Internet piracy is, to say the least, a divisive topic. There are those who totally condemn it, seeing it as immoral as walking out of a bookshop with a paperback hidden in your pants. Some people (*raises hand*) acknowledge that it’s immoral, but can’t quite seem to resist when pockets are empty and libraries far away. Before beginning this article, I wasn’t aware that there are also quite a large group of people, authors included, who welcome the advent of free online books. I can’t say that they have me totally convinced, but they do raise some damn good points.
There are a bunch of options available to anyone looking to pirate books. One such website is Ebook Bike, which describes itself as a “new era for literature.” They offer tens of thousands of books available to download to Kindle or iBooks, and they hold the philosophy that they are actually doing authors a favour. Through Ebook Bike, or so goes the theory, one can discover books they hadn’t heard of before, and from there grow to love the author enough to purchase their other books. Their FAQ page quotes Neil Gaiman, literary demigod and staunch supporter of torrenting:
“Neil Gaiman asked the room ‘Hands up in the audience if you discovered your favorite writer for free — because someone loaned you a copy, or because someone gave it to you? Now, hands up if you found your favorite writer by walking into a store and plunking down cash.’ Overwhelmingly, the audience said that they’d discovered their favorite writers for free, on a loan or as a gift.”
I remember discovering Terry Pratchett through my adult cousin, who dropped a well-worn copy of Hogfather in front of my puny ten-year-old self, many Christmases ago. I obviously didn’t pay him for the book. Since then, I have bought a dozen of Pratchett’s novels and loved every single one. Would I have discovered Pratchett if not for my cousin’s well-timed gift?
Terry Pratchett was a very famous author with millions of fans around the world. At one point or another, I would have heard his name or read a review and decided to purchase a book of his. From there, who knows? Terry Pratchett could afford to lose the sale of one book for the sake of gaining a new fan. But what about other authors? What about the ones who desperately need every sale to support themselves? What about the self-published indie writer who only sells two hundred copies of her magnum opus? Won’t someone think of the children?!
Because therein lies the rub. There are plenty of authors who emphatically do not want you to pirate their books, and unless they have made their stance explicitly clear in the past, you should probably assume every author falls into this category. The average book takes years to complete, and I don’t think any of us can fault an author for wanting to be compensated for their time. Susan Dennard, author of Something Strange and Deadly, posted a wonderfully sarcastic open letter to pirates a few years back. She touches on the issue of piracy’s damaging effect on the publishing industry:
“…the cool thing about me getting paid is that I can afford my bills and then continue to write more books. I mean, hey–sitting at the computer all day ain’t fun and it sure as hell ain’t easy.”
Put simply- writing is not a profitable career, not unless you make it big. And if piracy flourishes to the extent that authors find themselves unable to pay the bills, there will be far fewer books written. I know not everyone has the budget for twenty new hardbacks a month- and bookworms especially will feel this cost- but there is always another way to gain legal access to great books; from libraries to free iTunes books to swaps with friends.
What are your thoughts on piracy? Do you know of any free, legal ways to download books?
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