Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web

I picked up this Neil Gaiman clip via an SF Signal twitter. Rather similar to an earlier speculation of mine that book piracy might be an electronic version of the second-hand book shop. I'm not entirely sure I agree. Does this apply outside SF? How does it apply for lesser known authors? How does it apply to authors who aren't regularly publishing books?


Andrew said...

The problem is that the electronic pirate copy can be replicated again and again and then distributed through the internet.

When you lend someone a book he normally gives it back to you.

Disco Stu said...

"Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free."

I agree with this. The guy who won't pay for anything and downloads music/film/ebooks etc was never going to buy a book anyway.

On the other hand the person who is a book lover downloads Gaiman, loves it and wants hardcopies. His experience of 300% rise with a givaway is quite telling for me.

So sure, its illegal and a crime. But it sounds like there is certainly an element of it being an extension of borrowing a book. Or as you say the second-hand market.

Gaiman raised a question to which I have to answer yes to both. I did borrow a book (Nightwinds by Karl Edward Wagner) which blew me away and I subsequently collected Wagners other work.
I also went into Ottakars, saw The Skinner, read the first page,took it home and read the book and bought the back catalogue in paperback and then hardback from there on.

If I had been loaned The Skinner I would have done the same thing, so if I was a downloader and got hold of ebook Skinner I feel the same outcome would be true.

Does this apply outside SF? Why shouldnt it?

How does it apply for lesser known authors? For me I think the key is did you LOVE the book? Are you just a downloading skanker or a lover of books/stories. Would a lesser known author become better known as a result of lending downloading? Gaiman seems to think so and I think I agree with him.

How does it apply to authors who aren't regularly publishing books?
How do you think it would be different?

Must have crossed your mind to offer one of your selling novels online - perhaps from this blog.
Whats your thoughts on that?

Interesting stuff.

j purdie said...

Andrew, I've lent lots of books that never came back to me and got books that never went back to their original owners :)

Gaiman isn't saying anything new: go to and look around and you'll see that musicians authors and artists have had this point of view for years.

There is a growing saying that is getting used more and more on 'piracy': Obscurity is a bigger threat to the author than piracy.

Like celebs on the front page some authors might be concerned they're not being pirated.

A main problem is of course copyrights, the laws on which have been reworked in the favour of corporations not authors. (It's interesting to note that copyrights were first created for printers not authors, and even as recently as the thirties and forties when an author sold their work they sold ALL copyrights. Not entirely sure about it but I think it may have been the 1956 revision - in the UK - that changed this in favour of the publisher to the author. Would need to check.)

Another main problem is perception: calling it piracy in the first case. It's a loaded word used by the entertainment industry. Call it sharing and it's not only not so bad but almost positive. Call it marketing and it's probably tax deductible.

Neal Asher said...

All debatable points, but I'll pick up on one of yours Stu:

"How does it apply to authors who aren't regularly publishing books?
How do you think it would be different?"

If someone is downloading books to a Kindle and gets for free the one or two books an author has published, there are no more books to buy, even if the Kindle owner feels so inclined. I think it highly unlikely said person is then going to decide to pay for what he's already got.

Joe Mansfield said...

Does this apply outside SF?

The argument goes that for authors the main challenge is converting potential readers. This has proven to be true in Gaiman's experiment, and is true for some others (Charlie Stross and Peter Watts spring to mind) but all of those fit in the Fantasy\SF general field so do not serve to answer your question.

I think the trend has been popular in SF in particular because it has a tech savvy readership. As e-book formats and delivery platforms have become more widespread this should change as there is nothing specific to SF about the challenge of converting non-readers into revenue generating fans which is what giving away (some) free books does when it works.

How does it apply for lesser known authors?

That's a much trickier question. It's worked for Peter Watts to some degree, possibly Charlie Stross and certainly Cory Doctorow. There are probably a few more that I'm not familiar with but it's only clearly worked well for a small fraction of those who've tried it. Then again most who've tried it aren't good authors either.

How does it apply to authors who aren't regularly publishing books?

If they are any good I think it should actually help them more than authors who are actively producing new content regularly. All the evidence we have so far is that if giving away some books works at all then it boosts sales of all of the authors material, provided they have other material that is.

Does it matter

Right now I don't think piracy makes any significant negative difference to the sales of a successful author provided they are not ignoring potential markets.

Many people do get to read books via pirate sources for free but apart from some scenarios I discuss below I really don't believe any significant fraction of those represent lost sales, those people just don't generally buy books. The author still gets a small benefit in terms of increased mindshare and with any luck will eventually get some actual paying customers when some of those pirates recommend the author's work to more honest friends. I think that will remain true provided there is some moral taint associated with acquiring and reading pirated material. I also believe that provided e-books are easy to discover and pay for that online piracy will become less relevant. The rise of iTunes and demise of Napster and the rest has had more to do with user convenience and the removal of the taint of having done something wrong than anything else. Most people like to own stuff, and in general understand that paying for it keeps more of it coming. The fact that libraries never killed off private book ownership proves that too. The rise of a viable e-book industry will have the same effect.

The major exceptions to this are situations where the current publishing industry does stupid things (in my opinion at least). A whole bunch of Authors (Dan Simmons, Joe Scalzi, the afore mentioned Charlie bleeding Stross FFS, ... ) have lost revenue from me because I could not buy their books where I wanted to (Sorry the UK release will be next year..) or in the format I wanted to (E-book versions of this series are only available for books 1-2 and 4-5 - WTF!). Likewise rampant piracy in places like Russia and Eastern Europe commonly indicates that there are fans there looking for a copy they can read. Those are all issues that have arisen from traditional global publishing practices that I for one hope will disappear completely in my lifetime.

The emergence of good e-book reading and delivery mechanisms has introduced a variation that is clearly easier for all involved to accept and I think is far more important because it is almost universal now - the ability to get a useful partial preview of a book for free. That Kindle feature alone has encouraged me to purchase about 50 books, and discover about four new authors in the last year alone. Linked to a recommendation engine this is an amazing way to convert potential readers.

Hitch said...

The torrent generation, myself included, has said for many years now that this is the case. That people will download, music, games, book, films etc etc and that the majority if they like it will go and buy not only the same item they already downloaded but also other things from that same company, publisher, artist.

I never buy a game that I cannot demo. If I cannot demo it, and that is a lot of games, I will pirate it. If I play it, I will buy it, if its crap (like most) I delete it because its trash taking up my HDD space.

If I DL music, the same applies. Not so much now because I use things like Spotify, but as record labels are often money grabbing wankers that refuse Spotify to use it unless paid idiot amounts then I have and still do DL stuff occasionally. The same rule applies with music as games, if I like it I will say so with my wallet.

Most people are the same as me in this regard. Some are not, sure. Those are the kind of people that will happily break into your car to steal a CD they wanted. They are not the normal "pirate" despite the media suckering people into thinking they are.

Now, books. I don't own a e-reader but I can assure you, if I ever do and if I ever think I may like someones writing then I may well choose to pirate it first. However if its good, I want a copy for my bookshelf, simple as that, even if I have already read it.

I have a strong disdain for people who blindly state that piracy is bad and pirates will never pay for anything they already have for free, its BS.

Since the mid 70s i've pirated stuff, my mates have and most likely you have. And yet, that mix tape you got when you were a kid probably ended up with you buying the album later. That software you play now will most likely end up with you paying for it because you want the updates, the ownership etc etc.

Books will IMO be the same. There is no reason it should be any different to music, games, software, movies.

Piracy is often seen as a form of checking value. Do not believe the publicity thrown out by the giants, we, I, am a nice person who collects books, music etc etc and has often paid through the nose for it even with my 'free' options available.

Hitch said...

Oh yeah, regarding lesser know authors. Same applies for lesser know musicians. They often use 'piracy' to get word out about there music, and it works all the time.

Software people do to. Look at Notch with Minecraft. A single guy made a great game and it got pirated. In a month he doubled his numbers of real sales and is now a multimillionaire with his own full game company.

This isn't fiction, its fact and its recent, like 3-4 months ago. Same again, applies to authors.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

"Oh yeah, regarding lesser know authors. Same applies for lesser know musicians. They often use 'piracy' to get word out about there music, and it works all the time."

bingo, and people show up to your gig.

one thing you can say about freebies online: Gaiman and Doctorow have made e readers their worker slave horsebitch.

Unknown said...

Just my two pennies worth: I only buy paper books. After finishing reading, if I really like it and feel that may refer to it in the future, then I'll download a copy and keep it in my notebook. This is convenient for performing searches for particular terms, something that is not so easy in a paper book. If, for some reason, it wouldn't be possible to get a free copy of the physical book I already own, then I would never buy an electronic version.

osh said...

The thing about music downloads is that musicians don't make much from their cds, they generally make money with gigs.

People pirate music, 'hey this is good, i'll go see them'


Authors dont have anything like gigs.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

..and that's why is presenting THE MASADA PANTOMIME HAPPINESS DEATH-FLENSE show at all participating bookstores.

authors: cash in, play guitar.

Tokrika said...

I have a tendency to read my pockets and tradepapers to tatters. I can't afford hard-backs, nor do I want them as they are too heavy to lug around. So I always end up buying several physical copies of books in order to keep on reading them. Since January of 2011, I've been buying all my books in e-book format aswell, when avalible. So for the books I like, I tend to buy aprox 3 copies. But thats just me.

Gaimans vid got me thiniking of the e-book formats and the recent b00m in indie-publishing. People who are decent enough writers are able to sell several hundred of thousands of copies without the support of any publisher. A method that has proven very effetive is offering free digital copies. People are willing do download anything that is free from sources such as amazon or b&n simply because they can. This does two things: it gives unknown and fledgling indie-authors some much-needed exposure and it makes them able to present some rather signifcant 'sales'-numbers.

The numbers of copies sold (sold = free in this case) boosts the titles online-rating, and thereby making it more noticable for more casual readers who like to get fooled into using the various best-seller and raking lists as primary search-criteria for good lit.

Another trick used when offering works for free is to make the second book in a series the free one, while offering the first book at a low price. You give away a book that is pretty much useless unless you buy a very cheap first book. Then you read two books of an epic tale and have very few reservations against paying a full price for book number 3-to infinity. And almost all they money from any sale goes into the authors very own pocket. The last point is pretty fucking important and amazing.

Paul said...

I discovered Asher through a borrowed book Prador Moon (American version) which got me into buying and reading the rest. I also borrowed and read Line war but later went out and bought a copy.

Things might change as eBooks become more mainstream. I can see eBook piracy being a problem for a while until the prices start to drop. Looking at MP3's I would imagine the prices will drop, DRM will be removed and then you'll see eBook piracy become less of a problem.

The publishing and distribution advantages for new authors is huge, more people will be able to get their work out there.

Neal Asher said...

Some interesting comments here and this is obviously a subject about which people have strong opinions.