Let’s compare two authors (I know both of them, and met them both at GenCon, so that keeps us on topic for the week, right?). Pat Rothfuss and Jim Hines. Both are fantasy writers. Both have an online presence, and both have a devoted following that they totally deserve.
There’s a great big difference between them: AFAIK, Pat has one novel out (and a single other limited-run work). Jim has six novels in print and a ton of short stories.
Let’s say I get a pirate copy of Jim’s first book, Goblin Quest. (I condone READING it, not pirating it.) I read it. I love it. Following the principle I went over yesterday, I then go and buy the rest of the goblin books. As Jim keeps producing more material, I buy it as well. I’ve become a True Fan. Sure, Jim might have lost some initial sales of his back catalog… but I’ll keep buying everything he puts out forevermore.
Same scenario, Pat Rothfuss. I get a pirate copy of The Name of the Wind, love it, and… oh. There’s nothing else I can buy, at least until next year.
This isn’t a rag on Pat’s writing speed – he’s a fantastic author, and Jim is as well. What I’m illustrating here is that Jim can afford to care less about pirates because he’s producing new material on a frequent basis. That gives more opportunities for merely casual pirates – those who are using piracy to sample work – to “go legit” and support him.
From this context, the more frequently you publish, the more you can “manage” piracy by letting it serve as a cheap back catalog. (You can cut that down even further by putting back catalog stuff on discounted sales, since there’s a percentage of pirates who would be okay paying half-price instead of stealing it.) It also goes even further to explaining the “boost” that piracy can give some small and mid-list creators – not only do they want to “support the team”, but they are easily able to. Obviously, this is something that short story and novella writers can maximize far more easily than novelists.
I can’t stress enough that I am not condoning piracy, even when it’s beneficial to content creators. I am saying that piracy is a fact of life, and one that content creators need to come to grips with.
In more and more ways, I see digital sales being a potential boon to short story writers in a way that hasn’t been seen since Dickens’ serial fiction was printed in newspapers. It’s up to us to seize that potential and make it happen.