Wednesday, May 4, 2011

eBook Piracy and Who Really Gets Hurt

My first column for Independent Publisher magazine goes live tomorrow, and in it I talk about the eBook agency model and whether it's harmed sales or not.

During my research for that piece, wherein I managed to read a whole mess of articles on the kerfuffle last year between Macmillan and Amazon, I saw a disturbing number of people who said that they'd rather find a free pirated e-copy of a novel rather than pay anything above $9.99 to purchase a legal version that was priced at $12.99 to $14.99.

Ignoring for a moment the sheer time you'd spend hunting down a pirated copy free of DRM or methods to track the book (which having pirated songs in the past I can guarantee this can take a LOT of time), and finding a version from a semi-reputable source that won't install a registry tracking virus on your machine that ends up spamming you with porn websites, the fact remains that you are devaluing the work of the author whose book you stole.

I can hear the complaints now from people who think they're "sticking it to the Man" by pirating a book/song/whatever item you're talking about. However, the only person you're really truly hurting by stealing an eBook is the author of the work itself. Because, to be entirely fair, a publishing house is fulfilling the function of distributing the author's work to you the reader.

The Publisher does not create the work themselves. Not even in the case of series novels written by multiple authors. The Publisher may own the rights to the concept, and they might hire the writers to do the novels, but the key difference is still that the authors are not employees of the publisher. They don't draw a salary; they make money based on how much the book sells.

By that simple fact -- of authors being independent contractors and not employees -- the person who takes the most pain from a pirated eBook is the author whose name is on the cover. I recognize the library argument as a valid one, that libraries allow people to read physical books for free, but unfortunately we need to work with the realities of eBooks as they are now.

As a creative type myself, who writes a whole mess of stuff -- blog posts, news articles, columns, and hopefully someday will have a book published -- this type of disregard for the originator of a creative work is disconcerting. Readers who do this sort of thing are basically saying "I don't value your work enough to spend more than X amount of dollars on it." Of course, you can translate this to mean that they don't like your work enough to spend a premium to get it. However, that might be me putting more thought into the logic behind eBook piracy than there really is.

And yes, I'm aware that my admission of having pirated music in the past will make this seem sort of like the pot calling the kettle black. However! I recall in my college years spending countless hours hunting out mp3s that wouldn't import some sort of nasty virus onto my PC. That was a LOT of hours wasted when I could've just gone to the music store and purchased a CD instead.* So my basic point still stands.

What do you think?

* This was in the years prior to iTunes, when it finally became legally possible to buy mp3s that were high quality.


Cory said...

I see what you're saying, but honestly, what does piracy mean? If someone bought the ebook, don't they have the right to share it? Granted, you don't actually purchase the ebook, you purchase a license to view the ebook. But it costs as much as a physical copy. So why can I share my hardback copy, but not my ebook if I payed the same amount of money? What if I don't have money and I live in a country without a library? What do I do then? And what if I bought the book, but I want the ebook copy. Is it wrong to download it then?

Is using a library hurting an author? Torrents have actually increased movie sales, why can't it do the same for books?

Also, now it's not that hard to find 'pirated' books, movies, or music. It takes about two minutes to download any fairly popular book. Unless you're dumber than dumb, you won't accidentally download a virus or porn. Type 'Hunger Games pdf' into google. The first result should be a 'pirated' ebook.

Just my 2cents.

Matthew Delman said...

I'm a HUGE fan of libraries, personally. And to be fair I'm decidedly not a fan of eBooks that are format-locked onto the Kindle/Nook/whichever eReader you mean.

You should 100% be able to loan out eBooks and read them on various devices once you purchase them. That's part of the benefit of physical books, and why I feel like eBooks won't truly overtake the real thing for several years.

Using a library is not hurting an author because I can pretty much guarantee that library patrons are also book buyers at some point in their lives.

And there are a number of libraries that offer eBooks as part of their catalogs already; I don't know how many, but they do exist.

All that is distinct from the initial act that I'm talking about -- deciding that instead of purchasing a book legally you'd decided to steal a copy. That's still hurting the author no matter which way you slice it.

K. Marie Criddle said...

I agree with every single word, Matt. And yes, I too was a Napster using, torrent streaming pirate of the high internet seas in my youth. I've since retired to more legal pastures.

However, I think some of it comes down to your personal code of right and wrong. Some people see nothing wrong with downloading free this and that and they're still good people.

I just hope enough paying people like my stuff enough to pay back that advance I get (someday) from a publisher. :)