An Open Letter To Pirates (and Ourselves)

essay.pngSo, um, hi. You don’t have any rum, do you? I was expecting someone more like Johnny Depp.

Instead you look like me. Huh.

That’s not too surprising. Most of the other authors I know have pirated something, sometime. At the last convention I was at, one even said “Hey, during the nineties, music was free. Of course I got music online.”

Very few of us pirate anymore, and the frequency is pretty rare even among those of us who do. It’s always accompanied by something like “…and then I bought the record/book anyway.” Hell, I watch Doctor Who religiously… but I’m not going to be restrained by the BBC’s occasional flakiness in getting episodes to where I can buy them. But that season pass at Amazon is staying bought.

Look, I’m not saying it’s okay, or that you have my blessing or anything. I’m saying that I understand. I’ve been there. I need you to understand that I’m not “the man”, and that I’m being completely straight with you.

So I’m an author. And I think it’s important that authors get paid so they can keep making the stuff I like to read. (Same goes for TV shows, movies, and so on.) If we get paid, we can make more of it. If we don’t get paid, we make less of it… or instead make that show (or write that book) that you just hate. (Put another way, people bought Twilight…and SG:U got canceled. What the f##k, right?)

And it gets worse. You probably don’t know a lot about publishing. Right now, it’s seriously f##ked up and changing fast. Lots of authors are getting completely reamed by the big companies. Others are finding their successful series of books canceled because they aren’t growing fast enough. Other authors are going it alone, without the support of a big company.

So, if you’re anything like me, you don’t lose a lot of sleep from pirating (stealing, right?) from a big faceless company. Those big publishers only pay authors a tiny percent of the cover price, right?

Bullcrap. Problem is, those big publishers still pay us. They’re the ones that give us advances and take the risk that a book won’t sell.

And more authors are going it alone – but you may not be able to tell the difference between the big company and an independent author working with a business name. The books I produce as Alliteration Ink look pretty much like a book you’ll find from a big publisher – and sometimes my digital versions look better.

Look, pirates, there’s a metric f##kton of you. Us. Whatever. Enough that we can make the difference between an author making it independently (or keeping that contract) and not. There are enough pirates that it makes a difference in individual author’s lives.

I know there’s DRM and legislation, but that’s not ever going to work. And yes, I know that pirates buy more than non-pirates in aggregate…(most recently reported here but that aggregate number doesn’t help the individual author who falls through the cracks.

So here’s what I’m going to ask you to do. Here’s a way that doesn’t quite make it right, but at least makes it up a little bit.

1. If you possibly can, buy the actual books that you like. Digital or paper. It makes more of a difference in that author’s life than just the percentage of cover price. It lets the author negotiate better deals for future books (and then write more).

2. Review the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Seriously. This makes a difference. Rate it, and do a two sentence review. The first sentence is “I liked/didn’t like this book because…” and the second can be “The best/worst part of the book was…”

And whenever you can (not when it’s convenient, but can), just buy the damn book in the first place.


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One Comment

  1. August 4, 2011

    Steven – Nice post. if you like it, buy it. It really impacts people.

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