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Thread: The Real Effects Of Book Piracy

  1. #1
    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    The Real Effects Of Book Piracy

    Maggie Stiefvater blogs about an experiment she devised that shows the real world effect of book piracy.

    It is only about two statements that I saw go by:
    1) piracy doesn’t hurt publishing.
    2) someone who pirates the book was never going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.
    Spoiler alert: As she points out, neither of these widely held beliefs turn out to be objectively true.

    http://maggie-stiefvater.tumblr.com/...-a-story-about
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  2. #2
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rugcat View Post
    Maggie Stiefvater blogs about an experiment she devised that shows the real world effect of book piracy.

    Spoiler alert: As she points out, neither of these widely held beliefs turn out to be objectively true.

    http://maggie-stiefvater.tumblr.com/...-a-story-about
    A thing she doesn't say, but maybe should: her money, the royalty she makes for ebooks, is probably somewhere around a buck a book; and she pays her agent out of that share.

    Authors by and large aren't getting rich. Mostly, even if they sell through, they're just getting by.

    Also? Stealing books mars your soul.

  3. #3
    Moderator AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    Wait, are you claiming people who steal books have souls?
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    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    I do approve of someone collecting something approximating hard data on this. I personally had always bought into the second premise, but she certainly showed that's not true.

    Publishing seems really prone to basing too many decisions on "common knowledge" that no one has ever tested properly. On one hand, they are great at dealing with the whole "books are not widgets" concept and understanding that every book has to be marketed individually. On the other, harmful concepts like "boys don't buy books with girl protagonists" or "books with a visible minority on the cover won't perform as well" never get tested, and wind up being self-fulfilling prophecies because everyone is assuming they're true.
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  5. #5
    starting over Marian Perera's Avatar
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    I always wondered about the claim that people who pirate books would never have bought them anyway. Assuming piracy was not possible, why wouldn't these people buy the books? Because they have no money, because they want to stick it to the Man (i.e. all those big publishers who can afford the loss), or because they have no interest in the books and are just pirating them for the thrill of pirating?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    Wait, are you claiming people who steal books have souls?
    I haven't seen this here lately, but I can remember discussions here in which some responders openly espoused the concept that if something was available in electronic form, it was morally okay to obtain it for free, by whatever means possible, copyright be damned. That attitude is still out there.

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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Fiender's Avatar
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    "I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle."

    Quote from the article. Setting out to find evidence that something is true doesn't fill me with confidence that the 'investigator' is going to be impartial.

    Anyway, I've never pirated a book, but I do use libraries to get all of my reading material. The number of times I've bought a book before having read it are insignificant, and it's very rare that I buy books at all. Does this mean I'm 'part of the problem'?

  8. #8
    figuring it all out shizu's Avatar
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    There's another pretty prevalent myth: if a pirate likes your books, they'll go out and buy any subsequent ones.

    Back when I was regularly publishing, I used to lurk on a then-massively popular pirating site. For the most part I was there to make sure any links for my books were taken down, since my publishers didn't seem to care that much about the problem, but in the process I couldn't help but read the comments and the chat threads.

    I lost count of the amount of times I read a comment (on my books, and many other authors') along the lines of: "Oh, I really loved this, does anyone have the rest of their stuff to share?" So no, the vast, vast majority of pirates won't suddenly morph into paying customers after getting a taste for your work.

    I also personally know people who would most definitely buy a book (or movie, or album...) if there was no way of getting a pirated version, but if they can get it for free, they're going to.
    Last edited by shizu; 11-01-2017 at 01:17 PM.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW heza's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fiender View Post
    Anyway, I've never pirated a book, but I do use libraries to get all of my reading material. The number of times I've bought a book before having read it are insignificant, and it's very rare that I buy books at all. Does this mean I'm 'part of the problem'?
    Libraries and piracy are not the same thing.
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    The force is strong in this one. williemeikle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fiender View Post
    "I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle."

    Quote from the article. Setting out to find evidence that something is true doesn't fill me with confidence that the 'investigator' is going to be impartial.

    Anyway, I've never pirated a book, but I do use libraries to get all of my reading material. The number of times I've bought a book before having read it are insignificant, and it's very rare that I buy books at all. Does this mean I'm 'part of the problem'?
    Writers get paid when their books get into libraries. Not the same thing as piracy at all.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fiender View Post
    Anyway, I've never pirated a book, but I do use libraries to get all of my reading material. The number of times I've bought a book before having read it are insignificant, and it's very rare that I buy books at all. Does this mean I'm 'part of the problem'?
    Every book in a library has been purchased at some point (theoretically), and the copyright holder(s) paid once. That's how book sales work. A library is, in this sense, no different than a used book store. If you buy a book at a used book store, the copyright holders get nothing from that sale.

    Piracy eliminates any profit to the copyright holder.

    caw
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    starting over Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    I haven't seen this here lately, but I can remember discussions here in which some responders openly espoused the concept that if something was available in electronic form, it was morally okay to obtain it for free, by whatever means possible, copyright be damned.
    I remember those too. My favorite was a thread where someone stated that piracy was not stealing books. It was "sharing" them. How could sharing be a bad thing?

    Quote Originally Posted by shizu View Post
    I lost count of the amount of times I read a comment (on my books, and many other authors') along the lines of: "Oh, I really loved this, does anyone have the rest of their stuff to share?" So no, the vast, vast majority of pirates won't suddenly morph into paying customers after getting a taste for your work.
    And even if this "pirates will turn into paying customers if they steal the first book and love it" claim held true, it wouldn't make stealing the first book okay. What if sales for the first book are low enough, thanks to illegal downloads, that the publisher cancels the series?

    I've always thought such people choose the path of least resistance. If they can get the second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc) book in a series for free, they'll take it.
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    practical experience, FTW heza's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marian Perera View Post
    I've always thought such people choose the path of least resistance. If they can get the second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc) book in a series for free, they'll take it.
    I believe this to be true for a not-insignificant portion of the population. I mean, on the one hand, you've got your morally upright readers who understand that if they want books, writers deserve to be compensated for writing them. On the other, you've got these pirates who just pirate to pirate and wouldn't buy anyway ('cause they're pirates). In between, there seem to be varying levels of people who actually really love the content and desperately want to consume it but will do so in the least expensive way possible, and if that way costs $0, then yay for them (from their perspective).

    I feel like the current publishing model just doesn't work today. More and more, I think we're going to have to start changing the way we deliver content to match what other content providers are doing.
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    People are not wearing enough hats JJ Litke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    I haven't seen this here lately, but I can remember discussions here in which some responders openly espoused the concept that if something was available in electronic form, it was morally okay to obtain it for free, by whatever means possible, copyright be damned. That attitude is still out there.

    caw
    In the years I've been working in graphic design, I've noticed a definite shift in understanding of copyright law. People really do believe that if it's out there online, it's okay to use it. In a class where we were talking about finding sound files for animation, one student said, "But if I bought the CD, it's okay for me to use that music, right?" (Answer, no, all you bought was the right to listen to the music.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Fiender View Post
    "I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle."

    Quote from the article. Setting out to find evidence that something is true doesn't fill me with confidence that the 'investigator' is going to be impartial.

    Anyway, I've never pirated a book, but I do use libraries to get all of my reading material. The number of times I've bought a book before having read it are insignificant, and it's very rare that I buy books at all. Does this mean I'm 'part of the problem'?
    The equivalent would be if you took the library book and xeroxed it to pass around to other people.
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    Becoming a laptop-human hybrid Fuchsia Groan's Avatar
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    Wow. That post was really informative. My question would be: If piracy has such a strong effect, why aren't publishers addressing it? Is it that they don't have reason to worry about it as much as individual writers do? Or that it's too pervasive a problem to solve? Or are they actually starting to address it in ways we don't know about?

    I don't approve of any kind of piracy, but in certain cases, I can understand the temptation, because it's tough to be locked into an expensive cable package just to watch a single TV show, say (as is sometimes the case in the U.S.). By contrast, books are ALWAYS available à la carte, with discounts and handy lending options available. Has fanfic created the expectation that they should be free? User-generated content is great, but it has its limitations. Even when professional, vetted content is nominally free to read (like non-paywalled newspapers), the money to create it has to come from somewhere.
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    practical experience, FTW heza's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchsia Groan View Post
    Has fanfic created the expectation that they should be free? User-generated content is great, but it has its limitations. Even when professional, vetted content is nominally free to read (like non-paywalled newspapers), the money to create it has to come from somewhere.
    I don't think fanfic has created the expectation as much as just the ease of accessing and consuming digital media has. These types of users are used to getting free stuff, easily downloaded. They don't have a lot of disposable income and yet, they get into hobbies and interests that depend on the use of copyrighted material they can't afford to purchase. Most of them don't get into trouble for what they do, most of the people they're plagiarizing don't have the resources to go to court over it, and so, they learn that for all intents and purposes, it's okay to take anything that's available "for free" online.
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  17. #17
    Now with bonus eyelashes AW Moderator Sage's Avatar
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    It's possible I'm wrong on this, but I've also heard that if a book is checked out of a library a certain number of times, the library will buy another copy (to replace or just supplement it, I'm not sure). If true, reading the book at a library still contributes to a sale.
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  18. #18
    Resist. Love. Go outside. Marlys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sage View Post
    It's possible I'm wrong on this, but I've also heard that if a book is checked out of a library a certain number of times, the library will buy another copy (to replace or just supplement it, I'm not sure). If true, reading the book at a library still contributes to a sale.
    Yup. I worked in a large public library for several years. Books fall apart from heavy use or come back damaged. Librarians check circulation stats and decide whether each gets rebound, replaced, or just chucked out. They also keep on top of popular books and order additional copies as needed, and preorder multiple copies of books that are sure to be hits--literally hundreds of copies of a new Harry Potter, and the waiting list was still months long.

    Pirated ebooks never wear out, and can be reproduced indefinitely. Nope, not like library books at all.
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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    In the UK authors receive monies on library books post purchase, from a special fund associated with the Public Lending Right.

    Libraries not only buy multiple copies of books patrons want to read, and read to bits (sometimes literally) they also contribute to author royalties via ebook circulation, and they will often license multiple "copies" of an ebook.

    I've bought copies of books I borrowed from libraries quite a lot, because I knew that I would read the book again.

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    Perpetually in transit Helix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    In the UK authors receive monies on library books post purchase, from a special fund associated with the Public Lending Right.

    Libraries not only buy multiple copies of books patrons want to read, and read to bits (sometimes literally) they also contribute to author royalties via ebook circulation, and they will often license multiple "copies" of an ebook.

    I've bought copies of books I borrowed from libraries quite a lot, because I knew that I would read the book again.
    We get PLR in Australia too. It is a wonderful thing.


  21. #21
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    Every book in a library has been purchased at some point (theoretically), and the copyright holder(s) paid once. That's how book sales work. A library is, in this sense, no different than a used book store. If you buy a book at a used book store, the copyright holders get nothing from that sale.

    Piracy eliminates any profit to the copyright holder.

    caw
    This, and also, it's possible that the overwhelming majority of people who patronize libraries do buy books as well. I did even when I was younger and much poorer than I am now. It was more of a treat to go on a bookstore binge back then, but when I could, I did. I loved (and love) owning books--seeing the rows of titles on shelves. I've also been introduced to authors (and took a chance reading them) because I found one of their books in a library and decided to give it a try. If I liked it, I usually would go and buy other books by that same author that weren't in the library (or even were, but I liked the author well enough to want to own their books). Nothing like reading the first book in a series (or finding one somewhere in the middle) for free and getting hooked :P

    I think the same principle applies with those freebie promotions on Amazon etc.

    The point is that going to a library is not the same thing at all. Neither is borrowing or swapping paper books with friends (legal) or patronizing used books stores.

    As for the whole "pirating an e-book is no different from sharing a book you've read with a friend" argument? Yes, loaning or giving away paper books is legal, but that comparison just doesn't wash. I can lend (or give) a paper book I've purchased to one friend at a time, but if I want to copy an e-book I can give one to every friend I've got and keep my own copy. Heck, I can give them to people I barely know, or don't know at all on line. The number of lost sales is much greater.

    The reason why "borrowing" e-books without paying for them is so problematic is that one isn't limited to just borrowing one at a time (a single copy can be used to make dozens, even thousands more), and one can do it for any book one wants. So the incentive to buy any books at all ever will be practically nil with a pirated e-book (or pirated music or movies or anything else). Liked the book? Just pirate more.

    I know a few people who hardly ever buy new books (whether for financial reasons or some other reason) and mostly read them as loans from friends or via libraries, but I think they're the exception to the rule. Most people I know who love books, and who don't want to steal, love purchasing and owning copies when they can afford to.

    Pirating is a terrible thing to do to authors. Most authors I've known love libraries, though.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 11-02-2017 at 07:04 AM.
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    practical experience, FTW heza's Avatar
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    But what do we do about it? There's no way to stop piracy short of going back to a print-only model, and that genie's out of the bottle. There's no sure-fire way to protect ebooks from be copied and distributed outside approved channels, and our online culture grows increasingly callous toward copyright holders. Is the current model sustainable?
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  23. #23
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by heza View Post
    But what do we do about it? There's no way to stop piracy short of going back to a print-only model, and that genie's out of the bottle. There's no sure-fire way to protect ebooks from be copied and distributed outside approved channels, and our online culture grows increasingly callous toward copyright holders. Is the current model sustainable?
    That's a good question. The decline of physical book stores and malls has already altered the way books are purchased and has (as has the proliferation of other forms of quiet, at home entertainment), and this has caused a decrease in the number of "casual readers" who purchase books now and again when they spot one that looks interesting while strolling through a mall or waiting for someone at a store. Hard-core readers read as much as they ever have, but it appears the gap between readers and non readers has grown. If some of the hard core readers are truly determined to rarely or never pay for books, then it will hurt the industry (and authors). I suspect that most people who steal books are at least moderately interested in reading. Why steal books if you don't read? There are so many other things to steal electronically these days--music, movies, games, software, apps etc.

    The difference between books and music is that songs can be mixed and matched--sold one at a time for a very reasonable price online. Short stories are sometimes sold like itunes songs--for 99 cents each or whatever. But one doesn't purchase a chapter here or there from different novels, and novels represent a huge investment of time and money to create. The itunes solution likely won't work for books.

    I don't know if some people could be dissuaded if they were aware of the harm they are doing to their favorite authors. It's easy to rationalize one's own reasons for stealing and to put one's hands over one's ears and chant, "Lalalalalala I can't hear you!" when someone tries to tell them the truth.

    All we can do is try. Failure may well mean a decline in access to having a wide variety of high-quality books via trade publishing, at least. I imagine pirating might hurt self publishers too, at least the ones who count on selling their content to more than just friends and family. Sadly, the most popular authors will likely still be profitable. It's the mid listers who will feel the squeeze the most, and they'll be the ones the publishers decide aren't worth carrying anymore.

    Most of my favorite SFF authors are probably what count as mid listers in terms of sales, so...
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 11-02-2017 at 07:28 AM.
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  24. #24
    figuring it all out shizu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marian Perera View Post
    And even if this "pirates will turn into paying customers if they steal the first book and love it" claim held true, it wouldn't make stealing the first book okay. What if sales for the first book are low enough, thanks to illegal downloads, that the publisher cancels the series?


    I've always thought such people choose the path of least resistance. If they can get the second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc) book in a series for free, they'll take it.

    Absolutely.

    And frankly, I call bull on the whole "try before you buy" excuse too, because these days there are often substantial previews available online to see if you're interested in a book, far more generous than the glance-at-the-first-couple-of-pages you might do in a bookstore. My publisher would put up the entire first chapter as a preview.

    I always looked at that excuse and thought, would these people go to a restaurant, order one of everything from the menu and then decide only to pay for what they enjoyed? I doubt it; not if they have to deal with the consequences face-to-face.

    Not gonna lie, the stress of dealing with the piracy of my books has factored heavily in the fact that I'm still on a break from publishing. When you see more illegal downloads of your book on release day than actual sales... it was genuinely heartbreaking. Every time I think about getting back into it, I realize it'll start happening all over again and I'm not sure I want to deal with that. It's not even primarily about the money/future contracts for me -- it's the astronomical levels of entitlement and utter disrespect for an author's work. So you claim you love my stuff but you're still cheerfully willing to screw me over for it? Gee. Thanks.


    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchsia Groan View Post
    Wow. That post was really informative. My question would be: If piracy has such a strong effect, why aren't publishers addressing it? Is it that they don't have reason to worry about it as much as individual writers do? Or that it's too pervasive a problem to solve? Or are they actually starting to address it in ways we don't know about?

    I can only speak for myself, but the publisher with whom I had the most trouble with pirated books just didn't think it was a problem. They wholesale bought into the myths despite many of their writers saying it was affecting their sales. The attitude was a very put-upon "Well, if you're that bothered by it, send us the links and we'll send take-down letters," but I was doing that myself anyway. I didn't get the impression they took it especially seriously. This was a few years back now though (late 00's), and like Stiefvater points out the digital landscape has expanded exponentially since then, so maybe (hopefully) attitudes have changed somewhat.

  25. #25
    Benefactor Member WeaselFire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rugcat View Post
    Maggie Stiefvater blogs about an experiment she devised...
    Okay, you got me to read it. But the experiment doesn't approximate anything related to a real scientific study and her conclusions seem to have directed her choice of experiment. Mostly, to me, it looks like she set out to prove what she proved, and had to do a little stretching to get there.

    That said. I have yet to see any study of piracy that is truly a legitimate study any way. All of the material I've seen about all sorts of piracy of artistic and intellectual works doesn't really prove anything other than the fact that, by choosing the right statistics, you can prove anything.

    For example:

    Cancer makes you live longer. In 1500 AD, the life span was about 27 years for a European male. Today it stands at about 74 years. The recorded incidents of cancer in 1500 AD was 0 per 100,000 people. Today, it stands at about 19,000 per 100,000 people with estimates as high as 45,000 per 100,000 people. Ergo, since cancer has increased by 19,000 to 45,000 incidents since 1500 AD and life spans have increased by 47 years, cancer makes you live longer.

    The statistics are valid, the conclusion is not.

    As for piracy, it's been a factor since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of publishing. It's factored as a cost of business by most, and it's definitely not the most depressing thing in publishing. Seeing 50 Shade of Gray get such high sales far surpasses piracy.

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    Last edited by WeaselFire; 11-03-2017 at 12:01 AM.

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