Ebooks and Piracy

I don’t know how many thousands of hours it’s taken me to write my various books but it’s too damned many to be giving my them away for free. It also more than just the hours; it’s taken tears, blood, sweat and financial hardship. And now I find that other people are profiting from my hard work by making my books available for free.

The true financial reality of this is negligible for me. I am a long way from being a best seller and the truth is I probably lose out on a few hundred dollars but somehow that doesn’t stop it hurting. It’s MY hard work that they are stealing.

It’s estimated that 20% of ebook downloads are from pirate sites. So for that you might assume that for every four sales one further sale is a ‘give away’. It means that if you had £100’000 worth of sales, you as an author would lose £20’000 – almost enough for three years university tuition for your child, or a new car, or an amazing world cruise.

I myself have found copies of my books available for free on a pirate site. Little ole me, holed up in a small office in the middle of backwoods Britain got pirated. No one is safe from it. There are big name authors out there who’s books haven’t even been publicly released yet who have their new novels already available to download for free or for pennies.

Of course the publishing industry doesn’t help itself. A recent agreement between six of the major publishing houses, including Harper Collins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Hachette Livre, saw the prices of some ebooks become more expensive than their paper or hardback brothers. Ken Follet’s novel Fall of Giants was available as an ebook for $18.99 and $16.50 for the paper version.

I don’t understand the logic of this. The majority of us don’t want to break the law and will pay for our music, film and books but logic dictates that the cost of supplying an ebook HAS to be considerably less than hard copies, so why ask me to pay more?

For an ebook you don’t have printing costs, warehousing, packaging, distribution… which are a hefty expense. It’s said that ebooks cost roughly 10% of the paper versions. So why do we pay more for ebooks?

I will not pay over the odds. I expect an ebook to cost around £3/$4 less than the paper version or else I simply won’t buy it, choosing rather to borrow from a library or wait until the price comes down.

However people can justify file sharing – piracy (theft) to themselves with relative ease. They do it in protest at over pricing and/or because they dislike the sense of being ripped off. And I, with a foot in both camps, author and buyer, can understand where they are coming from. I loathe being ripped off and always vote with my feet. Or with a mouse click. But where I simply choose not to buy, many will choose to find an illegal download source.

Piracy costs the publishing industry many millions but while the music industry can deal with the loss of revenue by offering live performances I very much doubt that I could fill a stadium of people wanting to pay to see me write. Scruffy hair, no make-up, pyjamas and all.

But justification or not, there is no two ways about it. While everyone likes getting something for free, people have to be paid for the work they do or else they can’t carry on. Something needs to be done.

Legal threats issued by the Publishers Association have risen in the last year by 130% to over 115’000 and publishers are working with governments and Search Engines to find ways to prevent breach of copyright.

Google has been asked to demote pirate websites and ISP’s are being pressured to shut down pirate websites but to my mind while there is unfair pricing I think that pirate sites will continue to raise their ugly heads.

But something also needs to be done about the price fixing too. Apple, along with five of the biggest publishing houses are under investigation by the European Commission. Allegedly they have colluded to hike the price of ebooks by as much as 50%.

I would love to know why. Would it be to fight piracy I wonder – or is it simply greed?

How can you protect yourself from piracy?

Truth to tell you can’t, not really. Essentially you have to write the costs off as losses, just as second hand book stores selling your books means lost revenue to you. However absorbing the cost doesn’t mean you condone it. One way to find out if people are selling your book is to subscribe to Google Alert.

Google Alerts are emails sent to you when Google finds new results — such as web pages, newspaper articles, or blogs — that match your search term. For example your book title, pen name, isbn etc. You can use Google Alerts to monitor anything on the Web.

So the instant your book/pen name is mentioned in a new place, you’ll be emailed by Google to tell you. This way you can track what’s being said about you or your book and you can also find if any unauthorised website is newly listing it to download. And then do your best to jump on them!

“Greed is the inventor of injustice as well as the current enforcer.” Julian Casablancas

The Publishers’ Association has a link on this page where you can report offending sites.

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