Today I got five emails from authors all alerting me to a website that had 32 of our books and an equal number of other publishers’ books on it, scanned in and uploaded as PDFs for anyone to freely download. If it sounds like harmless sharing to you, please read this post and educate yourself on pirating.
First, the background: people loves to steal our books. Libraries and bookstores have claimed for years that some of their most frequently stolen stock are the religious books – anything from the Bible to those on witchcraft and magic. Whether this comes from a belief that all sacred knowledge should be free, a desire to hold onto a book containing so much wisdom (or so many exercises that can’t all be gotten through in the three-week lending period!), or, in the case of witchcraft books, concern that others in their small community might find out that the reader has an interest in these topics, and thus be “outed,” it’s always seemed a little strange anyway. If you’re specifically looking for a book on spirituality, doesn’t that imply that you’re trying to make yourself a better person? In that case, why start off on the wrong foot by stealing a book?
With this pattern having been in place for years, it should shock no one that in the digital age this would quickly translate over to stealing spirituality ebooks in any form. The music industry has wrestled with illegal downloads for years – we all know there are file sharing programs and sites that easily circumvent established means of distribution.
The website I was sent multiple times today is a repeat offender. I won’t post a link here because I don’t want to drive traffic to her site. Let’s just say that she has a nifty little disclaimer about how she got all these PDFs of ebooks off the internet (presumably absolving herself of responsibility, having not scanned them in herself) and that as far as she knows they are not violating anyone’s copyright. And if she is in error, to please let her know. (I guess there was something about the COPYRIGHT PAGE of each of our books that she failed to understand.)
Llewellyn, Red Wheel/Weiser, and other publishers have notified this person, by writing to the email address listed on the website, several times. And yet that notice is still up, and our books are still there for illegal downloading. So today (after the very first email I received) we sent a DCMA takedown notice to her ISP, and hopefully those pages of her website will be removed soon. [Update: it looks like it's working. I'll check again from home, and again tomorrow.]
But since I kept hearing about it all day, regardless of our invisible-to-the-outside-world actions (which are things we deal with every day, incidentally), I wanted to post a few thoughts for you all to consider and hopefully discuss.
MYTHS ABOUT PIRATED BOOKS
“It doesn’t cost them anything to make an ebook, so why should I pay for it?”
This one I’ve also heard for legal, paid downloads, except in that case it goes “It doesn’t cost them anything to make an ebook, so why should I pay a normal book price for it? It should cost only $1.99/[insert your own price here]. I mean, I even had to buy a device to read it in the first place.”
Here’s the thing. First of all, an author wrote that book. They spent hundreds of hours researching, writing, editing, proofing, revising, communicating with their publisher, and in many cases, teaching, lecturing, writing a blog, marketing, etc. in order to have their good name in the field, in order for their manuscript to be desirable for publication. So that’s one person that should be paid for their effort.
Secondly, multiple people are involved in publishing a good book:
- the editor who carefully selects, acquires, contracts and develops it (that’s me, in this case),
- the editors who copy edit and proof it (the production editor, layout designer, and proofreader),
- the marketing team that writes the back cover copy, web copy, catalog copy, and so on,
- the cover designer who created a cover,
- the publicity team that sends out a press release, galley, or review copy to your favorite Pagan podcaster,
- the accounting staff who send out the royalty checks and pay our bills,
- the IT department that converts our book files to ePub formats and keeps our websites and servers running.
These are all fixed costs, whether the book comes out in print or digital (unless the author is self-published, in which case he or she can have more control over the pricing of the book and also gets to keep more of the profit). If you add a print release (not digital-only) then you can add the sales staff, customer service, and the warehouse crew. Basically the only thing you’re taking out of the entire equation by downloading an ebook is the cost of paper, printing, and distribution (trucking, shipping, etc.), and the people who make sure the physical copies get sent to the customers, whether those are bookstores or people. So are you still so convinced that your ebook should only cost a dollar? Or nothing?
“It’s the same as borrowing a book from a library, or from a friend.”
Um, except for the fact that the library bought a copy of the book, or your friend bought a copy of the book. (Even libraries that now do digital lending.) And that they have a finite number of copies (physical or digital) that they are able to lend out at any given time – not a file that can be downloaded over and over again in the blink of an eye by complete strangers all over the world.
Let me put it this way – surely you would lend $10 to a friend in need. But would you put up your PayPal account details on the internet for the world to see with a note that says “hey, feel free to borrow ten bucks”? If you did, I’m guessing you’d go broke immediately, unless you have some very deep pockets.
“But publishers have very deep pockets.”
Maybe some do – but I’ve never worked for a publisher that does. We’re talking about Pagan books here. It’s a niche. We hope to sell 5,000 copies if the book is to be successful. (And, not to shake your confidence in the system or anything, but some of our books only sell hundreds of copies and we don’t make a dime.) We are not selling Harry Potter here! We are not flying our authors around on world tours or taking them out for three-martini lunches! Being an independent, midsized publisher in a small field is not a license to print money.
Here is a great quote to illustrate the situation, written by Colin Robinson, who formerly worked for a large New York publisher:
Books have always been a low-profit item and in recent years margins have been shrinking even further. Publishers now regularly give bookshops a 50 per cent or even a 55 per cent discount on the retail price. The distributor that warehouses and delivers the book will typically take 10 per cent of what remains, or more if you are a small publisher; 15 per cent goes on production (printing, paper, typesetting). Add another 10 per cent for the author’s royalties and the publisher is left with 10 per cent to cover promotion costs, rent and office expenses, wages – and profit. No wonder it’s called the gentleman’s profession.
“But authors have deep pockets.”
While you wait for me to stop laughing, did you notice the author’s royalty in the quote above? It’s not much, and it can actually be even less depending on the genre, the format of publishing, and a variety of other factors. Authors don’t have deep pockets either – they cannot afford to give you their book for free. If they could, they would! (And some actually have, just as many musicians are now releasing their music and letting their fans decide what to pay for it.)
Most authors support themselves with full-time jobs in addition to writing and enriching their communities. The very few who don’t work a “day job” have to tour and teach constantly to make a salary to live off of. Some even sell potions, spells, or courses on the internet to add a little income. And yet they still provide plenty of free content on their websites, blogs, facebook pages and other media. They are more than willing to share – up to a point. If they approach a publisher to publish their book, it means, by default, that they want to get paid for it. It has value. So do them a favor and buy their book if you appreciate their work and want to make sure that they continue to write for, communicate with, and teach the community in the future.
“But it’s all over the internet anyway…”
Go ahead and read all the free blog posts you want. Learn about Wicca by putting together information from ten different websites. Go ahead and search for that certain spell you need on Google. Not sure what to do for next month’s full moon? Just type it into the search box. Go onto the Internet Sacred Text Archive or Patheos and learn about the world’s religions. These are all perfectly valid ways to get information. There are TONS of free resources on the internet – ones that are given freely by their creators. (Perhaps because they have ad revenue they can rely on. Perhaps they just do it out of the goodness of their heart.) So why do people even feel the need to download whole books in the first place? By wanting to download a book more than you want to read a website or blog (etc.), you are admitting that it has a certain value that is greater than what you can browse for free. The sum is greater than its parts. So please, pay for it.
“But I’m poor, I can’t afford to buy these books myself…”
See the above list of free resources. And visit your local library.
“But I wasn’t even sure I would like it, so why pay money on it?”
In today’s book-buying world, that is no longer an excuse. You can get previews of just about any books online, either at Amazon, GoogleBooks, or the publisher’s own website. You can browse reviews from other readers on GoodReads or other retailers’ websites. You can visit the author’s website or blog and see if you like their writing style or agree with their ideas. You can ask your facebook friends if they ever read the book and would recommend it.
“Information should be free!”
I totally agree, to a point. Information is what permeates the very fabric of the universe; information is as basic and integral to life itself as light, and so far no one is charging for light. Information is heady and exciting. Hermes/Mercury, the god of communication, is also the god of tricksters and thieves, so it’s not unreasonable to expect he’d be encouraging illegal downloads.
However, he is also god of merchants – trading, bartering, and yes, paying for goods and services. If you step back and look at the big picture, information is just a type of energy. And energy is never static, it must be exchanged. Money is also a form of energy – it’s how our minutes and hours of toiling away at something we might not always like get converted into poker chips we can trade in for things we like better. Therefore, it’s not only acceptable to use the energy of money in exchange for the energy of information – it’s divine. Like the universe itself, you are keeping energy in balance, in motion, in an unbroken chain, just as it likes.
Thanks for listening to my rant today. Please, feel free to discuss in the comments… I’m curious to hear your opinions and thoughts on this matter.