Today I discovered that Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom has been pirated. No, I'm not linking. But if you wish to steal an electronic copy of this book, you can now do so pretty easily.
If you'd like to read the book for free, I totally get that. I do not have the money to buy all the books I want to read. Fortunately, the library exists. These folks, not some self-satisfied, website-running douchenozzle, are the real guardians of literacy and culture. And they paid for their copy of the book!
Now, I suppose that the fact that you can steal my book without leaving your living room might lead people who otherwise wouldn't take a chance on my work to seek out other books to buy. This is the most common argument advanced by the "stealing is okay if you do it digitally" people.
It's not without merit. I, like many people, have wound up buying work of authors whose books were given to me, or musicians I first heard on a cassette tape recorded by a friend (yeah! I'm old!).
At least on the internet, the "everything should be free" people have dominated the debate. And the fact that they are loud and passionate doesn't mean they are always right.
If you havent read David Lowery's excellent blog post, I recommend it. He lays out the costs to musicians of an entire generation not paying for music. And musicians have two other revenue streams (merch and live performances). Book theft concerns me because the book is our only revenue stream. If people don't pay for the book, we don't get paid. Period. Yes, I want readers, and I'll get more if they can read some of my books for free. Which is why, as I stated above, the library exists. And also why it's awesome to have friends who will lend (i.e. give, because lent books rarely come back) you books!
Which leads me to this: I think, maybe, Amazon and the big six publishers did us all a huge favor with their widely-derided DRM on Kindle books. Because they helped shape our idea of ebooks as something you pay for.
Back to music: for most people who were alive and buying music at the time, their first experience obtaining music on the internet was through Napster or some other file-stealing service. Me too! I heard about Napster when I saw it on the desktop of the IT guy at a school where I worked. I installed it and downloaded some Prince bootlegs. And then the IT guy yelled at me for installing Napster. True!
There was no legitimate alternative at the time, and it was just so freaking easy: type what you want into the search box and click to download. My generation was primed for this experience by the analogy to cassette tapes: we had all given and received mix tapes, so how was this different? (it was trading a perfect copy, not a copy that lost sound quality and lived on a medium that degraded every time you played it, but whatever--free music!) The generation after mine just learned that this was how you got music on the internet. By the time the itunes store came along, and it was finally as easy to buy digital music as steal it, a bunch of people had already been lost to file stealing.
When Amazon introduced the Kindle, they included DRM that made it harder (but not impossible, as any of the "everything should be free" people will tell you) to free the book from the Kindle. This meant that ordinary users, who have neither the time nor inclination to go poking around under the hood, couldn't share infinite perfect copies of their Kindle books. So there was no way to set up an immediate and easy file-stealing network for books.
Even now, with DRM mostly gone, the pirate sites are nowhere near as good as the legitimate ones. So we've got the exact opposite of what happened with music: the first generation to get ebooks saw them as something you have to pay for.
And yes, this was a service to publishers and online retailers, but it has benefitted authors as well. Ebooks are a big part of the revenue stream. I'd have to check this to be sure, and I'm not going to bother right now, but my memory is that Jenna and Jonah's Fauxmance sold more electronic copies than physical copies. And I got paid. Because of big bad Amazon and big bad publishers set up bad bad DRM and convinced consumers that they should pay for ebooks.
On the internet, it's mostly taken as a given that DRM is evil. But I think it may have saved publishing and even allowed the self-publishing boom.
I'm inherently suspicious of big corporations, but in this case, their interests dovetailed with mine. And I think we really need to think and talk about how artists are going to get paid for their work. "I want all the stuff for free" has pretty much dominated the conversation up to this point. And that's awesome on the consumer side and horrible on the production side.