You Say Piracy Like It’s a Bad Thing

By • Jan 15th, 2010 • Category: 26th Story, Book News and Publishing

In yesterday’s Publishers Weekly, Jim Milliot reported on a new study of online book piracy done by a company called Attributor. According to Attributor, publishers “could be losing out on as much as $3 billion to online book piracy.” On the face of it, this is bad news for publishers. We all know what Napster did to the music industry. And it sure would be nice to have that $3 billion back, no? But reading further into the report, we learn that the average number of free fiction downloads was just over 2,000 copies. Wait a minute. 2,000 copies? Is that a bad thing? It isn’t unusual for publishers to give away more than 2,000 advance reading copies of a piece of new fiction. Why? Because we want people to read the book and tell other people about it. And what about libraries? Don’t we sell copies to libraries that they then lend out over and over again—for free? How much money are we “losing” to free reading in libraries? (I shudder to think of how my wife and I may have contributed to the problem, taking our children to the library every Saturday and letting them each take out ten books. Who knew that we were raising a bunch of pirates?) Furthermore, how much money are we losing to people who lend a friend a book they’ve just read, saying, “You have to read this book!” We’d better put a stop to that right away…

We need to protect our author’s copyrights, and make sure that we don’t get Napstered by massive illegal online distribution. But small quantities of people reading our books for free may not be harmful, and may actually promote literacy, and the joy of reading…and the business we’re so worried about protecting.

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  • Knownhuman

    Bob, that's the exact opposite response I expected, and I'm impressed. Copyleftists have long promoted such a response.

    But I took a look at the report and it's based on a lot of assumptions (like the faulty premise that pirates would otherwise be paying customers) and an obvious bias by the group that did the study. Attributor makes their money by preventing copyright infringement. It serves there interest to inflate a number which the company has a vested interest in making as large and scary as possible.

  • WShiel

    Talk about mixing apples and oranges in an attempt to make lemonade.

    Lots of libraries may buy the same book without sharing just one copy of it. If that library book wears out and is still in demand, guess what? The library BUYS more.

    I have no problem with people being able to loan an ebook to a friend to read but I'm not as sanguine with the notion that they could buy one ebook copy and “loan” multiple copies of it without paying something extra for the privilege.

    If a publisher or an author DECIDES to make a book available in the online wilds for free, that is their legitimate business decision. It is most certainly NOT up to the consumer to decide if a book should be made freely available.

    Taking any other position stands copyright law on its head. Or do you secretly work for Google and helped push their copyright violation scheme (for which they are being rewarded via the Google Book Settlement).

    Pirates should be called what they truly are — THIEVES.

    Every time I watch a DVD and see that Interpol and/or FBI warning with all its potential dire consequences, I ask myself why we don't post similar warnings in our books.

    Of course, our micro-publishing company is miniscule compared to HarperCollins, who can doubtless afford to write-off all those stolen goods.

    All that said, I truly doubt that most of the THIEVES who post those purloined copies online would ever actually buy a book. Unfortunately, too many consumers accept their lunatic arguments that all that exposure is beneficial for publishers and authors. As if they have any actual personal experience in the business.

    Walt Shiel
    Publishers / Author

  • zumayabooks

    The problem is not that people are downloading free books, but the reasons they persuade themselves justify it. One major reason often given is that they “hate DRM” and want to be able to read books on multiple devices. However, the more insidious one I've begun hearing more and more often relates to the idea that grabbing a book from a file-sharing site is the equivalent of the publisher sending out review copies.

    In other words, I'm talking about the “I do it to discover new authors” excuse. Okay, we've all bought new books by new authors our friends raved about, only to discover we didn't share their opinion. Life works that way. But would we walk into the local B&N and shoplift that same book because we didn't want to spend that money only to discover we didn't like it? Of course not. We'd be arrested.

    I appreciate that these same people may go on to buy that authors entire bibliography, or that they will rave about him/her to their friends. What security do I have, though, that those friends won't just go to the same file-sharing site and snatch their copies for free as well?

    So, while I agree publishers have the right to offer titles free, when someone uploads an ebook to a file-sharing site without permission and someone else downloads it, that's stealing not sampling, and people need to understand that's what it is. If they want to continue to do it, that's their choice, but I think it's risky to encourage them to justify what they're doing on the premise they're somehow doing the author a big favor.

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  • Jaycee

    Except Napster didn't really hurt the music industry, it actually helped it. Napster users were mostly in the frame of mind that they were sampling to find musicians they would like. Sure, there were a lot of people who didn't buy anything, but these guys weren't customers anyway. Nowadays, though, a considerable number of file-sharers aren't in the sampling frame of mind, they're in the I-don't-feel-like-overpaying-for-your-crap frame.

    Publishers (in all industries) keep promising that if you buy their product, you'll be so totally amazed and become wonderful and all kinds of crazy promises, but the reality is that things are getting worse and worse. It's now IMPOSSIBLE to find a piece of software that has all its important bugs hunted down and removed. They have to get the thing out the door and make money and we have to hope they decide to patch the thing. (Often they don't!) There are MANY instances of games that are unplayable at release, and fewer and fewer people feel like paying $50 to be a beta-tester. You can't even buy a game for a console without needing a patch for it! WTF!! (OTOH, there are a few publishers out there who keep patching, and they build a very devout following. What can YOU do with your own cult, which you gained simply by giving them what they wanted?)

    People aren't totally stupid. We're well aware that there's a glut of crappy entertainment out there that we're being overcharged for, and we finally have a way to fight back. We're finally able to pay what something is worth. Not our fault you overpaid to create it. For the longest time, the publishing houses have had all the power, and they've used it to charge excessive prices for their big flops. (And the mass-advertising campaigns have only served to inflate the costs.) Now that we don't have to pay that much for Hollywood's failures, maybe they'll stop putting any old crap out there.

    But the “pirates” are becoming just as guilty as Hollywood, learning to abuse their power, and starting to feel entitled to even the good stuff for free. A proper balance of power is what's needed. Revolutions aren't started by content people, they're started by powerless people, and the people in power jealously protect what they have, hence the fighting.

    A few publishers have picked up on this idea and started offering things that only paying customers can get access to. Frex, a musician sells CDs of the performance they just had at a concert – AT the concert! Or he includes compelling album art in his jewel case. Or he includes a discount coupon for his next CD. Or he includes a limited number of hand-autographed pictures. Game publishers are trying to tie patches to registration, but no one likes registering, so they come up with other ideas. Discount coupons for additional copies. Online communities available only to paid/registered customers. Some game writers are almost rockstars themselves, and maybe they include a hand-autographed CD, or run a contest.

    What are book publishers going to do to increase the perceived value of their product? You CAN compete with “free” if you're smart. Exclusive events, the price of admission being that you're holding a copy of a certain book in your hands? Each e-book you buy goes toward a rewards program that gains you discounts on newer e-reader hardware when it's released? That's just off the top of my head, guys. Those ideas right there are worth millions and I just gave them to you. What else do you think I've come up with that I'm holding back?

    Give people things they can't get off the p2p networks and “piracy” will go back to being just another way to advertise yourself. Let us not forget that Metallica used file-sharing extensively to make themselves popular, and then hypocritically sued the very people who gave it to them.

  • Anon

    If you actually read further, you would have mentioned that those 2,000 downloads are from four sites which make up about a third of all internet piracy. So, it’s really quite a few more than 2000 per title.
    I’m also curious as to where you got the figure for how many ARCs publishers give away. 2000? “Not unusual”? Maybe for Dan Brown or JK Rowling, but the vast majority of books are not sending out 2000 ARCs. That’s just ridiculous.

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  • Malia Sutton

    Interesting post about pirates. Evidently, you're not familiar with e-publishers and how hard they are working to make money in this economy.

  • MByerly

    It's easier to be sanguine about it if you sell most of your books in paper rather than in digital format. Many smaller publishers don't so they and their authors are screwed.

    Attributor only counts books available online for free. If you want to really feel the pain, I recommend you go to eBay where people are selling dozens of major authors on CDs they make themselves. Want several dozen Nora Roberts, all of Stephanie Meyers, etc., on one CD? You're in luck.

    Want eBay to toss these criminals out? Those who are trying are having no luck.

  • Koldo Barroso

    I agree. I'm giving away my forthcoming book for free to download. I'm also selling a special limited non-digital edition with bonus material and a regular edition.

    I'm not worried about losing money or sales. I'm just concerned about my book reaching the audience and let them decide which way they want to follow my work. At the end of the day, they're the ones who are going to make that decision so I'm happy to accept it.

  • J. L. Bell

    Check out the report itself, and it shows the average downloads for fiction books as 6,000 copies; I think the PW reporter read the chart wrong.

    Then read the report, and see that it was based on choosing 913 “popular books” as samples. In other words, these books are NOT typical, and neither the 2,000 nor the 6,000 figure is a real average.

  • drewgoodman

    First, I'm not sure I follow your logic. Bob stated that the AVERAGE # of free fiction downloads was 2000, it may be more for some, less for others. Second, publishers don't give away ARCs of Dan Brown or JK Rowling- these books sell themselves. Publishers send out ARCs of writers they are trying to promote, to get their names out. Who do ARCs get sent to? Authors, bloggers, reviewers, and bookstores, etc.- just a reasonable count could get 2000 ARCs sent out- not every of every book published, but enough NOT to be unusual.

  • drewgoodman

    Interesting post that goes right along with books like, “Free” from Chris Anderson, and “What Would Google Do?” by Jeff Jarvis. Both of these authors state that giving stuff (in this case books) away for free isn't such a bad thing and it may even improve sales. A great example is Paulo Coelho, who, after discovering that pirated copies of his books (as ebooks on the Web) increased his sales in countries where his books were being downloaded, he started to “pirate” his own books on the web in order to get more people to read them, and in turn, more people to buy them.

    We really need to rethink the way we do business- if authors and publishers can potentially increase sales on the back of pirated copies of books, why not do it? If the book business tries to maintain iron-fisted control like the music business did (false files, suing web sites, suing individuals, etc), the book business will face the same backlash.

  • Marian Schembari

    This post made me happy. While Napster did change the music industry, did it ruin it? I think not. Also, music is not books. While it's relatively easy to find a PDF of a bestseller online, most of us don't really want to read from our computers. And while ereaders are becoming more popular, people who can afford to buy them a) usually buy books and b) aren't going to the library. Wild assumptions, I know, but I don't think there's anything wrong with spreading the book love, especially when fewer and fewer people are reading.

  • Bob Miller

    thanks, Marian…I'm glad I made someone happy!

  • Nathan

    I, too, am glad to see this sort of response from a publisher.

    I don’t know if anyone is still reading this, but in my thinking about the similarities between what happened with the music industry and what’s happening with publishing, I’ve been trying to work through one major difference specific to a low/no-advance model. Musicians can take more comfort in their music getting out for free to build their audience because they can pick up income elsewhere, such as concert fees, TV and film placement, merchandise other than the actual music, performance DVDs, etc.

    What other avenues of income do authors have outside the money they make off their main product, the book? Most readings are free. A book’s not going to contribute to TV and film, except when it gets adapted (which is major, but much less frequent than a song being used in more than one commercial or TV show). Musicians have many different products related to the experience they can provide, but what does the author have to offer and make money from? I can only think of audio rights, film option/adaptation, and translation rights. Can anybody else think of anything? I want badly for there to be a revolution in publishing similar to what the music industry experienced, but we’ll probably have to be creative in generating alternative sources of income in order to see it through.

  • J. L. Bell

    Do author appearances have to be free?

    Periodical writers’ income comes ultimately from advertisers. Can books attract sponsors?

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  • Rob Walker

    Thanks Bob – interesting take on the subject; enjoyed your take on this as it is quite fresh, especially for one working in publsihing.

    Robert W. Walker
    Indie Author, Children of Salem

  • Cymers

    ANDBOROUGH PUBLISHERS preditors and editors warning
    self publishers and a scam
    thanks bob
    good article

  • lesley jackson wales

    New Gaia Press Preditors & Editors warning to authors stay clear

    run by a family operation have disgraced themselves and their authors by trowling the internet and publishing awful things about their writers. The owners are self published by themselves robert and pamela yarborough and preditors and editors have issued a warning to all upcoming authors to keep away

  • Chris

    very interesting article, but I dont think that eBook publishers do enough to protect their work. I personally being a “how to” website building publisher relay on which is excellent in removing and finding pirated work of mine.

  • Sdfsdf

    looks interesting I'll give it a try

  • Somerled

    This post and the one below are by Siobhan Whelan who uses the pen name Rochelle Moore. She was dropped by Andborough Publishing because of massive plagiarism and fraud. Sour grapes of wrath, I'm afraid.

  • zador

    also using someone else name[s]-

  • Cymraes aka Lesley Jackson

    Imagine my surprise to find this person ^ impersonating me – truth is my blog has been instrumental in exposing this person who is trying to post around the internet in my pen-name, and she can't even spell it! So I've reported this post. To find out who I really am and my dislike for plagiarism go to:

  • Lesley Jackson aka Cymraes

    Nice try Rochelle Moore pen-name of Siobhan Whelan but you could never even come near to impersonating me – your typos give you away and the lack of the essence that I am, and the other whelming essence of who YOU are pervades every word you write – we all know why you do this – your miffed at being found out, exposed, and disgraced for the huge amount of plagiarism resulting in your book being removed by the publishers who you so angrily attack here – but in my name! Tut-tut!

  • Sehnga

    The posts below using “lesley jackson wales” and “Cymers” are indeed Rochelle Moore aka Whelan. The posts are identical cut & paste from her Facebook pages and numerous alts' comments.

    Sour grapes and malicious smear campaugn against the publishers that pulled her book from the market (Beyond The Third Eye). Beware, it's going to be self-republished by Rochelle under another name & title.

    A sample of the contents (yes, I have a copy):

    Rochelle Moore, on Albert Einsteins Theory of Relativity (Beyond The Third Eye, page 24):

    “When trying to understand the law of relativity, our first principle to understand is in reality nothing is good or bad, it's just the way it should be in a perfect state of grace. The law of relativity states, if we practice relating our situations to something worse off than ourselves, then we'll always be happy and fulfilled.

    This law gives us the ability to stay connected to our hearts when proceeding to solve the situations and basically translates to “Nothing is good or bad until it's related to something of meaning to you.”

    To simplify the Law of Relativity for mere mortals within this law we find, the deeper we dig, that everything is relative to something and if used correctly we win.”


    For documented, sourced and cited proofs of Rochelle Moore plagiarism, see:

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