joyland-186x300Charles Ardai, the publisher for Hard Case Crime, the publisher of Stephen King’s latest book Joyland which King elected not to release as an e-book yet, has been in touch with Mediabistro’s AppNewser about potential scan-and-post electronic piracy of the paper book. All in all, he doesn’t seem too bothered. The book would have been pirated no matter what, he said. They will, of course, try to stamp out piracy where they find it, but there are so many pirates and pirate sites that it’s an endless game of whack-a-mole that Ardai compares to the “war on drugs.” (Ardai is also doubtful that there are any real copies of the book out  there yet, rather than trojans, but Nate Hoffelder has already been able to locate four of them on Pirate Bay.) Ardai concludes:

In the end you have to rely on the good behavior of the vast majority of the audience – I see no reason to think that pirates represent more than a small fraction of all consumers.  That doesn’t mean we don’t care about piracy – we do.  But it’s just one of the many punches you have to learn to roll with in the rough-and-tumble world of modern publishing.

King is opting to release it as a paperback only for now out of nostalgia for the paperbacks he grew up with as a kid. He feels the book should be experienced in the same way as the crime stories he read as a boy that it homages. And now that I think about it, I actually can’t argue with that decision—not because I agree with it, but because you can’t argue someone out of an emotional reaction like nostalgia. (If you could, all the “smell of books” people would have given up by now!)

It’s not as if King doesn’t know a thing or two about e-books—in some ways, a substantial part of the history of e-books is the history of Stephen King. His novella “Riding the Bullet” was one of e-books’ early success stories, all the way back in 2000. (Interestingly enough, amusement parks feature prominently both in that story and Joyland.) He tried for another success with The Plant but opted not to finish because his stringent conditions were unmet.

For the launch of the Kindle 2, King wrote a short story about a magic pink Kindle, and Amazon gave him a one-off pink Kindle at the launching ceremony. His publisher Scribner windowing his novel Under the Dome was center stage for part of the Amazon $9.99 price controversy. (It even rates a mention in the e-book The Battle of $9.99 that I mentioned the other day.) And Scribner gave away one of his short stories to select members of Klout in 2011.

Not all of those decisions were necessarily right ones, but at least he’s had some time to figure out what he was doing. So I have to assume his choice to go dead-tree-only with Joyland is an informed decision, in which he weighed the drawbacks but decided his nostalgia was worth it to him.

So yes, I expect King is well aware that he’ll lose some sales to piracy, or even to people losing interest between now and whenever the book finally comes out in e-book form. But King is worth $400 million, so it’s not as if he can’t afford the losses. (And I imagine his publisher isn’t so bad off, either; even just the print sales from a King book are not something to sneer at.)

Ardai may even be right that the actual number of pirate downloads are relatively few compared to those who buy the book. Should that perhaps make pirates feel better about themselves, knowing that they’re not hurting the author and the publisher that much? And he didn’t say anything about the frustration of the people who want to get the book in the format of their preference and convenience but can’t (legally) yet.

In any event, I would still be inclined to suggest authors who aren’t as rich as King should probably still do everything they can to maximize sales and minimize piracy—and not just by playing whack-a-mole like Mediabistro suggests, either. The days when an author who isn’t a superstar can get by without e-book versions are coming to an end.


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