Aaaargh. Pirates!

Over on Galleycat, it’s Piracy Week, which coincidentally matches exactly what I wanted to blog about. We’re both addressing this topic because of last week’s Publishers Weekly article about e-piracy, in which publishing losses from illegal downloads are estimated to be three billion dollars. Of the titles they tracked, the average number of illegal downloads was 13,000.

I confess to being a voice of doom on this topic. A good friend of mine is a legendary singer/songwriter, a man who wrote one of the defining songs of our generation. He made a fortune in the music business and is still very much in demand on the concert circuit, but he says that with rampant illegal downloading of tunes, there’s no way he would be able to achieve that success today. He’s already a big name, so he can make a good living playing live concerts. But these days, if you aren’t already a big name, the only real money in music is if you sell your tune for advertising jingles or write theme music for TV. “I feel sorry for truly talented young musicians,” he says. “No one will be able to do what I did thirty years ago Piracy has destroyed the industry.”

And that, I fear, is what lies ahead for writers.

To assess just how much illegal downloading is hurting me personally, I went onto one of the websites mentioned in the Publishers Weekly article ( and checked out how many Tess Gerritsen books were available for free downloading. I found over ninety files available, in a variety of languages, including the entire Jane Rizzoli series. The site tells you how many times the files have been downloaded, and at least 4,000 copies in English have been downloaded. That’s 4,000 book sales I never made. And that’s just the English titles, on just one site. Were I to track down every site on the web that offers free downloads of my books, I’m guessing the number would be many times that number. Thousands and thousands of book sales that never happened because readers got the stories for free.

For the moment, illegal downloading represents only a fraction of total book sales, but I guarantee, that’s about to change. As e-readers become more popular, as consumers gradually abandon the old-fashioned book and embrace the electronic book, those free downloads are going to look pretty tempting. The only thing that stands in the way of our complete ruination as an industry is the lingering popularity of print books. We want to believe that the print book will always be with us, that our children and grandchildren will prefer a real book, just as we do.

Buggy whip manufacturers probably thought the same thing.

For the moment, all we can do is play whack-a-mole with the pirates. Every so often, a reader emails me, pointing out sites pirating my books, and for that I’m grateful. Fortunately, most sites are good about taking down illegal copies if you alert them. I contacted, and within a day, they took down the English language files I specified. (I didn’t contest the foreign language files, because I can’t read precisely what they’re offering.) I’m sure that within a week, there’ll be new ones on the site. And there are so many sites to monitor, I’d need a full-time assistant just to keep up.

Like my friend the musician, I’m grateful that I was able to build my career when I did. When books are easily stolen and given away free, writers won’t be able to make a living. And when no one values the storyteller, it will be a sad day indeed.

41 replies
  1. Rikkesoft
    Rikkesoft says:

    Tess, as usual there are two sides on the story. I will not argue that you probably will loose income due to piracy, but I don’t think the loss is equal to the absolute numbers.

    With illegal CD copies, many people copy or download a work from an artist that they don’t know, and they don’t want to spend money to get a first blimp on the songs of that band. So if they would have to buy the CD, they would choose to spend that money on a CD of a band they already know to like.

    In fact, in your way of thinking, you already loose money every time somebody who legally bought a copy of your (paper) book, lends it to its relatives, friends and colleages. And you don’t seem to worry about this at all.

    But using my theory, you only loose income on every person who downloads a second book, because that means that he liked the first one and really wants to read more from you.
    And still doesn’t want to pay for it.

  2. techiebabe
    techiebabe says:

    Interesting blog. I’m obviously not in the same position as you to comment, but I think that while downloads are easier now, it just reflects a change.

    For example, these days it’s easy for people to blog, or to record some music and put it on MySpace. They can use Facebook and other sites to build up a fan base. They can then sell things themselves, or ideally get a publishing / record deal so they can make a finished product and get some decent promotion campaign behind them.

    In the case of music, for a long time the money’s been in the gigging – ticket sales and merchandise sold. So now they can build up a fan base online through websites and word of mouth, without a deal. They can get fans through the door. They can be more inventive than just selling T-shirts – the best I’ve seen was a USB stick giveaway (containing an unreleased song) to anyone in the fan club queue – made me want to sign up, even though the value of the stick + single was less than the annual sub to be a member.

    I’m not sure how this translates to authors. I know that I count the pages to the end of the book, thinking “I have 50 more to go to see how this resolves!” and feel cheated if it ends after 20 and the next 30 are the first chapter of the next book, BUT if the next book is already out, there’s a good chance I’ll read that chapter and order it on Amazon asap. Regarding digital promotion, I guess the industry has to get more inventive. I don’t know how (USB sticks containing extra “background” chapters that you don’t get in the book?) Film trailers on YouTube is a good one and one I know you are already using – I think it’s great, adds to the book and reminds me to go out and buy it, plus a good film will be circulated to my friends.

    The internet is here. Downloading and piracy is here, and regardless of whether you approve or not, it’s time to get inventive and start working WITH technology.

  3. Tess
    Tess says:

    Rikke, authorized e-book sales allow sharing the file with a total of five users, so you can indeed share your file with a limited number of friends and family. The same with print books — the average paperback, I’ve been told, is read by three different people.

    The problem with piracy is that one person buys the e-book (or copies it illegally) and can give it away to potentially limitless numbers of people. When your product is handed out free to millions, there is no way for the publisher to stay in business. Or the author, for that matter.

  4. april
    april says:

    For me, I find I’m way too lazy to find something illegal. I pay for most of my things.

    That said, I did get The Surgeon as a stripped book. I didn’t pay for it. I worked at the bookstore and they’d offer the books to the employees before tossing them. I actually rebought the book later and most of the subsequent books.

    I think music is also different from books. I think it’s been going through this for awhile and can adapt a little easier. Playing live is an option, merchandising, and live recordings or DVDs. Books are a different animal. I believe technology will be eventually part of the options and become commonplace. However, it’ll take an adjustment period. I also don’t think every reader will stop reading paper books for another couple decades at least. You’d have to get through at least a couple of generations before you can expect the people to catch up with the technology or the technology to be cheap enough for every person which takes time.

    Interesting times we live in. Technology is a two-way street because with technology comes marketing that was never possible a little over a decade ago.

  5. Tess
    Tess says:

    THE SURGEON was offered as a free download for one month by my publisher, with my approval, last year. I’ll have to check with Ballantine to see if the offer is still supposed to be up. Thanks!

  6. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    There are relatively few people who read enough titles per year to warrant owning an electronic reading device. That’s why I think print is going to be around for a long long time, and why I don’t think piracy will ever be as big an issue in publishing as it is in music.

  7. demeter94
    demeter94 says:

    Hi Tess,

    In the dispute about illegal downloads, there are many shades of grey, but most importantly, I’m thinking the future isn’t that dire. People who love books do need the experience of having an actual book in their hands, open up the world that enfolds between the front and the back cover. Opening a file on a computer or an e-reader just isn’t the same, and remember it’s the same people who come back because they got hooked on the characters. With a mindset like that, there can’t be any volume missing in the book shelf. I once bought ‘Vanish’, because the synopsis sounded interesting, and then in short order, I got the others that were out at that point (because I had to); now, I pre-order. In my experience, people who love books & reading tend to feel the same. Those who don’t – they never valued the storyteller, and they never will, but we book addicts do.

    Lastly I’d like to ask what your stance on fanworks (fiction and vids) is, because if ‘Rizzoli’ is being picked up as a series, and I’m crossing everything I can for that, there will be some. People don’t make money from that, and it’s meant as an homage, but not every author is happy with it. Thanks!

  8. Tess
    Tess says:

    demeter, if the fanfic writer isn’t making any money off his derivative work, and is doing it just for fun, I’m not sure I’d have a problem with it. I know many authors feel differently, but as long as they’re not profiting from characters i created, I think it only helps sell my books.

  9. ec
    ec says:

    It seems to me that the notion of there being “many shades of gray” to “illegal downloads” is inherently illogical. The key word is “illegal.” Downloading something illegally, for any reason whatsoever, is theft.

    “But,” people say, “it’s okay if to help myself to other people’s property if I’m not sure I’ll like it enough to buy it. Or if I like it, but probably wouldn’t buy it if the option of stealing it wasn’t available to me (because the creative owner really isn’t losing a sale…) Or if I think it’s overpriced. Or if the price is reasonable, but I think the author/musician/filmmakers are making enough money without me adding to their coffers. Or if I only want 2 songs from a CD or 2 stories from an anthology.” And so on. One 20-something man told me he thought it was okay for him to make illegal downloads of video games because he was YOUNG and he REALLY LIKED video games. (If I want it, I’m entitled to have it.) Calling it “sampling,” another common “gray area” is rationalizing bullshit. If the owner offers free samples, go for it. Lots do. But if you take something that is NOT offered, you are stealing. It’s not a complicated concept. That the technology exists to make theft easy does not make it right.

  10. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:

    I agree with e.c.

    If you would like to “sample” an author’s works without paying for it: get a copy from your local library!

    Then you might decide that you simply must have it as a part of your permanent collection.

    It’s the legal and moral way to go. It also helps authors if the libraries have a high demand for their titles when they are deciding how many copies to purchase when a new book is released.

  11. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    Interesting. I understand how the figures might seem shocking, but the fact is that you are a well known author, making a living off your writing. I wonder how easy it would be to download the work of lesser-known writers?

    Sarah Weinman tweeted last week: “Why can’t I get excited about ebook piracy? Maybe because the $1 billion-plus earning AVATAR was the most pirated movie of 2009?” The books that will be most pirated are also the books that are most read anyway, and most distributed for free in libraries, too.

  12. Frank Hood
    Frank Hood says:

    I understand the anxiety over free downloads. I have never downloaded any book that isn’t in the public domain and don’t intend to. Writers have to look at how they can sell their product and make a living.

    At the same time Congress and other governments have made a hash of the Constitution regarding copyrights. Do you really need your copyright for 70 years after your death? It’s been seriously suggested in Congress that copyright should be for eternity minus 1 day–the last to get around the constitutional requirement for a “limited time.”

    None of that excuses piracy, but we need to look at how writers and artists are going to make a living in a world not ruled by monopolistic movie studios, record studios, and publishers. Monopolistic may be an excessive characterization, but the big publishers are finding it harder to make their business model work, and it’s hard to get rich or even well compensated off small presses.

    Truly effective anti-online-piracy measures may end up backfiring by scaring off legitimate customers. The New York Times experiment in charging for their online content will probably not help their bottom line much, just result in reduced market share. It will be worth watching. At the same time the NY Times is extraordinarily unfair to its freelancers. They tried for years to insist that freelance work was work-for-hire to steal their contributors’ work.

    So who’s the good guy, and where are revenues for new writers and artists going to come from? I don’t have the answers yet, but it’s going to be messy.

  13. montieth69
    montieth69 says:

    I agree with EC, its stealing and is wrong. I love to sit on my bed or a nice comfy spot in my home while reading a book from one of my favorite authors. I only hope that my fav writters find a way to even want to keep publishing…

  14. Tess
    Tess says:

    Here’s the thing about piracy — it doesn’t care if the author is wealthy and successful or poor and struggling. It steals from everyone. I would think the struggling author has the most to lose, proportionately speaking, because he can’t rely on regular book sales to keep him afloat, whereas the successful author can still count on non-pirated book sales to live on.

  15. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    Well that’s just it… Another thing about piracy is that it’s proportionately related to the popularity of the product. That’s what Weinman was trying to say. It affects those who are already making their money, which is terrible, but as far as pirating new writers’ ebooks it’s not nearly as much as an issue. In fact, since one of the biggest challenges for new authors is publicity, the spreading knowledge of their book is a good thing. Many writers give away a lot of their writing to make enough of a name for themselves that they can sell something.

    I am in no way trying to say that piracy is right or that people should be happy about any sales they might lose. But as far as it destroying publishing or devaluing the storyteller, I just don’t see it.

  16. sethgodin
    sethgodin says:

    Thanks for your good writing, Tess.

    The flaw in your economic argument, though, becomes clear when we consider the library. If every single library in the country had all your books, prominently displayed on the front counter, free to borrow, free to share… would that help or hinder your sales?

    Should we shutter the libraries?

    I don’t know about you, but I’d be thrilled to have every library have my books, even if I didn’t make a penny on the sale to them. Even better than being on Oprah.

    Ideas that spread, win.

  17. Tess
    Tess says:

    The difference is that libraries actually did pay for the book in their collection — and each copy can only be loaned out one at a time, with the book having a limited lifespan because of the durability of paper.

    A legally purchased e-book can be shared with a total of five users.

    But ebooks on pirated sites are available to a limitless audience. One pirate can hand out the book to a million readers, forever.

  18. ec
    ec says:

    Libraries, cllectively, are one of a writer’s best customers. In tiny Rhode Island, there are often 40 or 50 copies of a popular title.

  19. ec
    ec says:

    Agreed. And unlike pirated downloads, library loans DO inspire people to purchase books. I frequently take books out of the library as a means of trying new writers. Some of the writers whose books I buy in hardcover on the day of release were “discovered” this way. And from time to time I hear from people who now read (and purchase) MY books after having picked up one in a library.

  20. ec
    ec says:

    Those stats on Dan Brown’s latest are sobering. Assuming he was getting only 10% royalty–which I doubt–that’s the loss of over a quarter million dollars. For the publisher, closer to a million. They could publish quite a few midlist or new authors for that kind of change.

  21. annamoony
    annamoony says:

    Here’s a question: why do books come out in hardback first, and why are hardbacks so expensive?

    I would be extremely surprised if the cost of books and the current economy weren’t directly related to the rise in piracy.

  22. ec
    ec says:

    We’re not talking about unemployed parents stealing boxes of Hostess Ding-Dongs to feed their hungry kids. We’re talking about people who own iPhones, computers, e-readers, and game systems making illegal downloads for their expensive toys.

  23. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    I find a lot of this bewildering. How is it figured that library loans inspire people to buy books and illegal downloads don’t?

    I’m a librarian– I know the life span of a book and how many people read them. In fact, a lot of the paperback crime novels I processed were second-hand, already bought and read by half a dozen people before they got to the library. Then checked out maybe fifty to a hundred times, and then withdrawn and sold again at the library book sale or a charity shop, to be read further. All that reading and it was purchased just the once.

    As for the stats on Dan Brown’s latest book: How many sales *did* he make? It’s the popularity argument again. His books were heavily pirated because they were already heavily popular. That is not the case for new relatively unknown writers and it won’t stop new writers from establishing themselves in the market.

  24. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    I’m sorry– I shouldn’t use Tess’s blog as a platform for my opinions, etc. It’s about hers. In any case, thanks for bringing the subject to light, Tess.

  25. ec
    ec says:

    Jen, I don’t agree that piracy will not hurt new writers; to the contrary.

    When we took my son to college orientation, the dean asked how many people downloaded music and video from shareware sites such as (he named a couple of popular ones). Just about every hand in the room went up. He explained that the colleger server was heavily firewalled against such sites and warned the kids that that illegal downloads would be punished with suspension. Two things struck me: how widespread the practice of illegal downloading was, and how bemused the kids seemed to be over the notion that there might be anything WRONG with it.

    You seem to be assuming that people who download bestsellers will purchase other books. Yet one of the justifications for illegal downloads I most frequently encounter is, “But I wouldn’t have bought this, otherwise, so the creator isn’t really losing a sale.” This create a really handy rationale for downloading a book by an unfamiliar author.

    And them consider the notion that pirates are somehow doing little-known authors and musicians a FAVOR by stealing their work, in that they are “giving them exposure.” The reasoning is that at some people might like some authors’ books enough to start paying for them, perhaps in high enough numbers to allow those authors to become bestsellers. I don’t deny that this could, in some few circumstances, occur. But if the cultural norm is shifting toward an expectation is that any created work you want should be free for the taking, why should any distinction be made between bestselling books and new authors?

    The consumer who sees no difference between checking a book out of the library and downloading it from a shareware site is not thinking beyond his use of that book. Most people, in my experience, simply don’t CARE to. I’m glad Tess raised this issue and hope that at least a few of the people who follow her blog will consider the impact their decisions have on the people who create the books they read.

  26. Tess
    Tess says:

    jen, don’t apologize for adding to the discussion! I love that everyone here is sharing their opinions.

    and ec, you and I are exactly on the same wavelength.

  27. annathaema
    annathaema says:

    “We’re not talking about unemployed parents stealing boxes of Hostess Ding-Dongs to feed their hungry kids. We’re talking about people who own iPhones, computers, e-readers, and game systems making illegal downloads for their expensive toys.”

    I recognize that there are definitely people out there with expensive toys who don’t mind spending hundreds on an iPhone but who balk at spending $4.99 for a licensed e-book. Or the oh-so-anarchist teenager who thinks he’s sticking it TO THE MAN by downloading Vampire Weekend albums from a torrent site. I’m not really addressing them, not in this venue anyway.

    And I think you underestimate the necessity of a book to a poor person. I can tell you, from experience, that it is somewhat less miserable to starve when one has a book for company. A book can also be a welcome distraction when sleeping in the car, or on a park bench. Sometimes, if given the choice between soup and a book, I would have to deliberate over which of my organs has been the most deficient in nutrition before I could choose.

    So when you take someone, someone with such a voracious literary appetite, and you parade them through a Barnes & Noble, what do you think happens? She runs her hands over the new hardcovers, priced $20-$40, sometimes higher. They might be on sale but it’s not enough of a discount to make a difference. Her best bet is to look at the mass market paperbacks, which sometimes drift closer to her budget. But oh, those new releases – that one, the long-anticipated release from her favourite author! – are so tempting. Taunting.

    Eventually, while the in-store cafe makes her hungry, she finds a paperback she might like to own. It is $7.95. To a lot of people this is a pittance. To her, it’s a loaf of bread, some milk and maybe enough left over for the cheap margarine. To her, it’s two gallons of gas, maybe three, which might be enough to get her to work and back. That book, that little window of escape, shrinks in her hand. She’s overwhelmed by responsibilities she would so dearly love to shirk, to leave behind as she dives into this imagined world.

    In the end though, she puts the book back. She doesn’t know when her next $7.95 is going to come in, so it’s better to hold on to it for the important things. Books aren’t important things anymore, in the grand scheme of things. But the importance of leaving it behind as she exits the bookstore stays with her for a while afterward.

    Later on, on her crappy laptop she inherited from her mother, on the neighbor’s unprotected wireless internet, she finds the book online for free. She feels a stab of guilt and for a moment she can’t decide what’s worse: pirating the book, or not pirating it, feeling good about not pirating it, and then resignation at not having any kind of distraction from the hollow night.

    This is not a thief. This is not a spoiled brat, or an ignorant teenager, or any other stereotype of an online pirate. They’re not all out there gleefully plotting against authors and the publishing industry. While I grant that the majority of them don’t understand the impact of piracy, I don’t think they’re all thieves. I think they’re readers, who want to read, who did not know they loved reading until they had to stop (apologies to Scout Finch). I think they’re lonely, broke and broken, and sometimes the only thing standing between them and giving up is that they pick up a book, read it, and come out of it to a world that seems less dire.

    I don’t pirate books. I couldn’t if I wanted to, not on dialup. And knowing how it affects authors – friends – and the industry, I don’t plan to pirate books. But I can certainly understand why some people do. Books are, like every other form of entertainment, but perhaps more tragically so – prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. I think that if we make books more accessible to people for what they can afford to pay, and if we put more energy and effort and funding into libraries, we’ll see a drop in piracy.

  28. Tess
    Tess says:

    and here’s another plug for public libraries. My neighborhood library is where I learned to love books as a child, and where I discovered so many fictional friends.

    I have donated paperback copies of my books to several homeless shelters around the country, because I agree with you that books are food for the soul. And I wish there were a public library accessible to every person in the country.

    But I do tend to think that the average the pirate who uploads books to file-sharing sites isn’t doing out of the goodness of his heart, to provide the needy with books. He’s doing it because he has a sociopathic need to screw the system.

  29. lstintranslashun
    lstintranslashun says:

    Wading in with a different viewpoint, please forgive me if I step on toes.

    I’m an e-writer. I’ve published fifteen titles with a stable, solid e-publishing house. I also write in probably the hottest e-book industry: erotic romance.

    Stealing is stealing. It’s against the law.

    It is also very much a part of this business. I’ve spent the better part of three years dealing with e-piracy. You see, I don’t make a ton of cash writing. When I’m putting books out, I do better than working a part time job. When I have a lull, I’d do better turning in pop cans for deposit each month. I’ve had some big sellers and some not so big sellers.

    My point is that in the beginning, when I first realized there were people out there, in the wide open internet, who were passing around copies of my books FOR FREE – or worse charging people to get copies(sure, for pennies on the dollar, but…) I was absolutely devastated. I mean, here I was, pouring out my heart on the page and these jerks (you know I was thinking something much worse, LOL) were stealing it without a thought for me, the work, or how the loss of that revenue could/would hurt both of those things.

    So, I started tracking sellers down, filing complaints, et al. I got involved with groups who were fed up and weren’t going to take anymore piracy; groups that were determined to find a way to put a stop to it. Out of that came things like DRM(which can be cracked in about a microsecond, a lot of good that did) and limits on legitimate e-copies. Great ideas, which in my mind, have failed epically.

    When complaining and badgering and yelling became a full time job, instead of writing and raising my children, I knew I had to pair down all the searching, etc I was doing to find sites that had pirated copies of my work. So, I started to really focus on the people doing the uploading, especially if I found them on more than one pirate site. And I sent them letters with notice of copyright infringement, etc, etc. Some of them wrote me back, some didn’t. Of those who did, some asked what the big deal was, some told be to blow off(for lack of a cleaner euphemism to use, LOL).

    I asked the ones who seemed less likely to send me a hard-drive-wiping virus why they were sharing my book. I needed/wanted the revenue those downloaders were stealing. And here’s where my mentality about pirating started to shift. Most of these people had no clue who I was. They’d never even read the books they were sharing/selling.

    And that’s when I joined some of the message boards on the sharing sites, and started asking those folks, on the sly, about what kinds of things they picked up. Were the e-books they so enjoyed down/uploading their favorites? Favorite authors? Favorite genres?

    The answer was, and still is, not really. Most pirates are young men, so things like horror and sci-fi get pirated frequently. When I asked what they thought of romance, most of them laughed and said if they picked up those books, they’d give them to girlfriends, et al. All right, so young men probably weren’t the ones who’d pirated more than a thousand copies of at least four of my books. So I looked more toward my target demographic. Here, I found three types of pirates: women who didn’t care to BUY erotic romance, though they sure didn’t mind READING it, women who might buy but not what they pirated(I have some m/m/f titles), and women who were testing me out and may, in future, buy my work legitimately.

    I found that, on the whole, the large majority of people/women getting copies of my work for free wouldn’t have bought my book in the first place – more than 90 percent of the time! One in ten of them *might* have bought it, but for whatever reason chose to get it free instead. So basically, I lost about 133 bucks on those books. Not a pittance, at least not for me, but also less than I lost in business expenses on a slow year when my internet costs were bumped up by twenty dollars a month.

    In the end, piracy is simply another part of being in the e-book business. It’s a totally crappy part, an illegal part, but it also isn’t something that is owned wholly and solely by the book industry. People will often take anything they can get for free, whether it is of use to them or not, simply because it is free and they can.

    And trying to write laws to change that, IMO and YMMV, is a waste of my tax dollars. In the end, those who are really interested in piracy will continue to do it, regardless of any *silly* law that stands in the way. But application and interpretation of the these *new* laws may make the internet(and the sharing of genuine ideas between different groups/cultures/countries) an even trickier place to navigate for those people who DO follow the law.

    I mean, gun laws in the US certainly haven’t stopped gun crime. Abortion laws, when they were still applicable, certainly didn’t stop abortion – in fact they made them that much more fatal. Drug laws certainly haven’t stopped drugs from free flowing into the country. Even all the laws and lawsuits from the music industry haven’t stopped continued piracy on that front. What those laws have done is make the criminal that much more crafty and made those of us who aren’t inclined to be criminal that much more irritated by all the red-tape junk we have to go through just to listen to one stinking song, LOL! (I really hate having to fill out all the registration crap plus having my personal info floating around simply to buy a song from ITunes and Rhapsody. Just silly.)

    Anyway, I really enjoy your blog, Tess. And your books 😀 Thanks for being a place I go often for sound advice, interesting commentary, and a decidedly gleeful lack of flame warring and other book site/blog ridiculousness!

  30. Tess
    Tess says:

    1st, a wonderful comment. Interesting that you found the uploaders don’t even read the books, but just like the idea of giving them away.

    It makes me think that traditional romances are still going to be in good shape, as women will still buy that genre — and the pirates won’t bother uploading them. But the experimental genres, erotica, and SF are going to be the ones suffering from rampant theft.

  31. ec
    ec says:

    annathema, as much as my heart goes out to the hypothetical, passional reader with the hand-me-down laptop, I agree that libraries would be a much better choice than making an illegal download, especially one made via SOMETHING ELSE’S SERVER. If the copyright owner cared to trace downloads, that hypothetical reader could be causing problems for her careless, unsecured neighbor.

    And yes, this does happen. A few years ago, I got a notice from my internet provider about a video whose illegal download was traced to my account. If the program was not removed promptly, my internet service would be terminated and further action would be taken by the holder of copyright. My two high-school-aged sons were tied for prime suspect, even though, as you might well imagine, they grew up hearing about intellectual property and the importance of respecting it. Turns out my older son downloaded what he considered to be an interesting class from a freeware site, not knowing that it had been upload without the owner’s permission. The illegally downloaded course? Business Ethics. Irony is alive and well at Chez Cunningham.

    But back to the hypothetical pirate and her neighbor. Say the neighbor gets a notice similar to the one I received: remove this file from your computer or lose your internet service AND face the possibility of stiff fines. Since the neighbor was not responsible for the act of piracy, he might have some difficulty tidying up after it.

  32. lstintranslashun
    lstintranslashun says:

    Not reading the pirated books is especially prevalent among those who are ‘reselling’ the works.

    And really, I’m sure that all genres are safe, even the more niche. I saw plenty of HQN books on the sites. They get scanned and uploaded too, though from what I personally saw and experienced through talking with the people who frequent illegal file sharing sites, folks stealing HQN seem more inclined to ‘stick the man’ than anything. And HQN also has a large demo of women that probably don’t spend a bundle of time on the net and don’t care to be a tech geek – or to search out ways to steal their monthly books.

    IME, the majority are stealing or *sharing* because they can. Not because they are interested in the books or whatever, not because they can’t afford them but *must* read, but because the stuff is free and they want free stuff. If you put up a book on how to wash a dog, it’d get downloaded too 😀

  33. Bo
    Bo says:

    Yo T-

    I trust DMc is doing well.

    Re the discussion of e-books and piracy, do you have a position on the little war between Amazon and MacM. house over the pricing of e-books? Mac seems to think that e-book sales will dilute sales of hardbacks. My question is, so what? If the author can receive the same royalty from her work per copy, and if the publishing house makes the same profit per copy and the retailer makes the same profit, it seems to me that if all that playing field were level, the cost of delivering an e-copy of anything has to be vastly less than the cost of printing and distributing paper books…and as a result, the final price of the delivered product–your writing, for example–should be significantly lower than the list price of a paper book. If everyone makes the same amount of money per copy, what is the need to preserve the volume of paper book sales?

    Looking forward to a visit sometime soon. bo

  34. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    I feel your pain. My husband and 10 year old son wrote a book on Computer Programing for Kids. It was my son’s idea and the two of them worked on the book night and day for over 2 years. With the odds against them they found a publisher and the book went to print last May. Imagine the horror when I happened to find illegal downloads all over the net while looking for reviews on the book.
    Keep in mind because this is a technical book even if it goes over the moon in sales it would be a miracle for the book to even reach 30,000 in sales. So now we have this great book, that is getting excellent reviews available for free all over the net.

    I actually put on my Momma Bear hat and went to a couple of the more dubious download sites and sent messages to the people who posted the book and asked them why they felt they had the right to steal a book from a 10 year old kid? Let me just say they were not receptive to me calling them out on their actions! Like you I did a tally of all the downloads of this book and found that a double digit percentage of what the book has actually sold has been downloaded for free.

    Now for us parents the real value in writing this book was to show our son that anything is possible in life if you put your mind to it! Yet I still found it disheartening to have to explain to him that there are people in this world who feel it is their right to take that which doesn’t belong to them and pass it out for free.

    To the pirates I say – if you want to be a hero and pass a book out for free, write your own book and leave the others alone!

  35. Starling
    Starling says:

    On the one hand, I agree with you, in that it is incredibly difficult to convince consumers to pay for what they can find for free – or in Amazon’s case, pay more online for what they can buy offline.

    On the other hand, looking at the situation in black and white terms didn’t work out well for the music industry, and they had a lot more disposable income (income owed their artists, usually) to fight the problem than the book industry does.

    I can tell you right now that at least 2 of those 4,000 downloads on were for books the consumer paid for in print because she didn’t want to buy DRMed ebooks. I know, because that consumer was me.

    I don’t have ROOM for the massive amount of books I read or reference in my dorm room, so I downloaded version of my print books before I left home for the semester and left the physical copies in my office. No one else reads them, so I’m only using one copy at a time.

    I own a great deal of books where I bought the physical version and never read it in paper. I simply downloaded the ebook DRM-free. The few online stores I trust not to use DRM usually sell ebook exclusives, so this is the unfortunate consequence of the publishing industry’s own refusal to believe in the honesty of its paying customers.

    Obviously, I can’t speak for every downloader out there, nor do I expect you to change your beliefs based on the testimonial of one person, but I have never read an entire ebook I downloaded for free without paying the author. I spend a lot of money on media, especially books. I spent nearly $200 last week alone on fiction. One of the books I bought new was The Keepsake.

    I’ve been burned too many times to trust the excerpts of novels given online to be indicative of the writing as a body of work. I want to flip to a random page and read the dialogue or sit down and read a few chapters like I can in an offline store before I commit to paying full price for a book.

    Off the top of my head, here is a list of authors who would never have received my money without illegal file sharing:

    Melissa Marr
    Lauren Kate
    Karen Mae Moning
    Angela Knight
    Diana Gabaldon
    Laurell K. Hamilton
    J. K. Rowling (I’ve purchased two new copies of many of her books, the U.S. and British editions)
    James Patterson
    Stephenie Meyer (though I really don’t see myself buying any more of her stuff in the future)
    Philippa Gregory
    Octavia Butler
    Tanith Lee
    L. J. Smith
    Becca Fitzpatrick

    I thought you should know that there are people out there dedicated to paying authors for their work. I want you to keep writing and making money. I simply don’t agree with the practices of the industry, and I will risk the consequences in order to consume in a format and in places of my choosing.

  36. Jiheishou Daigakusha
    Jiheishou Daigakusha says:

    As a writer, I don’t like piracy. That’s why, when I can’t afford new books, I read Public Domain stuff instead. It’s free without anyone losing money, and there’s always something ‘new’!

  37. Jiheishou Daigakusha
    Jiheishou Daigakusha says:

    I’ve since discovered where I can download PD and copyrighted works for free without ripping authors off. Pirates now have NO excuse!

  38. Tegan
    Tegan says:

    Hello Tess and everyone here,
    My husband and I have been published authors in nonfiction for 15 years and have seen our royalty income and book sales dwindle to around 20% of what it once was. This is directly because of internet piracy! It’s a travesty, it’s most certainly wrong, and it’s theft in any genre.
    Our former, smaller publishing house was reeling so badly from internet piracy, it had to become a subsidiary of Wiley, a much larger publishing house, which was much better equipped to financially handle this crime. The ramifications of having less publishing houses around means less diversity and less available publishers out there for new talent and existing authors as well.
    The most dramatic decline has occurred since 2005, and it’s only getting worse. Prior to that, we could have easily enjoyed a very comfortable existence from our book’s royalty income alone. Now, let me just say it’s a very good thing we also have a successful business sans the books we work so hard to write, because it’s now our other business that provides the lion’s share of our income. An additional consideration about just how bad piracy has become is the fact that we had less books out there back then to gain royalties from than we have out today. Having more books out there available for purchase usually means an author’s royalty income goes up, not down!
    It’s pretty black and white… If your acquiring something that is not free for free, unless you are borrowing it from a certified lender of that item, you are stealing, period!

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