Ahoy Matey! Prepare for a curmudgeonly post!
You know, I really don’t know how pirates came by their cute, fun, and harmless image. Little kids (boys, especially) seem to love all things pirate these days. Just check out the toy aisle of your local Target or WalMart. But there’s nothing cute about piracy. Not on the high seas, and not on the Internet.
If you’re a writer, you probably know that your ability to make a living–never a sure thing to begin with–has taken some blows in recent years. Publishing is changing so quickly it’s impossible to keep up. Copyrights are under seige. Customers can buy your latest release for a buck used on Amazon. New authors hungry to be published are tempted by vanity presses operating under a variety of guises. E-book royalties are all over the map. But one change is particularly galling because it is both illegal and almost impossible to stop: the piracy of e-books.
An article by Jim Milliot in the January 14th issue of Publishers Weekly addresses the extent of the problem. He states that Attibutor Inc, a company that monitors the Internet for illegally posted content, tracked 913 books in the last quarter of 2009 and estimated that over 9 million copies were illegally downloaded, and that was only from the 25 sites it was monitoring. The cost to publishers and authors from piracy is staggering.
At this time, fiction titles are not the the biggest target of pirates; the majority of the downloaded books are professional or technical. Attributor did report finding nearly 8,000 illegal downloads of Angels and Demons, however. And the numbers are growing–rapidly.
What’s an author to do? At first, my published friends and I searched for our titles on piracy sites and requested that they be removed from the online “catalogs.” Often they were. But now, the sites are so many that it’s become impossible to keep up. On one of my writers’ loops, an author reported having her assistant take over the job of finding her books on the piracy sites, but the assistant was quickly overwhelmed by the task and had no choice but to give up.
There is so little authors have control over. We are responsible for what goes between the covers of the book and that’s about it. We want that content to reach our readers, of course. That’s why we write. But we also deserve to be paid for our work, no matter how much a labor of love that work may be.
I don’t know how the publishing business is going to shake down in the next decade. It will be interesting to see. The one thing that seems very clear, though, is that the author is not going to come out a winner. It makes me wonder if, in ten years, there will be anything left to pirate.