Category: "Books"

Why Worrying About Book Piracy Is A Waste Of Time

by Michael  

This began as a response to Chuck Wendig's Why I Hope You Won't Pirate My Book” post at Teribleminds. Go read it and buy all his stuff. You won't be sorry.


I agree with Chuck that artists, especially writers, should get paid. I wouldn't work in this field if I didn't. I might finish editing my novel to a “ready to submit to agents” level even if I didn't imagine I could make some scratch on it, but not with the sense of urgency I have. And I certainly wouldn't put up with some of the negativity I get from some of the people I edit for now if it didn't pay well. But I don't worry about piracy. Let me make myself unpopular for a moment.

I was poor growing up. I'm talking “Toys-For-Tots, powdered milk, and government cheese” poor. Most of my neighbors didn't speak English. I was lucky and eventually escaped because I'm white, and let's face it, that makes it easier. A few months ago, one of my old classmates was arrested for being one of the biggest coke dealers in Chicagoland. Like I said, we were poor, but I was also really into books.  

I rode my bike to the library every couple of days for something new to read. I exhausted my age category by the end of the third grade, and moved on to adult sci-fi in the fourth. The books got heavier, but I kept going back. In fifth grade, we moved to a nicer neighborhood and I was still poor, but within walking/biking distance of a comic shop and a used bookstore. I traded paperbacks from whomever would give them to me for “new to me” books at that used bookstore for years. Then, when I was done reading those I'd trade them again. The lady who ran the shop must have liked me because she seldom made a profit off me after the first year. I read everything, from Choose Your Own Adventure to Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. I still have a few of those books. My comic shop also had a .25¢ bin. I used that a lot too, just to get a fix of The Hulk or The Fantastic Four.

When I was old enough to work, I learned how to game the system. First it was being the first to request a new book at the library. If they got enough requests for the book, even fake ones, they'd order the book and I'd get to read it first. I got a job at a video store and they gave me free copies of movies. Then I worked at a record shop and we would get to keep the promo copies that came in, just like the video store. I spent very little money on these things, electing instead to buy my own car and my own insurance so I could get to these jobs, but I discovered all sorts of great art through these free copies, like Reservoir Dogs and Bad Religion. I took a job at a bookstore and learned I was allowed five books a month for free as long as we tore the cover off and sent it back to the publisher. The Koran, The Story of O, and even the latest Star Wars pulp were game.

Oh, and I also had friends. Friends meant I could borrow and lend even more. I read Watchmen this way, and exposed my friends to Arkham Asylum. Novels, comics, movies... We traded it all. I still have the Maxell copy of Pearl Jam's “Vs.” I got from one friend, and I watched Akira and Vampire Hunter D until the VHS copies I had of those crapped out utterly.

So what’s my point? The secondary market has always existed. I didn’t pay anything for most of the media I consumed growing up, but I don’t consider the notion that I “stole” any of these books, movies, or music. I’ve purchased books, and I’ve borrowed books, and I’ve traded books, and I’ve given books away just as freely as they’ve been given. But I refuse to believe that if I set off this very moment and downloaded a copy of someone’s book, I’d be doing more harm now than I ever did with any of the things I mention above. For me, sharing has always been part of the culture of consuming art and media.

I accept what we cheekily call “piracy” for what it is: massive sharing. The difference is that if I have one copy to share of a physical book, that’s only one sale they miss out on, but if I can make infinite copies and give them all away, that’s an infinite amount of sales lost, right? On the surface that makes sense, but is it really an issue? Look at The Pirate Bay for a moment. Just surf on over some time and look up authors who are “mid-list” or bigger. As of this very moment, around noon on February 5, 2013, Margaret Atwood has 26 people “leeching” her book. That’s 26 people actively downloading torrents of her books on the biggest torrent site on the planet. John Scalzi has 8. Joe Hill has 7. Chuck Wendig has zero. Joe Hill’s dad, Stephen King, has a lot more, but he’s also written a lot more. His biggest single leech count is 7, on the book “11.22.63”. A search for Neil Gaiman leads to a surprisingly small list of titles, and including comics and audio books, a total of 53 people are downloading his work without paying for it.

So, if this is a problem, and not getting paid always is, it isn't as big as what Disney faces with pirated copies of The Avengers. But that already made a billion dollars and everyone involved got filthy rich. The bigger and more popular something is, the more it gets pirated. So, the only way us writers will come to a point of having to truly worry about piracy effecting us in meaningful ways is if we get filthy rich and popular off it first. I'm having a hard time seeing what about that makes people panic.

If anyone knows the value of a dollar, it’s me. I get the economy is tight. I’ve lived in welfare conditions, and it ain’t easy. Writing isn’t a great gig for getting rich, and never has been. Sure, you might gain “fame”, but all that means is that more people know who you are than you actually know yourself. That doesn’t put bread and cheese on the table. Writers really should be able to expect to make a living. They contribute to our society greatly and bring us much joy, so why shouldn’t they. All artists should. The problem isn’t the people sharing though. Calling it “piracy” is a ruse, because it isn’t like all these other people are making profits from someone else’s work. The problem is that the market itself devalues the writer and all artists really. When Amazon can sell your work for less than what it is worth, THAT is a problem. When the publishers, recording companies, and movie studios take more than their fair share, THAT is the problem. When self-styled “indies” try to get around the system by giving away their work or pricing it cheap in order to compete with the predatory pricing tactics of the big companies, THAT is the problem too.

So share away. Support your favorite artists however you can, and as directly as you can. If you love something, and you bought it, share it with others. Get them to buy more art too. Most of all, stop whining about piracy unless you find a knock off of your work in a store somewhere. The secondary market is valuable in its own way, and it’s always been there, even if it takes a new form now. For all the music, books, comics and movies I didn’t pay for as a kid, I still bought t-shirts, posters, buttons, etc. We all did. We still do. When we love something, especially as dorks and nerds, we support that thing. We make movies into blockbusters. We vault writers to the tops of best seller lists. We give Disney a reason to turn Darkhawk into the next big comic-to-movie franchise. Okay, that’s wishful thinking, but we really need to try and stay calm about things like “piracy” because it distracts us from our real problems, like bad deals from mega-corporations and writing as prolifically as Stephen King. We don’t need a “Please Don’t Pirate My Book” day. We never have.

Steal This Blog Post!

by Michael  





Ask yourself this: Who is your favorite author and how did you first come to read their work?

Did you receive the book as a gift?
Did you check it out of the library?
Have you EVER checked a book out of the library?

Part of the problem with anti-piracy groups and laws is that they ignore the above example. I loved the original The Crow comic. I was loaned a copy in high school. We passed that book around until it was ragged. But then, when the film came out, we all went in droves. I saw the film four times in theaters, bought the soundtrack twice, and have owned several copies of the book. But that first taste? I didn't pay a dime. Someone SHARED it with me. Here's a few more things I tasted for free before spending a boatload of cash on them.




Neil Gaiman

I first read Mr. Gaiman while in high school. My friend Paul had just finished his JD and he and I worked at the same record store. He and I talked a bit about comics, and then he introduced me to Sandman: Seasons of Mist. Holy hell, I was hooked. I loved that comics could be more than capes and spandex. I stopped reading X-Men, boycotted Gen-13, and started reading Grant Morrison's Invisibles, Garth Ennis' Preacher, and eventually found great writers like Mike Carey, Brian Wood, and Brian K. Vaughn. I have paid tons of money to read most of Gaiman's body of work since then, and the work of many, many other similar writers, but that wouldn't have happened in a world where it was a crime to share what we've already paid for. How many readers would new authors lose in a SOPA/PIPA world?





Nine Inch Nails

I first heard of Nine Inch Nails thanks to MTV. They actually played videos back when I was a kid, and I immediately loved the thundering beat and crunchy guitars of Trent Reznor. That said, I had no clue who this band was or where to find their music. They didn't seem to sell it at K-Mart, and I was still too young to drive. Then a friend found out I liked the band, and he made me a copy of Broken. From there, I went to concerts, found record shops where I could buy the music myself, and most importantly, I copied that music on to tapes for anyone who asked or showed interest. Hell, I did the same with Dead Can Dance, Portishead, and a number of other bands. If I loved it, I wanted my friends to love it. Going to concerts is more fun with friends, right? These days, audio cassettes are dead, but the act of sharing isn't! Trent Reznor, for all the copying I did back before the internet, is filthy rich these days. He even won an Oscar last year, and you know what? He gives away a lot of his music. He's played with the record labels, anonymously issuing greatest hits albums and the DVD version of Closure on The Pirate Bay, and when he was free from the record labels entirely, he released The Slip absolutely for free. And you know what I did? I went out and still bought a physical copy. Piracy isn't killing the recording industry, but SOPA/PIPA certainly aims to kill the internet in the name of killing piracy. If the bill actually managed to work, it would likely do more harm than good when it came to the spread of new artists.






If you want to introduce people to animation as legitimate art for adults, look no further than Akira. Before I got old, we had these strange black rectangles called video tapes. My neighbor, a kid my age named Chris, copied Akira onto a tape and bugged the crap out of me to watch it. When I finally did, it opened a flood gate. I found Vampire Hunter D at a record store, and another friend became a huge Macross Plus fan. The thing is, these films weren't widely available here in the states. Much of Asian cinema still isn't. Hell, it's 2012 and Battle Royale is only now getting an official DVD release. I bought a copy from a bootlegger at a comic con somewhere. The fact is, marketing execs and movie studios control what we get to buy far too stringently. When the BBC finally started airing Doctor Who episodes the same day in the USA as they did in the UK, it was a sign that someone who worked there understood that fans who wanted to see the new episodes wouldn't patiently wait. The other day, Neil Gaiman himself tweeted about getting a bootleg copy of the latest episode of Sherlock. The BBC should know better by now, but until they do, even the people who stand to benefit from anti-piracy measures like SOPA/PIPA are circumventing the artificial system in place in order to acquire what they want.

Is this all starting to make sense? SOPA/PIPA, or really any other hard-line anti-piracy legislation is likely to do more harm than good. We all fall in love with various arts for various reasons, but more often than not, we do so without paying anyone a dime up front. Want my own work for free? Hit up and look for it there. I hope you dig it and share it with friends. That isn't going to stop me from trying to make money on what I do though. If anything, I'm encouraged by it. The fact is, no stupid law will be able to shut down piracy, any more than politicians could hope to kill libraries, art galleries, or outdoor concerts. They're in panic mode, these companies that support SOPA/PIPA, but for them, the sky has been falling since the days of the player piano. As it turns out, we all still buy music at least once in a while, so maybe that wasn't a threat either.