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.

Coronavirus Ripple Effect, Pt. 2: Indies & Debuts

Yesterday, I talked about the ripple effect that canceling a big event like SXSW or Emerald City Comicon can have on the livelihoods of people, starting at the beginning point of the shock, and rippling outwards to the Uber/Lyft drivers, the maids at hotels, the servers at restaurants, etc. (https://stillmorewords.com/2020/03/10/the-coronavirus-ripple-effect/). Today, I want to build on that and talk about the book industry and the effect Coronavirus is having on *it*.

I work for an indie bookstore, and when one is talking about indies, one is generally talking about a very thin profit margin. One of the biggest things that indies depend on, besides word of mouth and consistent customers? Book events, where the authors come into the store, sign titles, and talk to/with those that attend. Unfortunately, many of those events – large, small, and everywhere in between – are getting cancelled. This is a difficulty for a few reasons:

  1. Typically, the bookstore has STOCKED UP on whatever title the authors have written. They bring in a lot of the new title the book tour is for, and often some of the back list as well. Now, with no event? Such a large amount of titles are much more likely to struggle to be sold.
  2. Events usually mean extra personnel working that day/evening – there is set-up involved, greeting/directing the author to where they need to be, helping with the signing line, etc. Those employees lose out on that extra pay.
  3. When customers come for an author event, it is not uncommon for them to purchase not only titles from that author, but to wander around the bookstore before/after the event and purchase more books, gift items, etc. Events, depending on the size of them, can generate quite a bit more in revenue from additional purchases, and that now evaporates.
  4. Author events typically involve the bookstores paying a fee to the author to have them come and talk. It’s very possible that some of that fee may not be returnable, depending on the contract involved. So that’s an additional loss.

There are probably more reasons even than this, but these are the ones that I’m more familiar with. Long story short – it really hurts the bottom lines of the indie bookstores, many of whom struggle to stay afloat anyway in the Age of Amazon.

For a more personal touch, lets talk about debut authors. Being a debut author is sort of a touchy spot between YAY MY BOOK IS BEING PUBLISHED and WHAT IF NO ONE BUYS IT. They often really depend on book festivals, such as the Tucson Festival of Books, to get the word out and meet with readers – particularly since new books are often propelled more by word of mouth than anything else. Not only that, but most debut authors are not treated to actual book tours, no matter how small. Book tours are expensive, and tend to be reserved more for authors that are a known quantity. So these debut authors really do count on getting that name recognition from these larger events – this not only gets them readers, but also gets more interest from bookstores who decide what they have room to stock…which gets them more readers, and so on. When they get cancelled? It puts their books – and potentially any future books – on VERY unstable ground.

The solution, other than not cancelling these events (which is, at the moment, VERY unrealistic)? Support your indie bookstores. Find a debut author that has a title coming out and PREORDER THEIR BOOK. Preorders are SUPER important for authors. I’ll let Kevin Hearne (one of my favorite authors) explain why:

If you don’t want to preorder? The first week of sales are ALSO super important. And if you don’t have the funds to buy the book, but you still want to read them? ASK YOUR LIBRARY TO CARRY THEM. Library sales figure into the math that publishers do when trying to decide whether to sign another contract with an author.

Once you’ve done any one (or more!) of those things? If you read the book, and like it? SPREAD THE WORD! If you use Goodreads, leave a review. If you don’t do reviews, leave a star count. Review on Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. If you use Facebook, share with your friends and family. If you use Twitter, send a tweet! Get the word out, and bit by bit, it travels…then other bookstores get requests, and more people see it and some will even buy it. Others will download it. And THAT’S how debut authors are able to turn their first book into another one, and hopefully another one after that, and so on.

Below, I’m adding a few links for your further perusal. The first, is an excellent way to find a book your interested in AND a local indie bookstore.

http://www.indiebound.org

Several of the authors that were slated to appear at the now-cancelled Tucson Festival of Books were debut authors. I’m including a link that lists EVERY author scheduled to appear. The nice thing about this particular link is that every author has their OWN link for you to click on and check out.

https://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/?id=67

If you have a specific genre, and that genre is YA? HAVE I GOT THE LINK FOR YOU!

https://www.thebookgoat.com/2020-ya

More links to debut titles coming out:

Long story super short – indies and debut authors (even authors who *aren’t* debut, but only have a couple of books out) will be hurting from this. Please do what you can to help support them, whether it’s as small as asking your library to carry a title, or as big as BUYING ALL THE BOOKS (from an indie, natch).

And if you are a debut author, with a book coming out in the next several months, PLEASE feel free to leave the information in the comments of this post! Or attached to the tweet! Tag authors you know of, and retweet the hell of this. Use the hashtag #debutauthor to make it easily found for others. I’d love to be able to broadcast everyone’s information a little more widely, and help out as many as I can. Because indie bookseller = book lover, and I will never cease to argue the point that what the world needs now is ALWAYS more books.