Competing with pirates

Some advice for Lucía Etxebarria

Just before Christmas, the Guardian reported that Spanish novelist Lucía Etxebarria had decided to stop writing as a protest against unauthorized distribution of at least one of her books.  A well-known writer in Spain, Etxebarria posted on her Facebook page that the number of unauthorized downloads had exceeded the paid sales of her most recent book.

According to the Guardian, some of the reactions to her announcement were harshly critical of the author.  That’s unfortunate, as Etxebarria has made a personal decision and likely a difficult one.

I do hope she reconsiders, though, because the data on which she based her decision has some gaps.  That the number of downloads exceeds the number of books sold is problematic, but it’s worth investigating where the downloads went.

It’s possible that the downloads are taking place largely outside of her home market (Spain).  If so, they might signal an opportunity to grow Etxebarria’s presence in other regions or countries.

If the downloads are concentrated in Spain, Etxebarria might test an earlier decision to publish only in print.  In the Guardian, she had noted:

“We decided against publishing it as an eBook because that is easy to pirate. It would have been like throwing it straight to the lions.”

Clearly, a print-only strategy is not working as a barrier to piracy.  In practice, it may be the case that the absence of a digital option has even helped create a pirate market.  To evaluate that possibility, it is worth testing a digital option in Spain.

I’m not excusing the pirated content, but it’s not clear what conclusions we can draw from the data.  Before giving up on writing, Etxebarria might look at ways to use pirate activities to help grow her presence internationally, much as Paolo Coelho has done.

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