I read a lot of books – especially short novels – on my ipod or my computer. It’s easier to carry around my ipod than a book, and downloading a book is faster and easier than going to a bookstore or waiting on the mail. You’d think the internet and ebooks would be great for authors – publishing an ebook is cheap, you’ve got a huge potential audience, and there are so many ways to get people interested in your work that are essentially free advertising.
Unfortunately, many authors are still tying themselves to book publishers that try to treat digital books like paper and ink books. Many authors blame illegal downloads for poor sales and try to convince readers that they should be willing to jump thru hoops to get a particular book. Saundra Mitchell disapprovingly says that “people who illegally download books are more interested in their convenience than in supporting the authors they want to read.” Well, duh. Of course I’m more interested in getting and reading a book than I am in the author’s finances. This doesn’t mean readers don’t want to support authors. It means that publishers are making it too hard for readers to support authors.
Right now the best way to get ebooks isn’t legal. There are a million and one sites selling ebooks. It’s very annoying having to look on multiple sites for a book or author, but illegal download sites usually have the better selection and often better search tools. Sometimes they even have better organization. They also come with reader comments, suggestions, and conversation much of the time – there’s a bit of a community instead of reviews.
Books that are downloaded illegally don’t come with DRM – so you can read it in whatever reader you want on whatever device you want and move it or copy it to as many hard drives as you want – pain free.
Idiotically, DRMed ebooks are often more expensive than their paperback versions, despite having far less value. Once I’ve read a book, I lend it out, give it away, swap it, or resell it. With a DRMed ebook, I’m the only one that can read it – and I can’t even read it all the ways I want without hackage. Which is illegal. Plus, I don’t want to spend $9.99+ on an ebook I read once in just a few hours.
Publishers also do stupid, stupid things like make books available in some regions, but not in others (What is the fucking point of this strategy? How does this make sense in a world with the internet?) There’s a series I like that’s available only in Australia – even the ebooks. I’m not going to track down a random Australian and pay them for the book plus $15 postage like Mitchell suggests. I ended up with a copy of the series and liked it so much that I wanted to donate to the author since it wasn’t possible for me to buy the books. But guess what? Publishers make it so that readers can’t support authors without buying DRMed or physical copies of their books.
And that I think is the root of the problem. Publishers are using a model that is decades behind the times, preventing authors from making money in new ways – like through donations and micropayments. If every book on an illegal download site had a Flattr button for the author, I guarantee things like this wouldn’t happen:
[SHADOWED SUMMER is] going out of print in hardcover because demand for it has dwindled to 10 or so copies a month. This means I will never get a royalty check for this book. By all appearances, nobody wants it anymore.
But those appearances are deceiving. According to one download site’s stats, people are downloading SHADOWED SUMMER at a rate of 800 copies a week. When the book first came out, it topped out at 3000+ downloads a week.
If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list.
The article I’ve linked to throughout this post is by a disgruntled author, and it has a lot of other disgruntled authors weighing in about THE EVIL PEOPLE WHO DOWNLOAD their books. I feel a little sorry for them, but mostly I want to whack them over the head. The people downloading their books do it because they like the books. They are the customers, the fans. Authors aren’t making money from those readers because we aren’t being given good ways to give authors money. The problem isn’t the people illegally downloading; the problem is the way ebooks are being sold.