Piracy Is Not An Epidemic

And let us take a moment to be completely realistic.

If one million pirated downloads of your book has occurred, yes, you could have lost one million sales. But come on…one million means you are EXTREMELY popular, and have more than likely sold a few million at Amazon and other outlets. And if you are that popular, you have publishers shoving contracts in your face, Hollywood bugging for the rights to your work for screenplays, conventions bugging you to attend, all sorts of other little perks and money-makers because…you are extremely popular.

Because there’s no one on this planet that has had their work downloaded one million times and is still a nobody, crying out in a lonely voice on the internet that he has nothing, barely any food to eat. If your name was “Game of Thrones – Season 3 – Episode 04” then you would be downloaded a million+ times, but you don’t see any of them (nor even HBO) making a fuss about it. HBO has even openly said they know their show(s) get pirated, and they really don’t care that much.

“But I am not talking about one million pirated downloads,” you say (you might not, I’m just kind of giving an example here…you might actually be telling me to get the %#@$ out of your thread about piracy heh).

So…let’s say one thousand people download your book for free. Unless those one thousand dirty pirates are the stereotypical teenagers or twenty-something wanna-be-hacker types that never leave Mom’s basement, they each have at least one friend that reads a book more than once since high school.

If your book is good, they’ll say something to that friend to the effect of, “Hey (by the way, all of my conversations start with ‘Hey’), so I grabbed this book by <your name here> called <your pirated title here> the other night and couldn’t put it down.”

“My friend, I got to get me some of that,” the pirate friend answers.

Maybe the pirate friend finds your book on Amazon because he has a Kindle, or B&N, or iTunes, whatever. And he sees that it is $.99, or $2.99, and he’s read your sample, and he likes it enough to buy it. Or maybe the pirate friend gets a free copy from the pirate. Then the pirate friend casually mentions to his mother, girlfriend, co-worker, that your book is good. Suddenly a kind of weird Amway thing is going on where there’s a pyramid of readers that start to build. Slowly at first. But then they see you have other books. Those books are worth reading, so they’ll buy them.

Somewhere along the chain of this one-out-of-a-thousand pirates, the name of your book gets passed around and begins to branch out to other possible readers. And of the original one thousand pirates I started this with, there’s a chance that this scenario could happen one thousand times.

Because the truth is, someone running a pirate website that gives your book away for free isn’t Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo, your blog, a local bookstore, a chain bookstore, a library, a group of readers on Goodreads or other such websites/forums. If your book isn’t on The Pirate Bay, then you might be lucky to get one pirated download of your book per month. Heck, per six months. Because little pirate sites, they aren’t getting a million hits per month. They cater to a very small group of individuals, other pirates for the most part. Pirates don’t buy your books. They never will. As mentioned earlier by someone else, that is not a lost sale because they NEVER intended to buy your book.

But let’s say you hear about a good book from someone. What’s the first thing you and probably 99.99% of everyone you know do? Ah, yes, you go to Amazon or iTunes or wherever you buy books from and look the book up. And buy it if you like it. Pirates aren’t 42% of the population, no matter what the MPAA and RIAA and all the other anti-piracy organizations would try to get you to believe.

“But Travis, Game of Thrones episodes get something like three million downloads each!”

Yeah. They do. And HBO costs $10/month in USA, and you have to already have cable/satellite or such to get it. Oh, and that’s three million out of say…about one or two billion persons who use the internet. And…come on, this is Game of Thrones we are talking about. Not your book, unless you are George RR Martin. This isn’t to say that your book is bad and not capable of being that popular, not at all. But until as many people read it as have read Martin’s series, we’ll never know. And Martin had a HUGE head start on all of us by being a bigshot writer for Hollywood, and a traditionally published author that the publishers actually cared about. Again, this isn’t a dig at your book or you, but we’re being honest here.

But let’s get back to this argument that you are ‘losing sales’. If the pirate site is charging for your book, and you aren’t getting any of that, then d*mn right, get a takedown sent to them and do it now. Do what you have to. But that website, that’s not really a pirate site, if you want to really get down to brass tacks. A pirate site is a site that gives your bits away for free. An site engaged in illegal activity is a different thing. It usually isn’t one dude in his basement throwing up WordPress sites on a Linux box and a shopping cart or paypal (and if these sites use Paypal, it’s actually better to go to Paypal instead of sending a takedown as Paypal is getting very strict about who they’ll do business with).

Knowing this, think hard about who goes to a site like this. “Uninformed people” you might say. Which is most likely wrong. There’s not many in the Western world that would not know what Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, etc. etc. are. So right there, you can guess at the people who go to these ‘pay’ sites that are engaged in criminal activity. Other criminals. No one gets ‘duped’ into going to www.bobsshadybooks.com. I hear “Hey, Scalzi has a new book out!” and I go to Amazon or Scalzi’s website. I don’t go to russiandiscountbookstore.net. Honestly, even if I was a criminal, I would go to amazon.com anyway. Criminals are far less trusting than we law-abiding citizens are. A criminal doesn’t want his CC# or paypal info stolen.

“But what if they google my book and the links go to these criminal sites?” you might ask. Good question. The answer is, if you were wanting to know about a book that was interesting, would you google the book and go to a website that wasn’t your typical, familiar, trusted site like Amazon? Or iTunes? Or whatever site you use? This is as ridiculous as ‘getting duped’ into going to a shady criminal site. No one, other than people in infomercials and I guess old people who are easily duped by guys that claim they’ll fix the driveway or put on a new roof and scam the old people for thousands of dollars, goes to these sites instead of their trusted, usual site. Not to buy something that is the same price or even $1 or $3 lower than it is at Amazon. Or iTunes. Or blah blah. No one.

But the more important reasoning is that you simply wouldn’t google a book. Some might, but anyone who likes books goes to…you guessed it. Amazon. iTunes. Kobo. Yadda Yadda. We have a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad. When we buy books from these stores, the books get delivered automatically to our device. We can get a refund if we hate the book. We can be assured that we bought a book and two days from now we won’t have purchased 500 pounds of Black Tar Heroin through a shell corporation for the Romanian Mafia.

And keep in mind, in this long diatribe, this is ONLY about actual criminal websites selling your items illegally. And yes, included in that are sites that allow anyone to upload a book to and then collect money for sales. There is nothing ‘innocent’ about those sites. The site operators are responsible for making sure they are on the up and up. Any claims other are false and outright lies. If any of you have ever had to deal with Amazon or another e-tailer that we sell our books at, legit sites, over a question of whether or not you had the right to upload your own book, you know what I’m talking about.

So for future discussions, how about we cut these ‘criminal’ websites out of the discussion. Because yes they exist, but no they only exist for a certain class of users, one that is infinitesimally small compared to the overwhelming majority of real consumers who have their CC# stored at Amazon, iTunes, etc. and buy things legitimately. And they deserve to be reported to the FBI, Paypal, any entity that takes care of the financial end of things for them (someone has to provide that service). On top of a DMCA takedown notice of course.

Which brings us back to actual pirate sites. You know the popular ones if you are a nerd. If you don’t know of any popular ones other than TPB because you heard it on the news or read it on a news website, then congratulations, you are in the majority. I mean, who goes to pirate sites other than teenagers and kids and other types who never intend to spend a dime on anything, whether it is your book, Game of Thrones episodes, Blu-Ray ripped movies, the latest Daft Punk audio CD?

How many pirate sites have you visited?  Ask your friends and family and co-workers this question. Assure them that you are just doing an informal survey if they look at you weird, but get them to answer it. When you hear that maybe one or two out of all of the people you know have visited a pirate website and downloaded something, you’ll understand the out-of-proportion fear that others raise about this issue. And notice it is always as if these people are losing “thousands or dollars per day” because of lost sales or books that were given away for free. Do these people claiming this also have a name that starts with “Stephen King” or “James Patterson” or “EL James”?

And let’s talk about these “Stephen King” and “James Patterson” and “EL James” persons. They might actually be losing “thousands of dollars per day” from pirated downloads. Do you think they even notice when they are making probably “tens of thousands of dollars per day”? Do you think they are worried that they can’t afford the new home in the Hamptons because some little pizza-faced nerd put their book up on shadybobspiratedbooks.net?

Yeah, you aren’t “Stephen King” or any of those persons. You are a mid-list author at best, a nobody at worst (like me!). You are struggling to sell enough books to pay your mortgage, buy baby formula, quit your day job, own a private island, drive a $46,000 orange Dodge Challenger SRT8 with black racing stripes. Do you think you are really losing money when no one is buying your books on Amazon/iTunes/Kobo/B&N, sites that combined probably get something like 10,000,000 (ten million) hits per day from customers? Think of the hundreds of thousands of customers who browse the Amazon site alone every day, looking for a book to buy, any book, one that will keep their interest, one in a genre they love…now think of the one hundred or maybe even one thousand pirate-types who browse these pirate sites per day, looking for…who knows what. And in all of the noise of the other pirated offerings at these pirate sites, your book is stuffed in there somewhere. You might get a view per day. Heck, you might get ten views per day. Maybe even a hundred!

And let’s say that a few of those views actually downloaded your book for free. Now, once you’ve visualized this, go back a few paragraphs above and see where I talk about how word of mouth gets spread from these pirate-types to their social circles, the overwhelming majority of them who are NOT pirates and will want to be free of any hassle, whether technical, moral, or legal, and go look your book up on…*sigh* Amazon, iTunes, B&N, Kobo, your blog, Goodreads, review sites, Twitter, blah blah blah.

This of course will be completely ignored by anyone who still believes that piracy is this rampant issue that is costing each of us thousands of dollars in lost sales per day. Nothing I or anyone else can say will change their mind. If they bothered to do a little research, they might see the reasoning that I’ve just written, but possibly not even then, because once someone makes their mind up about such a thing, especially a ‘financial’ thing or a ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’ thing, there’s really not much anyone can do to change it. So I suppose all of these words are directed more to those that are still on the fence about the idea of piracy, or who are willing to really sit down and give it some logical thought.

Then again, the world outside of our little bubbles could be full of dirty pirates who hire people like me to invade forums and spread lies to convince you that pirates don’t exist and we aren’t stealing thousands of dollars per day from you.

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