(Sidenote: This should have gone up yesterday, but I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and then ended up with a throbbing allergy headache, and forgot to check. I hadn’t scheduled it right)
The other day, the wonderful Catheryne Valente was talking on Twitter about how piracy in music is influencing piracy in books. I was talking with a friend who didn’t understand what the big deal was. Her whole argument was that piracy encourages discovery, in the same way music discovery is aided by things like Pandora and Spotify.
On one hand, she’s right. There are thousands of books published each year. I just checked my To Be Read list, and there’s over 140 books there that are 2012 releases. So out of those thousands, 140 or so caught my attention enough to get added to a list intended solely to remind me they exist. How do I find them? Some I find through friends’ recommendations. Many of them I find following publishers’ blogs/twitters. Still others I find through browsing Goodreads lists. Between them all, it’s a lot of effort, but mostly done in bursts of obsession (Oooh, I found a list with 2000 books on it. Wonder if there’s anything good? *goes through the whole list*)
But how will I know if I’ll like them? Well, a few ways. I read reviews, not so much for the actual ratings as for what they say about the book. I know certain pet peeves of mine will make me take a book off my list pretty quickly. If multiple people say the same thing, it can influence what I think. I also tend to use the sample feature on Amazon. If I don’t like the sample, I won’t get the book. Liking the sample doesn’t guarantee I’ll like the full thing, but it does typically mean I will at least be able to read the whole thing without throwing it against the metaphorical wall. Or, if you don’t have time for all that, you can always go to the bookstore or library and say, “I liked this book, what else do you have like it?”. Trust me, the people there will be happy to show you similar books.
So if discovery isn’t the real factor, let’s look at some other options.
Now, math has never been a strong suit of mine, but let’s play with some numbers here: According to a Harris Poll survey (Yeah, I know, not the most scientific source, but the most recent I could find), 32% of adults didn’t read a single book the year prior. Another 32% read between 1-10 books. 16% read between 11-20 books that same year, and a measly 20% read 21+ books. So for the purpose of this argument, we’re going to ignore the people who read less than 10 books a year. Let’s focus on that 36% (wow, really people?) who read more than a book a month. In fact, I’m going to make three mock people: One who reads a book a month, one who reads a book a week, and my record, 150 a year, or approximately 3 books a week.
And just to make the math simple, I’m going to assume all books are ebooks purchased legally for $10.
A book a month: $120 a year.
A book a week: $520 a year.
3 books a week: $1560 a year.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s sorta insane. This would be even worse if you bought hardcovers, with those averaging $25 (300, 1300, and 3900, respectively). So already, just looking at the ebook numbers, you’re getting into some serious cash from the reader’s perspective. Even assuming you had the time to read every book released in a year, few people I know would have the money to do it as well. 2000 fiction books published a year would cost you $20,000 minimum, or as much as my undergrad loans, or a good car costs. (If anyone has that kind of money just laying around and wants me to see if I can read that many books in a year, you could so pay me the cost of the books+living expenses for the year and I’ll give it my damndest!!)
This is where the singular argument is that I will almost grant to the pirates. Books can be an expensive hobby! In many ways, this is why publishing is having so much trouble with libraries and ebooks. They simply don’t know how to cash in on it the same way. Libraries are a great resource for passionate readers.
Yet there’s a double standard in the attitude here, do you see it? No one minds if you check a book out from the library, or get it used, or even borrow the physical book from a friend. So why the issue with pirating a book? Scale.
In all those scenarios, someone has bought it, and it will serve only a limited number of people. The library only has a limited number of patrons. If you get it used, even if you then turn around and resell it, it’s only going to get rebought a certain, fixed number of times. And even if you borrow every book your friend owns, they only have so many friends they’ll loan books to. By their very nature, all of these arrangements are limited, and so many, many copies are still bought. Some of those lends also translate into further sales when the borrower learns they like that author well enough to buy a copy for their collection as well.
Yet with ebook piracy, as in music, all it takes is one person to buy the initial book, and put it out there where millions of people can get it. Even small, private torrent sites will have tens of thousands of users. I doubt many people in the world can say they have 50,000 friends they’d trust with their physical books. Few libraries can boast more patrons, unless they’re places like the NYC public library. It’s the sheer scale vs numbers of sales that are the problem. Almost no authors would object to their books being checked out of the library. The libraries track how many times a book is checked out, and that can result in the rest of the series being purchased, and in larger quantities than it otherwise would be.
So what, you might wonder, can authors DO about piracy, other than get frustrated and screwed? Well, that’s a subject for Friday’s post.