That hit a nerve, didn’t it?
If you want to read some fascinating stuff, scroll through the comments to yesterday’s original "Book Pirates Suck" post. I really appreciate everyone who took the time to comment. Your thoughts helped me clarify my position.
Several readers tried to justify book pirating. Here are their arguments (paraphrased in bold face) and my responses.
1. Publishers make too much money and charge too much for books, so it is fair to steal from them.
::busts into uncontrollable laughter::
Publishing is NOT the music industry. No, no, no, no! It is a hide-bound inefficient industry that is trying (veeery slooooowly) to reconfigure itself for the modern age. Publishing has a notoriously low profit margin – on the order of 2% is the number I’ve heard, though I don’t have any stats to back that up. Most people in publishing – including and especially authors – earn very little money. That’s why book piracy could have such devasting effects. Do you really want to read books that were only written by people from rich families?
NOTE: American publishers have been loathe to give up their hardcover sales even though authors (including me) have begged them to. Maybe this piracy will help them see the light. I would love it if all of my books were simultaneously released hardcover and paperback. Do you think that is coming?
2. I just download illegally so I can preview a book. That is different from downloading a book so I can steal it.
No, it’s not. Whenever you download a book illegally (also known as stealing) you are encouraging the person who uploaded it to keep being a pirate. You have countless legal ways to review a book. I offer free chapters on my website. Publishers offer free chapters. You can read reviews all over the Internet. You can borrow it from the library.
3. You are being silly because research has shown that when musicians offer their work for free, or say, post a couple of songs from an album, their sales go up.
A musician offering a song for free is exactly the same thing as a writer offering a chapter or two for free. And I think it is fantastic when an author puts her book on the internet for free downloads. Maureen Johnson is doing that right now. The critical difference is that the writer (and her publisher) is the one making the call. Don’t you think it is fair that an artist gets to control how her work is offered to the public? What if a person snuck into an artist’s gallery, stole copies of an image, then put them all over the net. Is that OK, too?
4. People who download a book for free will then go out and buy it if they like it.
I am sure some will. I am also sure many more won’t. And since when has our economy been constructed on a "pay if you like it" model? If you don’t like a book, you can return it. If a book is not selling in a store, the bookstore can return it to the publisher.
5. But I don’t have the money to buy the book!
I so completely sympathize with that position!!!! I have not been able to buy books for most of my life! (Including right now!) That’s why I am such a fan of libraries. If you don’t have the money to buy books, stealing them is not the answer.
WHAT I LEARNED YESTERDAY
I think the biggest problem here is that the generation that is currently 12 – 26 have grown up with free content on the Internet. They expect things to be free. Is that their fault? Well, maybe the 26-year-olds should be wise enough to have a clue. But we need to do a better job educating teens about economics and the consequences and larger ramifications of stealing. (I get a sense that we’re about to see more people charging for Internet content – do you have an opinion about that?)
IF YOU ARE THINKING OF ILLEGALLY DOWNLOADING A BOOK, THINK ABOUT PANTS
If you want to buy a pair of pants, you go to the store. Try them on. Buy them. Take them home. Return them if you don’t like them.
You do not steal the pants, wear them for a while, then throw them out them if you don’t like them. (If you are a pants-stealer, there is a court date in your future.)
AND you do not sneak into the store at night, steal 100 cartons of pants, then distribute them for free on the street the next morning. (This is what the person who uploads the book is doing.)
The same rule applies to books.
Readers have many different ways to test-drive a book: reviews, blog comments, read sample chapters posted online. Heck – go to the library and read the whole thing. If you want to read the whole book, you buy it.
I hope we can develop the technology to catch book pirates. I’m not going to hold my breath.
I hope that book piracy will be a wake-up call to publishers to make paperbacks available faster.
I hope this generation will be kinder than the ones who have come before them and not treat artists like dirt.
Book pirates suck.