As I write the headline for this post, I can already hear a thousand authors and publishers sharpening their knives. I want to make it clear from the start that I’m not defending piracy, nor am I attacking it. I’m merely posing a question, and would love to hear some answers from people on it.
I’d also like to stress that by “piracy” I mean the type that involves copyright infringement, not boats and eyepatches. The type of piracy that involves the selling and/or free distribution of another person’s work without their permission.
It has been the scourge of Hollywood pretty much since home video arrived on the scene and people started passing around knock off VHS copies of movies, but it’s increasingly becoming something the book publishing industry is having to deal with.
The reason I’m writing this post is because I wonder if it’s such a terrible thing. As an author, I of course rely on book sales to allow me to feed my family and keep them alive, so I’m all for people buying my books. I positively encourage it. In fact, don’t bother reading the rest of this post, go buy one of my books and read it instead. It’ll entertain you immensely, while simultaneously making you more popular with your peers.
So buying books = good for authors. That’s that established. But does that mean downloading books is bad for authors? Is it possible that pirated books could lead to an increase in sales overall for authors? It could be regarded as free marketing, and in many ways it isn’t much different from library borrowing, surely?
Yes, the libraries obviously buy a copy to begin with, but that may then be loaned out twenty or thirty times over, if not more. Authors do get a small payment when their books are borrowed, but this only currently applies to physical books, not ebooks or audio books. Also, lots of libraries are being handed over to volunteers, and the government has said authors will receive no money from books loaned out by these libraries.
Is piracy merely the charity book shop of the 21st century? I know people who never buy books new and only buy them from charity shops. An author receives no money for this. Some charity shops even put stickers on their books encouraging those buying them to return them once they’ve finished, so the shop can sell it again. One original sale for the author, potentially several more for the charity shop. Isn’t piracy almost exactly the same?
Or does it all come down to numbers? One book from a charity shop may feasibly be resold a dozen times at the very most, whereas a digital file can be downloaded thousands upon thousands of times. But there are around ten thousand charity shops in the UK. If they all sell the same book multiple times you’ve potentially got a hundred thousand sales for which the author doesn’t see a single penny.
Am I suggesting we ban charity shops from selling books? Of course not. I buy lots of books in charity shops, and am more than happy for mine to be sold in there. I want as many people as possible to read my work, and I know from emails I’ve received that some of my biggest fans have stumbled upon my work in a charity shop then gone on to buy the rest of my books.
And of course I’m not against libraries either. Quite the opposite. Read this post to find out just some of the reasons why I love ‘em.
Do I endorse piracy? Absolutely not. In an ideal world it wouldn’t happen. Everyone would buy my books in print from a local bookshop and read them religiously every day until they were forced to buy new copies from all the wear and tear, but we don’t (alas) live in an ideal world, and piracy is here to stay. Hollywood hasn’t been able to stamp it out, and they’ve got Robocop and Batman working for them.
All I’m asking is, do we need to be too worried about it? Is it really going to spell the end for the publishing industry, or will it all even itself out in the end? I’d love to hear thoughts authors and readers alike. Got something to say? Post it in the comments below.