominates, obviously. In principle that should be perfect: once you’re an Amazon customer, the purchase process is very easy. But they use a proprietary format that I can only read on the stupid Kindle app, which I find totally unusable. To them, that’s a feature, not a bug – they want to lock people in to the Kindle more than they want to sell the books. But for readers, and hence authors, not so much.

    Then there’s crazy geographical restrictions, which mean that 80 per cent or so of books I want to read are unavailable (I live in a non-English-speaking country, which means the rights are sold in the local language; so I can’t buy most books in English; it also means buying paper copies is more-or-less impossible, or at least horribly, horribly expensive).

    Finally, much of the time I simply can’t find a vendor other than Amazon. Where is the big international ebook vendor? Nowhere. Author websites? Again, Amazon or nothing.

    All the above… they’re factors that not only push me towards pirating, they discourage me from even trying to buy. There have been times I’ve successfully bought ebooks, but every damn time it’s taken as long as if I went to the bookshop (but without the pleasure). And the effort has been one-use-only (Great! I got Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City from Robot Books! But they don’t have any author I’ve looked for since…). It is so much easier to *find* a book by pirating.

    DRM is of course another barrier, but that’s received enough pushback that it’s an eroding model. Still, I’ve lost access to quite expensive purchased books because of that (what, I have to enter my bank card number to unlock this book I bought 4 years ago? What card was that? Oh, great, the one from the long-since-closed bank account….).

    Please, authors and publishers, make it possible to buy DRM-free, cross-platform ebooks directly from your websites! A simple PayPal or credit card payment system, a no-complicated-obstructions download, and I’ll pay even when I can’t afford to.

    Oh well, I will respect your request, Chuck, and not pirate your books. For now, though, that means not reading them at all 🙁

  • I believe art and knowledge should be available to everyone, but not everyone can pay for it. Call me naive or romantic or what have you, but i believe in sharing and community. To place a price upon knowledge and art is to put a price on the priceless. I would argue that the dollar itself devalues art.

    However, I also believe that artists and teachers do deserve a living income for the value they provide to society. Therefore, I do often pay for what I consume when I can. However, I have very limited income, and I spend a lot of time learning and reading, so I can’t pay for everything. Instead, I have to prioritize what I support. I do, however, keep a list of books read, so perhaps one day I will be able to say I supported the creators of every work I have consumed. Would you rather have someone come across your work and begrudgingly move on when it is not affordable or pirate it, value it, and pay you later after they’ve gained from it?

    It has also been said that those who pirate would not have paid for it anyway, and that seems to hold true in a lot of cases. I know its only anecdotal evidence, but I have only heard low-income people speak of pirating in a positive way. Most people don’t want to steal in order to hurt others, yet they would do so to survive.

  • I’ll fess up, I used to pirate books a lot. And movies, and tv shows, and other media; but that’s another story. I didn’t feel that bad about it; it’s digital, right? Why should I pay for something that I can get for free?

    Then, I read an article much like yours. Unlike yours, however, the author was in a bad way. She had just retouched a previously-published title, including making it available in digital format. She had been working on the sequel when she realized that more people were pirating the book than were purchasing it. Even though it was out there, getting passed around and read, so few of those copies were purchased legally that she wasn’t making any money on the book. She was so distressed about the whole thing that she stopped her work on the sequel. I’ll never know how that series ends, now, because of pirating.

    It got me thinking. I make a decent income, and most of it is disposable. Why can’t I support the authors I read by purchasing the books? So, I started paying for the books I read, instead of pirating them.

    I’ll admit, however, that I still download the occasional pirated book. Mostly because it’s a duplicate of a book that I’ve already supported the author by purchasing a physical copy, or because I simply cannot find it available for purchase. I also feel that my copy, that I paid money for, might help defray the cost of those copies that aren’t paid for.

    I guess what I’m saying is: some pirating is inevitable, and can even send a strong message at times (see: the controversy around the draconian DRM on the Maxis video game “Spore” in 2009), but if you’re doing nothing but pirating, it might be time to step back and think about your choices.

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