Piracy and the Value of Art

The day after my latest novel published, I awoke to two emails that put me in a bad mood for a while. They weren’t negative reviews, but rather readers asking me to either give them my book for free or at an internationally adjusted price that would have caused me to lose money. One of them was even asking for my trilogy compendium for free – so three books for nothing. While this may have been done out of ignorance, it is still not right.

When did expecting something for nothing become permissible? I wanted to write back and ask if they would walk into a museum, take a painting off the wall, and walk out with it. Because that is exactly what they are asking to do with my book. The book that took me over two years of hard work to write, or in the case of the trilogy, 19 years. Apparently my time, blood, sweat and tears are not valuable – at least to them.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration pirate websites. Every day I see my books show up on new sites that I didn’t authorize. There are tools like Blasty that can help – and I have tried it – but even it is of limited use, especially if you don’t want to pay for the premium version (which is yet another cost for an author shoulder) and/or don’t have the time to monitor/blast the sites. Perhaps if I wrote full-time or had an assistant it would be a reasonable way to fight piracy. But for now, all I can do is ignore it. I’m trying to take the Neil Gaiman approach and think of it as free advertising because people looking for a free book wouldn’t have paid for it even if these sites weren’t there. I don’t really have another choice.

I’m an indie author. Most months that I don’t have a new release or do any marketing (which costs money), I’m lucky to make three figures. Even on my best months, I’ve never made more than mid-three figures. Overall, what I make from my writing is about 5% of my annual income. (Thank God for my day job, as much as I complain about it and wish I didn’t need it.) I can’t afford to give my art away for free.

There are times that I do giveaways, but I don’t do them out of the goodness of my heart. They are strategic. I give free copies to my Street Team to help get reviews, which drive sales. (Which I may stop doing depending on how that strategy pans out, even if it is considered a best practice in the industry.) Occasionally, I do contests to bring in readers or increase my mailing list. Sometimes I put the books on sale for $0.99, but that is done to help entice people to read them.

If I am to continue writing, I can’t afford to give away my book for free just because people don’t want to pay for it. It costs me hundreds of dollars to produce a book, sometimes over a thousand, depending on the marketing I do, or several thousand if an audio book is involved. Because I don’t have a traditional house marketing me, it is hard to find an audience. As a result, I have never turned a profit on any of my books.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I knew what I signed up for when I became an indie author. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paid fairly for my work. You wouldn’t go into a clothing shop and walk out with an item without paying or go to dinner at a restaurant and leave without paying the check. (Okay, maybe some people would, but they are another story.) Why? Because there are prices attached, just like there are on books. That is because there are people (designers, tailors, chefs, wait staff, etc.) behind the products you buy or food that you consume who need to be paid for the work they put into what you purchase or eat.

The same thing goes for books. They don’t appear by magic. There is an author who writes them, and a team of editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout people, etc. who help make it ready for production. As an indie author, I not only foot the production costs, but I pay for their services. I don’t have a publisher to do that for me. I have to make that money back before I can even think about making money on a book. And given how cheap we have to sell them in order to compete nowadays, that is not easy.

I am not by far the first person to have this happen or even to speak about it. But we have to do something about it. I wish I knew what. How do you teach people the value of art when corporations (including Amazon and the publishing industry) are constantly devaluing it by either pricing books ridiculously low or paying the author a pittance – and last? Add to that how much (at least in the US) things like sports are valued over arts and the constant government cuts to arts funding, and I wonder if we have a prayer.

All I’m saying is please, at least try to see our books for what they are – art, not a mass-produced product to be devalued. I know money can be tight, but please don’t ask for our work for free or download it from a piracy site. If you can’t afford to buy a book, borrow it from a friend or from the library. If they don’t have it, ask them to purchase it – most are pretty open to reader’s suggestions. Author’s don’t care how you come to our books, as long as the means is legal.

Oh, and if you want to help an author, the other thing you can do is leave reviews – especially on Amazon (even if you didn’t purchase the book there – and Goodreads. Even short reviews are more precious than gold these days.

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One thought on “Piracy and the Value of Art

  1. Shauna Granger

    Oh girl. I have so many comments. I feel this so hard.

    Personally, I don’t let pirate sites keep my books. I lost count of how many take down notices I’ve sent over the years. I know what Gaiman says, but pirate readers don’t even review, in my experience. And they don’t go on to buy sequels; they just keep pirating or move on if the sequel isn’t on a pirate site.

    It’s all exhausting and demoralizing. I think these issues added to my need for a break from writing. Just know you’re not alone in this case. These people don’t mind paying $4 for a coffee (and neither do I because I know how many jobs that $4 supports) but ask us to give our work away for free. My answer is always “go to the library.” I make all of my books available from libraries and now that they also do ebooks, there’s no excuse.

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