A couple of weeks or so ago, I went on a tangent on Twitter about book piracy. (What? Me go on a tangent on Twitter? NO WAY.) Let me tell you a little bit about what happened.
So the other week, I was watching videos on YouTube. I have a whole bunch of people I’ve followed in a variety of different fields that I find interesting, everything from humorous gamers to inspirational and motivational people to productivity hackers and Sims 4 players. It was on a video for a financial YouTuber, though, that I found myself getting supremely ticked off.
I won’t name names. But, you see, this particular YouTuber, who I really liked following, really enjoyed their videos, and had learned quite a bit from, was doing a video about saving money, as financial YouTubers often do. I was actually enjoying the video and gleaning a few bits of useful information from it, even though the general subject of the video didn’t quite apply to me and my life situation anymore, when the YouTuber in question reached one of his points of advice to college students about saving money on their college textbooks: he recommended that the students go on Google and search for “free” .pdf files of their college textbooks. Then, adding insult to injury to authors everywhere, he added, and I quote directly from his video, “Surprisingly, this is how you can get many books entirely for free, not just textbooks! So if there’s a book you’ve been planning to read and you just haven’t bought it yet, go search Google for it, and it might already be up there!”
Everyone who knows me knows exactly how much the muscles in my right cheek twitched when I heard that line.
Let me explain why.
You see, one of the biggest uphill battles that authors face is obtaining a book contract. But wait, what does a book contract have to do with book piracy? I can hear you asking. Well, it has everything to do with book piracy. The way the publishing industry works is that authors contract with a publisher to publish their book. Typically, a publisher will agree to put an author’s book out there under at least two conditions: if the book is good and if they think the book will sell. Usually, the publisher will give the author something called an advance, which is a financial payment to the author (usually in three or four installments) ahead of the book actually earning any money through sales. It is, essentially, the publisher hedging their bets: they’re gambling that the book will sell enough copies that they will make that money back and then some. For the author, it’s basically a loan. Meanwhile, the author who receives an advance doesn’t see another penny of payment for that book until the book sells enough copies that, in the royalties owed to the author, it exceeds the amount that the publisher gave the author in advance of the book’s release. This is why you see so many authors talking about “earning out” their advances: they’re trying to sell enough books that they will “pay back” what the publisher “loaned” them via an advance. If they never earn out, they don’t owe the difference back to the publisher; they just never see another cent from that particular book.
So what does this have to do with book piracy? Well, remember when I said that the publisher is basically placing a bet on whether an author’s books will sell well? Well, book piracy directly interferes with that. See, the vast majority of people who illegally download books–and yes, it is illegal, as it is outright taking something that you did not pay for, which last I checked is called “theft”–are people who could afford the books if they had to purchase them; they just choose, for whatever reason, to steal the books instead. I personally think they do it just because they can, like the rich housewives you hear about who go into retail stores and steal perfume or nail polish or makeup or whatever, even while they have the cash to pay for it in their purses. (It happens more than you think it does.)
Meanwhile, the rampant book piracy is directly impacting authors, most of who are lucky to see an average of $5,000 a year from their books. (Talk about the well-off taking money from those who can least afford it!) Because book piracy has such a direct impact on a book’s sales, this can dramatically affect whether or not an author gets another contract with a publisher. If more people are illegally downloading a book than paying for it through whatever paid avenues the book is on offer through, the publisher may see the author’s books as ones that aren’t worth the gamble on, and the publisher won’t offer the author another contract. Often, when you see a book series get cancelled midway through–such as an author who releases books one and two but then never puts another book out in that series–it’s typically because the publisher chose to not offer another contract due to lack of sales. In books that would have otherwise been a good bet, ebook piracy is typically to blame.
This is ebook piracy and its effects in about the smallest nutshell I can cram it into because I don’t want this post to get overly long.
So, getting back to that YouTuber I mentioned earlier, the one that started this whole tangent on Twitter. It absolutely blew my mind that he would advocate for his subscribers (which numbered over one million) to go out and steal intellectual property from its creators, to deprive those hardworking authors the money that they are owed for the downloading of that book. What made it absolutely rich, in my mind, which just amplified my outburst, was that in the very same video, this YouTuber promoted a temporary discount/sale he was having on his online Teachable course on how to grow your YouTube channel. A course that, presumably, he put his blood, sweat, and tears into, spent hours creating, spent hours filming and editing, and uploaded in order to make a profit. It made me wonder how he would feel if someone used their iPad’s screen recording function to record his entire course and put it up online for anyone to download for free. I’m not sure that this YouTuber (or anyone who actively pirates) would see the equivalency between what they were advocating (those well off taking the hard work of those who are most decidedly not well off without appropriate compensation). Book pirates tend to find any excuse in the world to throw out to make it somehow “okay” for them to steal, I suppose because it assuages the grain of guilt they feel on their conscience when those they are stealing from confront them. Because they inevitably lash out with accusations of “elitism” or “selfishness” whenever an author says something about their piracy, something that I fully expect to get smacked with when this post goes live.
So, in conclusion, or TL;DR or whatever the kids are saying these days: please don’t steal author’s hard work via illegal downloading/book piracy. Authors have a very hard, lonely job bringing the characters and stories they create into the world, and it isn’t made any easier when people steal their hard work.