E-Book Piracy: That’s Not the Enemy

The enemy of a writer is not e-book piracy. It’s obscurity. This applies specially to the indies. Don’t believe me? How about the University of Chicago?

“The University of Chicago Press recently digitized many of its titles believed to be of interest to its general readers. When they did a check on which were pirated, they found, to their surprise, most came from the more obscure, less lucrative parts of their list. This led Garrett Kiely, director of the University of Chicago Press, to observe, “ Obscurity might be our biggest problem, rather than piracy.”

You could also ask Neil Gaiman or this other dude who does a pretty good summary of the piracy debate. Then there’s O’Reilly Media, a company which discovered that sales actually increased after their books showed up on pirate sites, an unexpected benefit. Plus, the most pirated books are not even your books. Unless you are the author of 1000 Photoshop Tips and Tricks. Check this list of the 10 Pirated eBooks at The Pirate Bay and see for yourself.

OK, here’s what I think the pirate situation is like. Remember that high school buddy who would always bum your cigarettes but never buy his own? You waited and waited for the day when the bastard would purchase his own smokes but invariably he’d come to you and take one? Yeah. Some book pirates are like that. They’re that dude who will never purchase cigarettes. In fact, the day you stopped smoking he stopped smoking! It is futile to argue with cigarette-guy because if he couldn’t get the smokes for free, he would have never bought them. It’s not a lost sale. It’s the freeloader you always hated.

The other type of book pirate (which may overlap with my cigarette friend) is the hoarder. Hoarders hoard. Virtual hoarders hoard virtual books. They don’t care what they’re downloading. Down it goes into the computer. But these hoarders are not customers either. They’re non-discriminating and, like cigarette guy, if they had to pay for every book they’d likely move on to hoarding pebbles.

The third e-book pirate is the one who can’t get the damn thing in his or her own country. And, while worldwide distribution of e-books is getting better, there is more than one title that I, here in Canada, can’t get for my e-reader. For example, a Dance With Dragons is available in the Amazon.com site for the Kindle but not in the Amazon.ca site. If I had a Kobo reader I could buy it from Chapters or I could turn the Kobo file into something I can read on the Kindle, but now we are jumping through hoops. And I’m in Canada. Think of my cousin in Mexico, how he feels because I’ve got the book and meanwhile he’s starring at a screen that tells him he can’t buy it because he lives in the wrong region of the world.

You’re going to say that all this is poppycock and if I were a publisher I’d be outraged about pirates.

Fact is I am. A micro-publisher, but I still want to pay the bills.

I have seen pirated copies of our stuff. In fact, I’ve seen pirated copies of our free PDF issues. How’s that for you? Free issues! I want people to read them and yet someone uploaded them to a site because there’s always a hoarder willing to do it.

So here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure my real enemy is obscurity. It’s probably yours too.

And if you ever want a free copy of one of our e-books, all you have to do is ask. I’ll send it to you as long as you review it and talk about it. I need more eyeballs, folks. Pirates? They’re not a big concern.

How do you feel about e-book piracy? Are you afraid of it? Do you do something about it?