Sunday, January 16, 2011

Verdict: Guilty!

I have four boxes full of books stuffed into the closet under the stairs.

We have at least 70 linear feet of shelving in the study, also stuffed with books. There are books in the upstairs closet. There are books on my desk. And there are books on the shelves and on the desks and under the beds in our childrens' rooms. And I've got at least a hundred books on my iPod Touch.

We're rich with books.

The authors who write them, not so much.

I'm not one of those pirates we hear about, stealing books left and right. The ebooks on my iPod Touch are all in the public domain; I got them legally, for free. Every book in the house has been paid for by someone or other.

But most of them are used. I'd say less than ten percent are new. So that means for the 90 percent left over, the authors haven't seen a dime from us.

That's how it's always been though, right? Somebody buys the book new, reads it, then sends it on its merry way, either to a thrift store, a used book store, or other such outlet. And people like me buy them, and rarely pass them on, because people like me hoard books and are loath to see their collections shrink.

But, I have to ask myself, am I a parasite?

I read earlier today an excellent screed on the evils of downloading unpaid for ebooks, and how this newest type of copyright infringement is literally stifling the careers of some writers. The writer of this post writes with some experience, saying that even when the print demand for her book has slowed, the illegal downloading hasn't. Her fans are literally taking money out of her pocket, and gleefully tell her so.

This author shares some statistics that are pretty sobering and show the breadth and impact e-book piracy can have on an author, and his or her future success:
I’ve been very open about the money I’ve made and not made, to help give the writing community some perspective. So I’m going to be very open about money today. I’ve told you before that I made a $15,000 advance on SHADOWED SUMMER. In two years, I’ve managed to earn back $12,000 of that.
It’s going out of print in hardcover because demand for it has dwindled to 10 or so copies a month. This means I will never get a royalty check for this book. By all appearances, nobody wants it anymore.
But those appearances are deceiving. According to one download site’s stats, people are downloading SHADOWED SUMMER at a rate of 800 copies a week. When the book first came out, it topped out at 3000+ downloads a week.

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list.
That's some pretty serious impact. She's literally being paupered by her fans who see nothing wrong in praising her without actually paying her.

Worse yet, it doesn't end there:
And let me tell you guys… the sales figures on SHADOWED SUMMER had a seriously detrimental effect on my career. It took me almost two years to sell another book. I very nearly had to change my name and start over. And my second advance? Was exactly the same as the first because sales figures didn’t justify anything more. I don’t blame my publisher. There’s weak demand for my books, according to my sales figures.

Meanwhile, 800 copies of my book (worth about $1200 toward my advance, if everyone paid for a copy,) are being downloaded a week.
Yes, her fans who won't pay up are stifling her career.

This is serious business. This is why newspapers are up in arms about protecting their content and taking it behind paywalls. This is why the MPAA and other organizations are so serious about monitoring illegal copying and distribution of music and films.

And those who pirate and see nothing wrong with it just don't get it: They're thieves, they're hurting other people's careers, and they are, frankly, everywhere.

I glean two important bits of information from this post:

1) Unless you're a Terry Pratchett or the like, you're not going to make scads of money writing books. I'm okay with that. It's the writing, not the payment, that's really fun for me. But still, I'd like to be recompensed if people read and enjoy the stuff I'm writing. I don't want the moon, but I'd like to collect some of that astral dust, if you see what I mean.

2) I might be the pot calling the kettle black. I haven't bought a new book in years. I make no attempts to keep up with current fiction. My view of the writing world is incredibly narrow, despite the sheer tonnage of books we have in the house. And I don't really feel any modicum of guilt. There's too much out there for me to keep up. And I can't afford it, anyway.

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