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by Jared Sandman
A new battle is being waged in the digital age between pirates and content providers. This very subject is being debated in Manhattan at all the major publishing houses. I would guess the majority of people under age thirty have resorted to piracy at one time or another, whether ripping their favorite songs or downloading new movies or TV shows from some bit torrent site. This is technically stealing, and it’s against the law.
In the past two weeks, I’ve seen my novels crop up on various piracy sites. I’m not going to do anything about it because there’s nothing to be done. You can’t fight without having it devolve into a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. Get your work removed from one site and watch it pop up in three others. One can try going after the offending websites’ sponsors and advertisers, but that’s a temporary patch to the issue at best.
From what I’ve learned about piracy, the vast majority of pirates exist outside the United States. They are people who are desperate for American products: movies, books, TV, music. They can’t be in America so they live vicariously through our entertainment. It’s an international problem with no easy solution; the harsh reality of the digital realm is that copyright becomes nigh impossible to enforce. Most products being pirated can’t be purchased in their countries anyway, and if they are available it’s certainly not at an affordable price.
Some writers are deadset against piracy. They want every cent that’s owed them and view pirates as bloodsucking parasites. I think anyone who takes that hardline stance runs the risk of suffering a Metallica-like backlash. When that rock band went after music pirates a decade ago, they lost a lot of loyal fans in the process.
I think the majority of people who pirate content are willing to pay for it. What’s forcing them to pirate isn’t ease, rather price point. If companies sell their wares at more affordable rates, people will gladly pay. Nobody wants to be a pirate.
Rather than seeing each illegal download as a lost sale, consider it free advertising. It’s not anymore a lost sale than libraries loaning out books, someone lending a book to a friend, or used bookstores selling out-of-print paperbacks. I can’t be angry at those institutions because I’ve gained so much from them over the years.
Authors whose books are pirated end up selling far more copies in the long run. This seems counter-intuitive, of course. My theory is that pirates are far more likely to tell others about a book they really like. If someone received a book for free, the least he or she can do is become an advocate for the writer if the story was any good.
Later this fall Scribner is releasing Stephen King’s new novel as an “enhanced e-book” -- for $18.99. Watch the one-star reviews roll in from pissed off Kindle users looking for a way to protest what they consider price gouging. You’ll probably be able to pick up the hardcover for cheaper than that at your local retailer. People aren’t stupid; they understand when they’re being cheated. They know an e-book doesn’t cost the publisher nearly as much as the print version because there’s no paper, printing, shipping or warehousing involved.
For a straight novel, there’s no reason why an e-book should be more than $5. For books heavy with graphics or those that are interactive, publishers can be forgiven to raise prices a bit (but even then no more than $10). In my experience anything less than five bucks is an impulse buy, and probably the best price point is between three and five dollars. For example, all my books are between $2.99 and $3.99.
The best defense is a good offense. So long as writers price their work affordably, the effects of illegal piracy will be minimized.
Thanks to Jared for stopping by on his blog tour. He was also generous enough to provide a review copy of his novel, The Wild Hunt, and you'll be able to read my review of that later today.