Thursday, April 03, 2008

Will Piracy Kill the Author?

Although this blogger has been (generally) gung-ho about e-books and stuff for free on the internet the pronouncement by Britain's Society of Authors that piracy on the internet could drive authors to stop writing gave me a timely slap on the face.

Illegal downloading, which has sent the music industry into a tailspin, is also now apparently causing havoc in the book industry :
Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who also chairs the London-based organisation, said her members were deeply concerned that the publishing industry was failing to adapt to the digital age
writes Ben Hoyle in the Times :

The internet is awash with unlicensed free digital copies of individual chapters, or in some cases, entire books.
Although some of the victims are prominent authors such as Jamie Oliver and J.K. Rowling, the authors of the kinds of books you tend to dip into are the most vulnerable, including authors of short stories, writers of cookbooks, and lesser-known poets.

Chevalier says that a new model of payment for authors needs to be found :

... possibly by making the content available free to all and finding a way to get paid separately.
But it is of course anyone guess how this might work in practice.

Meanwhile, Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading isn't so sure that Chevalier et al have it right.

Postscript :

This is how easy it is to get hold of a pirated e-book.


Chet said...

I, for one, would not mind making a contribution to free ebooks that will be paid to the authors themselves.

I started reading ebooks because my eyes hurt reading regular books (bad lighting and such), but continue to do so even tho I have gone back to reading physical books. My ebook collection has very different titles from my physical book collection.

I do have legit titles in the collection which were purchased from They are cheaper and don't take up physical space.

As for the free downloads, it's usually of titles I can't find here, but the authors are quite well-known, and - dare I say this - quite well-off authors.

I think a lot of those who scan and share ebooks online do so because books are getting expensive.

Legit ebooks will cut down on quite a bit of the expense - no physical distribution, for one.

I hope more and more authors will make available e-versions of their books. This will help to cut down on online book piracy.

bibliobibuli said...

authors who works hard to produce a book doesn't deserve to have their work stolen, do they? (one doesn't weep for billionaires like rowling perhaps, but what about all the others?)

it's an entirely different thing if they themselves decide to make their work free to the public to download, as more are doing.

i'm with you though that ebooks should be cheap and easily available. there's a lot of content i download (e.g. poems abd short stories) that i wouldn't mind paying towards but there is no way of doing this. (perhaps someone should create an e-purse with e-currency?)

i actually do send a paypal contribution to sites i use a lot and link often to in this blog e.g. wikipedia but i don't think many do this (including journalists i've seen using wikipedia heavily for articles they will be paid for)

i feel such a huge debt of gratitude to those who have put newspapers and magazines online for free. but i worry too about how they are making it pay.

CatR. said...

I'm cynical. I can't think of a single book of poetry published that really takes a great degree of risk on the publisher's part. The most contemporary Western book of poetry I've read is by Geoffrey Hill, and he's a big shot in a university with connections all around. People like that will always have a readership.

Yeah, the chances of publishers taking a look at less profitable avenues like poetry may be slimmer, but in the first place, they were already too slim to be noticed.

Anonymous said...

Catr. -- I disagree. There are so many alternative/independent presses, as well as literary journals, in the US that take huge risks with even very experimental poetry. Granted, these presses don't ship their books internationally, and the print runs are tiny. But they are definitely there.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Journalists who use unverified sources should not be journalists. Imagine using wikipedia as a source -- I could change it in five minutes :)

I mean really how lazy can you get ? and there already is an e-purse with e-currency.. it's called paypal :)

bibliobibuli said...

anon - but use it they do!

and yes, you're right about paypal which is what i use to make a a contribution when i feel i owe one

Cat R. said...

Preeta: I didn't factor those in because I don't think that they would be threatened by book theft in the information age (ugh, information age, I sound so 90s). They work differently, and most are willing to even put all of their content online.

I was thinking more on the lines of big scale publishers like Penguin etc. My guess is that if book theft is rampant enough to cause a dent in their pockets, they'll cut down on things that don't profit them that much -- but in the first place, they didn't provide that much room for them anyway.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I definitely see your point with regard to the big publishers, Cat R., but not all the small presses put all their content online, and I think they *could* be threatened by unlicensed content on the internet. But maybe I'm wrong -- I wonder how other people feel about this. I've never published with a small press myself (I don't write poetry) so perhaps I should leave it to those who do to offer their opinions on this matter!

I do think, though, that big publishers take some risks -- every first-time author is a risk. I wouldn't really want to see them cutting down on things that are not yet sure-fire money-makers, just because they're factoring in theft from the "big names."

-- Preeta

Eli James said...


I can't help but be a little unconcerned with the piracy argument. There's more than enough stuff to read online (and, yes, I've downloaded a novel or two to read through bittorent) - but as pointed out by you before - ebooks just aren't that popular yet.

I'd like to begin, however, by pointing to Chris Anderson's Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business.

It's an explanation of why everything connected to the Internet will eventually adopt free as part of their business model, and then make money off alternative streams connected with their product.

I applied a little of this concept to online fiction in one of my posts ... but I've to admit this model of making money for authors won't be big anytime soon.

We've too little people reading in digital form, unless you count the handphone novels and the internet serials catching on in Japan and China.

In the future, perhaps. Right now this debate is more relevant to the music industry.

PS: removed my earlier comment, I posted using my blogger account.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks, eli. it's a big question and i guess really no-one really knows how it will all pan out. all we can say is ... we're watching.

Sarah said...

Hasn't anybody here ever heard of Triond before? I think that they might pose some sort of solution.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for the link, sarah. will check it out.