We write. We rant. We wrestle the magic.
Got an email from author Julie Belfield the other day. She’d found yet another forum posing as an online “store” that was allowing free downloads of her books and hundreds of other authors. Her words read a fatigued kind of anger as she warned me and others to go searching through the site to see if we, her writerly associates, also fallen victim. The process got me thinking about online piracy, and how the average Internet user still doesn’t view illegal downloading as all that big a deal.
Before the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started suing people and websites for illegal file sharing, only 35 percent of Americans even knew it was illegal. Joke was on them. The RIAA was notoriously and selectively aggressive, nabbing retirement funds, college savings and probably some jars of change en route to proving their point.
The act of downloading an artist’s (or anyone’s really) work online without paying isn’t the same as swiping some candy from a grocery store. The latter is basic shoplifting, whereas the former is a federal crime. Once you click, you can’t take it back. You’re a pirate now. Better start swilling run everywhere and grow a pencil-thin beard. Might help to go buy a sword with all the money you saved from thieving songs from Katy Perry and Drake. Deleting the files form your computer won’t help, either. The crime is in the act of taking, not possessing the files.
There are but six major book publishers in the United States — six. They own all the subsidiaries and boutique labels that make it seem as though field is more crowded than it actually is. What the online market does for the game is provide access to a customer base for smaller, independent publishers to grow. A good example is J Taylor Publishing, the company that puts out my Demos City Series.
Piracy hammers smaller publishers because it deprives them of vital revenue. We’re not talking about executives at Simon & Schuster receiving their quarterly bonuses. We’re talking about a company keeping its doors open. Piracy on a massive scale could wipe out an independent publisher, even if they do happen to curate a successful book series or have a particularly prominent author. A great reputation won’t the creditors at bay. Nevermind the authors who need those royalty payments to continue supporting themselves with proceeds from a career they absolutely love.
Let’s not hash out the ‘if you loved it, you’d do it for free’ argument. Attaching an emotion to a craft that’s difficult to do well does not relieve anyone of their obligation to compensate the artist. If a writer can’t get paid for the books they produce, then that writer needs to find other work. That means fewer books, unfinished projects and a unique voice silenced because of a pressing mortgage and want of having food in the house.
I won’t even make the case that it’s okay to download a bestseller illegally, but pay the little guys. If someone writes an amazing book that sells millions of copies, then they’ve got the legal right to collect royalties on every sale. I won’t split those moral or ethical hairs, and neither should you.
The e-book market is a wonderful venue for new and emergent artists to hone their stories. It eliminates the archaic publishing model of the last century. Search around for blog posts about Amazon Author Central. Agents and editors are scared to death of that thing. However, the only way that arena will thrive is if the producers of creative work can earn enough to take time away from their day jobs.