Monday, April 30, 2012

Scurvy Pirates - Aargh!

The topic today is book pirating. I saw two things in the news/blogosphere this past week that piqued my interest in this topic.

First, I saw a news story that Homeland Security has been raiding flea markets across the country to crack down on counterfeiting. They seized millions of dollars of merchandise and shut down, at least temporarily, some flea markets. They confiscated knock-off handbags, shoes and counterfeited DVDs and CDs. 

While on first blush this looks like a good thing - crack down pirates and those that sell their wares - the reality is that the raids have little to do with helping the companies who created the original item and everything to do with tax evasion. Much of the sale of the counterfeited goods in handled in cash so the businesses can avoid taxes. And lets face it, a person paying $20 for a Gucci handbag knockoff probably can't afford the real deal, so it's not like the Nikes, Gucci's and Louis Vuitton's of the world are losing sales.

I saw this article and I thought, "Where are the crackdowns on digital pirates, huh? Why not go after the pirates themselves?" It's like busting the drug dealers and showing bales of confiscated drugs on network news. It looks like you're doing something when in reality you're going nothing to prevent the illegal activity.

The second item about piracy came from one of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin. His blog post is titled, "Piracy? You wish." You can read it here. I rarely disagree with Seth but on this one, I shout a "Whoa, hold on there."

Seth, in another post directed to publishers, essentially argues that publishers need to allow open DRM (digital rights management) because there's no piracy problem. Seth says:

"Books are free at the library but there's no line out the door."

I'll disagree with that Seth. There is, often, a virtual line out the door for popular books. I was in the queue to get my hands on The Night Circus for over two months. 

Seth went on to argue that because books take a long time to read and are relatively cheap, "Most of the inputs necessary for a vibrant piracy community are missing."

I will again disagree. Strongly.

I don't know where Seth has been hiding, but book piracy is alive, well and thriving.

I should know. I just found two more sites pirating my book, Emily's House, this week.

Apparently the fact that it's cheap (most of the time you can find it somewhere for no more than 99 cents) hasn't deterred the pirates.

Really people, you can buy it for 99 cents! Why buy a pirated copy?

What's going on here?

I spent some time tripping around the Internet, finding my book on pirated sites, then clicking through. You always end up at a download content site that doesn't actually create the work to be downloaded but just manages the payment and downloads. And what I think is going on (correct me someone if you think I am wrong on this), is that people can pay a small monthly fee and download as much content as they want.

For about $20 a month, they can download bootleg anything. Movies, music, books. Instead of paying that $20 for one hardcover book, they can get an unlimited number of books plus their movies and music.

So yes, Seth, there is a pirating problem.

Seth Godin also seems to conclude that there's no piracy problem based on his own experience: "I've written several free books and even when I want unlimited piracy, it doesn't happen."

I think Seth is missing two points. First, just because it didn't happen to you doesn't mean it's not happening to anyone. I've never been raped either but that hardly means that no one has been raped.

Second, Seth must not be aware of how pirated material is actually being disseminated. If he did, he'd see that offering your book for free on Smashwords or Amazon isn't the same thing as people downloading your work through these sites that offer unlimited downloads of anything. Heck, my book is practically free to buy AND has open DRM (meaning that I have allowed people who buy it to lend it freely as many times as they choose). And, I have offered it for free on Amazon for five days in which I gave away almost 4,000 copies.

None of this prevented piracy.

Personally, I think DRM is bullshit and will do nothing to prevent piracy. DRM only serves the need of the publishers to sell more books and decrease the value of the product purchased by the customer. If publishers could put a lock on the paper copy preventing you from loaning it, they would! It irks me when I buy a digital book and can't loan it to a friend or book club member to read yet if I spent (sometimes less! - go figure that one out) on a paper copy, I could loan it freely - as many times as I wanted.

But knowing someone is out there selling my book without giving me a penny for it - that burns my buns. And you know the worst part? One one site alone, it showed the number of downloads of my book to be over 8,000.

If you add up all the books I've sold AND given away, I'm not even near that number.

The pirates are doing better at marketing my book than I am! Perhaps that's what steams my muscles more than anything.

If by any chance you, reader, partake in downloads from sites such as I've mentioned, I ask that you consider the fact that you are engaged in theft. It's no different than knowingly purchasing a stolen car. Piracy will end only when people stop supporting the pirates. And if your copy of Emily's House is pirated, at least go to Amazon and give it a 5 star review.

And if you are a pirate who stole my work and have sold more than me, let me know your marketing techniques.

What do you think? If you're a writer, have your books been pirated? And if so, what is your reaction to it? Have  you done anything to try to prevent it?

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