October 17th, 2010
Piracy–Tales From The Novelist Inc. Conference

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.

10 comments to “Piracy–Tales From The Novelist Inc. Conference”

  1. I really enjoyed Brian’s talk, he made me feel better about ignoring piracy of my own backlist. LOL

  2. Surprised about the age of downloaders, but not surprised that there’s a relationship between piracy and price/difficulty of obtaining a legit copy. Good information, thanks.

  3. I think your point about the two types pirating is exactly right. The only way to battle piracy is to manage it with reasonable prices just as they’re doing. When I want a song for a mix I don’t steal it when I can buy it on Amazon for 99 cents. Konrath’s experiment with offering a pirate copy and then seeing a spike in his Amazon sales was pretty neat. What’s not neat is my generation being the same free loaders now as they were when they were young. 🙂

  4. Sasha, I really liked his talk, too. Thought it was very informative. I hear you on feeling better about the whole thing.

  5. Charli, I was surprised by the age, too. Obviously, they aren’t the only ones downloading books, movies, etc., but they are doing it.

  6. Bernard, I agree. Price and convenience is everything when it comes to battling piracy. I do believe it’s something that has to be managed, since it will NEVER go away. I thought Jo’s experiment was pretty cool. It’s not just your generation doing it, but I know what you mean. *ggg

  7. […] and a few of it’s workshops check out Jordan Summers Blog. So far she’s done on on Piracy, The “Future of Publishing” Panel, and the contract negotiations […]

  8. Hey, I was mentioned by someone giving a presentation?! I need to figure out a way to work that into my resume! Here’s the post O’Leary quoted from:

    It’s a year old now, but I think everything still pertains. I do think publishers (and self-publishing authors) are getting better about producing higher quality ebooks, so item 3 in my list is probably less of an issue today. However, I still think DRM is a waste of time and money–honest consumers remain honest without it; or if they share, it’s with a small circle of friends, which I’d argue should be considered word-of-mouth marketing and not piracy.

    My guess is that the bigger problem looming for writers is commercial piracy, where a company or individual sells your work without compensating you. It’s already happening on Amazon in isolated instances, and it’s happening right now with Dorchester Press, which reverted rights back to authors but is still selling titles online through Amazon and other ebook stores. I’m hoping this becomes a higher profile issue within the publishing world.

  9. Chris,

    Thank you very much for the link. I agree that the word of mouth sharing is fine. It’s when it is in the hundreds and thousands that it becomes a problem.

    I think that copyright will be more important than ever if an author has to battle commercial piracy. Definitely something to keep in mind and on top of. Thanks!

  10. […] Summers has a series of reports from the Novelists Inc. conference on piracy, some low-down contractual moves by publishers as they panic in the new marketplace, and more. A […]