Essay–Piracy Is Not My Enemy
The word “pirate” used to conjure the image of rum-soaked, peg-legged men with hooks. They sailed over the seas, looted ships, and were generally a mischief laden sort.
In the entertainment industry, they’ve become the big bad boogey-creatures that steal money from the pockets of entertainers by illegally copying, stealing, and forging content. The RIAA, MPAA, and other organizations have spent nearly two decades fighting these dastardly brutes without success.
But here’s what’s happened–piracy has actually INCREASED the sale of purchased music, movies, television shows, and yes, books. Why? Well, now, that’s the question, isn’t it?
When I was a teenager, I made mix tapes. Dozens of them. I made them for girls I was wooing, I made them for friends of mine who couldn’t afford the music I loved. Guess what? We did the same with software, although the girls I wooed were never interested in software. Shocking, I know.
I lent paperback books the same way. If a book really affected me, I wanted to share that book. I lent it to a friend. To my parents. To anyone I thought would enjoy it. Because if the book affected me in a positive way, I wanted to talk about it. And the only way to discuss a book properly is for those involved to have actually read it.
These were the heady days of “sneakernet,” where we loaned CDs, tapes, books, movies, whatever media we had that a friend didn’t have. Sometimes they copied it. Sometimes, after being exposed to the media, they went out and BOUGHT it. That actually happened more often than you might believe.
It was the ultimate “try before you buy.” And I always told the friends I lent media to, if you like it, buy it. Or buy something else by the same artist. It’s only fair for the author, musician, filmmakers, or network to get their money for their hard work.
Guess what? That still applies today. Period. Humankind has never been able to share information so easily. Media is information, pure and simple. And instead of learning about it, talking about it, and enjoying it, we spend most of our damned days looking at freakin’ cat pictures or gossiping about celebrities. Or, more often than not, watching porn. Porn. Hmm… I never shared porn.
Anyway, the bottom line is that back in the long ago days of the 80s and early 90s, we never thought twice about doing these things. It was rote. There was no harm in it because nearly 100% of the time, the person you exposed to the media you loved wasn’t going to be a patron anyway. If I hadn’t lent my Metallica CDs to my friends, they NEVER would have bought a single album by the band. Really fucking ironic when you look back at what they did to Napster. Douchebags.
Now we have services like Spotify, Netflix, and Scribd. These services offer consumers the opportunity to “legally” try out new media and patronize the creators. Every time a person listens to a song, the band or artist gets their cut. Same thing with Netflix. Same thing with Scribd.
However, that “cut” is a fucking pittance. It’s ridiculously small. I, not being a braindead consumer, know this. If I love a band I discover via spotify, I purchase their albums. I want them to get that money. Same thing with movies or tv shows I find on Netflix. I want to own those movies, tv shows, etc. How is this any different with books?
Well, it’s really not. I am a creator of content. I give it away. I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing and editing. I’ve spent hundreds of hours recording and putting together shows to entertain others. I gave all that away because it was how I believed to build an audience. Also, it was a blast getting feedback on the stories I created. It was the best possible means to shout out into the universe and have people shout back. There is nothing quite as terrifying or exhilarating as the first time someone posts a comment to your blog, or emails you to tell you how much they appreciate what you’re creating.
It’s all about ego, I know. This is about validation and blah blah blah. But you know what else it’s about? Making a living from those creations.
If someone torrents my ebooks, I have no problem with that–they weren’t going to purchase it anyway. Period. No money lost, a potential future reader gained. Perhaps that reader will tell a friend or a bunch of friends about my stories. If one in ten of them actually pony up the couple of books it takes to purchase one, then it’s one sale I never would have had.
So piracy doesn’t bother me. I don’t put DRM into my ebooks. You bought it, you own it. If you give one of my ebooks to one of your friends, you have my absolute blessing to do so, not to mention my hope that they will share with others. Just remember–the content comes with a price.
Reviews. Word of mouth. The occasional donation to my site or purchase of a book. These are all I ask. I’ve spent years giving away audio content. Some of it’s great, some of it less than. But it’s managed to find an audience. One day, perhaps, that will spread and make my ebooks and paperbacks more popular.
I really do want to be a full-time writer one day, but I’m just a tiny bit of flotsam floating on the great ocean of media, both free and for pay, that is the internet. I don’t believe I deserve to be anything more than that either. Even if I write the best damned book out there, unless I manage to get readers to take a chance on it, it won’t matter.
This is joyful fatalism. I already have shit sales–they can’t get any worse. So any time someone new joins my facebook group, sends me an email, purchases a book, or donates, I smile. It means that someone new found my stuff and liked it. With any luck, they’ll go through the back-catalog and purchase more books and tell their friends. It’s about the only way to punch through the noise that is the free ebook market and the deluge of other free content.
So pirate away, my sneakernet friends. Raise the sails high and drink that bottle of rum. Just, um, don’t pick your nose with that hook-hand.