rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
There's nothing new about writers complaining about "book pirates", this being only one of the many posts I've seen on it. The usual arguments are familiar, too, and I see no particular need to cover them myself -- a bit of googling should find you more of the debate, if you're interested.

Personally, I try to be mindful in my reading (see: [personal profile] holyschist's post on it, here). If I read a book in such a way that the author doesn't make any profit from it, and there are legal ways to do this (secondhand bookshops, borrowing from a friend, libraries, free copies given out online), I usually try to make sure that the author does profit as a result, provided I think the author is worth supporting (e.g. I would not buy a copy of a book full of racist ableist crap).

The way I do this is twofold: first of all, I talk about the book. I tell people that I loved it, or didn't, and discuss it with people. That happens, in fact, regardless of whether I liked the book or not.

For example, I read Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal, on the train this morning. I didn't really enjoy it: the debt to Jane Austen is more than she seems to acknowledge. All the characters, the whole situation, all of it is taken from bits and pieces of Austen's work, and then magic -- "glamour" -- is pasted on over the top. Her writing is competent enough, but without Austen's subtleties. I'd recommend as "beach reading", not as something serious that has depth. Regardless, Mary Robinette Kowal has that benefit from me, if nothing else: she's being talked about, and reaching more people.

Think of Tim O'Reilly's essay, available here, in which he states that, "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy."

I have friends who would buy anything that has the vaguest link to Jane Austen. And they in turn will tell their friends, who feel the same way, so that from just my not terribly positive reaction to Kowal's work, there's a whole chain of potential sales.

Second of all, I buy a copy for someone else. For their birthday, for Christmas, or just because, whatever. In my case, the answer is usually "just because". That's pretty much the first point all over again, with the addition of my single purchase of the book for someone (which makes, what, 50p difference to the author's potential net profits?).

I have a lot of problems with the argument as it is so often framed. The accusation that "you don't work for free, so why should I?", for example. I didn't know they could read my mind -- wait, clearly they couldn't, since I do (so far at least) write for free. I might be a volunteer for a charity organisation. I might be the partner who stays at home to look after the children, in which case my hard work would almost certainly not be paid for.

(People involved in fandom almost invariably write for free, and often produce wonderful work which cannot legally be paid for. I haven't quite worked out how I want to work that into my argument, but it is on my mind. The idea that there is a moral imperative to pay an artist for their work is likely foreign to many people who are artists, whether they are popularly considered to be so or not.)

My final point is very anecdotal, and not directly related to books and publishing. The music service, Spotify, has been around for a couple of years now. It's a legal way to listen to whatever you want, apparently at no cost to you except viewing a few ads (unless, like me, you pay for a premium account). By this time, most of my friends and family have Spotify, and none of us do any kind of downloading of music, except perhaps where Spotify's catalogue of available music doesn't have what we want.

Spotify may have problems related to how much they pay the record labels and artists whose music they make accessible, but if we imagine it were a perfect system, I think it would cut down on a lot of the problems. One of the reasons people download music is because they want something specific, and they want it right now. Services like Spotify allow instant gratification, for little to no cost. It also allows people to try out new music, some of it old or obscure. Or, for another example, I'm not interested in Neil Young's music, generally, but I've had "War of Man" on repeat, entirely legally, since I was earwormed with it last week. The temptation of downloading it illegally would have been great, if this was ten years ago, when I would neither have wanted to buy the CD nor had a way to pay for a single song online (since I didn't have a credit or debit card).

I suspect that instant gratification is part of the attraction of ereading devices like the Kindle. When I have mine (Christmas!), I'll be able to download books instantly, wherever I am, thanks to 3G access to the Kindle store. They have many books available, many of them at very affordable/competitive prices.

As musicians have in the past, authors need to come to terms with the digital world. My first suggestion for that would be to make sure that your book is available worldwide as an ebook -- I've seen one artist decrying the illegal downloads of a scanned copy of her book as "unnecessary" when no official ebook was available -- and at a reasonable price.

There's a whole 'nother debate about what "a reasonable price" constitutes, which I don't have time to share my thoughts on, just now.


rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
Rhian Crockett

August 2013



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