It seems that ebooks have become the latest creative medium to be hit by digital piracy. According to one report, ebook publishing is being undermined by pirates in the same way that the music industry has been. Books which retail on Amazon and elsewhere for up to $15 are being given away free by bootleggers.
I have to say that as an ebook author and publisher I am not very concerned about this. On the one hand some ebooks cost too much anyway, principally because of an agreement (which is now being investigated by the European Union) between six major publishers. It seems that these publishers are trying to protect their traditional print businesses by making it uneconomical for people to buy digital editions. Well, if that’s what they are really up to, having their books pirated serves them right.
Nor am I too worried about the welfare of the big ebook retailers, principally Amazon and Apple. They’re big enough to take care of themselves, and I’m sure they will.
On the other hand, I could worry about the little guys, the authors, people like me. Writers who publish their own books because they became so hacked off with traditional publishers. Authors whose financial security rests on not being squeezed too hard by the selfsame ebook retailers. It’s tough enough to make a living as an independent writer without some modern day Captain Hook hauling a skull and crossbones up over your work and stealing it from you.
But actually, I’m not worried about the ebook authors either. For two reasons. First, perhaps naively, I believe that most ebook readers respect our independence and integrity and are happy to see us earn money for our hard work. I think the vast majority of readers will prefer to reward ebook writers than save the very few dollars that most independently published ebooks cost.
Secondly, if independent ebooks are pirated it could be a good thing. Many indies promote themselves by giving their books away. I’m not sure how effective a marketing technique this really is, but having your book pirated should be little different to giving it away yourself. The book is still getting exposure.
Not just that, but seeing one’s book pirated is likely to make a writer angry. Their work has been devalued. And, once a writer gets angry and feels their work is being devalued, they might ask why this is happening. Is it because they have already devalued it themselves by selling it on the open market for 99 cents? That’s what many independent author-publishers sell their books for. But no creative work should be sold for so little. No market should be encouraged to believe it can acquire intellectual property for such a pittance.
By underpricing their work, many indies do themselves a great disservice. They’re better than that, most of them anyway, their books are worth more than 99 cents. Cheap does not equate to value. Cheap suggests crap.
If independent publishers are going to succeed in a market dominated by established entities they have to be organised and commercial. They have to take the fight to the big publishers, by offering products of equal, or better, quality and value.
I don’t believe that selling a book for 99 cents makes any sort of positive statement about either quality or value. I think independents need to regard themselves more highly. When it comes to marketing they need to be driven, or even angry. Maybe being ripped off by ebook pirates will light the fuse to make them angry. Maybe ebook pirates are a blessing in disguise. And that’s why I’m not worried by them.