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A rant about book piracy

August 16, 2012

The other week, a coworker stumbled across a tumblr post that provided links to free downloads of ebooks. Most, if not all of these books, are currently in print and under copyright to their respective authors. The poster did not provide links to amazon, indie bound, or any other way of purchasing the books.

When my coworker contacted this person about this post, both on tumblr and on goodreads, all she got in return was snark. “I’m just providing a service,” this person said. “Not everyone on tumblr can afford to purchase a book. I’m trying to increase these author’s profiles, and get them a fandom.”

Now, all this is a big crock of bullshit. I would not always have said so. I have found that I have become a stakeholder in this argument, and the culture in which I always thought I existed-in which information “just wants to be free” – is an illusion. Maybe it never existed.

Let me break it down for anyone on tumblr- or anywhere- who thinks they are doing an author any kind of service by downloading free copies of their ebooks:

You are fucking with someone’s art and livelihood.

You are getting something for nothing, and that something is a product that the author or artist worked for years, unpaid, to produce.

The author whose books you are downloading did not get much money for that book. They got an advance which, in this day and age, was probably somewhere between $1,000-$5,000, especially if that author writes genre fiction. A good chunk of that is going to go to taxes. And when it comes right down to it, five thousand dollars is not a lot of money for something that in many cases takes years to write.

The author won’t start making more money for that book-that book you downloaded thinking that you weren’t doing any harm, that the author could always benefit from a few more readers, and they’re probably making money from other people, aren’t they?- until their advance has been “earned out.” that means that the publishing company will need to sell enough copies of that book to recoup their investment.

And for every book you don’t buy, that author gets further and further away from recouping that advance and getting paid more. And its not like musicians, who can recoup some of the up front costs of producing their record by touring and selling merch. What merch could a debut author sell? An author’s merch is their fucking book.

The only real way an author makes money from their writing is if people buy their books. They don’t make money from having a higher profile. They don’t make money from having a “fandom” of people who don’t value their work enough to pay money for it. Publishing is a business like at other and people. Have. To. Get. Paid.

And guess what? When it comes time to look at sales, if a title is underperforming- especially any of the books from that goddamn “master post” on tumblr, which the poster had specifically put together to highlight female writers, writers of color, and non western scifi fantasy-they aren’t going to see “intention,” they aren’t going to see “fandom” or raising the profile. They’re going to look at the numbers and say “Oh golly, guess people don’t want to buy books by writers of color/women/ featuring non- western fantasy.” And then they will not buy any more of those books from authors.

So to that person who put together that post – who I am not pointing out by name, since a) I am not five and b) I’ve already done the responsible thing and reported it to tumblr- this is what I have to say: look at your list. Go to Saladin Ahmed’s blog and read about his financial troubles and his struggles with mental health issues. Go to Catherynne Valente’s blog and read back to the genesis of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which she began writing, chapter by chapter for donations, because she couldn’t pay her bills. Go read Elizabeth Bear talking about paying taxes as an author on her blog. This is what you are doing: you are not paying people for their work. And I don’t know who will be able to afford to create, if this keeps up. I certainly won’t be able to make a living trying to sell their work.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mala permalink
    August 21, 2012 2:03 am

    Piracy is been a big problem in the Philippines. The government had to put up a department to deal with this alone. The Optical Media Board is what it came about and fortunately they have been doing good. Less pirated movies and records can be seen on the street. Lately they focused on illegal use of software and found out that even some companies practices such. An instance which happened last week where a call center company Garrett & Talon which has an in house account – JUSTFLOWERS was raided by the authority because of illegal use of operating system (windows). When OMB raided the company they found out that only 1 OS was legally bought and was used to run 100 or more PC’s. The case is now on going. Kudos to OMB!

  2. August 21, 2012 3:11 am

    @Mala- that is so interesting! Did they do anything about torrenting or downloading from third party websites? I’m fascinated by different methods used to combat piracy since it seems to be such a nebulous problem. Thanks for reading!

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