RANT: On eBook Piracy (Again)

A teachable moment came across my Facebook feed just now. It came in the form of this article: Last year the eBook piracy industry cost American publishers $300 million. Go ahead. Click and read the article. And then read the comments. I’ll wait…

Ok, now we’re back and I have a few lessons to impart on this topic, so let’s start from the top.

AUTHORS: If you publish eBooks, they will definitely get pirated.

The sad, hard truth is that piracy is now so prevalent and wide-reaching there is no avoiding it. DRM? Someone already knows how to strip it. DCMA take-down notices? International server doesn’t recognize copyright laws. Or if they do, the book just pops up on another server the next day. Exclusively sell through only one outlet? You just made it that much easier for someone to upload your book to all the other outlets and, unless you search for it, you’ll never know.

You can’t escape it. Come to terms with it now, and prepare yourself to fight a whole lot of battles going forward, because it will likely never end.

AUTHORS: Piracy no longer means only that your book is available for free somewhere.

Pirates are now so sophisticated they set up entire storefronts and sell your book illegally, making the profits due to you. This is part of that $300 million of lost revenue. Check with all your eBook distributors to get a full list of stores that carry your book and do periodic searches for your book to make sure those are the only places where they show up. It will not guarantee your book won’t show up someplace else the next day, but it might just keep your losses to a minimum.

READERS: Authors/publishers do not owe you free content.

Read that again. No matter what your personal beliefs or life circumstance, it does not entitle you to steal. Entertainment does not fall under the definition of “information” you claim you should have free access to. Claiming you can’t afford a fiction eBook means nothing–no one is forcing you to read it, you want to read it. And if it’s worth that much to you, it’s worth paying for. Claiming you read too many books to be able to afford paying for them all? How on earth is that an excuse?? “I love travel too much to afford going to all the places I want to see, so I’m gonna stow away on airplanes and use other people’s hotel rooms to do it.”

No.

Authors do not work for free. Publishing good books costs money (up front), and we get paid back through sales. This is a business. We already put in the work; we do not owe it to you for free. You want to read an eBook that has a price attached to it? Pay for it.

READERS: eBooks don’t actually have a smaller ecological footprint.

Sure, no trees are lost in the making of an eBook, no heavy machinery is used to manufacture them. You’re right about that…

…Ever wonder where electronics come from? All that plastic, microchips, Lithium batteries, hazardous materials, packaging, shipping… How much energy and pollution do you think goes into the making of whatever device you use to read eBooks, to say nothing of bringing it to you from any number of international sources? And what happens to that device when it stops working, or you decide to upgrade to a newer, shinier model?

If you don’t know, maybe you should read up on it, and please get off your lame high horse and spare me the eco-conscious bullshit. At least physical books are made from a renewable resource. They are recyclable, biodegradable, and non-hazardous. They also have a resale value, make great gifts, and, when donated to libraries, help your local communities.

READERS: I like to own my own content

This is straight from the comments on that article. And the response to it was absolutely brilliant, so I’ll repeat it here: “Authors like to own their content, too.” They created it; they registered it with the US Copyrights Office. That means, by law, they decide how their content can and cannot be used, distributed, and shared. And that means, if you do not comply with their directions, you are breaking the law.

If you want to own what you buy, then buy a paper book instead. If it’s not available, contact the author and ask if it will be. Trust me, they will be delighted to hear there’s a demand out there. It might take time (paper books cost money to set up) but you might get what you want eventually.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I like eBooks as much as the next person. They’re cheaper than print books, they’re convenient, you can get them instantly online and store thousands of them on your digital device, which makes them ideal for travel. For all these reasons, eBooks should be a beautiful happy middle ground between readers’ desire for great books and authors’ need to put food on the table.

That happy middle ground has now turned into a no man’s land. Authors big and small are losing livelihoods to piracy. How do people not understand that an author who is losing money on his/her books will eventually stop writing all together? How long before all the authors you love are driven out of business and all you’re left with is school projects and vanity publications that never came within sniffing distance of a proper editor or cover designer?

If you think I’m being dramatic, just look up how many bookstores and publishers went under in the last 10 years. Talk to your author friend and ask them how many people they’ve known who have given up on writing.

I’m not writing this to appeal to any sense of compassion. I know pirates only have excuses and disdain for the authors they steal from. Instead, I am writing this to caution you that if you continue to illegally download books you want to read, you will eventually run out of affordable books you want to read.

Because books are not like music. Even when you buy a music CD, you still listen to it on a digital device. Paper books are self-sufficient. When you buy one, you don’t need anything else to enjoy it, you just start reading. So guess what’s gonna happen when authors decide making things convenient for pirates is no longer in their best interest? They will go back to the print-only publishing model and you’ll end up paying 2-3 times more for your books, not including shipping.

Say, that’s a good idea…

AUTHORS: Want to avoid eBook piracy? Publish your books in print only! 🙂

Yes, I am angry. Not just about the piracy itself, but the bullshit attitude of entitlement that goes with it. I’ve been a published author for 10 years now, I’ve paid my dues and, vanity aside, I think I put out pretty damn good books. I deserve to be paid for the work I put into them. And I think I’m officially done being nice to anyone who tries to tell me otherwise.

So if you want to come at me with, “You should be grateful people are reading your books at all,” or “It’s free exposure, and the pirates might buy other books from you legitimately,” you can just fuck the fuck off out of my face. I don’t want to hear it.

End rant.

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