Book Piracy: What Should Authors Do?

Authors are entitled to take whatever approach they like to book piracy; it’s their work after all.

That said, I’d like to see if I can convince some of you to approach the issue a little differently, because I think taking a hardline approach can actually be counter-productive, especially when you are self-publishing and have enough to be dealing with as-is.

Book piracy and the threat of digital

Everyone saw what happened to the music industry. An MP3 is usually around 5MB; with a good connection, you can download it in sixty seconds or less. An ebook can be as small as 200kb, meaning pirates can download a year’s reading material in the same time it takes to grab one album. File-sharing sites are full of ebooks, sometimes in torrents containing over 10,000 ebook files, ready to download in one fell swoop, often including titles available prior to their official release date.

The publishing industry has responded in two ways, both of which are amazingly short-sighted, ineffective, and have served only to alienate the wrong people—you know, those who do pay for books.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

DRM was implemented by the music industry to prevent users ripping tracks from CDs and sharing them online. However, this meant that people who had legally purchased music had to re-purchase to listen on their computers or iPods. The other problem: DRM was so easy to crack that it didn’t stop pirates anyway. You can verify this yourself by searching for how to crack DRM—you might be surprised how trivial it is.

Some of the security measures introduced around this time were truly awful. In 2005, Sony introduced new DRM technology across 102 different titles—22 million CDs in total—that installed a rootkit on users’ computers, causing a serious security breach that some were only able to remedy by wiping their systems. Sony forgot to tell any of their customers about this, and only came clean when rumbled. In an attempt to fix the problem, it released a patch that actually increased the vulnerabilities on users’ systems. The controversy led to an embarrassing product recall, a series of legal battles—including a class action that was ultimately settled—and then an FTC investigation.

In a final ironic twist, it was claimed that the code of Sony’s rootkit infringed on the copyright of another developer. The scandal led to Sony dropping DRM by 2007.

Despite examples like this, the publishing industry whole-heartedly embraced DRM, even in the face of opposition from the copyright holders (i.e. the writers). The level of protection is set by the publisher/distributor but, depending on what ebook you purchase and from whom, you may be prevented from reading it on another device. This may mean having to re-purchase your entire library if you switch e-readers. Some readers are so militant about this that they refuse to purchase books with DRM attached.

This hypothetical became real in 2014 when the Sony ebookstore shut down virtually overnight, leaving readers stranded, facing the prospect of having to repurchase their entire libraries—which surely would have pushed some of them into piracy, and with some justification too. Luckily, Kobo stepped up and cut a deal with Sony to transfer its customers to their platform.

A bigger problem could be brewing though. As Barnes & Noble continues to back away from its in-house Nook platform after successive high-profile failures, we could see a repeat of the same situation on a much larger scale, with no guarantee of a knight riding to the rescue this time.

Delayed ebook release

The other measure the publishing industry came up with to combat piracy was to hold back the release of ebook versions. This process is known as “windowing,” and it might be more familiar to you in the form of bringing the hardback out exclusively for six months or more before cheaper paperback edition is released. Publishers make a lot more from those expensive hardback sales, as you will see in the next chapter, and wanted to protect them as much as possible, while also acting as a brake on readers switching to ebooks. They also hoped this would allow them to make some sales before the book hit file-sharing sites.

There were several problems with this strategy. First, as mentioned above, some books were being pirated before their release dates anyway. Indeed, some were pirated before there was even an ebook version; all a pirate needed was a scanner, after all. A publisher sends a normal PDF file to its printer, nothing fancy. It passes through a lot of hands, so it’s easy to see how piracy can happen.

Second, many readers who had switched to ebooks stopped buying physical books altogether. They felt they were paying the price for others’ piracy by being forced to either buy an expensive print version they didn’t want, or wait for the ebook version. Or in some cases they had made the switch to digital reading because of sight issues and the ability to make fonts larger. Whatever the reason for their choice, a trip to any Kindle users’ forum at the time revealed how this policy turned happy paying customers into angry ones who were tempted to download an unauthorized version.

How to increase book piracy

A common misconception in publishing is that Amazon has an exclusive right to sell Kindle-compatible ebooks. That’s not true. Smashwords, Omnilit, All Romance Ebooks and DriveThruFiction are just four examples of retailers who sell or who have previously sold Kindle-compatible ebooks. Other companies like BookFunnel and Instafreebie regularly distribute Kindle-compatible books, as do some authors on their own websites. There’s no restriction on anybody else doing the same thing. Indeed, Amazon’s primary competitors—Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google—could start selling Kindle-compatible ebooks tomorrow if they wished.

The bit that is proprietary to Amazon is the DRM. If publishers wish to place DRM on Kindle-compatible books, they can only sell those files in Amazon’s Kindle Store. In other words, publishers’ fear of piracy was so great they couldn’t countenance releasing books without DRM, and chose not to sell direct to Kindle owners or to sell Kindle-compatible books through a non-Amazon retailer. In other words, publishers built the high walls around Amazon’s garden through their misguided insistence on DRM, which is a choice when selling on Amazon, not a requirement. This DRM-centric approach prevents publishers from doing all sorts of other things too, such as bundling print and digital books. It also often leads to publishers placing ridiculous restrictions on authors who want (and need) to give free copies to reviewers.

All of this might have made some convoluted sort of sense if DRM was in any way effective at combating piracy. But it’s not. Any hacker worth his salt can crack DRM in two seconds flat. And it only takes one pirate to set that book free on torrent sites, where it can be endlessly copied. So, what’s the solution? Can’t these billion-dollar companies come up with some kind of unbreakable DRM? Well, no. Millions of dollars have been spent in the attempt, but, to be frank, it’s a waste of time. Ebooks are very basic files, essentially a collection of HTML files (one per chapter) held together in a zip-like wrapper.

DRM is just another wrapper around that, supposedly locking the content to a specific device or set of devices, to prevent users from sharing. But for readers to open this “lock,” you have to give them the “key,” which makes it simple for anyone who knows what they’re doing to strip off the lock. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated you make this lock if you also have to supply the key for it!

The plain fact is that DRM will never work at combating piracy. Yet publishers’ insistence on DRM prevents them from competing with Amazon, selling direct, and bundling. Worst of all, DRM antagonizes legal, paying customers. If a reader switches devices, or the ebookstore they use closes, they could lose their entire library—books they paid for but can no longer access. Guess what readers do in such cases? They head to the torrent sites.

Congratulations, you’ve just created a new generation of pirates.

How to reduce book piracy

There’s no way to eliminate piracy completely. Once you make a digital product available to the public, it will be pirated by someone, somewhere. There’s no escaping that, but there are some methods to reduce piracy that actually work. Joe Konrath put it succinctly when he said that the only way to combat piracy is with convenience and price: making your books available everywhere, in all formats, and cheap enough that piracy is more hassle than it’s worth.

We’ve already seen how publishers took the opposite approach; not only did they bring in windowing, delaying the release of ebook editions, but they abhorred the idea of low prices so much they were willing to engage in an illegal conspiracy to fix the price of ebooks — a decision that ended up costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees and fines.

Now we have a clear picture of publishing’s collective insanity. A simple approach that would have reduced piracy, endeared them to readers, and staved off the threat posed by lower-priced self-published ebooks was rejected. Instead, by insisting on DRM, publishers adopted an approach that didn’t work, restricted their opportunity to sell books, hampered their authors’ ability to promote their books, played into the hands of their biggest perceived threat (Amazon), antagonized readers, and even taught some readers how to be pirates!

Luckily, as self-publishers, we don’t have to be press-ganged onto this ship of fools. We can choose not to let piracy drive us insane. We don’t have to make counter-productive business decisions based on an overblown fear of piracy. We can sell our books on Amazon without DRM (an option available to anyone selling in the Kindle Store). We can make our books available everywhere. We can price cheaply.

And we don’t have to waste time and money and mental energy hunting down pirates.

I’m also tempted to add: we have been pretty lucky. The publishing industry had something crucial in place that prevented piracy from getting out of hand. Think back to the music business. What drove much of the initial boom in illegally downloaded songs? Napster. Suddenly, there was a killer app, a piece of software that made it easy to access digital music. One of the things that made Napster so successful was that the music industry was slow to react. Simply put, there was no legal way for fans to get access to digital versions of much of the music they could access on Napster.

Where’s the parallel here? Amazon’s Kindle Store. The publishing industry had a delivery method in place to reach customers even before ebooks were popular with readers, so the chances of something like a Napster-for-books coming along were slim, and those fears proved to be unfounded.

As I said earlier, the only way to combat piracy is with convenience and price. The convenience is in place. We now have Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Google, as well as some individual publishers, all selling ebooks, covering every possible e-reader, phone, tablet, and computer. Big publishers are still fighting to keep prices high, but small publishers and self-publishers have happily filled that gap, and have the increased market share to show for it.

One publisher, Tor, was brave enough to break from the pack and stop applying DRM to its books in April 2012. Tor came under extreme pressure from other publishers, especially Hachette, to reverse this policy, but it stuck to its guns. A year later, Tor announced “we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles.”

No major publisher followed suit. Indeed, they doubled down. Hachette pressured its authors not to sign any deals with Tor, and most large publishers still insist on putting DRM on ebooks, continuing a backward approach to piracy that previously saw them delay the release of ebooks to protect print sales, and push for legislation that would allow them to sue their customers.

Why are they so insistent on making the same mistakes as the music industry?

Recommendations for Authors

  • Don’t apply DRM to your books. It’s a choice on Amazon, not a requirement.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your book files (i.e. with reviewers, competition winners and the like).
  • Don’t waste time and money fighting book piracy.
  • Do price cheaply.
  • Do make your books available everywhere (or if you go exclusive with one retailer, accept that some piracy will happen as a result).

It’s your call, you can defend your work how you choose, but those are my recommendations to keep you happy and productive and sane, instead of chasing shadows around the internet.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

58 Replies to “Book Piracy: What Should Authors Do?”

  1. DRM is incredibly frustrating, and explained perfectly here, David. The publishing industry have made the exact same mistakes as the music industry and I don’t think they even realise. It’s not even just whether readers choose to buy a new device, but what if it gets stolen? Not only do they have the stress of the robbery, and having to then fork out for a new device, but suddenly, they’ve lost all the books they paid for. Rubbing salt in the wound if you ask me.

    Some authors have chosen not only to ignore DRM, but actually to embrace piracy, not only by uploading good copies of their books to sites, but also to have pirate payment on their websites. If a reader pirates a book, they have the option to pay what they believe it was worth.

    Personally, I don’t really care if people pirate my book. It’s the first book, and most likely, they wouldn’t pay for it anyway because they don’t know me as an author, or whether they’ll enjoy it enough to spend the money. Therefore, I’m gaining a reader where I wouldn’t have before. Maybe, if they enjoy the first book, they’ll buy the next one instead because they know it’s worth the price.

    I’d rather someone read it for free than not read it at all.

    1. It would be good to make sure if one is trying to ‘play’ the pirate sites, that first and foremost you make sure you know who owns the pirate site and where the money goes they rake in. Organized crime is very much into illegal matters including digital. One might be sickened to know what money from many pirate sites goes to support. Just saying. Look behind the curtain.

  2. Hi David — My name is Sabri, I’m a reporter with Marketplace on public radio, do you have time for a quick 5-10 minute interview on some of these points for today’s show? We’d have to do it pretty soon (before 2:45 eastern). email is first name at marketplace dot org. Thanks so much!

  3. Hi David,

    In India, self-publishing platforms promote the use of DRM in their technologies as a way to attract writers to self-publish with them. It will take some time before writers realise that DRM can actually hamper sales made.

    Thank you.

  4. In the first edition of Let’s Get Digital you mentioned that publishers get to submit eBooks that automatically get pre-order status which gets them in the Hot New Releases list, and that they can list in 5 categories instead of 2 which is what individual authors are capable of. I just talked to Amazon KDP and they said neither of these was possible.

    Is there some special way that this is accomplished that doesn’t meet the eye? It would be great since we are a publishing company.


  5. I find it ironic that so many publishers are sure that DRM is good for them, when really, it’s just a big stick they hand to Amazon and say, “Please, hit me with this over and over again.” Without DRM, you can not only sell Kindle-formatted books. you can email them directly to the customer’s Kindle (assuming the customer has white-listed your email address and knows his Kindle address; Amazon will charge the customer for the delivery only if it’s made over a 3G connection). DRM is what is closed, not the Kindle itself. And in that circumstance, you not only don’t have to pay Amazon, you know who your customer/reader is!

  6. Thanks for this really informative article. I’m new at self-publishing, and made the mistake of putting my first two stories on Amazon using DRM (there was a box that said: Recommended). I had also put them under pen names simply because I’d read a writer’s blog that recommended different pen names for different genres. Said writer has since changed his mind.

    I’d like to remove them from having DRM and also put them under my own name, but I’ve no idea if that’s acceptable, nor if it’s complicated. I wish I’d known better because I really regret both actions now.

    Thanks again for the post. I guess it’s a case of ‘live and learn’.

  7. More great stuff, David! Thank you for sharing.

    P.S. Just in case this is verbatim from your new book, you have one misspelled instance of “Bloosmbury!”

  8. Hi David, I have been following your blog for a while now and find it very insightful. I recently became involved with a small publisher who doesn’t generally produce ebooks. They do have one but the price was only fractionally less than the hardback. I asked them why they chose not to do ebooks and why the crazy high price and the answer I got was surprising to say the least. Apparently Amazon treats indviduals who self-publish and say small publishers (I’m not sure about the bigger ones) completely differently. The profit margins for a small publisher selling an ebook on Amazon are virtually non-existent which is why the publisher I’m involved with said they don’t even bother with ebooks. And the high price is the lowest they could make it without giving the book away and Amazon pocketing all the profit. I was shocked to hear this knowng from what I’ve read on your blog and other places just how good the profit margins can be for Indies when the price is right. She also told me that Amazon won’t allow publishers to upload books directly to the site and they have to use an external wholesaler, so they have very little control over anything when it comes to placing their books on Amazon it seems. Were you aware of this? Can you comment?

    Z. Basil

    1. i’d like to know the answer to that too… I’d not heard that before re publishers. Sounds strange that AMZ would build a classist society online

      1. I don’t see anything in the KDP terms of service that would forbid small (or large) publishers using KDP. I think there’s more to this than we’re being told.

    2. Hi Zoe, this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me and I suspect that we’re missing a key bit of information. AFAIK, Amazon is not pushing people towards using external wholesalers – in fact, I heard it’s the opposite, that it is “encouraging” small publishers *not* to use middlemen services like that. I thought that’s what the whole IPG spat was about last year.

      (As an aside, I really don’t understand why a small publisher would use a distributor to reach the Kindle Store, it has no upside and costs them in terms of publishing speed, royalty rates, metadata messiness, category issues, speed of changes etc. etc.)

      As for the rest of your comment, I can’t reconcile these statements at all:

      “profit margins for a small publisher selling an ebook on Amazon are virtually non-existent”

      “they have very little control over anything when it comes to placing their books on Amazon”

      “Amazon won’t allow publishers to upload books directly to the site.”

      The above doesn’t make any sense to me at all. AFAIK small publishers have the option of (a) using KDP, (b) using a different direct upload system or (c) using a distributor to reach Amazon.

      If they use KDP, they will get the same terms as self-publishers. If they go for option (b), I *think* that falls under a wholesale agreement – so the margins won’t be as healthy as KDP, but then royalties will be paid based on list price rather than sale price.
      What this means is that if the small publisher lists their book for $7.99 and Amazon discounts it to $2.99, then Amazon will pay the publisher the (pre-agreed) percentage based on that $7.99 list price. The percentage will be lower than the 70% they could get through KDP, but through KDP you get paid royalties based on the sale price rather than the list price.

      Perhaps that’s the issue here? I’m not exactly sure. Or maybe the publisher *is* using a distributor to reach the Kindle Store, and Amazon is trying to get them to go direct (which they really, really should).

      1. My apologies, David, I did get a bit muddled with my information. It seems we do work direct with Kindle/Amazon on ebooks. We price at just under the paperback price (I think it’s £7.98, as against pb of £9.99). And of that we get about £2.30 per ebook sold, 25% of which we give to the author (author royalties are higher on ebooks). So we only get £1.72 per book. Whereas for a paperback we get £6 per book, of which we pay 60p in royalties. Ok, our costs are lower on the ebook, but once the books are printed (which they have been – 1000 copies typically cost about £1500) we need to sell them. Apparently, we may in the future consider print on demand, which would change things a bit, but we still would need to keep the book in print.

        I’m still not sure about the royalty thing – you mentioned you’re getting 70% of list price, David, but we get 35%. Are we missing something here?

        I’m new to traditional publishing (I’m a volunteer helping out) and I’m trying to bring some lessons from what I’ve learned from my knowledge of self-publishing, but apparantly most “serious” publishers similar to us price at a pound or so below the paperback price. That’s what I’ve always been recommended. Plus in our case, it’s because there just isn’t a mass market for our books (non-fiction) – they aren’t the kind of books that people are going to buy as a discretionary purchase. Pricing at £2.99 would make no difference, I’ve been told.

        We DO have control about ebooks going onto Amazon – they’re the only people who sell kindle books so they go straight up on the site. It’s print books that we don’t have control over – they can decide to take them, or not. They mainly do as we work through a wholesaler who supplies them. Hope that clears up some of my previous muddle. Any tips you could offer us based on this information, David?

        Thanks and I’m looking forward to reading the updated version of Let’s Get Digital. I read the old one a couple of years ago now so it will be good timing for my own self-published book due out in August.


      2. I replied above, but in case you don’t see it there: you need to be priced between £1.49 and £7.81 to get the 70% rate, so just drop your price a touch.

        I’m looking forward to releasing Digital 2 too! Got lots done over the weekend, and should be finished the first draft pretty quickly. Although I might have to wait a little for an editing slot. I’m ahead of schedule for once!

    3. (This is in reply to your later comment, but there’s no “reply” link there)

      Amazon pay self-publishers 70% (minus a delivery charge based on file size) for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. They pay 35% for anything priced above or below that band. £7.98 is about $13.43, so I suspect they’re paying your publisher 35%.

      $9.99 is about £5.94. If your publisher set the price at £5.90, they would get about £4 from Amazon, of which £1 would go to the author, leaving them with £3. There may be good reasons why they don’t want to price the ebook that low, but if they did reduce the price, they’d make more money.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply, Russell. That makes sense and I agree. Plus it’s certainly worth trying to sell at that price, especially since our only ebook is a year old now.

      2. Hey Zoe, Russell has it. To qualify for 70% royalties in the UK, your e-book must be priced between £1.49 and £7.81. If you reduce the price a touch, you’ll get the higher rate.

  9. Good article, David. I especially enjoyed your details on publisher non-logic. In my own case, I’ve been using DRM as an incentive. I never DRM my first book in a series, but do so afterward. Perusing torrent sites, those first books are always up there, but there are generally gaps in the series later, where no one bothered to unlock a given book. My mission is to turn a pirate into a paying customer by teasing him with missing content.

    As an aside, I’ve never heard from a reader, not out of literally thousands of emails and interactions, suggesting they were in any way inconvenienced by DRM on my books.
    -B. V. Larson

    1. Re the aside: you may start noticing if, say, B&N goes out of business and millions of users have to switch to a device (and realize for the first time that they didn’t “buy” their ebooks as such, only licensed them, and DRM means they can’t bring them to their new device).

      It’s an interesting experiment you are running, though. In all those emails, did anyone ever ‘fess up to pirating the first and springing for the rest? It would be cool if there was a way to track it…. and maybe there is. You could create a “Pirate Edition” and upload it to torrent sites yourself. It would be the exact same (and nobody would notice any difference) except you could use some kind of unique tracking link in your back-matter to see if anyone clicks all the links to Amazon, B&N etc.

      Hmmm, tempted to try that myself!

      1. Some people are using DRM in interesting ways. I know of one author that uses it on free books, but not on others. She does it to encourage people to get the freebies from the retailer sites, so that it helps her rankings.

        She’s heard from people that tried to email the freebie to a friend, and wanted to know why it didn’t work. She replies explaining why she prefers people to get them from the retailer sites, and usually gets a positive response.

      2. I have had several people ‘fess up’ to pirating, even publicly in reviews. Usually confessions have been coupled with a statement about how they thought I deserved to be paid for my quality, the books were cheap, and they generally claimed to have bought the rest. The point being to make themselves sound heroic. Hard to be sure they’d fallen into my honey-trap, but there you go.

        As to time and eventual decay of the purchases, I don’t see why ebooks should be different than VCR tapes, print books, etc. I must have bought ten copies of LOTR, for instance, over time; Audio, digital, many print versions, etc. If you want to reread a book a decade later, it’s probably worth another five buck to read it on your new device. Someday, every Ipad we have won’t work, all that money on apps etc will have expired. *Shrug* that’s how the world works.

  10. Reblogged this on David Pandolfe and commented:
    Interesting post about why DRM doesn’t prevent pirating (does anyone outside trad publishing even use DRM?) and a nice offer for those who purchased the first edition of Let’s Get Digital to get the revised version (best bet, signing up of David Gaughran’s mailing list, which is a good idea anyway).

  11. Excellent, David. Thank you for your analysis. I attended a meeting of (traditional) authors and publishers in which the publisher panel spoke highly of DRM.

    “But DRM doesn’t work,” I said.

    They shrugged and said, “Well, we have to do something!”

    “Not if that something doesn’t work.” I was dismissed with another shrug. Damn the torpedoes, I guess.

    I’ve heard several pub executives say, “We can’t make the same mistakes as the music industry!”

    That was a good thought. Unfortunately, it was a slogan that was never followed up with more thoughts and actions.

    Reblogged on ChazzWrites. Love your books.

    1. It’s crazy isn’t it? Another example of how the overarching fear of piracy leads them to make dumb decisions: at the London Book Fair in 2011, publishers said they couldn’t pay authors more than 25% for e-books (which is really 17.5%, and 14.9% after the agent’s cut) because of the increasing costs of fighting piracy.

  12. Reblogged this on C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m and commented:
    David Gaughran breaks down the benefits of piracy as only he can. I notice Bigger Than Jesus has been pirated extensively. I take that as advertising and a compliment. I hope they come back to buy the rest of the Hit Man Series. They might not have heard of it otherwise, so…tra-la-la. Read the rest at the link.

  13. What a great and simple description of the circular logic of trying to protect in a way that gives less protection. I myself choose non-DMR via my Amazon books.

    “Joe Konrath put it succinctly when he said that the only way to combat piracy is with convenience and price. Convenience means making your books available everywhere, in all formats. And price means making your books cheap enough that piracy is more hassle than it’s worth.”

    For me, convenience also includes offering my work via subscription at Scribd & Oyster. And via Scribd, which, though it has its own piracy issues and tech, I feel I combines both convenience and reasonable (for me) price. Which should be a good incentive for trying my work vs outright piracy.

    And I’m especially glad David, you added the distinction of sharing vs taking and then selling for one’s profit at the content creator’s expense (my paraphrase.)

    Thanks so much, best wishes 🙂

  14. What baffles me most about the whole thing–especially the bit about the publishing industry taking the lead from the music industry–is how so many publishers refuse to evolve or consider another perspective. Instead, they just keep on repeating the same actions and mistruths over and over, all the while expecting different results. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

    I can’t wait to see the second edition, Dave. It should prove interesting!

  15. Well perhaps I’m naive because I actually thought DRM was protecting my book…I had no idea that it was so easily cracked. I completely agree that if a book is well priced and easy to get hold of and buy then that is what readers will do. Its not a lost sale, a pirate wouldnt pay anyway. Thanks for highlighting this issue.

  16. I think the biggest problem with (other writer’s problems with) piracy is this:
    Someone goes to a site, sees hundreds or thousands of downloads in the stats of their pirated book, blows a fuse because “just think of all the money I’ve lost”. I see this pretty much all the time on social media, where people are getting upset, angry, demotivated, thinking of ridiculously stupid measures to prevent piracy (“I will NEVER give out ARCs anymore!!”), simply because they see that statistic and make the assumption that they have lost income. I feel for these writers, because clearly they’re hurting, but at the same time I wish I could make them understand that they have lost nothing. Unless they’ve done something stupid like not made their book easily available or affordable enough, the people who downloaded their work for free would not have paid anyway. And usually when I try to say something to that effect, I get heat for defending the evil pirates. I think the points you’re making can’t be repeated often enough, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you got some negativity in response from people who refuse to accept that piracy mostly just isn’t worth getting riled up about.

    1. That’s a really important point which I didn’t have space to get into here (but do in the book). I hate this false equivalence between a pirated download and a lost sale. People can (and do) download torrent files with 10,000 books in them in a matter of minutes. Do people really think a significant number of these books get opened, let alone read? Do people really think that the pirate would have purchased these 10,000 books if the torrent wasn’t available?

      1. Exactly! We’re talking about free-seekers for the most part. Even if none of the pirate sites carried books anymore, all those people could download every single free book available on Amazon and still never run out of books to (not) read.

  17. Hi David! Just read your fantastic email and was going to tweet it out.

    I think I found a typo.

    Instead of “if publishers wish to sell” you have “if publishers with”

    Best, Miral Sattar


    1. Thanks for the link Russell. You would think that a sizable publisher like Tor coming through this experiment with no increase in piracy would lead to a horde of publishers dropping DRM, but I can’t think of any other major publishers which have done it. Have you heard of any?

      1. Oh wow, that’s just crazy. Another example of how this issues can drive people bonkers. Amazing:

        “Hachette, one of Macmillan’s rivals in the “Big Six” pantheon of publishers, is famously pro-DRM (one Hachette author told me that her editor said that Hachette’s unbreakable policy, straight from the top, is that no books will be acquired by Hachette if there are any DRM-free editions, anywhere in the world).”

  18. Good thoughts, as ever, David.

    You only need to look at the music industry, and how they flapped around in panic when pirates appeared over the horizon. I … ahem … know someone who used to download music for free form various places. Now? It’s not worth the hassle. If I hear a track on the radio or TV I like, 70p and it’s on my computer. Or, I can sample other tracks on the artist’s album. A few of my British pounds and a few minutes later, and it’s on my computer – quickly, in one piece, and virus-free. That is how to sell pirate-ready goods. Make it reasonably-priced and efficient.

    Most Kindle users have no idea about piracy or DRM. They find something they want, at a price they think is reasonable, and buy it with a single click or prod of a touch screen. So for people to compete with Amazon, they need to understand that this is how modern data purchases happen, If it ain’t easy, or there is the perception that it’s too expensive, the consumer will go elsewhere.

    1. You have touched on something interesting there. Publishing had a huge advantage over Music. When digital piracy hit the music world, labels didn’t have a clear and easy way for people to legally purchase MP3s (and certainly not in the manner many preferred – individual tracks, rather than albums). The launch of the iTunes store went a huge way in cutting out a lot of “casual” piracy, i.e. from people who would purchase legally if you made it cheap and easy, rather than digital hoarders or those that never wish to pay for anything.

      Publishing had the Kindle Store all set up when e-books took off. They had the “killer app” in place to cut much piracy off at the knees. But that didn’t stop large publishers from copying the mistakes made by the record labels. You would think they would learn, given that many are owned by the same people, but no.

  19. I was about to write that you should mention Neil Gaiman’s experience of sales in Russia when I saw you had already thought of it.
    My own preference is for DRM free as I’m a new writer and I would rather people had heard of me than not.
    A great piece and I look forward to reading the final update.

      1. I’m not, so thanks for the link. Just as an aside, I wanted to say thank you for Let’s Get Visible. I’ve been using that (plus another recommendation of yours, ‘Write. Publish. Repeat” as my guides since self-publishing early this year.

  20. What is also annoying besides DRM, is there are still geo-restrictions on ebooks. There are lots of books I would like to get as digital copies, but they are not available to readers in the UK. I know it’s all to do with contracts for certain territories etc., but that doesn’t help you when you are sitting at the screen, ready to buy, and they won’t let you! It’s such a shame that some publishers and writers only see the US as a viable market, when there are readers all over the world.

    All my own self-published books are DRM free and available worldwide, LOL!

    1. That’s a great point Annette. I face the same problem as my Kindle is registered in Ireland, which doesn’t have its own Kindle Store so I get pushed to the US one. Many traditionally published books are unavailable for me to purchase because publishers and agents traditionally bundle UK & Irish rights together when doing deals – so many books will have different publishers in the US and UK/Ireland – but I can’t buy either version!

      I think these kinds of restrictions will fall away and deals will be exclusively done in terms of language rights (i.e. an author/agent will sell World English rights to one publisher, World Spanish rights to another) – and this has already started to happen. But there’s no doubt that readers being unable to purchase a book they want to read (and pay for!) is a factor in piracy.

    2. If you write in English, there’s no such thing as a local market. You have a global audience, whether you like it or not. Whether you write in a popular genre, or about an obscure niche topic.

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