Digital Book World just published a report that piracy does harm sales and backed it up with a list of 25 studies that prove the point.

Okay, splashy headline. You can agree or disagree with it, your choice. What I found interesting were the recommendations to publishers:

1. Make content available online

2. Use existing anti-piracy laws

Those are excellent suggestions, and, oh, by the way, the exact suggestions many in the e-reading world have made for years. As I said in my introduction post, I used to be a pirate. Why did I stop? Because the books I wanted finally became available in legal e-book format.

They also discussed an interesting case where e-book windowing barely increased hardcover sales and actually decreased overall sales. Duh!

Face it, publishers, some people are never going to buy your books. Some people will pirate because they want a hard drive full of books they’ll never read. Don’t worry about them. Worry about people like me who want content in digital format and are willing to pay for it if it’s available.

I actually considered piracy recently (though I didn’t follow through on it). What did I consider pirating? A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time series. It was released last week in hardcover, but the e-book won’t be available until April. That was almost enough to make me hunt down a torrent.

Until I remembered my husband had an unused credit on his Audible account, and I purchased the audio version instead. Piracy averted!


  1. Amen to that. The vast majority of law-abiding customers are only driven into piracy by outdated and consumer-unfriendly business arrangements and restrictions. Give us reasonably priced and readily accessible ebooks and we will pay you hand over fist for them. I can’t count the number of tag-along Amazon recommendations that I’ve added to my wishlist following a previous purchase. If it wasn’t for the Kindle ecosystem I likely would never have even known they existed. That’s the marketing power of ebooks for publishers. Put this stuff in front of us and we will buy. Lock it away from us and we will fly the Jolly Roger.

  2. Cory Doctorow provides one with moral cover – he’s so vehemently and consistently declared that piracy doesn’t harm anyone that I believe him. I’m pretty sure there will be an article on Boing Boing soon telling us that these studies are bollocks and that this is all a plot by big media to wreck the internet and take away our freedom.

    Remember – if you’re a creator that is harmed by piracy – it’s because you’ve got the wrong business model, not because piracy is harmful!

  3. Bill, no, it’s not new. That was kind of my point. The report was trumpeting their recommendations like it was a new revelation. But it’s not. It’s just common sense, which seems to be sadly lacking in many large organizations (not just publishing).

    I also agree with your point about piracy helping new authors. I’d be delighted if someone bothered to put my fiction book on a torrent. In fact, as soon as my second book is published, I plan to do it myself.

  4. I’m amused by the image of these poor readers driven into the waiting arms of the pirates by delaying the ebook until April.

    A while ago I saw a link to something called First World Concerns. It showed the picture of a young woman crying. There were many different captions about how hard life is: like “I just got a job. Now I have to wake up in the morning.”

    So if I ever can find the site again, here is my First World Concern: “The ebook edition was delayed two months. I was forced to download a pirated copy.”

  5. Greg, I wouldn’t say any of us are “forced” to download the pirated copy. However, is there any reason why those of us who prefer to read electronic versions should be “punished” by being forced to wait for our preferred format? And before you bring up the paperback vs hardcover argument, remember that most new e-book bestsellers are being sold at a price above paperback (sometimes well above).

    From what I hear about A Memory of Light, “punishment” is pretty close to the truth. Apparently Jordan’s widow doesn’t like e-books and thinks that’s a good reason to delay the version. I’d never ask someone to window a paper version just because I personally don’t like reading paper books.

  6. At least the authors stand a chance of getting a massively greater share of the proceeds from their books today than they ever did in the good old days of print. That kind of blunts the criticism of piracy, to my mind. The publishing industry would rather be gouging a far greater share of the author’s income, consistently and enforceably, out of him than sales lost to piracy would ever account for. If authors are living on starvation wages, blame the publishing industry, don’t blame pirates.

  7. @Juli,

    How ever you want to phrase it, justifying piracy because readers don’t want to wait two months sounds like a pathetic white whine from a spoiled brat.

    Who cares why the publisher did what they did. People can read something else for two fricking months. There are no shortage of books.

  8. At one time, piracy may have helped a few authors gain popularity, but that’s no longer true when every book by every author is available for free online so there’s no need to buy the books that aren’t online. The only “improvement” is that the next book by that author gets to the pirate sites even faster than the one before.

    And from what I’ve heard from many authors is that offering a free book rarely improves the author’s numbers anymore, either, if that author is an unknown.

    Doctorow is full of sh*t with his opinions and those of us who don’t have movie deals, our books in every bookstore, and a gig as a very well-paid famous columnist/speaker wish that he’d shut up on a subject that doesn’t hurt him but hurts other authors.

    If there is a way to make money as a writer of fiction besides the current methods, I’ve yet to hear of one so we’re stuck with the same-old business model.

    The only people making money on pirated books are people like Doctorow with his pirate fanboy column and the pirate sites which makes millions off advertising.

    The only real hope we have is to educate readers that stolen books hurt writers, and hurt a writer enough, and she stops writing.

  9. @Greg, I never said windowing “justified” piracy. I certainly don’t think it does. Do I think windowing leads to the unintended consequence of piracy? Yes, I do. Do I think that NOT windowing stops piracy? Sure. Since windowing does not lead to increased paper sales, why not release both books at once? Then everyone wins.

  10. I feel sorry for the authors whose publishers are foolish enough to window their titles. Those authors will suffer one of two issues: the aforementioned piracy or the much-dreaded obscurity.

    Piracy happens because people are impatient and don’t want to wait for an e-book version while their friends (who still cling to their paper) enjoy that book.

    Of course, you could have many folks like me. If a book is unavailable as an e-book when I go to buy it but is available in another format, I will never read that book. Why? Because I won’t pirate it and I’ll probably forget all about it by the time it’s available as an e-book.

    While many content creators whine so much about how pirates are losing them sales, they apparently fail to realize that they or their publishers are losing them more. Because while you can’t definitively say that a pirated e-book is a lost sale (i.e., they may not have bought it anyway), when you window, you are definitely losing sales. You are actively refusing to sell to someone simply because they want a format you are withholding for some misguided reason.

    A person who wanted to buy the book couldn’t because it wasn’t available as an e-book yet. They would have bought it if it was available. Now, time has passed, the e-book is out, and they have forgotten all about it. There’s a real lost sale. I’ve been caught by a windowed title six times. I don’t think I ever actually read any of those books and couldn’t name a single one of them.

    Artificial scarcity should be illegal.

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