Wednesday 29 June 2011

Books and the Art of Piracy

Ideas don't follow the laws of commerce. They are not objects. They are not a product. They don't run on batteries. 

Information is not a fuel that you can pump out of one mind and into another. You can't price it at dollars per barrel. 

If our society made money obsolete and whatever you wanted was free, would people stop writing books, making music, putting on plays?

The following video is 4 minutes long but very pertinent to anyone considering selling books online.

Did you discover your favourite author through someone  lending you a book? Pick up something at a library? Read it at school? Intelligent humans like to read. They enjoy it, they benefit from it, and others around them benefit too. And it generates money. Lots of it. Always has. But not because of copyrights and intellectual properties and strict regulation.

Morality and ethics are flexible, evolving things, as is culture. Trying to apply the concepts of the old model on the new isn’t going to work. Haven’t you ever wondered why the values and wisdom of one generation are never taken up by the next? It’s because the world has changed. For the better, for the worse, it doesn’t matter. Things are different

Your children will find your advice pretty useless. 

What you went through to gain an understanding of life, they won’t. You may want to save them some pains by learning from your mistakes, but your mistakes were particular to you and your time. They’ll experience something else, and suffer their own mistakes. You may think you recognise what they're going through, but you don't. It looks the same, but the context has changed. And context is everything.

When it comes to art, the means of distribution made it very difficult for the artist to operate alone. Thus the middlemen rose as ferrymen to get entertainments from one end of the world to another. And took a cut for their efforts. A big cut. A very, very big cut

They controlled art but they were not artists. They controlled the means of production and the means of  distribution. And context is everything.

Now the world changes once more, and the cry goes up. The end of art as we know it! The silence of beautiful voices! The death of meaningful words!

But audio cassettes did not kill music. Video tape did not destroy the movies. And online downloading will not change our need for a good story. But there will be change. Money will be made, but not necessarily by the same people as before. And those businessmen who lose out won’t like it. If the choice is between a corrupt, redundant system where they make a lot of money, and a streamlined, efficient new one where they make no money at all... which do you think they'll insist on?

Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), one of the bestselling authors in the world, makes his books available for free on the internet through P2P sites, without the permission of his publishers. He in effect pirates his own work. And his books keep selling. In fact he has noted that the effect has been to boost sales in those parts of the world where he hasn’t previously sold very much. 

Just because people don't understand something doesn't mean it doesn't make sense.

I don’t know how things will pan out but I know the greatest thing a civilised society can do is build libraries and make books free to read. And I also know the man who tells you what you must do for YOUR protection, is the thing that will make HIM rich, is a man not to be trusted.

 What's your view on piracy in general and book piracy in particular? Will eReaders make a difference? Do you want to be read as widely as possible or as profitably as possible, and is there a difference?


Anna said...

Neil Gaiman is so savvy when it comes to this stuff. Thanks for sharing the link and for including your own commentary. It gave me food for thought.

Christa Desir said...

This is actually fascinating. There was a big John Green, Gayle Foreman, agent debate about this on Twitter. John Green had a "I don't love piracy, but I might give away some of my books if it gets people reading and reading me..." take on things.
I think you are spot on with the Paul Coelho comment. And yet, can newer authors who are already taking cuts in advances, royalty rates, etc. really afford to be giving their books away?
Additionally, hard to look at piracy without counterpointing self-pubbed authors who sell for $.99.
Good post, Mood.

mooderino said...

@Anna—thanks, appreciate it.

@Christa—but maybe new writers would make more money in the long term. It's not as straightforward as the old system. The market is much bigger, the production costs are a lot less and the market is more diverse. And if publishers and agents didn't get a cut, then what? I don't have the answers but I find it very interesting.

Luanne G. Smith said...

I think Gaiman makes a great point. The web is probably the best word of mouth machine one could hope to benefit from. Very interesting that he was able to correlate free offerings of his book with an increase in sales. It will likely become the new marketing model for authors.

Suze said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dolorah said...

Yep, I found two of my favorite authors by being given books by friends. I really do see the internet as just another "word of mouth"; and long as the intent is not to "rip off" the author.

It's also why I doubt e-books will completely replace printed works; hard to pass around the novel among friends and family if its only on your Kindle. My family are huge book consummers and we're always trying to be the first to buy something for everyone's pleasure. A sort of "I found it first" contest :)


Jennifer Hillier said...

I had never seen this video until today, though I'd heard about it. I really need to read Neil Gaiman already.

While I don't like the idea of people "stealing" books in any way (illegal downloading, etc.), I have no problem with someone borrowing a copy of my book from a friend or from the library. I do that with my friends. I'd like to think if that if a reader likes my book, they just might buy my future books. And hopefully they'll recommend to others who'll buy.

Great post.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

He pirates his own books? That's wild. Piracy will always happen. Just need to go after the big dogs rather than pursue individuals. Remember Napster?

Unknown said...

I don't mind piracy through individuals and small groups. It's the Napsters that bother me. But ePiracy is the same thing as those old bootleg tapes. Bands like Metallica blew up because so many people started listening to their stuff for free. Gaiman is very smart.

Suze said...

I posted a comment, and it refused to sit right with me after several hours, so I decided to rescind the wording.

As for whether I would prefer being widely-read or to profit more from smaller-scale distribution, I would opt for widely-read. This is assuming there is, indeed, an audience for what I have produced. And only distribution would prove as much-- for any of us.

Sari Webb said...

Hi Mood, great post. I've seen that video of Neil Gaiman before and it made me think. It was great to get your thoughts on it. It would be interesting to see some research on this, relating to newer writers as well as established ones.

julie fedderson said...

I was a Metallica fan back in the day, and although I see the Napster argument, the subsequent lawsuit did alter my image of the band. They became less the rebellious garage metal band and more a corporate machine. The (idealistic) artist just wanting to create art vibe was lost for me. I don't believe any artist should be pirated, especially by others who profit off of the unauthorized distribution, and certainly don't want to take the food out of someone's mouth when it's their lifeblood. But I think true fans will be loyal to an artist because they like that artist. With a new artist, the exposure may be the key to creating the loyal fan base in the first place.

mooderino said...

@LG-I think the problem is people don't really understand how to use it effectively and scurry back to the comfort of the old.

@Donna-i don't think it matters if th eintent is to rip off the author. These things find a natural balance and peopel who want to financially support the author will, and those who don't will still spread the word. It's not like you'll make more money if someone who was never going to buy your book is prevented from reading it for free.

@Jennifer—the way we think about "stealing" is fixated on an idea that doesn't really fit new media. Stopping people reading your book won't make it sell better. I think of it as the same kind of logic where middle-class people vote for tax cuts for the rich liek that will clear the way for them to become millionaires.

@Alex—I think the entertainment corporations are just as big pirates as anyone. They've been extorting money from us for years.

@Melissa—the idea of stuff for free just freaks some people out.

@Suze—did the respectable mom gene kick in?

@Sari—yeah, i'd love to see that too. I think they're all too fixated on prevention and drm and stufff like that at the moment.

mooderino said...

@Julie—I think that happens a lot. Hippy, punk, hipster, everyone grows up and thinks of their mortgage and tells off their kids and turns into their dad.

Exposure is the key, i think, and the thing the publishers and music labels used to have total control over.

Ann said...

The reading is the goal. If people read what you write and like it, enjoy it and refer it friends and family that is the true success. To make a living from it would be icing on the cake. I like the idea of pirating one's own book.

Cindy said...

Most authors I know are against DRM and don't mind being pirated as long as nobody is profiting from it...or at least not in a significant way.

Hart Johnson said...

I'd seen that Neil Gaiman clip, but DIDN'T know about Paulo Coehlo. Frankly, I think it makes total sense that giving books away increases readership, so more people then want to BUY books. I remember a friend from India saying the sign an author had made it was when their pirated books became available on the street. I get why the system needs to try to enforce the rules, but i intend to keep my eyes on the long term, and I don't think this piracy hurts at all.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Neil Gaiman has some interesting views on piracy. BTW...I love your new project with the whole writing magazine where you've organized all of your posts kinda like a New York Times spread (or something similar). You are very talented.

Suze said...

My daughter's heard all of it from me, but she knows and understands her momma. The Internets be filled with strangers and I am not predisposed to shock, offend or come off as someone I am not.

I have no problem with words-- love them all and use them without prejudice. But as every writer knows, what we say and what someone reads can often be different things.

I didn't watch the Gaiman video but your words in its wake were brilliant, mood. I disagreed with some of them, was moved beyond articulation by others and felt emboldened and empowered by the rest. A perfect read.

Alleged Author said...

I didn't know Coelho pirates his own work. How interesting. If doing this boosts sales then what he's doing shows extremely good marketing skills. Cool post!

Suze said...

I'm not crawling around in Coelho's brain, but I did read 'The Alchemist,' and I have to say I imagine him 'pirating' his own work-- shaking head here at the ludicrousness of the situation-- is not a show of marketing prowess, but something else entirely.

I never realized what a weak stomach I have. Part of this thread is making me a bit ill. All, for now.

mooderino said...

@Ann——the risk for the publishers is if you read it first and it isn't very good you might not want to pay. i think that's fine. They, I suspect, would disagree.

@Cinders——I agree, no profit, no problem.

@Hart——it may even improve sales.

@Michael——Thank you.

@Suze——thanks. Can't imagine what turned your stomach. Intriguing.

@Alleged——I'm not a big fan of his writing but he clearly knows how to appeal to a large audience.

Thanks for all the feedback.

McKenzie McCann said...

I think eReaders will make people read more, but reduce book production. I've heard stirrings that some authors fear there will soon be pressure for debut authors to only give their books away for free, especially now that eBooks are as cheap as $2.99 or even $.99.

It's an interesting time in publishing. That much is certain.

Munk said...

Great Post.

I like sharing and appreciated Neil's comments.

Julia Hones said...

The world may change but human nature stays the same. We always deal with similar problems.

mooderino said...

@McKenzie—yep, very interesting times.


@Julia—problems may be the same, and human nature also, but that doesn't mean the solutions are the same. 20 years ago a man lost in the desert might have no chance idea which direction to go in. Now his phone can tell him where he is and how to get to the nearest 7-11. Context is everything. And the context changes. (obviously if you're with At&T you're as good as dead).

Suze said...

All right. Just listened to the Gaiman video while I surfed a couple other blogs.

What turned my stomach is not intriguing in the least, actually-- quite unoriginal but still genuinely-felt, and it is this: the idea that anyone of Coelho's caliber might 'pirate' his own work as a savvy marketing move. There has been much twittering and frittering over the fact that writers have to show initiative and build platforms and research their target demographic and court them unabashedly which I simply cannot process. People have smart, smart hearts-- they're very tuned into when someone is merely trying to sell them something.

For a piece of writing to do what I imagine every writer secretly or not-so-secretly wants it to, it must be free. Undue focus on the thing with wings weights it down. See if you don't have a thousand scribes put out their work now for the express purpose of boosting sales in the wake of this guy's four-minute-video.

Not the point, loves.

As always, this was brought to you solely on the authority of my two cents.


nutschell said...

Hey Mooderino!
Great post!
I've given you a BLOG AWARD. Feel free to drop by anytime to pick it up. Just a little something to brighten up your day. :)

warm regards,

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

I think what the video says is an interesting observation. Free = Publicity

I'm not sure what I'll want to do when my book is finally done, but this post gives me a lot to think about.

BTW, as to finding one of my favorite author-- His book caught my eye in a book store, but I didn't want to pay full price. I found it later used and I was hooked! I'll be getting every book in his series.

I understand the need to make money, BUT I think it is better to get the books out there. I would want people to enjoy my book! It'd be nice to make a little money too, but that is not my main motivation.

OK, I've written enough for one comment! :0)

mooderino said...

@Suze—I don't know what sort of person Coelho is but I doubt he went into piracy as a marketing tool, I think he just wanted more people to read his book (because he has a messianic complex). The increased sales was just a by-product. I'm totally guessing though.

@nutschell—thanks for the award, and welcome back home.

@Dawn—I think exposure is the first step. Relying on word of mouth (which is what it ends up being no matter what) is a lot quicker if you have a bigger base to start with.

Ellie Garratt said...

Fascinating post. In essence, free is publicity. Something to think about.

Ellie Garratt

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good points in the video.

"Your children will find your advice pretty useless.

What you went through to gain an understanding of life, they won’t."

I would disagree with this. I learned a lot from my parents even into adulthood, and my grown children bounce things off me all the time. Our learning shouldn't stop just because we get older, and I've tried very much not to become stuck in my generational niche.

There have been concerns about people downloading an ebook, copying it and posting it as their own work. Guess there're pirates everywhere.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks for sharing the link. I have heard of Neil Gaiman but not seen any video of his.

John Wiswell said...

I don't think the video supports your point as much as you think. Gaiman has charged plenty of dollars-per-paperback in his life; that he's a millionaire now not fighting a thing he can't stop anyway? Nor does your summoning music piracy help the case - that industry was downright dying because of piracy. You go with a lot of sweeping statements instead of analysis in this piece, which is particularly off-putting to someone like me who has seen the Gaiman clip a dozen times and knows Coelho's story. What if you did blog posts about each paragraph here? A serious, evidence-based analysis on audio cassettes, video tapes, Coelho's experience, and the experience of indy authors whose works wound up on Bit Torrent?

mooderino said...

@Ellie-worth considering.

@Donna-I'm sure it depends on the specific parent and child, but the specific solutions to specific problems change so rapidly that I don't think you can pass on wisdom like you could back in the day.

@Rachna-he is a very good writer, I would recommend him to anyone writing children's books in particular.

mooderino said...

@John-his being a millionaire may influence his motivations but not the results of his experiment. The point is business people claim one thing and the facts tell us another, that much is clear, I'd say.

As for music, the in dustry may be dying, music is doing just fine. Evolution requires death and I'm willing to see the record companies bite the big one.

I'm not sure why having seen the clip before is off-putting to you. I make sweeping statemnets because it's fun and gets people talking. Obviously I don't speak from a position of expertise and I wouldn't do an in-depth analysis of indy-author finances because I'm not an accountant.

All I'm saying is people with a vested interest will try to keep things going their way, and artists who have looked into it aren't screaming the sky is falling down the way the corporations are. I'm more interested in what the artists have to say that the suits. Doesn't mean they're right, but clearly the black and white picture painted by corporations is less than thorough.

How can you not be tempted to follow my blog after such an interesting post and comments discussion?

Lydia Kang said...

Fascinating clip. And now that I've heard his argument, it make soooo much sense.

Suze said...

Coelho went into piracy because his satnav was always telling him he was not quite the way. Pissed him off so he took matters into his own hands.

Matthew MacNish said...

I completely agree. While it is easier for a well established writer like Gaiman or Coelho to make this work, than say, an author just beginning to get their name out there, the concept is the same.

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