EBook Piracy and You (and Me)

I fully intended to write a humorous post based on suggestions from my Facebook friends, but when I put out the call for topics, someone suggested I talk about my opinion on eBook piracy. At the near certainty risk of offending everyone out there, I want to give you a run down of my thoughts on piracy and how I got there.
Photo by Irving Johnson.
Used under Creative Commons licence.

I have been self-publishing for well over a year now and the experience has been fantastic. I don't make big money at it. For every book I sell for money, I make between thirty-five and sixty cents. It's not a lot per book, but that money helps pay for the coffee I drink while I'm writing. It's a win-win, you get to read a story I've spend time working on, and I get to break even on the cost of my creative outlet.

As far as costs go, keep in mind other people spend time to work on making my eBooks a quality product. I have an editor and beta readers. Granted, I do not pay my beta readers, but it does take time to remain social with my fans so the occasional person is willing to volunteer. Don't get me wrong, I love being social with fans, but you know how much that costs? That's right, coffee money.

Finally, don't forget the cost for professional cover art. I had the fortune to have very high quality covers developed by Jason Gurley for my Desperate to Escape series. However, in the background I've been learning to make my own covers so I don't have to hire someone for every short story I publish. It's one of those things where I would rather hire someone to do it, but I don't sell enough copies of my books to justify the cost. Luckily, I have a group of authors I work with who are very honest about my cover designs and push me to do better. Most authors do not have the background in computers I have and will not be able to learn design software as quickly as I do (plus my dad has a Masters degree from an Art Institute, so that helps).

Alright, so have I convinced you I need money to continue providing high quality work for people to read yet? Good. Now let me tell you why I tell self-published authors not to sweat eBook piracy.

There was quite a bit of time in my life I spent writing for a blog (before they were called blogs). I rewrote the code for the website myself (you kids with your Bloggers and Wordpresses have it easy) and published on it with some friends. It was a collection of the best comedic essays from 1997-2007 (oops, I let the domain name slip a few years back so it is lost to the world). Anyway, I spent time to code and author the website, I spent money on Dreamweaver for another redesign, and I spent a lot of late nights poking through databases to find out what my code was really doing.

I also spent money to rent a chunk of a server in Texas to keep the website up. Renting server space is fairly cheap if you don't need technical support (and I don't). But in the end, I spent a lot of money and time on the effort. The only way the website made money was with Google Ads. I did get a check for $100 from Google...once. It took ten years to make that money and it didn't come close to what I spent. I am not mad, though, it was fun. The one thing lacking from the experience was readers. Very few people ever came to the website and read the stuff we wrote.

We wanted readers, we craved comments on our posts, we gave all the content away for free. Guess what? In the short time I have been selling stories on the Amazon Kindle Store, I have had more readers, and more comments (ie, reviews) than I had in ten years of giving my work away for free.

Let me say that another way for emphasis: I tried to give my writing away and no one would read it. When I started charging for it, people paid for it and read it.

What kind of backwards logic is going on here? I don't know, but to be honest I really do like it. I like that people are reading and reviewing my books. It's wonderful. The money is great too, but it's the fact people read and like my books that is the best part. It's why I price my books low. I don't want price to get in the way of someone reading what I wrote.

So, back to piracy. Let's say someone gets a pirated copy of my book. What does that mean for me? Does that mean I lost a sale? Nope, if you are a person who pirates books, you would not have read my book if the only way to get it was to pay for it. If you read my book and like it, you might go buy some of my other books you cannot find on a pirate website. So, the worst thing that can happen if my books are pirated is I lose nothing and the best thing that can happen is I gain a fan.

Take a moment to consider Michael Bunker and Jason Gurley, two great indie authors. They both give away most of their books for free, but still make plenty of sales. Shoot, I get their books for free directly from them, then I end up buying the eBook and paperback versions anyway. Free helps build fans, and I love my fans.

Does that mean I want people to pirate my book? Nope. I would rather people pay for my book so I can cover the costs mentioned above. I used to pirate software in the early nineties. Back when people passed floppy disks around and hand-copied security codes. I stopped pirating, though. I feel that in the marketplace, people should be able to charge for their work if they want. If the price is too high, then I won't pay for it, but I won't steal it either. It's my own personal philosophy of life, but it is not everyone's and I understand why some people would steal creative works.

So, what's my position what might offend everyone? Here it goes:

If you are a self-published author, you should be paid for your creative work, but if people want to steal it and become fans, don't let it bother you because getting your stuff read is the most important part of why you write.

My advise holds for traditionally published authors as well, but maybe there is a mandatory "hate piracy" clause in your contract. I don't know, I never tried to get traditionally published.

As a final note, there are many ways someone can support me. You can buy my books (I suggest the Desperate to Escape series, which is popular), you can write a review, you can sign up for my newsletter (to your right and up on this website), you can email me thomasrobinsauthor (a gmail address), or follow me on Twitter @Robinsauthor. If you really want to read one of my books and can't afford it, write me and offer to write a review if I send you a review copy.

For myself, sure, I will request pirated books be taken down, but I'll always kind of hope I made a new fan while it was there.