Piracy, pricing and the pernicious effects of victim-less crimes
Piracy is not Johnny Depp running around in kohl and dreadlocks, pretending to be Jack Sparrow. Piracy is a terrifying reality on the seas to this day but that’s not the type of piracy I’m wanting to raise awareness of. The type of piracy I mean is a so-called victim-less crime.
Piracy in the creative industry is the stealing of content without the consent of the creator. Every DVD starts with an anti-piracy notice; most you cannot even fast forward through. But I’ve heard people say it’s not a crime and that an artist ought to be flattered that someone has thought their content worthy of lifting. I suspect that most reading this will be on the side of the angels and I may be ranting simply to relieve my feelings. I don’t know if any of my work has been pirated; I don’t want to look, really. Cease and desist notices seem to have limited effects and to be honest, they’re a hydra – a many-headed beast that grows ever more heads each time one is cut off. It’s the mentality that sends people to pirate sites that needs addressing as much as anything; the implementation of DRM has done nothing to reduce piracy and much to inconvenience genuine users.
I had a friend who had in the past committed what he considered victim-less crimes of eating at expensive restaurants and then sauntering off without paying. The argument was that it was something that restaurants factored into their costs and it was therefore not really a problem. The same friend also used to steal things like pillows from hotels, again using the argument that such losses were covered by insurance, and that didn’t everyone do it? Excuse me while I bang my head on a brick wall for a while in frustration. Stupid and immoral doesn’t even cover the half of it!
Shops inevitably lose a significant proportion of their good via shop-lifting and the losses are adjusted by raising the prices of the goods. Smaller shops go out of business as a result of the rise in insurance premiums, the cost of replacing stolen goods and because of the sheer misery of being robbed constantly. It’s easy to forget that shops are not always run by face-less business moguls but actual human beings with feelings.
It’s the same for books. Even when it’s a big name author who is being pirated, they lose out. For independent authors, it’s even more striking. You might argue that writers write for the love of it and not for money, but you know what? It’s possible we do it for both. We all have bills to pay. I’ve seen the argument that books are priced so high that people cannot afford to buy them. Unlike food, books are not an actual necessity of life, though life without books would be dull and grim. Books are always freely available, either via libraries (you can actually request particular books to be ordered from your library) or from the vast array of books that are no longer subject to copyright and have been made available by such fabulous initiatives as the Gutenberg project. These are the only free books I get now, ones by authors who have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.
If it is price that puts people off buying a book, then I do not understand why quite so many bought, for example, J.K Rowling’s newest offerings when they were initially almost £12 for the e-book version. I know she has millions of fans, but honestly, £12 for an e-book? That’s prohibitively expensive. I’m still looking on the shelves of second-hand bookshops for copies of her detective novel. I appreciate that there’s few who will take a punt on an unknown author if the price tag is above a certain amount but it’s depressing to see that price is trotted out as a reason for not even trying. With Kindle, you get a decent chunk of sample for free to see if you like the style. I’ve already written about why I think free is a problem but there are a few things I would like to suggest in relation to free books. If you pick up a free book, resolve to actually read it. I’ve stopped getting free books for this reason; they are sitting on my Kindle, unread. The psychology of this is complex but basically paying for something gives it value and time is our most valuable commodity. If a book is free and is the first in a series, consider paying for the next instalment if you enjoyed the free book. Consider writing a review for free books; it’s one of the reasons authors make a book free, in the hope that reviews may come. Independent authors often have zero budget for advertising and reviews can be very helpful.
I said earlier than while writers write for pleasure, being paid for it is important. There comes a point when many authors actually stop putting books out, because the sense of futility can become overwhelming. I’ve heard of authors being messaged by people asking to be informed when the next book is going to be free. I cannot imagine anything more inducing of despair than such a message. It says, I like your books but you won’t catch me paying for them. There are shelves on Goodreads that in essence say the same: books I want when they are up for free (or so I am told. I don’t and won’t use Goodreads because it scares me).
One other thing. Pirate sites for books often provide books that are poorly formatted, incomplete and can be laden with viruses. Karma’s only a bitch if you are.