This week I unwittingly got drawn into a heated debate on the merits and disadvantages of having your e-book disseminated by the ‘torrent community’ aka – pirates.
On the merit side of the fence was a British journalist/writer/teacher, Damien G Walter who proposed that getting your work ‘pirated’ is a very good way of marketing and selling your books on the internet. This I imagine is along the thinking that, if your name is spread around enough (and it certainly will be if your work is suddenly free to download) and what you’ve written is enjoyable, then said ‘pirates’ will be inclined to search out your other work and be tempted to purchase it. Now, on the face of it I did think that this might be a feasible way of getting your work ‘out there’ and, in fact, I’ve gone one step further and have made some of my work free to download anyway. But… I write for fun, I don’t have to write to put food on our table or pay the mortgage and that’s where the other side of the fence needs to be taken into consideration too.
It didn’t take long for the debate to warm up as writers such as Sarah Pinborough and Juliet E Mckenna, who make a living and depend on the sale of their work to survive, rightly put forward their point of view that piracy does in fact hurt their sales and I could see the worth of protecting the work through copywriting and attempting to make those pesky pirates ‘walk the plank’ for basically stealing from you.
Digitalbookworld.com did an investigation into digital piracy and their finding was that when surveyed 4 of those polled said no, piracy doesn’t hurt sales while 25 said yes.
But then you have someone like Hugh Howey who wrote Wool and started off by self-publishing novellas on Amazon through the KDP system and checks the ‘torrents’ regularly to see if his book is being pirated and feels bad if it isn’t as he thinks it’s no longer in demand if it’s not.
So there lays the conundrum, should you feel elated to see your hard work listed for free download and your name being widely broadcast? Or depressed because you probably won’t get a penny for all the time you’ve hunched over your keyboard inventing an imaginary world for your readers to immerse themselves in while your empty tummy rumbles and your bank manager won’t refrain from sending you nasty letters?
I asked the SF writer, Neal Asher, who has a PayPal ‘donate’ button on his blog, for pirates to use should they have an attack of conscience, if anyone ever sent him money through it. He told me it had been used three times.
My view? I think if you’re a small indie-writer like me who doesn’t have to depend on income from your work then perhaps piracy isn’t too much to worry about and it might even help get you noticed, but if you want to make a living out of your writing then to think piracy will put food on your table is somewhat naïve. I imagine the only ones making money from piracy are the file-share sites that host the torrents, and as e-books become even more popular they can only grow bigger….