Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pirates aren't that bad, mkay?

So, as royalty statements went out this quarter, the near-deafening cry that went up from ebook authors was, "STUPID PIRATES". This is pretty much to be expected. If I do a google search of my pen name, Abigail Barnette (Abigail's latest steampunk story, BOUND IN BRASS is now available at All Romance Ebooks), illegal download requests and sites pop up on the very first page. It's enough to make an author gnash her teeth and rend her garments. Unless we start to look at it another way.

This man is not the enemy. This man gets us drunk.

First of all, we need to stop looking at every download as a sale lost. There's an old saying, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" I've never really understood that saying, because it usually has to do with women giving up sex for free, and the whole milk metaphor seems to work better in conjunction with semen, but that's a blog post for another time. While one could apply this to e-piracy of our books by saying, "If they couldn't get the books for free, they would purchase them," I think the opposite is true. If ebook pirates couldn't get the books (milk) for free, they wouldn't buy them (the cow), anyway. Because clearly, if you're getting it for free, it's not something you'd be willing to spend money on. The opportunity is there for these people. They can easily go find our books on any of the fine retail websites that carry them. But they don't. Instead, they go on message boards and say, "Looking for a torrent, plz," and wait. They wait for it for free, when they could easily drop the measly three or so bucks to have it immediately. To me, that kind of proves that they don't want that book that bad. They want it, but obviously not enough to pay for it.

So, instead of going, "I saw that my book was illegally downloaded twelve times from this site, that means twelve sales I lost," maybe we should look at it like, "My book was downloaded twelve times. That means twelve more people read it than would have otherwise." Sure, this doesn't have the same monetary value to us as authors, but it does have some value.

I'll fess up to something here: I've been known to download episodes of popular cable television shows because I'm too poor and too cheap to pay for cable. It is what it is, okay? Occasionally, I'll tell one of my friends, "You have got to watch this show, it's totally awesome." But she won't illegally download anything. Not a song, not a book, not a tv show, not a set of photoshop brushes, nothing. She is the anti-pirate. I can respect that. So, when I tell her, "You really need to see this show," she waits for the dvd, and either rents it or buys it through perfectly legal means.

Let's extrapolate that out, to the world of books, specifically, romance books, where our reputations as authors are based largely on word-of-mouth sales. Let's pretend our pirate's name is... I don't know, Sheila. We'll call her Sheila. For whatever reason, be it our current economy or just plain being a miser, Sheila doesn't spend much money on books. If she wants a paperback, she gets it from her library, if she wants an ebook, she downloads it from a pirate site. So, let's say Sheila downloads... oh, I don't know, GIANT by Abigail Barnette, and she likes it so much that she tells her friend, we'll call this friend... Harriet, about how great GIANT is, what with the sweet romance and super hot love scenes and all. Harriet, being morally opposed to piracy, goes and buys GIANT from ARe. And while she's there, she picks up the first book in the series, GLASS SLIPPER.

Obviously, this isn't going to happen every single time, so let's talk about a different scenario. Let's say Sheila reads the book, then goes to a review site, like Amazon or GoodReads, and leaves a glowing review. And, since she's such a book nut, her reviews are being followed by, I don't know, fifteen people. That's fifteen people who have just been told that GIANT is an amazing book, and fifteen people more likely to check it out.

Not to mention the fact that just having your name come up with more search results on google is a good thing. If I run a search for either of the names I write under, the last thing I would want is to have six results lead back to me and the fact that I write, and the rest of them pointing to a real estate agent in Kentucky who has more internet gravitas than I do. I'm grateful to pirates for the fact that when I search Abigail Barnette, google no longer asks me, "Did you mean Abigail Breslin?" That shit is disheartening. So, even if you google your name and all that comes up is your site and a thousand piracy sites, at least it's saying, "Hey, this person is out there, and they write books, and they're not Abigail Breslin."

Now, please understand that I'm not trying defend theft. But I'm consistently surprised at how many authors publicly bitch about piracy, when readers are quick to point out how obnoxious they find it. When my latest Jennifer Armintrout release, AMERICAN VAMPIRE came out, I joked to a reader on twitter, "Thanks for buying it instead of pirating it." I meant it as a joke, because I really don't give a shit what other people do with their computers. But the reader was clearly taken aback, judging from her response. I've probably lost that reader over my stupid joke, and it's not like I have so many readers that I can afford to lose them.

Let's take that example and extrapolate it out again. Let's say I love an author. Love, love, love this author, so much so that I follow her on facebook or twitter or some other form of social media that I don't know about because my youth is over and I'm relegated to some hellish limbo wherein I'm no longer "young" but not yet "middle-aged". But when she's tweeting or facebooking or yonking or whatever people do these days, she's always on and on about pirates. Pirates this, pirates that. It seems like her disdain for pirates has consumed her, so much so that everyone is a suspect, including me. Also, it's clear from these tweets and yonks or honks or franks or whatever that she's not really interested in crafting stories for me to enjoy. That's secondary to the real reason she's writing, which is money. And if she's not getting enough to be appeased, I'm going to have to listen to her complain about it.

So, I implore you, authors of the world. Let's just shut up about the book piracy thing. Yes, it sucks. But we're not losing as much money as we assume we are. If they're pirating our books, they're not buying. That doesn't mean they'd have bought them in the first place. And having our work in front of more readers is a good thing. And while we're only in it for the money, we can't tell readers that. It would destroy the illusion that we're all artsy, creative types who live for our work.


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