Book Pirates And The People Who've Never Heard Of Them

from the broad-brush dept

Found over at is a column from someone who has been accused of being an “ebook pirate” for downloading scanned books. In his defense, he makes the very reasonable argument that he only downloaded books he already owned or out-of-print books. He also mentions that in the case when Stephen King released an ebook well before coming out with the printed version, he (and many others) went out and bought the printed version even though they already had the ebook. One of his “accusers” suggested that people downloading free ebooks take away the incentive for publishers to put old books back in print, but this argument is dissected easily. The vast majority of books are out-of-print and have no hope of getting back into print. Your best bet is to hunt around used bookstores for a copy – and if you find it, the end result for the publisher and the author is the same as if you downloaded the ebook. Of course, you could take this argument even further. By downloading out-of-print books, new readers can discover authors they like, and later buy their newer books when they come out. Those older books act as advertising for their newer books. It’s only those who look at these things in the short-term “must-profit-off-of-everything” way that don’t seem to understand the potential of using “free” items that cannot be sold any more as promotional items.

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Comments on “Book Pirates And The People Who've Never Heard Of Them”

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Michael Ward (profile) says:

Book Pirates and the moral high ground

It’s a lot of work to create and publish an e-book. We have a small e-book publishing company, and do it for fun, for glory, and for some hope of money. We pay authors, grind through endless HTML on the websites, struggle to get reviews, negotiate with Amazon, and generally indulge in self-mortification in the name of literature. We also give books away.

There are plenty of shades of morality involved in making e-books available at no charge. They range from the small crimes of stealing someone’s work (and posting it and bragging about it on alt.binaries.e-book), to the glorious things that you can find at Project Gutenberg, the Online Books page, &etc. where pieces of our cultural heritage are preserved and made available to us again.

Jeff Kirvin could have made a photocopy of his book, and no one would have complained; but now the concern is whether his giving approval to the person who made the “pirate” scans (by accepting the pirated e-book) makes him part of the act of theft. I don’t fault Jeff (a great contributor to the field) but I would think twice about what it means.

That said, what I do tell Quinn Yarbro when her novel about the first female Pope gets put onto somebody’s website in Estonia or dumped into the alt hierarchy? We busted our butts on this book; how about some credit? How about helping us pay for the webhosting?

What’s true for us is true for Tor and Rosetta and Harper. Lots of these questions have straightforward answers. In this case there are some shades of rightness and wrongness; but just because some of your goals are good that doesn’t mean you should run off and do something that will have a bad effect on other people.

If you want to see more books converted and made available as e-books, you need to ask for them, push for them, pressure publishers to do them and to make them available — available as widely as possible, as easy to use as possible (with as few DRM restrictions as feasible) and in as many formats and fields as possible — and then you need to buy them.

If you don’t buy them then they won’t be published. If you don’t buy then the publishers will spend their efforts on things that you -do- buy.


Mike (profile) says:

Re: Book Pirates and the moral high ground

These are great points and I appreciate the informed opinion. Here’s the thing, though: I have trouble with getting my head around a company whose business model relies on hoping people “do the right thing”. Instead, why don’t you look at the ways in which free distribution of content can help build a bigger business. It’s the same issue that the music and movie industries are dealing with. While it may be “right”, simply telling people to stop downloading free stuff isn’t going to work… so why waste your time?

Instead, focus on ways to leverage the inexpensive nature of the distribution mechanism and leverage that to make money in some other way.

John Bartley says:

Book pirates....

Darn it, as someone pointed out recently in alt.binaries.e-book in reaction to an author (David Palmer) asking his work not be pirated, the customer of the author is the _publisher_. It’s the publisher who buys the book and pays the author, not the reader.

Authors who have the rights to their backlist _have_ to discourage scanning-and-uploaders because a work that’s been flogged all over USENET has less value to a publisher than one which has not.

This is no problem to the Stephen Kings and Tom Clancys, but a huge problem for authors who are struggling just to get their next work published, and in Palmer’s case, he has two series he’s trying to find a new publisher for.

Authors are poor enough without having their sales pre-empted. Those few authors at Baen who are willing to gamble on e-book publishing of their backlist to promote their next title sure are audacious, but Jim Baen can only bring out six titles a month or so, and what about the rest of the authors?

YG says:

Moral high ground?

The message that alt.ebooks has been trying to send to publishers and authors for several years now is quite simple. Either publish in an electronic format or someone will do it for you.

The standard argument that publishers and authors make is that you are stealing, if not money, then opportunity from us. If the members of alt.ebook are stealing money then why are publishers not leaping into the format? If the cost of the format (ebooks) is higher than the profit potential, which is pretty much the only justification for ignoring a potential sales channel – then alt.ebook is actually performing a service for you by alleviating these costs – free advertising. So why aren’t they publishing in ebook format? Publishers can add an ebook outlet fairly quickly, look to Baen or PalmDigitalMedia. Authors can do so equally quickly by signing on with PalmDigitalMedia directly (once Peanut Press) bypassing the publisher. So why have publishers and authors not leapt into this new channel? Publishers should be worried that their stables will rapidly decrease as the cost of publishing worldwide electronically is damn near zero when compared to the cost of publishing worldwide via print. Authors should be worried that lowering costs will increase the number of alternate sources within the market (competition) and that without the backing of large publishers, editing, book tours, advertising, and all the rest of the marketing schlock will have to be handled personally. This generally means that alt.ebooks should give them time to figure out a new marketing strategy before forcing this change on them.

Alt.ebooks members tend to be fanatical about not posting content available elsewhere. You want to stop ’em? Make your work available electronically. No excuses. Publishers and authors can either ante up or quit the table.

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