On Digital Piracy

Arrrrrr, mateys! We’ve talked about this issue here in the C&G blog before, but it’s never a bad time to revisit something this important – and visible – within the industry.

That’s right. At the behest of the always profanely amusing Chuck Wendig, we’re taking part in Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day with a discussion on digital rights and courtesy.

Illicitly or inappropriately distributing digital content – that’s what we’re talking about when we shorthand the issue as “piracy.” On Terrible Minds yesterday, Chuck had a wonderful, nuanced list of issues at stake when we talk about piracy. Basically, it ain’t as simple as people try to make it.

Let’s break it down.

Piracy is illicit distribution. It’s more like the mechanisms of drug smuggling and distribution than, y’know, guys with peg legs and parrots looting ships. As Chuck points out, when you pirate a book, you’re not removing that book from its proper owner, depriving them of its use, and transferring the use to yourself or another individual. You’re essentially cloning the book – making a copy of it, and using or distributing that copy.

But you’re doing it without paying the folks who made the book.

And that’s wrong.

Because someone out there put a lot of time and effort into writing the story that makes up that digital file. And a bunch of other someones put a lot of time and effort – and yes, cash – into turning that story into a polished, elegant piece with good formatting, great cover art, and the ability to load onto your device without setting it on fire. All of those people deserve a couple of shekels for the effort, don’t you think?

When you copy and distribute a book without paying the creators (author, artists, editors, publisher, etc.), you’re robbing them of their appropriate reward for their hard work.

And you’re being darn disrespectful, to boot. You enjoy the work enough to want to read it – why wouldn’t you want to pay up to show your appreciation?

Well, a couple of reasons, actually.

First, the book might be insanely expensive. I’ve seen digital books going for more than the hardcover – that’s crazy. I don’t believe that eBooks should all be priced at 99c – there’s no way that can pay for the author’s work and creativity, let alone the support work (editorial, art, layout) needed to make a really good reading experience. But eBooks are the new mass-market paperback. They cost less to physically produce and ship, obviously, and that should be taken into account when pricing. eBooks are the gateway to devouring stories these days, and they should be priced appropriately…in my mind, that means a bit lower than the comparable paperback. I love the $4.99 price point for a digital novel, in that respect, and I believe it’s a nice balance between compensating creators appropriately and giving readers a good value.

A $14.99 digital novel? One that’s not “enhanced” in some way? I’m gonna be lookin’ a little sideways at that. A $20 eBook? Now you’re just nuts.

So – price. That’s one reason someone might pirate an eBook.

Another is availability. Publishing is a tangled, tangled web. There’s all sorts of territorial restrictions on who can buy what, and print it where, and make it available to whom, when. And not all of that involves language barriers or overseas sales; making sales to libraries, especially in digital, is often a fraught proposition. Which means that a dedicated reader, someone who’s a real fan, might not actually be able to get a legitimate copy of a book in their territory.

So what do they do?

They find a pirate site and jack a copy.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – rights owners often aren’t doing themselves any favours when they’re trying to fight illicit distribution. Frankly, most publishers have their heads up their asses when it comes to this stuff. Like I said – price points, availability, the ghastly spectre of DRM…it all adds up to dissatisfied readers.

Now, that’s not to excuse the “want want want gimme GIMME!!!” mentality that often leads to piracy. I want it NAAAAAAAAO and I want it FREEEEEEEE and so you should give it to me and shut up because I’ll totally talk about your book to other people and then THEY’LL buy it even though I didn’t and it’ll all work out, see!

Nuh-uh. Not buying it. That entitlement mentality pisses me off, but it’s always going to be there, and we as publishers and content creators have to find the equanimity to not slap these people off the face of the earth and just get on with the stuff we can affect positively.

Like pricing, availability, and DRM.

It’s all about being reasonable here, people.

We’ve been over pricing. Make it fair and reasonable, and more people will buy your books.

Availability, ditto. Make your book available in as many formats and territories as you possibly can, and make it easy to purchase legitimately. The more hoops you make people jump through, the less likely they are to actually go through with making a legit purchase. If I have to go through five websites and ten steps to buy a book, then six more steps to get it on my device and actually read it, I’m probably gonna have some pretty major second thoughts about buying a book from you again. A few clicks and a download? Hell yeah, I’ll do that.

Eliminate barriers, and more people will buy. We’re LAZY. Make something fast, easy, and safe (less chance of a virus with a legit download!) and people will opt for it, more often than not.

DRM? Just don’t do it, man. At C&G, we made a commitment from Day One to not put DRM on our books. For one thing, it adds to the cost – encryption is constantly changing, and implementing it takes cash. Cash that could be better spent on other things, things that improve the reading experience rather than hampering it. For another, it just doesn’t make sense. When you’re buying a book – whether it’s paper or digital – what you’re buying is the story. You’re getting the product of the author’s imagination and wordsmithing skills; you’re getting the results of the cover artist’s dreaming; you’re getting the results of the editor’s many red pens and sleepless nights. You’re not thinking about, “Oh, I just purchased 8.9oz of mid-grade wood pulp and glue!” You’re thinking, “I just got the latest, greatest steampunk ninja wombat story!”

You should be able to read said steampunk ninja wombat story wherever you like, whenever you like, since, you know, you bought it.

Now, there’s a case to be made for licensing content – for getting expiring copies for less dosh, or paying more for permanent editions in a paper format, for instance – but that’s another discussion. For now, we work on the model of buying a story, and on that model, you should get to read it where and how you want.

Which means that DRM is just keeping you away from what you’ve purchased, and that’s not cool.

So at C&G, we give you a digital download of your book in all three major formats – PDF, Mobi, ePub – that you can load on any device you like, as often as you like. And we give you that download with a paperback purchase, too – because that only makes sense. You bought the book; here, have a digital version to start reading now, while you wait for the paperback to ship. Again, it’s all about making things easy on the reader, and pleasant for them. Less incentive to go pirate something then.

Yes, you could illicitly distribute that DRM-free digital book to others. But we’re trusting that you won’t, because you’re a mature adult and we prefer to think that our readers don’t suck. That they actually want to support authors and artists and creators, rather than ripping them off out of a gimme mentality.

Rather than punish the majority of readers for the bad behaviour of a few, we’d prefer to operate fairly and openly, and make it as easy as possible for people to enjoy our books.

That’s the message here, to publishers and readers alike: Don’t suck. Don’t be a jerk.

Publishers, don’t punish readers by making it prohibitively hard or expensive for them to read the stories they want.

Readers, don’t think you’re entitled to reap the benefits of others’ labour for free just because you want something.

Be sane. Be rational. Don’t be a jerk.

And then we can get back to the stories.

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2 Responses to “On Digital Piracy”

  1. Stevie Carroll February 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Now I want to read about the steampunk ninja wombat.

  2. Candlemark & Gleam February 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    I need someone to write that!

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