Primer: Why Piracy is Bad

With all the stuff going around about piracy, here’s a quick primer on – yes – why it’s BAD.

So, Chuck Wendig, an author that I happen to enjoy on Twitter, recently tweeted this:

The reason this is problematic is because this website that NPR is promoting is sharing *copyrighted* works. And due to the pandemic, it’s a free-for-all until the…end of June, I think? There is literally no oversight, unless the authors happen to catch it. So here’s a little primer on why Piracy Is Bad.

#1 – It’s on *authors*, NOT publishers, to find piracy and try to stop it. Yep, you read that right. Even though the publishers have the time, money, and manpower, it’s on the authors to try and keep their stuff from being stolen. So they either need to take time out of their writing to search for pirated copies, or they need to hire someone to do it for them. Neither of which is ideal, considering MOST authors come nowhere near the earning power of, say, Stephen King or Chuck Wendig. In fact, a large chunk of authors write around their 40-hour-a-week jobs because they don’t make enough to have writing be a full-time proposition. So it’s on them to find the illegal uploads, and then file the onerous paperwork to try and have it taken down.

#2 – Speaking of that paperwork…it’s not per author. It’s PER TITLE. So, using Seanan McGuire as an example, Fantastic Fiction (https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/seanan-mcguire/) shows that she has over 30 books. Her books tend to be pretty popular, and so they also tend to be pirated a fair amount. If she heads to any book-pirating website and finds, say, 15 of her titles on there? SHE HAS TO FILE A SEPARATE DOCUMENT FOR EACH AND EVERY TITLE. There is no “cease and desist” for an author as a whole. That…takes time. As is the way with legal documents, it’s not easy, nor it is painless. Now imagine doing that for every single pirating website – AND having to do it over and over again, because it’s only good until the next time someone uploads a book.

#3 – The majority of people illegally downloading titles are…not who you would think. I’m going to link to the Guardian article, which you can read at your leisure, but essentially? Most people pirating titles (and probably music too) are absolutely capable of paying for it. AND, most authors in my experience are SUPER generous about giving away titles to those who love their work and simply cannot buy it. See Also: “library”. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/06/pirated-ebooks-threaten-future-of-serial-novels-warn-authors-maggie-stiefvater)

#4 – People are downloading more titles than you think. I’m kicking myself because I can’t find the *amazing* thread from a long while back that really went into numbers and details. Nor can I exactly remember who tweeted it. But here is an example, tweeted by one of my favorite authors, Rachel Caine, about one of my favorite series:

If you pay close attention to those numbers, you can see that as each title in the series came out, it was purchased *less* and downloaded *more*. At some point, publishers deem that unsustainable as well – leading them to cancel trilogies and series before their time. And this is an ESTABLISHED author. Now take a minute and imagine what this could do to a *debut* author, when their title is downloaded more than it’s purchased? THEY DON’T GET TO WRITE ANOTHER ONE. Publishing is a business – it may not be the best business model, but…that’s an argument for another day. If they’re losing money, they’re going to cut their losses – and that’s really what this comes down to.

#5, again from the esteemed Seanan McGuire (pay close attention to the 2nd tweet):

Authors will tell their readers, and anyone else who cares to pay attention, pre-release and first-week sales ARE URGENT. Another author that I absolutely *adore* is Kevin Hearne, and he addressed this quite well on his site (http://kevinhearne.com/how-you-help-authors-the-most/). But if you don’t want to click through, essentially the reasoning is this: Pre-orders and first-week sales are those most likely to get an author on the NYT Bestseller list – which opens the door for future titles. It also means booksellers are ordering more – which opens the door to new readers who may not be familiar. There’s more to it than that, and I urge you to read his excellent post, but that’s a very drastic distillation. Again, we can argue publishing’s business models another day, but the long and short of it is – piracy affects those numbers, which affects books sold and the likelihood of any *further* books coming.

#6 – It affects bookstores, too – particularly indies. Yep, really. For every copy that is pirated, a copy isn’t purchased. Now, according to one article from 2017, e-book piracy costs over $315 MILLION in lost sales (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/e-book-piracy-costs-publishers-315-million-in-lost-sales-300423534.html). It’s probably more these days, simply because technology has advanced – making it easier to steal via digital. But going with that number, and knowing that Amazon has a roughly a 50% of the book pie in total, that leaves over $157 million dollars to be divided up between other sources (Barnes & Noble, indies, etc.). Now, think of your local indie – or one you may be familiar with – and just IMAGINE what even 10% of that dollar amount would do?? Indies in particular run on the most paper-thin of margins, and $15+ million dollars would go A LONG WAY towards keeping their employees working, paying their people livable wages, including healthcare, and frankly – just keeping the lights on. And that is just *one* of the reasons why I, and 400+ of my co-workers, are currently out of work. Because margins are thin, and everything can negatively affect the bottom line.

This is what it comes down to, people – piracy is theft. It really doesn’t matter what mental gymnastics people try to do, it. is. stealing. And the worst part is – it’s not just stealing from the authors, which in and of itself is bad enough. It’s stealing from the readers, who lose a beloved set of characters because the publisher pulled the plus. Who lose an #ownvoices author because their first book didn’t have the sales it needed, so there will be no more. It’s stealing from the brick and mortar bookstores, who are on thin ice with Amazon a looming presence. From the indies who barely survive day-to-day, but are true neighborhood bulwarks, and who typically treat their employees very well. Piracy steals from us all, in ways large and small – and it’s up to us to stop it.

If you have the opportunity? Just…don’t. Buy it – new or used (and yes – most authors will tell you they love used bookstores). Borrow it from a friend. Get it from the library. Don’t steal it from all of us.

If you see it? Call it out. Name and shame. Let authors know if you see their works being pirated – if they don’t know, they can’t try to stop it. And again – they have to find the time to search all the sites, which can be prohibitive. Let the publishers know, and while you’re at it? Call them out for not being more proactive and handling something they should be handling in the first place. Buy from indies when you can – support them with your dollars, and let them know they are valued. But don’t take it from me – take it from Ms. McGuire again. As an author who experiences this regularly, she says it far better than I could (click on the image to read the whole thread – it’s worth the short amount of time):

Click to read the whole thread. It’s not long – but it’s important.

Author: stillmorewords

Small-town girl, living in a big city. Former Coastie, married with 2 kids. Inveterate reader of all genres, though non-fiction and YA currently rule. Indie bookstore employee, small business owner, tea drinker.

7 thoughts on “Primer: Why Piracy is Bad”

  1. The person I tried talking to seemed to think that “nobody would download the indies anyway and the big ones are rich”, and also “you shouldn’t care what those stupid people do across the pond, it’s not our business” and I just 😦

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    1. GAH! That’s one of the beautiful things about authors and books – we have access no matter where we live, so “across the pond” is…not a thing. And the majority of authors are not indie, but neither are they rich, so that viewpoint is maddening and obtuse.

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      1. Well, accessibility is not the complete truth here, actually a lot of stuff 10 years ago you just couldn’t buy, like at all. Now you can digitally, but also not everything. Kindle isn’t very accessible because we have no local Amazon and not many people choose to ship it the hard way. We can’t borrow ebooks from libraries either and things either don’t get published here, or they arrive really late, and some books just don’t have rights in my region. Plus we make 4 times less money in salaries and the books locally actually cost more than ebooks on US Amazon (how messed up is that.) (It’s actually why I started blogging – review copies. They’re pretty much the most accessible thing. Funnily enough, with all the regional restrictions, even.) So there is definitely limited accessibility here – but that doesn’t change the point that we live, well, in a capitalist society, so saying “across the pond” really is stupid. It’s not like we’re living in some other kind of world here! It is short sighted to say that, because the only reason why our own authors don’t really get pirated is because we have a very small audience and not many people even read them. It’s silly to imagine that the same couldn’t happen here.

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      2. Ahh…I didn’t realize it was that difficult there! That would make it worse for authors there, then, because their audience *is* so small, any pirating would really hurt them, I would think? I think for us, we’re sort of spoiled by the availability, and that leads people to believe that everything should be that way all the time, without realizing the damage it can do. We’re spoiled, frankly.

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      3. I think the local authors are “safer”, so to say, because a lot of them go for hardcore literature only, and if I may, some of it is incredibly pretentious xD (that’s one reason I rarely read the locals). So their audience really wouldn’t care to pirate. The only thing is that their audience is super small and there are wayyyyy too many of the authors, so that’s.. still a problem, I guess. And I think you’re right – we are all sort of spoiled in this day and age. In regards to everything! We have more than anyone before us ever did. My grandpa bought ANY book he could find for my mom when she was a teen – because there were no books, there were often shortages. So she’d read whatever he’d bring. It was luck based. Even here where it’s sort of limited, our choices are wayyyyy more free than they were in my parents’ generation. Not to speak of the internet.

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      4. Lol! THOSE authors…got it. πŸ˜‰ Yeah, we didn’t have a ton of books when I was a kid – I read and re-read all the books in my dad’s smallish library until I practically knew them by heart. My kids, on the other hand, have NO shortage of books – my son reads paper copies and on his phone, daughter reads paper copies, and I’m always bringing more home. I do hope that I’m teaching them appreciation, not appropriation…

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      5. Same! I also reread a lot as a kid, and I didn’t feel a shortage of books – I just appreciated them in a different way, I guess. I can’t imagine it now… Things have changed. I also just read ANYTHING I could find. The randomest and least known books, because they were simply there. Now it also feels like a thing only of childhood!

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