Y is for Yarrrrr …

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Yarrrrr, piracy! Okay, to be serious for just a moment here, today’s topic is something that gets a lot of authors hopping mad (or sad), so I’m going to try to approach it with some gentleness as well as my usual…whatever it is. However, and I’ll be up front about this, my goal for today is to get you to take DRM off your books, and then deal with piracy the same way you deal with bad reviews: maybe have a good cry, cool down with some tea, go running or knit a bit or whatever it is you do to decompress, and move on with your life.

The thing about piracy, unfortunately, is that you have zero ways to prevent it beyond not writing and distributing books. However, fortunately, you have many options for how to feel about it. Because let’s be honest, initially it feels pretty terrible to see your work on pirating sites. And, yes, the internet does make it easier to pirate books, in connectivity and in bulk. It’s not like you’d have much luck leaving a note on a street corner saying, “if you have a copy of X…” It’s indubitably easier now to get copies of books you didn’t pay for. And so we look at internet piracy and we think, “I’m going to put that DRM stuff on my books because I don’t want people to steal them.”

But there’s a few problems with this. First, putting DRM on your books means you’re really treating everyone who buys them like they might be criminals, which is just rude, and it also creates some snags for people who want to shop on one site but read on a different e-reader, etc. Also, and this is important, the internet didn’t invent piracy, and the internet isn’t responsible for making it possible. If piracy means, “reading books without paying for them,” or, “buying books without giving the author a cut,” then libraries and used bookstores invented piracy. And librarians and bookstore owners both make a living from this, but we don’t call it piracy, and we don’t get angry about it.

Why not? Three reasons: first of all, we believe that (used) bookstores and libraries serve a greater public good; second, both libraries and used bookstores were part of the implicit contract when the author got published; and third, neither of these things makes use of a new technology. The first reason is, in my opinion, indubitably true, the second is something we should use to ground our reactions against piracy instead of inflate them, and the third is an unfortunate truth about how our minds work, wherein we get upset about new technology doing the same things humans always do.

Now, emphatically, my point today is not to defend piracy. Authors need to eat, too, and so do musicians and editors and cover artists and…and when you say Stephen King doesn’t need any more money, well, while he indisputably makes a handsome chunk of it, some of that money also goes to pay the rest of the people working on his books. Absolutely make use of your public libraries and your bookstores. Support your libraries! They provide a truly incalculable public service, and our society is far better for having them. I read voraciously as a child, and that is something my parents could afford because we had libraries and used bookstores in the mix. However, if you have the funds and you enjoy an author’s work, please consider buying copies. If you have the funds, please buy new, not used, copies of books and kick some royalties back to the authors. Thus ends my plea to give money to people who produce the things you love.

So, no, my point here is not that piracy is great. My point is that authors have a choice:

  • You can look at piracy, gnash your teeth, and then throw your hands up in the air and say, “sweet mother of krakens, I wish people wouldn’t do that, I spent a CRAPLOAD of time on that book,” and then go take a run or watch a movie or something, OR
  • You can look at piracy, gnash your teeth, put DRM on your books, and drive your blood pressure through the roof as you research ways to get your content taken down off of piracy sites, and otherwise spend time obsessing over it

Now, just to get the straw man arguments out of the way …

  • Stealing someone’s book and putting it back up for sale on a website as your own is NOT piracy, it is copyright infringement. Also bad, but a different problem
  • If you’re thinking, “but DRM seems reasonable,” please remember that DRM slows down the piracy effort by around a half an hour tops, and then read this comic

Yes, piracy sucks. No, I can’t make it any better that people read your book and then return it on ebook sites, or that they download it without paying you. I know that feels just terrible and unfair. What I will say, however, is that you can choose how to feel about it – mostly, you can choose whether you think about it or not. Almost anything under the sun that’s made, people will steal. This is not your target market. Your target market is the vast bulk of people who will pay for books in the genres they love, from authors who do good work. Aim for them, and for the sake of your blood pressure, let the rest go.

-M

One thought on “Y is for Yarrrrr …

  1. You are so so so wise about this. Stealing is in the Decalogue (the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments) because it was already an established problem. WAY before even printing was around. In fact, wars have been fought over who owned a hand-copied book: the copier or the person whose book it was copied from. [See Saint Columba’s biography]
    We don’t need more wars, we need more creativity and generosity and wisdom. Artists and writers have in the past and can continue to lead the way for us in this.
    Thanks for weighing in!

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