Notable Articles and The Future of the Book and The Millions Interview

Confessions of a Book Pirate

By posted at 6:32 am on January 25, 2010 280

coverFor several years, it seemed as though the book industry was getting a reprieve. As the music industry was ravaged by file sharing, and the film and TV industry were increasingly targeted by downloaders, book piracy was but a quaint cul de sac in the vast file sharing ecology. The tide, however, may be changing. Ereaders have become mainstream, making reading ebooks palatable to many more readers. Meanwhile, technology for scanning physical books and breaking the DRM on ebooks has continued to advance.

A recent study by Attributor, a firm that specializes in monitoring content online, came to some spectacular conclusions, including the headline claim that book piracy costs the industry nearly $3 billion, or over 10% of total revenue. Of all the conclusions in the Attributor study, this one seemed the most outlandish, and the study itself might be met with some skepticism since Attributor is in the business of charging companies to protect their content from the threat of piracy.

Nonetheless, the study, which monitored 913 titles on several popular file hosting sites, did point to a level of activity that suggested illegal downloading of books was becoming more than just a niche pastime. Even if the various extrapolations that led to the $3-billion figure are easy to poke holes in, Attributor still directly counted 3.2 million downloaded books.

For some, however, the study may inspire more questions than answers. Who are the people downloading these books? How are they doing it and where is it happening? And, perhaps most critical for the publishing industry, why are people deciding to download books and why now? I decided to find out, and after a few hours of searching – stalled by a number dead links and password protected sites – I found, on an online forum focused on sharing books via BitTorrent, someone willing to talk.

He lives in the Midwest, he’s in his mid-30s and is a computer programmer by trade. By some measures, he’s the publishing industry’s ideal customer, an avid reader who buys dozens of books a year and enthusiastically recommends his favorites to friends. But he’s also uploaded hundreds of books to file sharing sites and he’s downloaded thousands. We discussed his file sharing activity over the course of a weekend, via email, and in his answers lie a critical challenge facing the publishing industry: how to quash the emerging piracy threat without alienating their most enthusiastic customers. As is typical of anonymous online communities, he has a peculiar handle: “The Real Caterpillar.” This is what he told me:

The Millions: How active are you. How many books have you uploaded or downloaded?

The Real Caterpillar: In the past month, I have uploaded approximately 50 books to the torrent site where you contacted me. I am much less active then I once was. I used to scan many books, but in the past two years I have only done a few. Between 2002-2005 I created around 200 ebooks by scanning the physical copy, OCRing and proofing the output, and uploading them to USENET. I generally only upload content that I have scanned, with some exceptions. I have been out of the book scene for a while, concentrating on rare and out of print movies instead of books because it is much easier to rip a movie from VHS or DVD than to scan and proof a book.

I have downloaded a couple thousand ebooks via USENET and private torrent sites.

TM: Do you typically see scanned physical books or ebooks where the DRM has been broken?

coverTRC: Most of what I have seen is scanned physical books. Stephen King’s Under the Dome was the first DRM-broken book I downloaded knowingly.

TM: Why have you gone this route as opposed to using a library or buying books? Do you consider this “stealing” or is it a gray area?

TRC: I own around 1,600 physical books, maybe a third of which were bought new, the rest used. I buy many hardcovers in a given year and generally purchase more books than I end up reading, so I have not chosen to collect electronic books as opposed to paper books but in addition to them. My electronic library has about a 50% crossover with my physical library, so that I can read the book on my electronic reader, “loan” the book without endangering my physical copy, or eventually rid myself of the paper copy if it is a book I do not have strong feelings about.

I do not buy DRM’d ebooks that are priced at more than a few dollars, but would pay up to $10 for a clean file if it was a new release.

coverI do not pretend that uploading or downloading unpurchased electronic books is morally correct, but I do think it is more of a grey area than some of your readers may. Perhaps this will change as the Kindle and other e-ink readers make electronic books more convenient, but the Baen Free Library is an interesting experiment that proves that at least in that case, their business was actually enhanced by giving away their product free. That is probably not a business model that will work for everyone, but what is shows is that as a company they have their ear to the ground and are willing to think in new directions and take chances instead of putting their fingers in their ears, closing their eyes, and railing against their customers, as the
music industry is doing. The world is changing and business models have to change with it.

Three additional points:

1) With digital copies, what is “stolen” is not as clear as with physical copies. With physical copies, you can assign a cost to the physical product, and each unit costs x dollars to create. Therefore, if the product is stolen, it is easy to say that an object was stolen that was worth x dollars. With digital copies, it is more difficult to assign cost. The initial file costs x dollars to create, but you can make a million copies of that file for no cost. Therefore, it is hard to assign a specific value to a digital copy of a work except as it relates to lost sales.

2) Just because someone downloads a file, it does not mean they would have bought the product I think this is the key fact that many people in the music industry ignore – a download does not translate to a lost sale. I own hundreds of paper copies of books I have e-copies of, many of which were bought after downloading the e-copy. In other cases I have downloaded books I would never have purchased, simply because they were recommended or sounded interesting.

3) Just because someone downloads a file, it doesn’t mean they will read it. I realize that buying a book doesn’t mean someone is going to read it either, but clicking a link and paying $10-$30 is very different – many more people will download a book and not read it than buy a book and not read it.

In truth, I think it is clear that morally, the act of pirating a product is, in fact, the moral equivalent of stealing… although that nagging question of what the person who has been stolen from is missing still lingers. Realistically and financially, however, I feel the impact of e-piracy is overrated, at least in terms of ebooks.

TM: How easy is it to go online and find a book you’re looking for? How long does it take to download and how much technical expertise is required?

TRC: I have specific tastes, so it is usually not very easy to find specifically what I am looking for. The dearth of material I was interested in is what prompted me to scan in the past, in order to share some of my favorite, less popular authors with as many people as possible. It does not take much time to download once something you want has been found, however, and little technical experience is required.

Since books are generally very small files, they can be downloaded in minutes. You can then convert the file using one of many applications, for instance Mobipocket Creator, to PRC or another format that works with your reader. You can then plug your Kindle into your computer and copy the file over. The entire process typically takes 5-10 minutes.

BitTorrent technology is easy to install and use, and just about anyone can install the basic software needed and begin downloading their first torrent in less than an hour. However, discovering and gaining access to private torrent sites (invite only) can take a lot of time – and of course, that is where the good stuff is. Public sites (no account needed) and semi-private sites (sites that require an account, but usually have open enrollment) have a limited selection, but are easily accessible and anyone with basic computer skills can find and download very popular novels.

Usenet is an older technology, and is considered a safer place to pirate files. For older users like me who were around at the beginning of the internet it seems very simple, but to newer computer users it may seem unnecessarily complex, and more expensive because you need an account separate from your regular internet connection to access it.

TM: Once you’ve downloaded a book, what format is it in and how do you read it? On you computer? Printed out?

TRC: My preferred format for distribution is RTF because it holds metadata such as italics, boldfaces, and special characters that TXT does not, is easily converted to other formats using Word, cannot contain a virus, and is an open format that will be readable forever. Other popular formats are DOC, HTML, PDF, LIT (Microsoft Reader), PRC (Palm), MOBI (Palm), CBR (rar’d image files) – and there is a new format with each new reader that is released. Most formats can be converted to your preferred format with enough ingenuity or the
correct software.

To read, I convert to PRC and load the books onto my Kindle. Before I got that, I read on my Palm or laptop.

TM: How long does it take you to scan a physical book?

TRC: The scanning process takes about 1 hour per 100 scans. Mass market paperbacks can be scanned two pages at a time flat on the scanner bed, while large trades and hardcovers usually need to be scanned one page at a time. I’m sure that some of the more hardcore scanners disassemble the book and run it through an automatic feeder or something, but I prefer the manual approach because I’d like to save the book, and don’t want to invest in the tools. Usually I can scan a book while watching a movie or two.

Once scanned, the output needs to be OCR’d – this is a fairly quick process using a tool like ABBYY FineReader.

The final step is the longest and most grueling. I’ve spent anywhere from 5 to 40 hours proofing the OCR output, depending on the size of the book and the quality of type in the original. This can be done in your OCR tool side-by-side with the scan of the original image or separately in your final output type (RTF, DOC, HTML, etc.). If there are few errors on the first few pages of text my preference is to proof in RTF, otherwise I do the proof within Finereader itself.

TM: What types of books do you look for? What is generally available? Is any fiction or popular non-fiction available?

TRC: I restrict my downloads to books I will likely read – this includes some popular novels, literary novels, and general non-fiction such as humor, biography, science, sociology, etc. Unlike DVD rips, the newest releases are not typically available two weeks before the product is released, if at all. I’m assuming that this is due to the smaller devoted audience books have, as well as the increased difficulty of sharing a book.

TM: Do you have a sense of where these books are coming from and who is putting them online?

TRC: I assume they are primarily produced by individuals like me – bibliophiles who want to share their favorite books with others. They likely own hundreds of books, and when asked what their favorite book is look at you like you are crazy before rattling of 10-15 authors, and then emailing you later with several more. The next time you see them, they have a bag of 5-10 books for you to borrow.

I’m sure that there are others – the compulsive collectors who download and re-share without ever reading one, the habitual pirates who want to be the first to upload a new release, and people with some other weird agenda that only they understand.

TM: Is it your sense that a lot of people are out there looking to get books this way? Or is it just a tiny group?

TRC: I would say that there is a small unaffiliated “group” of people responsible for sourcing the material.

Also, keep in mind that everything I’m saying applies mostly to fiction and general-interest non-fiction.

Textbook, programming and technical manuals are all over the place and its very easy to obtain almost anything you want. I assume there are more sources for that material, and that their high price is a larger factor in people deciding to pirate them. Similarly, there are many communities creating comic, graphic novel and magazine content of whom I am only vaguely aware.

TM: Do you worry at all about getting in trouble for scanning and uploading ebooks?

TRC: A little, but the books I do are typically not bestsellers and are rarely new. I figure I have a bit of a buffer if trouble comes down because the Stephen King or Nora Roberts or “whoever the latest bestseller is” scanners would be the ones to get hit first. I’ve done a lot of out-of-print stuff, and when it is not out of print it’s books by authors like John Barth – someone who no longer sells very well, I imagine.

I’ve debated doing some newer authors and books, but I would need to protect myself better and resolve the moral dilemma of actually causing noticeable financial harm to the author whose work I love enough to spend so much time working on getting a nice e-copy if I were to do so.

TM: What changes in the ebook industry would inspire you to stop participating in ebook file sharing?

TRC: This is a tough question. I guess if every book was available in electronic format with no DRM for reasonable prices ($10 max for new/bestseller/omnibus, scaling downwards for popularity and value) it just wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and risk to find, download, convert and load the book when the same thing could be accomplished with a single click on your Kindle. Even in this situation, I would probably still grab a book if I stumbled across the file and thought it might interest me – or if I wanted to check it out before buying a paper copy.

I was impressed by the Indie filmmakers of the movie “Ink” – when their movie leaked before the DVD was released, they put a donation button on their site doubleedgefilms.com. I donated even though I haven’t watched the movie yet, just because of their thoughtfulness and sincerity. This didn’t seem to work for King’s “The Plant“, but I think that had a lot to do with the lack of reading technology at the time. I would like to see the experiment tried again by someone like Eggers or Murakami – someone with a very devoted fanbase.

Perhaps if readers were more confident that the majority of the money went to the author, people would feel more guilty about depriving the author of payment. I think most of the filesharing community feels that the record industry is a vestigal organ that will slowly fall off and die – I don’t know to what extent that feeling would extend to publishing houses since they are to some extent a different animal. In the end, I think that regular people will never feel very guilty “stealing” from a faceless corporation, or to a lesser extent, a multi-millionaire like King.

One thing that will definitely not change anyone’s mind or inspire them to stop are polemics from people like Mark Helprin and Harlan Ellison – attitudes like that ensure that all of their works are available online all of the time.

[Image credit: Patrick Feller]





Share this article

More from the Millions

280 Responses to “Confessions of a Book Pirate”

  1. Geek Media Round-Up: August 1, 2011 – Grasping for the Wind
    at 9:03 am on August 1, 2011

    […] Confessions of a Book Pirate […]

  2. Karen Dionne: E-Piracy: The High Cost of Stolen Books | PCE Groups, LLC
    at 2:48 pm on September 8, 2011

    […] e-pirates. “I’ve debated [scanning and uploading] some newer authors and books,” one admits, “but I would need to … resolve the moral dilemma of actually causing noticeable […]

  3. E-Piracy: The High Cost of Stolen Books
    at 1:33 pm on September 12, 2011

    […] e-pirates. “I’ve debated [scanning and uploading] some newer authors and books,” one admits, “but I would need to … resolve the moral dilemma of actually causing noticeable […]

  4. The Great Kindle Challenge: Day 10 | 12 Books in 12 Months
    at 8:04 am on September 15, 2011

    […] Justin Bieber CDs – but that doesn’t mean readers have no use for piracy.  For instance, this guy began pirating because the stuff he and his pals wanted to read wasn’t actually available in a digital format.  […]

  5. Book pirates | Personal Blog
    at 7:07 am on October 26, 2011

    […] Book pirates Posted on January 27, 2010 by my playlist Book pirates: Once you’ve downloaded a book, what format is it in and how do you read it? On you computer? Printed out? Now that’s a good question! Continue reading → Book pirates: […]

  6. Authors and Book Piracy | Rachelle Gardner
    at 3:04 pm on November 7, 2011

    […] here are a few of the online articles I read: Book Piracy: Less DRM, More Data (O’Reilly) The Millions: Confessions of a Book Pirate A Book Author Wonders How to Fight Piracy Fighting piracy is the dumbest thing you can do E-book […]

  7. Wodke Hawkinson
    at 11:09 pm on November 28, 2011

    Piracy is not a gray area to us. It’s theft. We work hard on our books, put hours and hours and months and months into it. Taking it without paying for it is stealing, pure and simple. Check this out: http://forum.mobilism.org/viewtopic.php?p=843300

  8. j
    at 10:02 am on January 30, 2012

    I wonder how many of these appalled authors have computers which are 100% free from materials which they do not have express written permission to use.

    Did you save a picture of yourself from an event you went to, which you found through a tag on Facebook?
    Well, facebook legally OWNS that photograph, the moment that person uploaded it. That’s “theft”, because if you had gone to the actual website to view it instead of keeping it as a file, they would receive ad revenue.
    Anything you save from the internet to your hard drive or other device is “theft” in the same way. That picture of a beach/flower/mountain you found online and use as your background? “Stolen”.

    My household income last year was about 15,000, in a city where the average household costs are over 50,000. Any book that I downloaded, I did so because I certainly couldn’t afford it, as well as the fact that the library was in a foreign language I did not speak, thus it clearly didn’t have those books available.

    If us working our hardest doesn’t entitle me to have even ONE square meal a day, what makes YOU think that writing a book (clearly something you love doing, if you keep doing it despite low profit margins) entitles you to make a good living?

  9. “I assume they are primarily produced by individuals like me – bibliophiles who want to share their favorite books with others. They likely own hundreds of books, and when asked what their favorite book is look at you like you are crazy before rat
    at 4:03 pm on April 4, 2012

    […] Confessions of a book pirate – The Millions […]

  10. The List 1/26/2010 | jjjjosh
    at 2:38 pm on April 5, 2012

    […] Confessions of a Book Pirate – Link […]

  11. Book Piracy | The John Fox
    at 12:42 pm on May 12, 2012

    […] at The Millions, there's some great journalism going on — an interview with a book pirate called "The Real Caterpillar." One of […]

  12. Jason
    at 6:30 pm on June 21, 2012

    Ok, I know it’s an old thread, but people keep commenting. I think that people don’t see it as stealing because they feel like it’s not a physical object and that’s not what we recognize ‘stealing’ as. I’ve scanned a lot of books myself and uploaded them to my computer and used a company called 1dollarscan that scans them, but I don’t share. I just don’t feel right about it, but it’s so common now. Pirating is no doubt changing the future of these industries.

  13. Links of the Week « Alison McCarty
    at 11:35 am on June 22, 2012

    […] Confessions of a Book Pirate article is pretty interesting, especially this line: “Just because someone downloads a file, […]

  14. P.Seingalt
    at 5:44 pm on October 25, 2012

    No one minds if the pirate reads all the books he wants to for free as long as he checks them out from a library and returns them. The piracy is caused because he keeps the read files on his computer and fails to delete them, or acts himself as a library distributing texts. Clearly the law has not caught up with the technology. There needs to be a law which addresses digital economies and finds a way to compensate writers for their work. Perhaps this could be done through a tax like there is on the now-obsolete digital audio tape, perhaps it could be done through assessing mills (as opposed to cents) on downloads. The last major comprehensive revision to the US copyright law was in 1976. At that time book piracy was limited to thieves who ripped the front covers off of paperbacks and books printed in Taiwan, since that country had not signed any copyright treaties. The world has changed and the law must change with it. If your business model is threatened by a fan with a scanner the business model needs to change. Surely we can find a solution to these issues, but criminalizing this behavior helps no one.

  15. Abe
    at 12:02 pm on January 1, 2013

    I don’t know if it’s been said in any of the flood of comments above, but my guess–if most pirating mirrors my own habits–is that *MOST* downloads go unwatched, unread, and perhaps even unlistened to. I’ve downloaded my share of movies, TV shows, music, and ebooks but find that I read very few of what I obtain for “free.”

    As in most things, it seems that the more “skin in the game” I have, the more I’m likely to care. In the case of media, when I have a finite amount of money and eventually decide to spend a bit of it on an ebook, music/movie/TV download, I am MUCH more likely to read it. Not to say that there aren’t people out there who’s primary means of consuming media is pirating it, but me, I’ve discovered that if I pirate it, I rarely use it. Mostly it sits on an old hard drive in the garage gathering dust. I think most people pirate for the shear joy of *having* stuff–not because they actually do anything with it.

    With this in mind, I think the cost of piracy is exponentially over-estimated. True losses are probably less than 1% of the estimated amounts. And even those losses may be smaller than they appear–if some of the “lost” revenue results in more ebooks by an author or publisher purchased, more movies or TV episodes purchased.

  16. Loren
    at 1:09 pm on January 1, 2013

    Another factor to keep in mind–not all downloads actually represent piracy. I am in the process of trying to replace my bookshelf with electronic versions. I don’t have a suitable scanner and it’s much faster to download somebody else’s scan than to do it myself anyway.

    I already own the physical books, though, I’m not stealing anything by doing this–yet my downloads no doubt get counted as piracy.

  17. Editoria, la pirateria serve al marketing | Il magazine di FirstMaster
    at 8:32 am on January 11, 2013

    […] di formarci un’opinione possiamo rileggere questo vecchio pezzo di The Millions: Confessions of a Book Pirate. Oppure consultare la lista dei libri più piratati in inglese, che ci riserva […]

  18. The Assault on Writers by Internet Pirates - Gini Graham Scott
    at 4:02 pm on July 2, 2013

    […] The damage to the industry and writers is enormous.  For example, Attributor, a firm that specializes in monitoring online content, has claimed that book piracy costs the industry nearly $3 billion in sales or over 10% of total revenue.  In a 2010 study they counted 3.2 million in downloaded books, according to C. Max Magee in an article entitled “Confessions of a Book Pirate.”  http://www.themillions.com/2010/01/confessions-of-a-book-pirate.html. […]

  19. Deborah Toyin Longe (Pen Deborah O'longe)
    at 7:22 pm on August 12, 2013

    I have been a victim of piracy. Piracy (downloading books and sharing/selling them without permission) is stealing. You are blatantly stealing from others for a living and defending your action. How so interesting and condescending!

  20. This Week: A Book Pirate Bares All, Was Shakespeare Actually a Woman? | Lit Drift: Storytelling in the 21st Century
    at 5:04 pm on March 16, 2014

    […] Over at The Millions, a book pirate bares all. […]

  21. Link Digest – November 24, 2013 | zota
    at 4:10 pm on July 8, 2014

    […] The Millions : Confessions of a Book Pirate […]

  22. Thief
    at 1:43 am on December 26, 2014

    I own about a thousand dead tree books, out of which about a third were purchased new. My ebook library is at around 500 books, but about two thirds of those are either out of copyright or were written by dead authors.

    Of the living authors from whom I’ve stolen, only a couple provided an easy means to donate to them directly. I read their books and later when I could afford it I donated money to them. I wish this were the dominate model for books, because I’d gladly pay for the books I finish reading if they are good. Usually I’ll quit a book if it’s bad, but sometimes I’ll stick with it until the end only to find out it sucks.

    The publishing houses? I see a lot of comments here about proofreaders and translators, but those are incidental costs to publishers. The real cost is in marketing, i.e., using propaganda techniques to con marks into buying crappy books. Stealing from such societal parasites doesn’t induce guilt, quite the opposite in fact: I feel a warm glow of satisfaction knowing some practicer of the dark art of marketing psychology will have to settle for a Corvette instead of a Ferrari. The authors? They get stiffed even when we buy a book!

    I believe everyone wins if the publishing business is utterly destroyed and rebuilt around an author-centric model which enables readers to pay authors directly. Those ends are not acheived by buying books from abusive publishers – only piracy will work. We can steer towards a better solution by directly donating to authors we’ve read and like whenever possible.

  23. the red-headed pirate
    at 5:50 pm on January 16, 2015

    Very, very interesting conversation. I’m a book lover, and spend far more on books than the average person. I have a house full of dead tree books. I buy many books to give as gifts, mostly dead-tree ones because I think ebooks just aren’t as valuable in a number of ways as an old-fashioned one. I have donated books to my public library several times, in order to clear bookshelf space in my home to buy more books. I have donated HUNDREDS of children’s books to my local food pantry to put into food boxes given to families living under the poverty level. Doctorow’s essay where he says that the pro-copyright authors are “The People of the Book” offends me very much, because I think no one values books more than people like me.

    I’m also a minor pirate. I’ve downloaded over 6,000 ebooks from file-sharing sites. With a little technical knowledge it is spectacularly easy to automate the downloads. I think I was the typical “collector” of downloaded books for a while, but then I stopped downloading so many because I realized I would never read even a small fraction of them. Of the 6000 books, I only started reading maybe 30 of them. Of those 30, I have finished maybe 15 of them. Of the 15, I later purchased a legal copy of the same title or another title by the same author for all of the books I considered to be good which was at least 10. I really do believe in supporting the authors who produce quality books. I’ve never uploaded (except for seeding torrents).

    As a pirate, I can say this:

    1) Not every download represents a lost sale. I downloaded 6,000 books but if I hadn’t, at most I would have acquired only 30 more books. Some of those 30 would have come from the public library and most of the rest would have been bought second-hand, because I almost always will get a book from the library if I’m not already familiar with the author, and I almost never will buy a book new except to give as a gift. So, in my case, I roughly estimate that each one of my downloads resulted in 0.002 lost sales (15 out of 6000).

    2) It’s not true that pirates won’t pay for a book after they read it if they think the book is good. I have done that more often than not.

    3) The great public library called The Pirate Bay is beneficial and amazing and wonderful for READERS, no doubt. Whether it does enough damage to AUTHORS to do net damage or benefit to SOCIETY AS A WHOLE is something I’m not clear about. I’m inclined to think that there is a net benefit to society as a whole.

    As a book lover, I can say this:

    1) DRM will eventually die. It may take a few generations, hopefully not, but it adds to the cost of legal ebooks and makes the ebook less valuable to the original purchaser. It makes a pirated copy more valuable than a legally obtained copy, and the I think that the publishers will eventually wake up to this. In the meantime, DRM is one of the drivers of piracy. Of course I know how to buy a book from Amazon and then use software to strip off the DRM. But it’s a pain and just a better consumer experience to download, and buy later if the book seems worth it.

    2) An ebook, even without DRM, is not as valuable as a print book. They are more difficult to give as books or to loan. They don’t look cool on your bookshelf. You can’t sell them to a used book store or give them to GoodWill for a tax deduction. I enjoy reading on my ereader in bed at night, but it’s not worth paying that much money for. Ebooks should be priced accordingly, IMO no more than 50% of the corresponding trade paperback. I think prices will eventually go down, and partly this will be in response to piracy. You can say all you want “just because you don’t like a price doesn’t give you the right to set a different price or take it for free”. But the reality it that the behavior of the many, even when seen as illegal or unethical, often persuades the few to make the desired changes. Many laws have been changed because so many people broke them. And this is particularly true in the area of information exchange. Laws against translating the Bible into French and English were broken in the 12th and 13th centuries, and eventually the laws were changed. Both the English and French crowns issued laws suppressing the printing of books in the 14th and 15th centuries, which were routinely broken by pirates in Ireland and Scotland until the laws were liberalized. The book “Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates” has many examples of laws evolving from lack of public support.

    3) There are way too many truly poor quality books published nowadays. In the 70’s there were only 40,000 books published per year. Now there are over 1 million. As a book lover, I am appalled how great the percentage of worthless stuff is on Amazon today. Seriously, most of the people self-publishing nowadays would do more benefit to society if they quit writing and got a job at Walmart. At least then they would make more money and be paying more taxes! Even the “editor recommendations” on Amazon are of much poorer quality than books of a generation ago. I think this is a SERIOUS CONCERN for the reading public. I used to applaud self-publishing, thinking that it was a democritization of the path to becoming an author. But lately, I have started to think it has gone to far, with too many people trying to be writers and clogging up Amazon and Smashwords with books of little if any benefit to society. Al lot of the unknown indie authors who rail against piracy as if that is the reason they aren’t making money are SERIOUSLY DELUDED. Here’s a tip: if you’re books aren’t selling, it’s not because of piracy. The best selling authors are also the most pirated.

    4) I’m not the least bit concerned that the pool of talented writers who write will dry up due to piracy. There has always been an overabundance of talent, and always will be. It’s one of the great things about humanity. That’s why, if I had a child who wanted to be an writer or artist or actor or musician, and even if I thought that child was exceptionally talented, I would still encourage him to plan on making a living doing something else. That’s just me; other people are greater risk takers. With only 5-10% of the public reading one or more books per month, there is unfortunately a limited number of talented writers that society can support. I personally believe that if copyright law were to evolve so that anything put up on the public internet immediately entered the public domain (what the farthest-left craziest most extreme anti-copyright people want) that there would still be a healthy output of great books, music, and art. Just one example, J.R.R.Tolkien wrote his masterpiece trilogy without intending to ever publish it and only intending to share it with friends.

    5) I don’t think that copyright law SHOULD be changed to that extreme, but it does need to evolve. The purpose of copyright law is to incentivize the creation of works of value to society, and reasonable copyright laws are probably effective at that. I’d like to see copyright terms shortened to the lifetime of the creator or 14 year whichever is longer. I’d like to see laws that ban whole new technologies like ACTA repealed. I’d like to see the Doctrine of First Sale somehow adapted to ebooks or for the pricing to go down. I’d like to see laws that distinguish between making a few copies to share with family and friends and uploading to public file-sharing sites. I’d like to see laws that distinguished between copying for commercial purposes and for non-commercial purposes. I’d like to see laws that required ongoing registration of copyrights so that Google whose mission is to “make the world’s information usable” can get on with that mission instead of having to worry about orphaned copyrighted works. I’d like to see copyright laws and publisher pricing that incentivized the provisioning of public libraries with best-selling ebooks, instead of the cost prohibitive system libraries have to deal with now.

    One final thought — there will always be debate, won’t there, between how authors should be able to profit from their books and how to distribute those books to maximize the benefit to society? It seems to me that that is one of the great balancing acts of civilization. Like the debate on how rich the social safety net should be, there are compelling arguments on both sides, which is why the debate will never end. It is the business of a society to continue to debate, and work, and always try to improve, even though there will never be a time when everyone is satisfied and there is no abuse. Thanks everyone above for contributing to this debate!

  24. Laraine
    at 12:49 pm on March 4, 2015

    “I do not pretend that uploading or downloading unpurchased electronic books is morally correct, but I do think it is more of a grey area than some of your readers may.”

    It isn’t a grey area. Apart from depriving the publishers of their rightful profits, it is equivalent (from an author’s point of view) to dipping your hand into someone else’s pay-packet. That would definitely be called stealing! Why are some people so dumb they can’t see this?

  25. Michael
    at 10:12 pm on August 4, 2015

    I am a self publishing author, and yes when a book is pirated and the pirates sell a copy I lose a sale. My first book cost me $20K to produce and market, and it was available for $2.99. The book won a gold medal award in a national competition. Of that I would have gotten $2, no matter what format was bought It would have taken 10 thousand copies for me to break even. Soon after it was out and the gold medal was announced pirating sites were recording hundreds of downloads per day—thousands total. My legitimate sales were measured in hundreds of copies. Not only did I lose money‚ I had the privilege to pay for people to steal my work of thousands of hours.

    This is theft. Format is irrelevant and the ONLY thing we authors have is the intellectual property, and thus the right to ask to be paid for our work. Two million books are published every year and fewer than 1% of them will break even—this makes it much much harder, and it’s the authors who suffer.

  26. Michael
    at 10:14 pm on August 4, 2015

    Incidentally, my second book was just pirated,less than 60 days after I released it.

  27. Moe Murph
    at 11:24 am on August 5, 2015

    “He lives in the Midwest, he’s in his mid-30s and is a computer programmer by trade.”

    As far as I’m concerned, people who would download in this way, then create an environment in which writers were intimidated to even attempt redress, are no less thuggish than two dudes who hold up a corner market at gunpoint. Hey, why should they pay for their nachos… with a gun they can get them for free. I’m just being a realist!

    By the way, if enough writers stormed the barricades to the computer programmer’s Midwestern castle, they could probably get in and raid the fridge. It would be so much easier than paying for food with a boring old day job, and it would given them lots more time to write stories.

  28. Moe Murph
    at 11:27 am on August 5, 2015

    P.S. Right before an (attempted) mugging, I had three young gentlemen smile brightly at me, and one said “I like your jacket.”

    They were obviously “Huge Fans” of my wardrobe, and clearly had to attempt to grab it as they didn’t have the money to pay for it at Bloomies.

    Moe Murph

  29. Moe Murph
    at 11:47 am on August 5, 2015

    Re “Red Headed Pirate”

    “I’m not the least bit concerned that the pool of talented writers who write will dry up due to piracy. There has always been an overabundance of talent, and always will be. It’s one of the great things about humanity.”

    Self-justifying blather, drivel, hooey, and nonsense, oozing from a titan canker on the body of the human race and natural enemy of the creative class.

    Moe Murph
    Feeling More Churlish Than Usual

  30. Moe Murph
    at 12:15 pm on August 5, 2015

    EDIT: The canker discussed above should be edited with the choice of two possibilities:

    a.) “titian canker” or

    b.) “titanic canker.”

    There is no such thing as a “titan canker.” At least I don’t believe so.

    MM

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.