Should Writers Worry About the Pirating of E-Books?

Many unpublished writers worry that their ideas will get stolen, or
that their work will get stolen before it reaches publication. I always
counsel writers to stop this unproductive thinking. First, writing
isn’t exactly a lucrative thing to steal. It is not a highly profitable
venture to steal unpublished novel manuscripts. Second, given the
extremely low success rate when pitching editors/agents, who wants to
undertake the burden of selling an unpublished novel? (Not to mention
anyone who steals work is likely to be exposed sooner or later.)

with the advent of e-books, there is a new concern that
writers will lose out on sales if the files aren’t adequately protected
(the whole DRM issue, which has been eloquently and passionately discussed over at Booksquare).

Sandy James mentions this worry in a comment in my post Do Writers’ Futures Lie in Indie E-Publishing Platforms?

My first five books are all ebooks,
although they will eventually hit print. … I have signed with a great agent, and
I hope to expand my fanbase by publishing with larger houses. But these
ebooks were a fantastic way to get my foot in the proverbial door. I
learned about the publishing process, how to handle edits, how to work
with cover designers, etc… All of my books are given a great edit,
they are available from many outlets, and all will be in print only a
few months after the ebook release.

As far as worries — pirating is at the top of my list. I suppose
ebooks are as vulnerable as music files, and we all know about how
easily data is passed around. Think the Napster debacle or the Google
settlement. On the other hand, how is that any different than one
person buying a book and loaning it to her friends? Either way, it’s a
loss of income for an author and publisher.

Now, I freely admit that I tend to worry a lot less than other
people. I tend to think that the more unreservedly you give, the more
you will receive. People notice, respect, and reward generosity. And I think this has proven out even in the music industry.

seen it happen in the book industry, too. When Suze Orman’s book was
available free from Oprah’s website (to coincide with a show appearance),
the book returned to the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller

Giving things away for free, or at the very least, giving
away a large portion of your work for free (to hook people and prove the value),
leads to more sales. When your work is passed around for free, other
people are doing your marketing for you. Presumably a new
audience is being exposed to your work.

What is your experience? Does free sell?

Photo credit: St_A_Sh

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0 thoughts on “Should Writers Worry About the Pirating of E-Books?

  1. Mark Coker

    I’d like to add a little more context to the piracy issue. I think piracy is bad, because it should be up to the author to decide how their book is distributed or shared. However, if we look at the current print book world, every time someone gives your paper book to a friend, that’s a form of piracy, and every time the book is sold via a used book store, and then resold and resold, that’s a form of piracy as well since neither the author or publisher receives a penny (which I think is a shame). With digital books, most are licensed for the enjoyment of the individual only. They’re not returnable or legally resellable or shareable. I agree with Jane that the more we try to hold on to things (such as by imposing DRM on your readers), the more we stand to lose. There’s an opportunity here to educate customers, to remind them of the hard work the author invested in their book, to remind them that most authors can’t making a living from their writing, to to appeal to them to do the right thing by supporting the authors they enjoy. There are also unobtrusive forms of "social DRM" authors can employ, such as digital watermarks that read, "Ex Libris [customer name]." Who thought personalizing an ebook (a good thing) could be a form of DRM? Authors can also discourage piracy by pricing their books fairly. If an author demands to sell their ebook for $25 because that’s what the hardcover sells for, then they’re likely to anger the ebook customer who rightfully shouldn’t have to pay paper prices for e-.

  2. Jane Friedman

    Regarding Tiggy’s comment about musicians & gigs: Writers should also be able to profit from experiences that are unrelated to the book itself. It just takes a little imagination and creativity. Some authors use their publishing credits to become educators of writing (or in other areas), to land speaking engagements, to write for more varied publications, and to act as a consultant. Once authors become established they can then trade on the "experience" of themselves, just as musicians do.

    Regarding Kathryn’s comment about authors who have their work ripped off: This may be picking at definitions, but what does it mean to have your work ripped off? Does it mean that someone makes it available for download, for free, to the masses? Does it mean one friend sharing the work with their friends?

    When Paulo Coelho found someone selling pirated editions of his work, he started a blog to help promote them:

    When publishers saw that there really was demand for certain versions of his pirate work (certain translations, for example), they issued print editions, which still sold despite the pirated copies being available to this day.

    The tighter we try to hold onto things, the more we stand to lose. Sure, you can get mad, but what good does it do, when you can look for the opportunity inside it?

  3. Kathryn

    I disagree with what is implied here. Sure, some authors choose to give their material away for free and that can be a good thing.

    But, what does that have to do with authors who have their work ripped off? That isn’t their choice, they are victims (of a crime). Is the implication that they should just roll over and not consider it theft? "Hey writer friends, even though it was someone else who decided to pirate your work, just consider it a PR move! Because, people love getting stuff for free and it could land you on the best-seller lists! Who cares if it wasn’t in your marketing or business plan…" ????

    Please tell me I missed something.


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