A writer buddy of mine asked me what I do about piracy.
In that conversation, he said he was thinking about changing his release approach to address possible loss of sales (putting print out before ebooks, etc.). DRM is a weak protection, he said (which is true). In a lot of ways publishing, and indie publishing in particular, can feel like you’re sitting in a leaky lifeboat and watching the sharks circle.
This reminded me that I had planned on posting my own piracy statement here. So that’s what I’ll do at the end of this note.
Piracy is, of course, a pretty big deal at the end of the day. But, it’s also a question that comes up a lot when I talk to newer writers and almost never when I’m with people who already write for a living. Some of that difference is almost certainly a factor of experienced writers being okay with the fact that you can still swim in an ocean if has sharks. Some of that difference is probably that traditional authors have their publisher’s legal folks to help them. Some of that difference is probably that a lot of indie publishers have already started to use “free” as effective marketing approaches, so they’ve bucketed the threat that these pirates have in a different way than others.
I should start, though, with my own personal “mission statement,” as it were: All I’m really trying to do is write stories that matter, and develop a loyal following.
That’s it. So every time I take effort away from those two things, I’m probably losing something.
I should also say that I do not publish my own work under DRM. I also give a lot of my work away for free at times.
Also, it’s good to note that my basic make-up (hence, my approach and policy) says that a truly loyal following will appreciate my work and be willing to pay for it in the end, even if they can’t afford it right now. I intend to write good books for a lot of years, and I want readers to enjoy the act of paying for them (which most actually do). Sometimes, that means I get to enjoy giving them away for free—but when I do, it’s always with the idea that I’m going to benefit in the end. Think win-win, you know? Most people believe creators “deserve” to get paid for their work.
Finally, as a traditionally published short story writer, and an indie publisher of longer works, I have a very limited legal staff. [grin] This means that I am both financially and time strapped when it comes to fending off the sharks. It means I need to focus on priorities (hence, when in doubt, get thee back to the mission statement).
I realize, however, that I’m a person, so my mind can change. This is how I feel today…but it’s how I’ve felt for some time, so I doubt it will change too much. Shrug.
I find that keeping all of this in mind is helpful when I think about piracy, because, while I get my ego hurt when someone gets something from me for free that I didn’t offer them directly, for the most part it allows me to mostly let it go and focus on the game I’m playing rather than divert a lot of energy into places that don’t move me forward.
With that out of the way, let me get to my thoughts and base policy regarding pirates themselves—which I tend to split into three different groups:
• Publishing pirates
• “Information wants to be free” pirates
• “Can’t afford to pay anything” pirates
Publishing pirates are the people who steal my work and put it on sites where they either make it available to people for free or sell it without paying me. Of the three groups, these people are the most annoying. They are breaking copyright law by both creating copies of my work, and distributing it—and are generally profiting from it by either direct sales or pushing advertisement. So, yeah, it’s bothersome. If I find one, I’ll drop them a note requesting they take the book down (and perhaps threatening legal action). There are also writer’s organizations that can help. But there are a gazillion of these, and only one of me, so there’s a time/dollar cost/benefit thing that needs to be run.
I’m also of the opinion that, at my current level of success, these people are only hurting me a little. And I’m aware there does exist a philosophical (and insupportable) argument that they could even be helping me a bit. Regardless, it is clear they are breaking copyright law because I had zero involvement in their action, so that upsets me.
So, yes, I know there are some people ripping me off. I’ll do my best to fight them when, like a whack-a-mole arcade game, they pop up. But I don’t go out of my way to find them or worry about them. I choose not to get too tied up into this at present because that way lies mental anguish beyond the cost/benefit study. Perhaps if I get bigger I’ll change my attitude.
Information Wants to Be Free Pirates:
The Information Wants to Be Free pirates are the most interesting of the groups. These are either a form of publishing pirate (if they actually distribute the work), or a reader with a self-serving streak or a warped … uh … view of life? … relative to mine. I kind of admire this group, though. Their passion is commendable. Those who are publishing my work under this category meet all the criteria of the above category (including the fact that they are breaking copyright law), and if I find one I’ll take the same kinds of actions.
The readers in this category, however, are different. First, they are completely impossible for me to reach out and stop. So, until I hear other ideas, my reaction is to ignore them. Second, they are not readers that I care to attract because they are withholding payment for philosophical (political?) reasons. They do not care to support the writer—or, maybe better put, they think that writers should be able to find other ways to eat and shelter themselves (I guess?). In my opinion, these readers are not particularly sharp, but they would probably respond by saying that they just don’t value the same things as I do. That way lay the conversation fodder of all politics, eh?
These readers don’t help me, but in the end neither do they hurt me (Though technically I suppose some do. Nothing is stranger to me than a person who steals a book, and then writes a negative review).
Like I say, though, as a general statement I admire the passion that’s in this group. I think these people are wrong, but I get it. Heck, there’s some chance that when I was much younger I would have felt that way, too. And since (rightly or wrongly) I have a mental picture of most of them being 15-25 years old and progressing up the maturity curve, I expect that most will grow out of it. So my basic approach to this IWTBF reader is to speak to them about the realities of the publishing world in hopes their views will “mature,” and move on.
Can’t Afford to Pay Anything Pirates
This is the group my personal policy is going to actively address.
To a very small degree I’ve been there. Yes, I had a very comfortable upbringing, but the truth is I can definitely remember what it felt like to be working a low-paying job for a few hours a week. I remember going to bargain bins to buy used records instead of the newest releases. And, yes, I fully admit that rather than buy an album I really wanted but didn’t have the money for, I might have (on occasion) made a cassette or two from music that friends had. It’s not too hard to take that memory of desire and angst I felt at those times, and amplify it to apply to what’s happening to people today.
I hate the idea that someone might have to look at one of my books and truly feel that they have to decide whether paying $4.99 (or whatever) for it will make them have to change what they plan to eat for lunch that day. And, yet, I want this person as a loyal reader—I want them to love my work so much that someday when their finances are stronger they enjoy the idea of supporting me, perhaps even because I supported them.
So, here’s my basic piracy policy: If you are in that situation, if the idea of spending the price of a book gives you that ugly feeling down in the pit of your stomach, and that is driving you to go to the pirate sites for free books, send me a note (ron*at*typosphere.com) telling me what book you want. Unless I am contractually constrained otherwise, I’ll gladly provide you one.
Other writers may not agree with me at all, and what works for me may well not work for you. Other writers may have more resources available to them to fight things. Pirates may be hurting other writers more than they hurt me (or I may be misguided and they may be stealing so much that I could afford that yacht I need to keep the sharks away … uh, have I mentioned that I moved to Arizona?).
As I said before, I retain the right to change my mind.
But those are all my thoughts and policies toward the idea of piracy as of April, 2016.
Any thoughts are, of course, welcome.