Today I followed Twitter more closely than I usually do because of
Digital Book World day 2, the Apple iPad unveiling and then the RWA announcement about the changes to their rules concerning eligible publishers.
Now, I’m coming down from a publishing buzz, and gathering some of the links I found while reading today.
First, one of Brian O’Leary’s tweets led me to this article about Chris Anderson’s “latest” idea. I’m almost done with Clay Shirky’s book, and I completely agree with Brian about the similarities between the two guys’ ideas. Can great minds think alike when one of them thought it two years ago?
Then, there was piracy.
Yesterday’s speech by Macmillan president Brian Napack has been making the rounds. Teleread had a summary; PW focused on it in their wrap-up. Napack’s gist seemed to be that piracy is bad. We should stop it however we can.
But there is something in me that can’t fully accept this dictate.
I keep seeing too many stories about free (pirated) books increasing sales. Take this Publishing Perspectives piece, for example. The article is mostly about Amazon’s e-book “exclusives,” but inside there is an interesting side note about The Pirate Coelho. A long clip from the article:
In his keynote speech opening the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008, Coelho laid out his philosophy quite clearly, describing his decision to create a site, The Pirate Coelho, where he links to free pirated downloads of his books in any language he can find them online:
“Why not share the whole digital content of books for free? Contrary to what common sense tells us — and common sense is not always a good guide, otherwise publishers, booksellers and writers would probably be doing something more profitable — the more you give, the more you gain. I was lucky enough to see this happening to my books in Russia, back in 1999, where I had a very difficult beginning. Given the great distances, my books were very poorly distributed and the sales were very low. Yet, with the appearance of a pirated digital copy of The Alchemist sales took off in an amazing way. In the first year, the sales had jumped from 1,000 copies to 10,000 copies. In the second year they soared to 100,000 copies and the year after I sold a million books. To this day, I have reached the mark of over 10 million books in this territory. The Russian experience stimulated me to create a site: “The Pirate Coelho”.
“The Pirate Coelho” was there for three years, being fed by readers worldwide, and nobody in the industry noticed — because my sales were steadily growing. However, from the moment that I mentioned it at a Technology Conference at the beginning of this year, I started hearing some complaints. However, in the end, my US publishing house, HarperCollins, for example, fully understood the possibilities. So once a month during 2008, I have uploaded one of my titles, unabridged, to be read online. Instead of seeing a drop in sales, I am pleased to say that The Alchemist, one of the first titles to be made available online, by September has completed a full year on the New York Times bestselling list. This is living proof of our industry’s momentum: use the web to promote and you will see the results in the physical world.”
And then @screeny sent me this fantastic in-depth interview with a book pirate. For this guy, piracy equals passion. Not only did he scan physical books–a task I know is annoying based on the many photocopies of old books I used to have to make–he spent up to 40 freakin’ hours editing the design to be more readable. Would it be too audacious to suggest that this “pirate” is really spending numerous unpaid hours building an audience for the authors he loves?
In my head, I know piracy is a bottom-line problem, for publishers and for writers. But in my heart, I am with this guy. I can’t help comparing his urge to find and share books with the many, many ways I myself have gorged on free and cheap books. I get books from work. I share books from work with friends and colleagues. I am a heavy library patron, both Brooklyn Public and New York Public. I was once also a heavy used bookstore patron, turning in one new copy of a Brenda Joyce for four tattered copies of whatever looked good.
(The only reason I’m not such a heavy used bookstore patron today is that NYC doesn’t have the kind of stores I like–filled with romance and eager to make trades on anything I bring in. The Strand is great, but not of the same caliber as my old college haunt, Brant’s Used Books.)
Isn’t electronic piracy really just sharing, at a larger scale? And maybe the increased sharing is what’s needed now that we’re serving a larger, global market. The numbers seem big, yes, but I can’t help thinking about how many used books are sold online every year and how many books are loaned by large library systems. Does all of that sharing count as piracy, too? I’m not convinced an electronically pirated book is actually a lost sale. I’d rather consider it a widely distributed sample.