A friend of mine was horrified by an acquaintance who had bought a bunch of Kindles as Christmas gifts and then gleefully loaded each of them up with hundreds of pirated books. The sheer gall of her to boast about her pirated books to her AUTHOR friend is just ludicrous, but insensitivity aside, this story just reinforces my opinion that book pirates are a very special kind of asshole.
Here's the thing. I'm not really going to argue the case against piracy as an ethical, "thou-shalt-not-steal" sort of issue. Anyone with any sort of civilized up-bringing already knows that theft is wrong. People who steal books or music or movies know they are stealing and have no problem with it, apparently. They are able to rationalize their theft in a number of ways: screwing big business is a civic duty, culture belongs to the people, everyone else does it, if you are going to put out digital content it's like an invitation to get robbed, etc. I think it's all a load of crap but whatever. I'm not going to try to change those minds. That's a whole other dead horse to flog.
Instead, I'd like to focus on a couple of reasons why I consider book pirates to be cravenly mean and particularly assholic.
I do recognize that there will be many generalizations here. And I know that there are some (bigger) publishing houses that are trying to impede the ebook-lending highway as things get sorted out in the wash. Fine - maybe they are just screwing themselves there. We'll wait and see. But for those of us in the other (smaller) houses who are trying to figure out a way to make it all work, and who are trying to prove to those philistines that low-cost/free and library-loaned ebooks can be GOOD for the industry, selfish dingbat pirates are making it all a rather Sisyphian task, no matter which books they choose to steal.
So, here's what I'd like to say to my friend's acquaintance (and these are just preliminary thoughts. I'm still asking questions and researching):
Dear Dingbat Pirate,
I'm not going to try to convince you to go out and drop a whole $5 or $10 or $0.99 on an ebook. You've made it patently clear that you do not want to give any of your hard-earned money to people who also worked hard to produce the literature that you feel it is your right to enjoy for free. But you don't need to be an asshole about the way you get your free ebooks.
1. Unlike most music and movies, many books are already readily and legally available for free. Yes, even ebooks. You don't HAVE to steal the books. It's called a LIBRARY, folks. Get a library card. From the comfort of your own home computer, you can download books FOR FREE with the click of a button. It's really not that complicated. And here.'s a quick video to get you started.
2. When you borrow books or ebooks from the library, the library is able to track which books get checked out frequently and knows which authors to stock and in what quantities. Then they buy more of their (e)books and THE AUTHOR GETS PAID! Whoo hoo! Furthermore, there are tracking agencies like Access Copyright and PLR (in Canada, at least) that help to ensure that authors with books in libraries get compensation for the fact that their books are loaned and copied etc. It's not a perfect system, but it's better than the kick in the teeth they get from you when you just steal the book from Torrent or wherever. Not enough titles available in libraries yet? Well, try borrowing the ones that are there for starters. The more ebooks that people sign out, the more ebooks libraries are likely to stock - everyone wins!
3. Borrowing books from the library has the added bonus of actually showing support for the library system as a whole and helps to prove to various powers-that-be that maybe we shouldn't be cutting funding to these vital community resources.
4. "When I download (I mean STEAL) books for free, I can decide what I like and then I'll often buy the book." Well, bully for you, if you actually DO buy the book later. I guess "often" is better than never. Mind you, you could borrow the book from the library for free and make the same decision (see points 2&3) AND benefit someone other than your own selfish sorry self.
5. Sure, you have to "return" or "renew" the library book after a couple of weeks - but again, that simple button-clicking-thing will be even easier now that you've already learned how to do it once. And after you return it, the book isn't taking up any room on your hard drive (or whatever).
6. Many publishers and authors offer plenty of special freebees. Check them out. And did you know that when you "buy" a free ebook from a site like Wowio, the site actually pays a royalty to the author and the publisher? So again, you are supporting the people who are trying to make a living from the books you want so badly.
7. Every time you "buy" a free ebook legally, from pretty much any site, THAT STILL COUNTS AS A SALE. This is an important statistic for authors and publishers since sales figures let everyone know how successful a book is and whether or not a sequel might be a good idea. Or it might determine whether or not the author is offered another contract. And how big the advance on that next contract might be. When you steal ebooks you are also stealing away incentives for the publishers to keep on publishing your favourite authors.
8. To those people who think that by stealing ebooks they are "sticking it to the man": You really are dumbasses. Seriously. It's the AUTHOR you are screwing, more than anyone: You are taking away their ability to collect royalties from the publisher from the sale of their work. Furthermore, if the author is new or lesser known, you are robbing them of the opportunity to prove that their books are widely read and thus you are diminishing their chances at furthering their careers with the hopes of another contract - and heck, if you stiff smaller publishing houses, then there will be fewer companies out there to publish their next books in the first place!
9. You know who else is affected by these low sales results? Well, how about editors (like me!) who fight for the books, acquire them, and edit them? Or the production staff that puts the books together in various print and electronic formats? Or the marketing staff that tries to help the books find their audience? Hard to prove to your boss that you've done a good job when the sales figures aren't what they should be. It's not like we can go to them with - "But hey, it's been stolen 10000 times, so we must have done something right!"
10. "But I have to download books one at a time that way. When I steal books, I can do it in bulk," quoth the dingbat pirate. Good Lord. There are so many Deadly Sins wrapped up in that one sentence I could just kick your soul straight to hell. I mean, really. Don't be a lazy pig. How many books do you plan to read at a time anyway?
11. It's so easy to do the right thing. You CAN read that book for free AND support authors and the book industry AT THE SAME TIME. So why wouldn't you? Put a modicum of thought into your book acquisition and prove to yourself, at least, that you are a real, honest-to goodness book-lover -- not just a lazy, greedy, dumbass pirate.