So, What Does This Have to do With Me, Anyway?

pirate Anyone who spends even a little time reading romance reader sites or publisher/author’s webpages can tell you that book piracy is a very big deal in the book community. It’s also not hard to find information indicating that romance authors have been hit hard by it. Still, as I read the articles, I’ve often wondered what role we as readers play. After all, most of us reading here are not thieves. I read a lot, but I buy my own books and I’ve never downloaded any book that I didn’t pay for or have sent to me by an author or publisher.

I would also be willing to suspect that most of the folks who read AAR (and certainly all of us who currently contribute to the site) do not download bootleg copies of romance novels or belong to download sites such as Demonoid. However, I’m just a reader; I’m not a publisher or author who may have standing to go after copyright violations. So, aside from having a conscience and the modicum of common sense necessary to keep myself off of file-sharing sites(some of those “free” books apparently come complete with spyware and/or viruses, which may well be karma in action), what can a reader like me do except feel sympathy for the authors affected and perhaps speak out against illegal downloads as this reader and others already have?

I have actually talked about this issue with various authors, editors and marketing folks both over email and in person at RWA. From my own research, I was aware that book piracy was a big problem, but hearing people’s personal stories made it clear that this is a HUGE deal. Huge as in authors losing tens of thousands of copies of a single book to book piracy. For a midlist author, these losses could feasibly affect sales enough to result in lost contracts – and we as readers may end up losing a storytelling voice we value.

In addition, book piracy on such a scale may even affect the variety of books offered in the future. By way of example, author Pamela Clare has suggested to me that, “I’ve heard people say they’re sick of vampires or they’re sick of Regencies…If an author writes a very interesting futuristic novel set on the moon, and pirates bleed off sales, it might impact the overall viability of the book. Next time an author comes forward with a futuristic novel set on the moon, that publisher, who didn’t get the return on their investment, might not be so hip to try it again.” As someone who loves books and who LOVES to see a wide variety of plots, subgenres and settings, this is chilling indeed.

So, what do readers do? For starters, authors have stated and at least one wrote on her blog that she appreciates it when readers report instances of piracy. If authors know where their works are being downloaded, they can report it to their publishers and take other actions to try to shut it down. Readers can also email links to the illegal downloads to publishers. At least one publisher at RWA indicated that they get a number of their tips on illegal book downloads from concerned readers.

In addition, it has been noted that if legitimate copies of ebooks are overpriced and if it’s also much easier to get a pirated copy of a book that a legitimate one, people will start turning to the pirated copy to get what they want. Not surprisingly, calls have been made(see here and here )for the big players in the industry to step up and protect their authors by marketing ebooks so that they will be reasonably priced and attractive to buyers. Well, one thing I heard over and over again at RWA was that publishers want to be responsive to readers. After all, we want to read books and they want us to purchase them! Some publishers have started to make it very easy to buy ebooks on their sites. If you come across a publisher whose ebook program is not yet so user-friendly, try emailing with suggestions on how to make the buying process easier.

And then there’s the most basic action of all -if someone you know invites you to join an illegal download site, educate them about what they’re doing and let them know why you disapprove of it. Granted, this is all anecdotal evidence, but even so, the number of people I have seen on discussion boards or spoken with in my life offline who do not realize that these downloads are breaking the law or that they are actually harming authors truly astounds me.

So, aside from simply not allowing ourselves to become thieves, there are other things we can do as readers to address the piracy issue rather than simply sitting back waiting for others to make the decisions. After all, if the problem is not addressed, it may very well affect what we get to see on the market.

– Lynn Spencer

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43 Responses to So, What Does This Have to do With Me, Anyway?

  1. Katie Mack says:

    Thanks for addressing this issue Lynn. Book piracy makes me so angry I could spit sometimes! I just don’t understand why some readers think they are entitled to free books. Do they think authors don’t deserved to be paid for their work?

    One person I’ve spoken to (read: argued with passionately) about this issue has said he does it because he can’t afford to buy all the books he reads. My response to this: the LIBRARY. A lot of libraries across the country now provide a large selection of eBooks in addition to their sizable print book offerings. Yes, you may have to wait on a list and you can’t have it immediately or forever, but you get it for free and the author is compensated.

  2. Jane O says:

    It always amazes me that people who would never dream of shoplifting have no qualms about downloading pirated books or music. Are they honest only when they might get caught?

    I too could not possibly afford to buy all the books I read, so I go to the library. And when they do not have a book I want to read, I ask them to buy it or borrow it from another library. ALL libraries will do this. I can understand a starving man stealing a loaf of bread. I have more trouble with a lazy reader staling a book.

  3. JEM says:

    Re: The Library

    I just wanted to chime in on this point. I don’t pirate books in fact I own a lot of books, but one of the reasons I own a lot of books is because my public library is mostly awful and I live in a large metropolitan area.

    In the past 15-20 they have expanded the library system so that there are more libraries to cover the area; however most libraries are smaller community or neighborhood libraries that stock a lot of popular materials so no up to date research.

    When it comes to romance, you’re mostly going to find romances that are published in hardback. They don’t carry many mass market paperback novels, the ones they do have are not current at all and there is no way to track those books through the library system. You have to go to a library, check the rotating book tray to see in there’s something there and when you check it out there is usually no bar code on the book. Instead most times the librarian scans a card that registers “adult fiction” (that’s with all mm paperbacks not just romance).

    So no mid-list authors, no popular authors (unless they’re in hardback) and definitely no e-books of any kind at my library. I’m sure though if the had the money things might be different.

    Plus and minuses for me: + those hardback romances are the only reason I’m reading romance now. I went in looking for a book 6/7 years ago and picked one up, – I’ve spent thousands on dollars feeding this habit because my library doesn’t carry many of the books I want to read.

  4. AAR Sandy says:

    This was a world of which I was completely unaware until a few weeks ago. Taking a stroll through online piracy sites is sobering.

  5. Larissa says:

    I actually know authors who are so sick of piracy that they are tempted to quit writing.

    And it’s not entirely about lost sales, although those do hurt.

    It’s about the fact that people are so disrespectful of their hard work. A friend of mine said that she feels like people are coming into her house and stealing her things…and then basically just shrugging it off as no big deal, while she can do nothing but watch it happen. And every time she puts new things back up, they get stolen again. She’s very worn down and dispirited.

    Just recently, I found a book up for illegal download the VERY DAY it had gone on sale. When I emailed the author the link, she replied, “Do these people not WANT me to write anymore? Because that’s what’s going to happen when my sales figures for this new series suck.”

    How can people who are supposedly “fans,” buy an ebook and then shove it up on a site for people to download? What are they getting out of it? ALL they are doing is hurting the author and the honest readers, who eventually aren’t going to get any more books by that author.

    I get sharing ebooks with friends — I know it isn’t right, but I DO get it. But putting books up on websites for thousands of strangers to download? Why?

    It’s very, very frustrating. What has happened to our society that sites exist just for piracy…and people join by the hundreds of thousands?

  6. Lynn Spencer says:

    Re: not being able to afford all the books we read – Add me to this list, too! That’s why I am a frequent flier with the Interlibrary Loan desk at my library. My library doesn’t stock a ton of romance, but they can get copies from other libraries.

    And then there’s rereading. After all, the whole reason I keep books I like is so that I can go back to them.

  7. carol irvin says:

    In mentioning libraries, I would like to inform this site that there are some grave things going on in the library world. The governor of Ohio was going to cut library budgets by 50% right across the board this July. However, many of us emailed all of our elected officials and got them to reduce that figure to 15%. Nevertheless, my library will now be closed on every Sunday and every Friday all year long. Further, in Ohio real estate taxes fund most libraries, more so than any other taxing levy. Tax revision boards are lowering real estate values so that will eventually translate to lower revenues for schools, libraries and other services. I say eventually because real estate taxes run in arrears in Ohio so you don’t feel the effects immediately. Our individual piece of real estate has changed tax valuation figure almost twenty percent in just a year’s time. Very shortly all of these entities are going to be howling for new tax levies and I can’t see the voters, many of whom are already living with serious loss of jobs and benefits, voting in new taxes. This, of course, comes in on the heels of the state howling about loss of sales taxes as well.
    So before anyone starts seeing libraries as a universal panacea, do appreciate that libraries, schools, police, fire and other entities face record cutbacks unless our economy does a sudden turn around.

  8. Kelly says:

    I tend to be budget minded and will scrounge thrift stores and yard sales for media and books. What do the artists get when I do this? Nothing. Am I a pirate? I would love to have a “Tip the Artist” avenue where I could Paypal the deserving creator. We’ve all had disappointing books, just like a server at a restaurant. But for exceptional service, even beyond the expense of a retail book, I’d love to kick in extra. I often will buy a book for a gift on this rationale, but I’d rather my $$ go to the artist than the publisher, especially if I’m dealing digitally or secondhand. That’s where the Creator carries the weight since manufacturer is moot. This extends to music, movies etc. One of my favorite free softwares is regularly improved on and I’m happy to send in support dollars to keep it going and they make it possible for me donate. Times are a’changing and we need to care for our artists. On the flip side, these changing digital times have opened doors for new authors who can audience and market themselves. I found this thread interesting at Mobiread:

  9. Piracy drives me insane. Both for music and books, and anything else that can feasibly be pirated. Unfortunately the people who do it actually don’t view it as stealing. I’ve had a couple of readers email to warn me that my books are being pirated and I do go hunting every so often, but it’s so time consuming. It’s a bit like the ants in my kitchen cupboard this morning – take out one lot and another pops up almost immediately. I just wish the internet pirates could be dealt with by a bottle of Spray&Wipe and lots of swearing.
    Readers should email authors and let them know – it does hurt our sales and I was beyond ticked when I found one reader offering to scan and upload a book that she had just written to compliment me on!
    The people who indulge in this have very much the same attitude to those who shoplift – that the people they are stealing from are Big Corporations, therefore it isn’t really stealing. Or they moan that they can’t afford the books/music, so it isn’t really stealing now, is it. Just going without, or actually saving up for something doesn’t seem to occur to them. And that’s a pretty sick message to send your kids too. I can’t afford a new car at the moment – so I should just go out and steal one? I think not. Instead I have to write faster this morning (after pretending the ants in my cupboard are internet pirates), and stop buying books at the Book Depository. Or I decide that the old car will chug on for a few years yet.

  10. Kelly, of course you aren’t a pirate. Everyone buys at yard sales and second hand shops. What else should happen to those copies? They should go in a recycle bin?

    Don’t knock the publisher though. Yes, they are businesses and it’s easy to see them as faceless. But every business has employees who will be hurt by falling profits. And most authors do not want to go into all the business side of publishing for themselves. Distribution alone would be a nightmare. Publishers are not the bad guys here. Sure I’d like a bigger royalty rate. Who wouldn’t? But I definitely want publishers healthy and making a profit so that they keep publishing books. And we want them healthy so they employ enough editors – I assure you, a good editor is a major part in helping a book reach its potential. Fresh eyes, wealth of experience – my editor’s comments are usually pure gold. I think viewing the publisher as a greedy middle man is naive for the most part. Sure we all get ticked with our publishers from time to time, but who doesn’t get ticked with their employer from time to time?

  11. Larissa says:

    Kelly, there’s a big difference between buying a print book or a music cd or a movie DVD used. Those copies are finite — they will wear out. That ONE you bought has been paid for by someone whose money went toward the artist.

    But digital copies are different. A person can buy a copy…and then make thousands more copies. There are actually people selling these on Ebay! So they buy a copy and then save that copy to discs…and sell hundreds of copies so THEY are the ones making money…not the author.

    I LOVE used book stores and garage sales. My books get into the hands of new readers. But that’s a lot different than taking one of my books, making thousands of copies, and giving them away.

  12. What Larissa said. There is a huge difference between used print copies and multiplying electronic copies. These people have put nothing into the book that entitles them to make money from it.

    Sadly it is an age old problem. Charles Dickens had exactly the same thing with his books being pirated by American publishers who paid him no royalties. (Er, that wasn’t a dig at the USA, guys.) All that’s happening here is the process has been streamlined.

  13. KristieJ says:

    Lynn: Thank you SO much for doing this post and for helping to shine a light on this horrible thing that is happening to authors we love and respect (and even to those whose books we may not love). Until I became ‘aware’ of the situation and how far reaching it had become when it happened to an author I love and respect, I had no idea how shattering to authors of both ebooks and print books this had become.
    I hurt for the authors – and not just because they are losing out financially, but also in sales numbers and statistics. In these tight times, it’s horrifying that true numbers aren’t being reflected because so much is now underground.
    You mention that many of these pirate sites can contain viruses and spyware. I can only wish and hope that every time someone downloads a book because they don’t really care how it affects the author, that their computers and/or other electronic devise is toasted beyond repair!!!
    And I hurt at what Larissa has to say. Sure authors hope to make money from what they do, but it’s SO MUCH more then that. It’s not just money they are losing to these bastards – it’s pieces of their hearts as well.
    I lend a lot of my books out – and very often the friends I’ve loaned them out to have enjoyed them so much they will go out and buy the authors next books. Years ago, before I had the finances to buy books new, I used the UBS’s a lot. But now I’m at a stage in my life where I can buy most of my books new – and I do this happily, knowing that I’m hopefully helping in some small ways with an authors success. So libraries and UBS’s do have their pluses. But these sites where downloads are available, where an authors work has been stolen, is an entirely different matter altogether.

  14. Jean Wan says:

    Add another who was totally unaware of this. Thank you Lynn.

  15. carol irvin says:

    It could be that the book business needs to reinvent itself like other media is doing. Hulu is owned by NBC and is a big success. You can watch tv episodes or movies over there which are ad supported. It is completely free. There is no reason that publishers couldn’t have a site like this and fill their pdf books with ads as a new way of compensating authors. This is also the way Google and now Bing are supported. I think the publishing industry, which has always been faulted for being behind the times, needs to start experimenting with other streams of revenue just like these other media producers are doing.

  16. Marcella says:

    I didn’t realize much of this either, mainly because I still buy the 3D-version kind of book. But I sure wouldn’t like it if my favorite authors (or even my not-favorite authors) would have to stop writing because of this, so isn’t there something readers can do actively? I have no idea how to go about it, but sure wouldn’t mind giving up some time every month to go out ‘hunting’ as Elizabeth Rolls put it. Maybe the stealing can’t be stopped entirely, but it could be hampered.

  17. LeeAnn says:

    I’ve been reading romance for about 45 years. In the past because of time constraints, I’ve stayed with authors who’s writing style works for me. Only recently have I been able to really indulge my love of books and seek out new authors and genres. I live in a small town with a LITTLE Carnegie library. It’s open afternoons and one morning and one evening a week and certainly not on weekends. However…. I can now go on-line to our inter library loan, search for books by author, subject or title and request a book be sent directly to my local library! And I can also renew on-line. I keep a running list of books of interest with the publication date and if available, the “grade” from this review site. I check the library site weekly for new books. I’m on a limited fixed income, so I try and balance new books purchased with used and library. If my little midwestern town can do this, I would guess many libraries across the country offer it – opening up a whole world for those of you who can’t afford to purchase every new book, be it “e” or written copy.

  18. mingqi says:

    I had no idea that such a thing was happening! I mean, it’s sort of easy to just request the book or ebook from a library! I agree with what carol irvin said above and her idea of having the publishing houses reinvent their business to take advantage of a bad situation right away. This is the internet age and i’m pretty sure that this problem will just increase exponentially.

  19. Jean Wan says:

    So I was surfing the internet and came across an authorized, free, e-short story by Lynn Viehl. And then I noticed a link to similar books, and what do I find?

    Lorraine Heath’s Texas Trilogy. Linda Howard’s Tears of a Renegade. Nora Roberts’s Vision in White. Emma Holly’s Fairyville. Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Seduce a Sinner. ALL in their entirety, and for free downloading, because some dumb f*** doesn’t have anything better to except scan hundreds of pages and upload them.

    This is wrong.

  20. carol irvin says:

    As a textbook author, I am experiencing much the same and probably my book will not be renewed for a 9th edition. When I was writing the 8th edition, I had a big fight with the publisher because I strongly felt that the publisher had to start thinking in terms of delivering a product which could make money in an internet world. Prior to this I was being done in by the used book aspect of college bookstores which is why I had to constantly update with new editions. Finally, last time I checked the publisher’s pricing, I was aghast and thought those prices were totally out of line (it was $46) and they are even more out of line in today’s world of a economy turned upside down. My book is about real estate law so my topic is a real clinker in today’s post real estate crash world too. Now I could be bemoaning all of this constantly but I am saying exactly what I said when I completed the 8th edition. Do we need a print book? Can we deliver it a different way? Can we set up a special website where we deliver it with reader specific updates, comments and so forth? Can we put ads in the book to lower the price and earn revenue that way instead? I should add that now that we can use the internet, we can add full color adds to the book without adding much to the cost at all. Are they listening to me now in 2009? Of course not. They are still pretending like there is no problem whatsoever. Now that last thing in the world that is going to help me is readers tracking down copies of my book. What would help me is college students getting in touch with the publisher and raising the same holy hell. So if you want to help the authors, contact the publishers and demand innovation. I can assure you right now they are not going to spend a cent protecting authors so don’t even waste your breath on that issue. So although I think it is very nice everyone wants to help the authors, I think you need to go right to the source, the publishers. They need to open their minds. If they will not open their minds to present day market realities, all of us authors of all types are just doomed financially.

  21. TooAshamedToPutIt says:

    Gosh. I didn’t know it was so bad. I myself have been guilty of it, but I just thought of it as going to the library. Now that I know I’ll stop. By the way, some the main websites that I know for sure you can get almost any book from are 4shared and esnips and of course torrents. I feel really guilty now; I’m deleting all of the illegal books off of my computer. Something really needs to be done; it’s way too easy to find almost any book online, regardless of when it comes out. A previous author was right; you really can get the book the same day, I have in the past. I recommend the authors or publishers have people go and look for illegal downloads and tell the filesharing networks to do something about it. I’ll also send something to the publishers. I was fine without the free downloads until I discovered them just a year ago and I’ll be fine again.

  22. Larissa says:


    It’s people like you who we’re trying to educate and not burn at the stake. :)

    I would say that MOST people don’t realize that what they are doing is illegal and harmful. It’s the ones who KNOW that are making the problem so hard to deal with. There are sites that actually admit to being pirate sites and which make it as difficult as possible to track down the people who know what they’re doing. Demonoid is one. Astatalk is another. The people in these groups have entire threads discussing tricks and tips to keep authors from finding their books. The sites will delete your account if they realize that you are an author, and they keep track of what you upload and download just to make sure you’re a pirate and not an author.

    It’s disgusting.

    Fortunately, a couple of sites like 4Shared and Wattpad are VERY responsive to requests to take down copyrighted material, and they’ve put into place software to prevent future uploads. But others…not so much.

    So thank you, TooAshamedToPutIt! This is all about education, and so we really appreciate readers like you! :)

  23. DJ says:

    My daughter loves the Twilight series, young adult romance. She said that the author was halfway through another book in the series when some she had reading it pirated it on the Internet.

    As a result, the author was quite naturally disheartened and decided not to finish the book, much to the dismay of fans of this series such as my daughter, who wouldn’t dream of reading a pirated version online.

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