Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Piracy or Publicity?

What are writers to think of this article about the increasing practice of pirating books on the net? Do we all start scouring the web-waves for examples of our books being hi-jacked by those who don’t want to pay, or should we, as Cory Doctorow says at the end of the article, be thankful for the publicity it gives our work?

I had a discussion with Son Number 1, better known to readers of this blog as the Ultimate Frisbee Freak, the other day about the Pirate Bay trial where various Swedish e-facilitators were found guilty of copyright theft/infringement. His opinion was that a) it put the word about bands, films and games ‘out there’, b) that many of the people downloading stuff from the site were probably kids who couldn’t afford to pay for the stuff legitimately and represented an untapped audience that would grow up to – possibly – become paying fans, c) that fans will always want the real thing (the CD, the DVD) partly because d) the ripped off copies are usually sub-standard for various technical reasons.

I don’t know what to think. (A state of affairs I find increasingly common. I thought one was supposed to get more dogmatic with age, not less?) For published authors, few of us are making enough money not to care that some people – who might otherwise buy our book – are downloading it free simply because they can. Yes, yes, I know that our primary reason for writing is that people will read our books and, clearly, that is what is happening with the pirated copies and yet… having had the validation of a publishing contract, we also now feel that, as well as wanting people to read our books, we’d quite like people to actually shell out money for them. We’ve put in the hours, our publishers have put in the dosh, it seems unfair that some people should benefit, gratis, from these investments.

But then there’s point a) above. We all – apart from those authors who are sure-fire big sellers from the off – want to be ‘word of mouth’ successes. Well, once the initial burst of publicity is over, maybe the best kind of word of mouth now has an e-component? Maybe where we once relied on recommendations passing from mouth to ear, we now need to see free copies being downloaded and a ‘buzz’ created on the forum or comments trail of many websites. Because if c) above is correct then that will translate into actual, hard-copy sales.

What do you think?


Elizabeth M Rimmer said...

My daughter, who lives on the internet assures me that music is doing very well despite piracy, as the internet offers many innovative ways of financing your creativity, and musicians are adapting very well. New genres and formats are emerging all the time. I'm not entirely sure how literature will make the same transition - but it might. And it could be very exciting.

Alis said...

Hi Elizabeth!
Good to hear that the music world is adapting quickly to a changing environment. Glad your daughter thinks musicians are thriving. Maybe writers just need to grasp the nettle of change and make the internet work for us instead of grumbling about potential ways to steal our work?

Karen said...

I think your son makes some valid points there, but I still don't think piracy's right.

I always make a point of paying to download music, because it feels like stealing to do otherwise, but I don't know what can be done to stop it happening.

Leigh Russell said...

Music fans may "always want the real thing because ripped off copes are usually substandard" The fans will want to listen to the same CD again and again so its quality is imporant. The book market, by and large, is quite different. Fans are more likely to discard after one reading. Not many books are kept and reread hundreds of times.