In an earlier post on this blog, I guess I got a little bit emotional. I said things which I meant, but perhaps I said them a little more emphatically than I needed to in order to convey my point. That’s a hazard with being a writer. We’re an emotional breed, and we get even more so when we perceive a threat to a friend, or to ourselves and that was certainly the case for me earlier today.
So, I apologize for the tone of my post, but I don’t apologize for the content of it. I am upset to think that there are people around who would want to steal the work of any artist, not just that of my friends. Having taken some time since making my earlier post, to discuss the issue with my partner and with friends, and to think about the issue in a calmer and more rational way, I am going to try and put my thoughts down in writing.
Ebook piracy, in fact, any kind of piracy is really just an outplaying of a human tendency to take the path of least resistance. The way that works is illustrated in the graphic posted above. (thanks to Wikipedia) Any time we set out to do something, we try to find the easiest, quickest and least troublesome way to do it. In the illustration it shows how people faced with crossing a mountain range will mostly opt for the pass between the two peaks rather than going the hard way up the sides of the mountains. They choose the path of least resistance.
That’s all very well when you’re talking about climbing a mountain, but what about when it comes to selling an ebook?
Let us assume that in the image above we have a representation of three different websites. The website on the left of the image is that belonging to an ebook publisher. The one on the right is the homepage of an author, and the one in the middle is a pirate website offering free downloads of ebooks. As can be plainly seen, a few people (loyal readers/friends/family) of the author are opting to go straight to his/her website looking to buy his books. One has even been redirected from his website to the publisher’s site.
A few others went straight to the publisher’s site looking for their favorite author’s books.
But down there in the pass between the two legal sites, droves of users are heading off to the pirate site and choosing the path of least resistance.
This is upsetting. Those little dotted lines of readers going to pirate sites translate, in the eyes of the author and the publisher into lost revenue, lost royalties and a lot of heartache over the hours, days, weeks and sometimes even months or years an author has put in to creating a work of fiction, getting it edited, proof read, published and out there to earn him–well in a vast majority of cases, a couple of hundred bucks.
I can easily understand his discouragement and sense of futility when his hard work nets him even less because the end user has decided it’s easier to take the path of least resistance and get the books for free.
No artist can afford to have their work pirated. Although all of us seem to have a line in the sand where we will not opt for piracy–we also, on the other hand tend to have a mentality that says that an author who’s earning more can better afford it. Come on, be honest. 🙂
I think the key lies in finding ways to make the two mountain peaks into the pass and turn the pass into a mountain peak. That is, to make buying the books into the path of least resistance. I’m not sure exactly how, but maybe it comes down to letting end users have something for nothing. Maybe if they buy one ebook, they can have another one for free? If they buy the book they can have access to something else for free. Many gaming companies, software companies and so forth work on this principle.
I watched a TV program a while ago where people were attending self protection classes. The police officer giving the class said that resisting an assailant actively is not the way to go. You risk injury to yourself and the situation getting out of hand. His technique was to show the person being attacked how to use the assailant’s momentum against him. Again, it is the path of least resistance. If someone tries to drag you into a vehicle, don’t resist. Rather, rush forward with your assailant who is probably expecting you to struggle, and you can trip him and make your escape.
Ranting, name calling, posting heated tirades are all good ways to vent some steam, and I am not saying that writers should keep silent about piracy, but I do think that we need to use our voices to convey the message and not alienate the audience.
You will catch more flies with honey, as they say.
I’m not sure what the solutions will turn out to be, but I do believe that communication, building bridges instead of walls is the better way to go in this.