Ok, so now that we’ve established that piracy has complicated motivations, we come to the good part: What can writers do about it?
It’s complicated. But knowing a few people who pirate, I asked around. What made them decide to buy a book instead of just downloading it? The answer that was consistent between all of them: They liked the author.
Now, on elaboration, I got a few different answers. Some of them said they knew the author and wanted to support them. They felt a personal connection to the author, either because they’d met them at an event, they really loved their other book(s), or they chatted with them online. I thought about how I decide which books to spend extra on (Above my normal $10 price point), and realized that applies there as well. There are about 10 authors or so where I don’t even LOOK at the price of the book, I don’t care how much it costs, I’ll buy it. So clearly, the most effective thing authors can do is to connect with their readers. Be it at events, online, even just blogging and seeming personable. How do you make this happen? Things like anecdotes about their lives, chatter, being excited about new things, geeking if that’s their thing, all sorts of things that make the reader feel like they know this person.
Granted, there are authors I’ve interacted with but don’t like their books, and books I’ve read and liked but don’t like the author. The later is far, far less common than the former. Even the authors where I’m not that fond of the story, I will be more likely to buy it if I like the writer, in hopes that maybe the next book will be the one that makes me fall in love with their writing. This goes doubly true if they have multiple series. There’s one author I know who, well, I’m not that fond of her writing. But we have interacted, and so I heard about one series of hers, after having tried to read her other series without enjoying it. That second series, however, I liked. Granted, the setting was very different, and the world building was much richer in the second series, which helps. But I wouldn’t have even bothered picking up that second series, based on just the first series, had I not interacted with them first. It would have gone on my list of books to check out of the library once I’m settled in Philly. I certainly wouldn’t have bought it.
TL;DR: If you’re an author worried about piracy, interact with your fans. The more people feel passionate about your writing, the more they’re going to buy your book… and your next one, and the one after that. Convert readers to fans, and you won’t have to worry about piracy. They’ll police themselves without even thinking about it.