As you might guess with so much talk about ebooks and e-publishing, piracy came up a LOT. I attended Brian O’Leary’s talk about his Piracy Project. Basically, his company has been hired by a couple of smaller publishers to investigate the effects of piracy on their bottom lines. He started his talk off by saying that his data is inconclusive due to the lack of participation. If more publishers participated, then he’d have a really good idea of how much piracy affects e-publishing. He did say that there are niches and titles for which piracy is a direct loss and enforcement is needed (ie bestsellers). Most books do not fall under this category. He quoted Chris Walters of Bookspring (or booksprung I can’t read my writing *g) as saying, “Don’t try to ‘solve’ piracy; think about managing it.” From the data he was able to obtain, he has not seen an overwhelming rise in piracy. In fact, he said overall he hasn’t seen a lot of piracy period if you go by the amount of books vs. bit torrent sites. He said one of the best ways to manage piracy is to provide a high-quality consumer experience, while keeping prices reasonable. (And he didn’t mean what N.Y. considers to be a reasonable price, since that whole section in the middle of the United States think that N.Y. prices are outrageous.) He also said that one of the things he was surprised about was the age of the people pirating books. They seemed to be Babyboomer age. It wasn’t the ‘kids’ doing most of the downloads. They may be the ones putting it up there, but they weren’t the ones downloading the work. One thing he wasn’t surprised about was how many of the pirate sites were actually overseas. He said part of the problem comes from material being unavailable in a lot of countries or way too expensive when it is available.
I’m going to tie-in J.A. Konrath’s talk on self-publishing with O’Leary’s because Joe specifically talked about a piracy experiment he did with one of his books. Basically he put a book up on his site, and asked the pirates to pirate the copy. He went to various places and did this, then he checked bit torrent sites to make sure the book was there. He then put the book up on Amazon for sale. He said during the time his book was being pirated, his overall sales jumped. He tracked them. So contrary to popular opinion, pirating isn’t all bad for an author. Neil Gaiman once said, and I paraphrase, “The only thing an author should worry about is obscurity.” He’s right. As Mr. O’Leary mentioned above, most authors don’t have to worry about piracy cutting into their bottom line. Unless you’re one of the authors in a niche (ie a top seller), then piracy will probably help you more than it hurts you. I know a lot of authors don’t want to hear that.
There were a lot of comments from the audience about authors losing sales due to illegal downloads. The thing most people refused to consider was that a lot of the folks downloading the books actually fall into two categories: People who already own the paper copy (No, they don’t want to have to buy another copy of the book, so they can have it on their e-reader). And people who would’ve never bought them in the first place. (Sucks, yes, but it is true that a lot of the folks who download books do it for the same reasons they fill up their bookshelves. Will they ever read all the books on their shelves? No. Do they like seeing the books there? Yes. It comforts them.)
Something to consider before you let your blood-pressure explode over piracy.