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20 January 2011


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After the Twilight related post you scared me with the "This is just wrong" but all kidding aside: OH MY GOD THAT'S AWFUL.
I..just..that needs to be fixed. I don't know how.

Kate @ Candlemark

I was watching when all of this came up on Twitter and then exploded into the blogoverse and...argh, some of the rationalizations for why pirating a book is okay just sicken me. I'm so glad Saundra came out and explained why authors need you to BUY THEIR BOOK NOW in order to get to write more - people often think "oh, it's just a couple bucks, the author will make more" and don't realize that every sale really does matter to most authors...


I would NEVER, EVER steal or ilegally download any books, but about 90% of the time, I buy used books...even if I have to wait months to read them after their release. The only new books I have are usually gifts. So, while a part of me is totally disgusted by people who pirate books, it begs the question: What about buying USED books? I kind of feel guilty for that too...

Deb Marshall

Thanks. You are right. And what a crazy eye-opener on how this affects the author--taking away their pay check and more.

David Macinnis Gill

Book piracy has become, in my estimation, the number one problem for new and mid-list authors. The big names can survive having their work stolen (I'm not saying it's any less WRONG to steal from big name authors), but midlist authors whose careers can be crippled by low sell through numbers at the big chains are especially vulnerable to theft. As Saundra pointed out, current books will go out of print, but also, publishers decide whether to buy your next book based on previous sales numbers. Bookstores decide to stock you book based on previous sales numbers. The conclusion thieves should draw from this? If you like an author enough to steal the book, you better go by a copy, because stealing a book is the best way to make sure the author won't be able to publish another one.


Geez, this is depressing. I just do understand why you'd want to download a pirated copy when you can go the the library and borrow one for free. It's not a secret, guys!

R. J. Anderson

What boggles my mind is how many people are quibbling with Saundra's post, making it sound like she really thinks that all those pirates would have bought her book if piracy were outlawed, and now she's grousing because she thinks pirates destroyed her chance for bestsellerdom. She never said that she expected her book to be a bestseller, or that she was crushed because it wasn't. All she said was that if even half those people had bought her book, she would have made the bestseller list -- the point was just to show how widespread piracy actually is, and the potential impact that could be made if people chose to get their copies honestly instead of downloading them (or, in other cases, whining about them not being immediately available in their favorite e-format and refusing to buy the book as a result).

Meanwhile other people -- even including some other authors, so help me -- go around defending the illegal downloaders with arguments like, "It isn't really about the books! It's just a form of online culture! A prestige thing to see who can upload the most! Nobody actually reads them!" Which has to be one of the stupider things I've ever heard. I'm not saying it isn't true -- it probably is. But it's stupid. And it's still stealing, whether you intend to eat the chocolate bar you took from the store or just trade it to your friend so he'll like you more.


i am seriously hopeful that Saundra's post will help the turds out there realize what a negative impact downloading books illegally does to writers. hello - we LOVE writers and we LOVE books...why would we harm that? especially when there are such things as LIBRARIES out there who lend the book to you FOR FREE.

oh and also? this whole "i will buy it later because i don't have money now" crap is ridiculous. it's seriously $7.99 on amazon new, or like $3 used. if you have internet access, you have $3 to stay legal and support an author.

thanks for shedding more light on the topic...and i totally hear your frustration over being baffled at this being an unclear issue for anyone. no gray here.

Maureen E

Yes, yes, and yes. I don't get why people think this is okay. With TV shows I can see some rationale for it, although even there it gets iffy pretty fast. But books-eeek, I don't like it.* And it STINKS that it affects midlist authors so much, especially since I tend to like them a lot more than the bestsellers.

* I do realize that the difference is probably pretty specious and my reaction is more based on the fact that I care more about books and authors than about the TV folks, for which I apologize. And the whole book thing is making me rethink my attitude about TV as well.

reader and writer

Also, though, why is the onus on individual authors to try and stop the downloading? Hello? Publishers have the means to at least cripple it by sending cease and desist letters and also suing those who download illegally. Until the fear of having to hire a lawyer and spend your MONEY on a defense hits home, people will continue to do it.

Why aren't publishers being taken to task for having a blind eye toward it? With their own eagerness to offer downloaded versions, shouldn't they also offer the author protection? Or, I don't know, NOT offer electronic versions for a book until it's been out for a year or more?

Also, Lisa above me -- buying a used version on Amazon or the like doesn't support the author, it supports the person that bought it, read it, and is now selling it. The author doesn't get that money.

David T. Macknet

As with all of the rest of the people who worry about illegal downloading, there is a glaring logic error in assuming that just because somebody downloads your content that should mean that they'd buy it. They won't - they're downloading it to investigate whether it's worth reading / listening to. When they've determined whether they like it, they might buy it. Apparently, in this case, they have determined that the content isn't worth the investment.

The music industry keeps on cutting its own throat in trying to stifle downloading, despite the fact that it's been proven that people who download music are actually those who purchase the most music: they listen, find something new that they like, then go out and buy it.

Also, regarding free ebooks, do have a read of Baen's Free Library and their attitude towards it. They sum it up nicely, and put the whole issue to rest quite nicely. It's a non-issue.

Jason Black

What happened to Saundra Mitchell is just wrong. We can all help by buying a copy of her book. If it's not your cup of tea, buy one anyway and donate it to your local library!

Please share this on Twitter if you want to help: http://bit.ly/eVxuii


David T. Macknet, it isn't a non-issue for Saundra Mitchell.

R. J. Anderson

David, that assumes a greater degree of integrity on the part of people downloading the books (that is, that they will buy a copy of a book they already own for free) than I'm inclined to attribute to the vast majority of downloaders. It would be nice to think they all appreciate that they're hurting the author by not buying a copy of her books, and want to support the author if they like what they read, but in many cases that simply isn't true. If they like the book they downloaded, they will download the next book. That's all.

And to suggest that you can tell anything about the quality of the book on the basis of how many people downloaded it and didn't pay is, frankly, rude and uncalled for. You're assuming that people have decided the content isn't worth the investment or they would go out and buy it; I really don't think that's true. In many cases we're dealing with people who aren't interested in paying for content in the first place, and we have no way of telling what they thought of the quality of what they downloaded.


Way up there in the comments Grrlinthewrrld asked the question "What about buying USED books?" which is something I always think of when the book piracy question comes up, too. Although my angle is more, "um, I don't really buy books either: I borrow library books." That's a good thing! But then I feel like a heel because I'm not supporting the authors by BUYING their books. After all, it's a jerk thing to do to authors to pirate their books; I'm still not sure checking it out from the library is all that different (beyond that it supports the LIBRARY, although indirectly).

When I do buy books-- or, more accurately, put them on my wishlist for other people to buy me-- they ARE books I have read for free first in the library. I can see the argument that some book pirates might do the same thing. But the majority of books I check out of the library I never will buy. So what does that make me?

So I CAN see how there's still a gray area here. I'm not saying I condone piracy, and I'm certainly not discouraging library use, but I do wonder what makes library use a GOOD thing and piracy BAD, what makes them truly different.


Yeah, I'm not seeing how buying used books helps the author any more. Borrowing it from the library is slightly better, but not much. And yes, most of those people weren't going to buy the book either way. Some of them can't afford it. Some of them think it's just not worth the money. Some will buy it afterwards. Yes, people who get it for free when they could afford to support the author are awful. But I'm not sure how often that is the case.


Well, actually I don't see what harm the people who download to count coup are doing. That candy bar they stole is still there to be sold, so they didn't hurt the store and they aren't even stealing a sale from the author, which is what fans who download to read are doing. Oh wait, those are the people putting the books up there to be stolen. Yeah, I don't get that either.

I can't imagine telling an author that you are stealing their book. I guess because you didn't get enough joy out of telling the other author that you didn't like/don't want to read their book? I mean, it's bad enough to do it, but then to run and share the information with the person whom you are hurting?

I don't feel bad about buying from the library, because libraries buy books. And even used book stores help a bit -- you are helping pay the people who bought the book new, and maybe they'll take the money they got from selling the books to buy more new ones. And if you buy out all the used copies of books, the next customer will be forced to buy it new.

The only way I can imagine ripping a book from the web is if I did buy an ebook, and their formatting was so bad (DRM or whatever) that I replaced it from a better web copy. I don't think I'd do that (I don't like ebooks, although I like that other people like them), but I wouldn't lose sleep over it if I did.

SE Smith

I'm backing you up David T. Macknet, unpopular an opinion though it may be. The vast majority of the books that I've downloaded I would never have bought in the first place. Those that I do enjoy, I will buy. (FWIW this is supplementary to those I purchase directly). I believe it's scandalous for a publisher to merrily discount a bestselling hardcover 40-50% off (to, say, $16 on average) while maintaining a typical inflexible price point of $9.99 and up for the electronic version. Therefore, I sought alternatives to manage my voracious reading habit. I don't view it any differently than buying used or visiting the library. I'm not attempting to justify my actions here; downloading is not a subversive gesture, I just. love. books. Vast quantities of books. And I devour them at alarming rates. Welcome to the mind of a pirate. Argh!

Completely aside from my personal motivations, I'm puzzled as to why publishers are seemingly shocked and unprepared for such piracy considering whatall has happened to the music industry. E-formats have been bearing down into the markets for a very long time. Shouldn't they have studied what worked and didn't work (and, make no mistake, it was *enormously* mishandled) for the recording companies? They seem to be making the exact same mistakes. Stamping their wee feet and peeing all over Napster- erm, I mean Amazon is certainly not going to make me reconsider my position.


rockinlibrarian, the libraries buy the books. Popular books get replaced. Popular authors are more likely to be automatic buys when their next book comes out. That's how checking books out from the library helps authors.


SE SMith, I really, really, HATE people who think that because stuff is priced too high, it's okay to steal it.

David T. Macknet, this is a really good example of the flaw in Eric Flint's argument on the Baen Book site. It's true that most people, most of the time, prefer not to do something they believe is wrong. But SE Smith obviously believes that what she or he is doing ISN'T wrong. It's totally justified by the fact that he or she wants the content and doesn't want to pay for it.

So, with charming people like you and SE Smith working to convince your peers that downloading that book might be technically illegal, but not morally wrong, because Hey, you weren't going to buy it anyway, so it's not like a lost sale, and who cares, because the book can still be sold to some other person, more and more people all the time are going to be like the 800 people a week ripping off Saundra Mitchell. The point here isn't whether people would have paid for the book in paper. The point is that they felt it was okay to take something without paying. They now have her story, which she worked hard on, and they have given her nothing for it.

SE Smith, you're a thief.

R. J. Anderson

In the case of used books, that book WAS actually sold to someone first, and there is only one physical copy of the book belonging to one person at one time. Whether it's a gift or whether it's purchased from a used book store, the book has transferred ownership from one person to another. Whereas pirating e-books is more akin to counterfeiting money -- you're creating additional, illegitimate copies of the book and distributing them all over the place. Not the same thing at all.


I can understand downloading a song to see if you want to buy the whole album, but downloading a whole book? Uh, no. You sample a chapter to decide if you want to buy. If someone steals a book, chances are they aren't going to pay for a physical copy, whether they like it or not. It's crazy that people think it's okay.

Jennifer (An Abundance of Books)

@ rockinlibrarian - As a librarian I've had lots of people check out books and then like them so much that they buy their own personal copy. Libraries help people get to know authors and books that they might not normally pick up if it's costing them money but they'll try if it's free.


http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1585598.html - Not me, but a good point.

The answer to the piracy problem is absolutely NOT to sue downloaders. How well did that work for the music industry? Note that I am not saying piracy is okay. But what I see publishers doing is digging in their heels and whining that the world is changing and they don't *want* it to change and reluctantly, VERY reluctantly, and slowly, VERY slowly, adjusting to the changing world. (That mostly goes for the big publishers, natch.) I feel bad for Saundra Mitchell and authors and publishers, I really do. And I *love* books. But saying that pirates are evil and bad (which is wrong, btw) and not *doing* anything smart to react to piracy isn't helpful.


I'm with SE Smith in that this is a problem the publishing industry should have seen coming, and they need to handle it better than the music industry did. i.e., not suing individual downloaders, but working on a broader solution that figures out how to give people what they want. Look at how popular the iTunes music store and Amazon mp3 are now--because they gave music downloaders what they want, which is individual songs at a lower price, so they don't have to buy the whole album. I'm not sure what the solution would be for publishing, but I'm with Jessica on this. They're going to have to adjust.

I don't know, I mean, you can talk all you want about how evil and wrong piracy is, but ultimately people are still going to download things. Any industry that relies on people knowing it's morally wrong to steal from them is being naive.


I'm not saying 'yay piracy!' or anything, but I think this is an interesting post that makes valid points:


Jessica, I don't think anyone has a good idea on how to combat piracy. There is no solution, I think except a complete change in the way people get paid for their intellectual property. People who say it's all the industry's fault because they haven't come up with a way to convince people to pay for what they choose to steal are . . . kind of smug and self-serving. Notemily, if you have a good idea, lay it on me. Seriously, the person who stands to make the MOST money here, is the person who can work out a reliable new way for people who create things out of their head to get paid when they share their ideas.

Most of the ideas I have seen, I frankly hate. My least favorite is the one where people give their stuff away for free until they catch on and then they make money with public appearances, giving talks, etc. This is the musician model. It means that people who aren't very social aren't going to have an avenue to make money. God knows, if I was interested in performing in public, I would not have chosen to stay at home all day writing books.

The paradigm discussed in str4y's link doesn't require public performance, but it does saddle the writer with every single task involved with producing a book. It dispenses with those silly publishers, editors, copywriters, marketing professionals, the whole shebang. The writer gets to do it all. Sounds like hell to me. And the idea that a good book is produced without editing and copyediting is naive.

Patronage might work. When a book is finished, there could be a system by which random people chip in money through paypal until a specific goal is reached and then the book is released for free online. I think you might find that people resent the idea that they pay something and a bunch of freeloaders get the book at no cost. They don't mind when it's the author who gets taken advantage of by online piracy, but will they pay their own money so that strangers can read for free? They very well might. Right now people spend hours fussing over OCR software for no return except the gratitude from other pirates.


Thanks, R.J. Anderson-- your analogy about counterfeit money helped clear the issue up for me.

I already knew library books help people discover new authors they might buy some day-- that's the only way I actually buy books myself, after all. But since I don't end up actually buying the vast MAJORITY of books I enjoy and love at the library, and one could argue that people could discover authors they're willing to buy that they first read in pirated editions, that argument wasn't helping me any.

But the concept of ACTUAL COPIES of something is I think where the confusion sets in. When you've got a physical book, one person can read it at a time (well, basically). If someone posts a story on their blog, MANY people could be reading it at the same time. It is harder to picture other electronic content as One Particular Packet Of Information To Be Used By Just One Person At A Time. I guess that IS how e-books work-- I gather that libraries who circulate popular e-books actually do have due dates and such (our library just has online access to reference and public domain stuff, no need to download, no due dates, no one-patron-at-a-time, for our so-called "e-book collection). But when you're used to just reading whatever online, I imagine that is why it doesn't seem like much of an issue to people who pirate. I think this is something the e-book movement needs to think about. We're used to reading electronic content without such one-on-one restrictions. How do you make content that DOES have restrictions like that worth paying for? (This is one of the reasons I am not into eBooks. I don't want to pay for something unless I can physically hold it in my hand).

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