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Thoughts on Piracy

This morning, instead of working on my WIPs like I should, I spent some time making a last ditch effort trying to rescue Bubbles Pop from oblivion. I added an "About the Author" snippet to the Amazon records to make me look like a nice, normal person (lulz), and I put keywords and tags all over it so that any moms looking for a "Cinderella" pillowcase for their five-year-old daughters will stumble across my profanity-laden novel instead. My search for tips led me to a couple of forums and blogs that were just interesting enough to suck away some five hours of my precious writing time.

In one of them, the author had posted recently about one of her novels being pirated on a file sharing site. She reacted more sanely than you would expect, and simply sent a letter to the web host requesting them to take down the link. Problem solved. But before they did, she commented on the page, asking people to please not download the file, because every time they do they're stealing from her personally.

I tried to put myself in her shoes. What would I do if I found Bubbles Pop (or any of my future novels) on a torrent site? Would I feel violated? Would I be outraged that these kids were taking advantage of me without any regard for the blood, sweat, and tears I pour into my work?

Short answer: No.

Here's the thing: how many people know how (and where) to download files illegally? Maybe one percent of the population, if we're being generous. Now how many of those would bother to steal books? With all of the movies, music, and television shows crowding out their hard drives, I'm guessing much less than one percent. So maybe 0.1% of 1% would seek out pirated books at all. Since I don't write teen vampire romances, hardcore erotica, or the Harry Potter series, we'll multiply that 0.001% by the percentage of people in this tiny subset who would want the type of stuff I do write, which I estimate to be...somewhere around...zero.

But for argument's sake, let's say there are a few strange ones out there who would look high and low for a torrent of a preachy Bildungsroman or a feminist historical novel. How much money would I lose if they did pirate my books? First of all, how many of them would have stumbled across my book at all if they hadn't found it on some thread in a niche file sharing site? Now of those, how many would have been interested enough to pay for it in full?

The answer: few to none. When there's such an abundance of entertainment at their fingertips, why would people bother to pirate something like a boring old book? It would be like pirating homework...and not even the useful stuff like math answers and essays to plagiarize. I'm not selling $30 CDs here. If they don't want my book badly enough to cough up $4.99, they wouldn't have bought it at all.

Fun Fact: During the 2011 riots in London, looters ransacked clothing and electronic stores aplenty, but left the bookstores untouched. A Waterstone's employee practically dared them to steal the books: "[Then] they might actually learn something." People won't even bother to burn the books when they're torching the town anymore.

In the end, I really wouldn't be hurt by it. It's not that I would "lose" royalties every time someone pirated my work; I just wouldn't gain any. It's sum zero either way. What I would gain, though, is exposure. More people would have read my books. If they talked about them to other people, those other people would probably buy them instead of going through the trouble of downloading illegally.

A lot of "indie" authors know this already. Sweetie has told me of a guy who put up his book on pirating sites on purpose as a marketing strategy (or it might have been a game...I forget). Web comic artists make a killing out of providing their stories and art completely for free, but taking in ad revenue from side bars. I know a few writers who put their nonfiction up as series on blogs, and then bundle the articles together to sell. They're doing fine—more than fine, actually.

Of course, if other authors don't like their books up for free, they should make sure to have them taken down. But as for me, unless I have an obligation to a publisher to keep my work under lock and key, I wouldn't care. What can I say? It must be the librarian in me.

If all of this rubs you the wrong way, and you still have an essential "moral" objection to book piracy, consider this: How could it possibly be bad if a bunch of kids—who usually spend their time torrenting rap music and shooting virtual AK-47s at zombies—go out of their way to download something to read?

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