E-Book Piracy

I was discussing ebook piracy with some folks at GeekKon over the weekend, and I made a couple of points to these folks (who were newly-minted publishers looking for ways to market their RPG books) about piracy and the ebook market, which they were reluctant to enter because of piracy fear.

1. People who pirate your books are not your customers. Therefore, this is NOT a lost sale.
Most people who download (or upload) books are doing it because they can, not because they particularly care about the subject matter of the book in question. I know of people with stringers of thumb drives – all filled with books they’ve downloaded for free – who only HAVE all those books because they could get them for free. It’s doubtful whether they’ll even read any of them. It’s called hoarding, and at least they’ve found a way to do it that doesn’t fill their homes with gum wrappers and stacks of 30 year-old newspapers.

2. Piracy CAN lead to sales and new customers.
This is a bit of a contradiction to point #1, but bear with me. More frequently than I would’ve expected, people who discover a book through a bit torrent site really like what they see, and decide to actually BUY some of the books from that author/related to that RPG. They are not necessarily pirates themselves; more often, they want to check out a book before buying it, which isn’t always easy in the current marketplace.

3. Piracy is inevitable.
That doesn’t mean you have to like it, but fighting this kind of piracy is exactly like trying to stop the tides; the genie is out of this particular bottle, and as soon as someone comes up with new security measures, hackers rise to the challenge of breaking the “unbreakable” security system.

I suggest people take a page from my friends at Posthuman Studios; they actually upload their books to bit torrent sites if they aren’t there already. They have little disclaimer notes in an obvious place within the file that effectively read: “thanks for checking out our book. If you like it, here’s some other stuff by us you might want to check out.” They also actively maintain a presence on these sites, and interact with the folks who hang out there. This strategy has paid off handsomely for the Posthumans, such that they regularly get testimonials from customers regarding finding their books on pirate sites, enjoying them, and going to their local store to actually purchase Posthuman’s books.

When I asked him to verify Posthuman’s stance, Adam Jury* added: “I truly think that one “Hey, just to let you know, I’m a real person making this stuff, and if you like it, I’d appreciate you buying the Kindle version or a paperback as a gift to a friend or something, please.” is far, far more useful than anything antagonistic and more useful than silence. If someone isn’t going to buy your stuff, being a _jerk_ to them isn’t going to make them more likely to buy your stuff, even if you were “morally” wronged first.”

Adam also wrote about this extensively years ago before tiring of fighting against people who refused to evolve. One such essay can be found on Adam’s website: http://adamjury.com/2010/piracy-doesn…

It may be trite and heavily worn, but the old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” is entirely appropriate. You can’t stop piracy, so instead of wasting your energy ranting about the unfairness of it all, spend your energy coming up with more creative solutions to the problem. It is more likely to pay off for you in the end than harboring a bitter grudge.

*My thanks to Adam Jury for being a good sport and getting back to me on short notice.

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