discussions genre stuff writing & publishing


Firstly, all the opinions here are my own, not my employer’s, not my publisher’s. Me.

We have a new survey on piracy, which makes this bold claim:

An average of nearly 10,000 copies of every book published is downloaded from filesharing sites, according to a new study by Attributor. The study examined a sample of 913 popular titles and 25 filesharing sites. Fiction titles were actually among the least affected titles, with an average of around 6,000 copies downloaded per title; business and investing titles were the category most likely to be illegally downloaded, with over 13,000 per title.

Dear fiction publishers: please don’t believe this and tell your digital team to put up more barriers to reading. Firstly, this survey was conducted by a web-wide monitoring and enforcement company. No vested interests there, then. And they surveyed 913 titles, a slither of a slither of the market. Have you ever been to a torrent site to look at the top seeded ebooks (i.e. those being shared the most)? Aside from these, you will often find the Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, and the like, all listed. The top-whack books that are so mainstream they are read by non-traditional readers.

I’d suggest that people who download torrents of ebooks are people who will rarely want to buy the actual book anyway. Their (mostly non-fiction) download will most likely be a curiosity, something of the same emotional level of a wiki search. In fact, those particular users will probably not take notice of that book unless it’s free in the first place. I’ve been tracking one chap (via a Google ego search) who’s been after a torrent of Nights of Villjamur for about six months now, and he still refuses to actually buy a copy. He will probably never buy a copy either. He’s my biggest fan who’s never read the book. If he did finally find that torrent, download the book, and read it – fantastic. I’m not that bothered. He’ll possibly go on to tell someone else about the book, and in theory, sell a copy for me. And so on. If he doesn’t, fine. I’ve not lost anything – I’ve just not pissed someone off for spending money on my book.

Industry folk have The Fear when it comes to piracy. They want to act against this unknown evil, and slap DRM all over an ebook. Stop sharing! Because, you know, no one has ever leant a real book to someone else. Surveys like this – where a company is effectively propagandising, and scaring publishers – do nothing to help.

Want to know why DRM is bad? Read this. And also, remember Amazon’s DRM nightmare, which is hardly the kind of thing to allow a culture of reading to bloom.

In an age where we need as many people reading books as possible, no matter what the format, to focus on short term fears and restrictive reading models is damaging. As are surveys like the one above.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

19 replies on “Piracy”

I don’t think anyone with any degree of sanity goes into writing with a view of becoming rich. I’d just like to make enough that I don’t die in a puddle of my own piss.

I want to be paid for my writing because, in our society of anyone can post on the Internet for free, that’s a good measure of artistic worth (although I’ll admit it’s not perfect). But most of all I want to be read. I want to communicate with a reader in a way so intimate that I reach beyond head and heart and touch a soul.

And when that’s your aim (however romanticized it may be), worrying about whether a small percentage pirated your book becomes almost trite. If it touches them, they’ll buy the next one, they’ll keep me clothed and fed so I can write more, they’ll buy copies for their friends, they’ll tell their co-workers.

All good art is copied but it’ll always be a poor substitute for the original.

Great post! I think that the webseries model proves that DRM is entirely unnecessary. This is a program put on the net for free which fans will nonetheless donate to, buy merchandise from and generally throw their money at the people who entertain and inspire them. More and more artists are using commons licensing on their music and are being listened to by more people and earning from it. The corporations who whine about how piracy affects them are speaking strictly from greed. I do not believe that they really suffer, most people I know buy their books from legitimate sources and as Mark says, those that pirate aren’t going to buy anyway and should be eliminated from the equation. Frankly anything that gets people reading these days should be promoted…though I balk at the idea of rewarding cheap bastards who won’t fork out £6 for a book.

“Because, you know, no one has ever leant a real book to someone else.”

Or, heaven forbid, gone to the library. Those still exist, right?

That poor guy trying to download NOV all that time. He should have went to books etc closing sale where they had 90% off a copy 🙂

Nette’s point is a good one in that the industry probably loses out on far more money through sharing of books. The problem with filesharing is that it’s exponential in that one copy of the book can be shared by 1000s.

Mark is right in that people probably would never buy it so it isn’t ultimately a lost sale. A more interesting point is how cheap can you sell something digitally for people to buy it?

Mark, are you still considering putting the reef as a download on this site? You could throw your biggest non-buying fan a bone.

I’m going to lower the tone considerably now by mentioning the P-word. You know the one I mean. It’s synonymous with teenage boys in their bedrooms battling hormones. But it’s the Dads that put the subscriptions on their credit cards and pay money for it.

But I bet that as an industry it has had to cope with the internet as no other has.

I bet they’ve tried it all. DRM, non DRM, locking content with Flash. And I bet each method has been crumpled easier than a piece of paper into a rush bin.

There are some very clever people out there who can make computers do things that would have your mind imploding if you though about it too much.

But if I look I was to look on a search engine like google I’m sure you’ll find a mix of professional and amateur P-word. Some paid for and some unpaid. In fact there is probably something for every single taste and more than a few that you never knew existed. Some of it is self-published and some of it is done through a publishing house.

There are people out there that want and will pay for access to the content they want. They don’t all pay for that content as there are plenty of pirates out there sharing for ‘free’ what you’d normally have to pay for.

The difference though is that the P-word is that almost every man out has a basic attraction to it’s product (and I few ladies too I’m sure). The same probably can’t be said for books.

The point is they have have been ‘fighting’ piracy for a while now. And the strange thing is that DRM has seemed to have vanished.

The cost of maintaining it and fighting for it has to be too prohibitive when there are tools out there that is going to strip it faster than you can naked in a p-word movie.

What there seems to be is a community that is willing to subscribe and support their producers.

It would be better for publishers to concentrate on building a sense of ownership and participation in their products than locking into a system that can be stripped and shared with an internet search and a bit of techie know how.

There is more than enough room for self-publishing and professional publishing. And there is going to have to and there is no way of turning off the taps.

And don’t think that not releasing a ebook edition is going to stop the pirates. How many JKRowling ebooks are there out there? And there has never been an ebook edition.

You have to be in the market or someone else is going to be there for you…

A very philosophical outlook, Adrian! Being read is most important to this writer, too.

Thanks, Yagiz!

Phil – thanks for the thoughts there, I very much agree.

Nette – strangely, I think in the UK, authors get a cut of library loans, but I don’t know how much it ever works out as.

Neil – I don’t think I’m going to put The Reef online after all. It’s badly copy-edited, and just reflects a period where I was refining my craft. There’s a lot I’m proud of, but ultimately, much I wish I’d done better.

Gav – a mighty post, thanks for that! Interestingly, it was the pr0n industry that helped pioneer a lot of the online purchasing safety that we’ve gotten used to today. Though I’m no expert on the actual content. 🙂

Interesting – and positive – that DRM has vanished. I suspect where pr0n leads (online tech, that is), others follow.

“It would be better for publishers to concentrate on building a sense of ownership and participation in their products ” – I’d love to see that happen, actually. How would that be possible? What kind of thing do you think would work?

I think it’s perfectly understandable why businesses would freak out a little bit about piracy. It’s a lot easier today to see how much money your losing. When a business signs an author that business is taking on 100% of the risk because no matter how talented the author is the public may not purchase it. It could flop.

If a publisher signs an new author and prints 3,000 first edition copies of his novel, and that novel sells 1,500 copies, but on the internet there’s 5,000 illegal downloads of the novel, what does the publisher do? That’s 5,000 potential sales lost along with 1,500 unsold books!

Remember employees have expectations of their employers. Employees not only expect to get paid, but they also expect heat in the winter, a/c in the summer, toilet paper in the bathrooms, hand soap to wash their hands, paper towels to dry their hands, running water, paper clips, pencils, paper for printers, printers, computers, clean floors, and a ton of other things not thought of when thinking of publishing a novel. All of these things cost money, and are factored into the cost of a novel. These are hidden costs, and they are the #1 reason why businesses go out of business. 5,000 illegal downloads is a BIG deal.

So I imagine what happens next is that publishers sign fewer authors for less money. Why? Because there’s a larger risk of losing money now. The tragedy is not that the newly signed author doesn’t realize that he’s making less money than he would have, but that there are authors who never were signed who would have been signed! With less authors there are less need for editors, secretaries, and other employees also. So you also have the person who never is hired for their dream job as an editor.

So what I’m saying is that the real victims of piracy aren’t necessarily those of the published author (of course the author is a victim in that he’s making less money than he otherwise would), but the unpublished author who never has his work read. He is the forgotten, unknown victim . The single mother of two who is never hired for her dream job is also the forgotten, unknown victim. That is the real tragedy of piracy, and they are the real victims…

RE: Community.

This is probably going to get me into trouble but publishers should fully commission more books. Not open submissions but come up with ideas of books and elements that they want to see and get proposals then commission work.

After all the writers aren’t the experts in what readers buy and what excites them – publishers are and they should use that power more. They shouldn’t just say we want SF or Fantasy. They should say what they want more precisely.

And what makes me think this is a good idea? The amount of tie-in, shared world, continuing universe novels that are out there and doing very well for themselves.

Their readers must have that sense of knowing what they are going to get and excitement that they are going to get it rather than a series of stand alone and unknown novels.

People like to immersed but they also like to know what they are getting.

Silence: I’d argue those numbers really aren’t representative of what happens at all. It’s the same kind of rhetoric that gets pushed around. If a debut gets 3k printed, and sells 1.5k, that’s quite independent from having 5k files floating around. It would likely have still sold 1.5k with no downloads. It’s a vastly different “readership” – if that. And what if everyone who bought that debut leant it to a friend? That’s, what, another 1.5k sales you’ve lost – are you saying we shouldn’t lend books to other people now? That theory doesn’t stand up.

And there would never be 5k copies of a debut being downloaded. That would represent a massive bit of publicity.

I do work in publishing (have done for several years) so do understand how costs work. And yes, there are costs involved in ebooks – marginally less than printing a novel, in fact.

But you have to consider different models for the LONG TERM, not panic over things like this.

Gav – So you’re arguing the abandoning of original fiction and that all publishers should just print work for hire?!

I wasn’t trying to suggest that you don’t know your own business, but it always makes me cringe when I read people constantly chalking business decisions up to greed. It seems like such a knee jerk reaction, I’m not sure people know what their talking about when they blame greed. What is greed anyways? It seems to imply corruption, but trying to stop illegal downloads is hardly corrupt. It also seems to imply self interest, but what’s wrong with self interest? Milton Friedman once said, “What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy it’s always the other person who’s greedy.”

I trying to provide an alternative view to the “Greedy Publisher Theory” that is so popular on the web today. If a book needs to be split it’s because someone’s greedy, price of the book goes up -greedy publisher, and so on and so on. All businesses need to make business decisions, and I just wanted to point out some of those decisions.

The numbers I used were plucked out of the air, but I used them to make a point. As vastly different as we are from one person to the next we all act predictably. Every business has to deal with waste and theft. You try to discourage it and prevent it, but everyone knows it’s going to happen. If a list could be provided to any owner of any business showing him what was stolen from his business he would freak out.

The publishing industry, not to mention the music industry has that list now. They are understandably freaked out in my opinion. The average profit margin of any given business is only about $.05-$.10 of every dollar that comes in. Those numbers were not plucked out of the air. The big pile of cash that people think businesses make is actually a pile of pocket change when compared to operating expenses. Before theft was out of sight out of mind, and now it’s staring them in the face.

I will disagree with you about your comparison of the person who shares his book with his friend, and the person who downloads the novel illegally. Those are two entirely different scenarios with very little in common. That’s like saying a person who orders a hamburger and shares it with his girlfriend is the same as the person who orders a burger, eats it, and walks out without paying for it. In one case a transaction has been made and in the other theft has occurred.

I see you moved on in your blog, so I won’t go any deeper than I already did unless you want to continue to debate. I would just like to say that I love your blog, it has quickly become one of my favorites. As of last time I checked your book hasn’t been published in the US yet, so I’m eagerly awaiting it’s arrival whenever that is.

Gav – I don’t think anyone – even readers- would want that situation. It kills art, kills innovation, stagnates the genre permanently. And people would never be challenged?

Publishing should not be utilitarian. It’s bad enough being as commercial as it is!

Mark, Re commissioned fiction:

As I said on Gav’s blog and (hey isn’t cut and paste a wonderful thing) can now repeat here:

Depends on the publisher. Depends on the idea. Depends on the brief. Depends on the author.

Open-minded enough publisher, good enough idea, open enough brief, enthusiastic and talented enough author there’s no reason why this couldn’t work.

And indeed it has worked. The author has to take the idea and run with it, make it their own – that’s where the essential creative spark comes from.

And there have been quite enough tired, formulaic and disposable books written and published that were entirely the authors own idea to suggest that, in fact, neither system is in anyway foolproof.

Good points there, Simon.

“And there have been quite enough tired, formulaic and disposable books written and published that were entirely the authors own idea to suggest that, in fact, neither system is in anyway foolproof.”


I believe the fight against e-book piracy is fight that publishers are bound to loose and authors will gain on ( I do think Gutenberg is to blame for all of this) For some time know I have been reading authors that have been rejected or don’t have the nerve to contact publishing house and to my surprise (trying to be ironic) a lot of these novels are great. These are good stories that would never been read if it weren’t for e- books and the ease in distributing them.
Perhaps they will not get rich or give up their day job, but they will still be able to reach an audience.
And that’s the main drive for a author …or

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