The walls we build up

An open letter to AG president Scott Turow

Dear Mr. Turow,

Congratulations and best wishes on your election as president of the Authors Guild.  This is an interesting and in some ways challenging time for publishing, and the AG is positioned to serve as a well-reasoned and informed voice for authors.

As it happens, the need for reason and data at a time of uncertainty prompts me to write.  Among other pursuits, I study digital book piracy: its instance (how often and where does it occur?), as well as its impact (what’s the effect on paid sales?).

As a prosecutor and an author, you’ve demonstrated a superior ability to build a case, underscoring the importance of vetting every piece of evidence. In your new role, you’ve said a number of things that clearly position “piracy” as among the biggest threats to your members.

But the claims you make about piracy aren’t based on any real evidence.  I’d like to offer some data that argue for a different point of view.

First, though: I am not a pirate.  I value intellectual property and believe its prudent defense can return value to its creators.  But I’ve also come to believe, in this increasingly digital landscape, that the greater threat to many authors is obscurity, not piracy.

I do believe that there are markets in which digital book piracy is a net loss - college textbooks may provide the most direct example.  But I also believe that there may be markets, and authors, for whom piracy helps improve awareness, trial and paid sales.

That’s why we started studying the impact of piracy on paid sales almost two years ago.  On an admittedly limited sample (something we’d like your help to grow), we’ve found an apparent correlation between piracy and subsequent growth in paid sales.

Now, you recently told GalleyCat’s Jason Boog that “…the larger problem for us is the pirating of books”.  I ask, simply, “How do you know?”

There are no reliable studies of the impact of piracy in the book business.  Because our sample set is limited, I include our own work to date in that bucket.  The studies that are cited most often are based on sampling techniques that try to track the instance of piracy, then apply an assumed number for “substitution rates” (lost sales).

The Government Accounting Office recently “assessed the assessments” of digital piracy and found them all lacking.  That’s not the final word, but it’s an indication that conclusions drawn on the limited data available are premature, at least.

In talking with GalleyCat, you went on to say that “(piracy) has killed large parts of the music industry.”  But, the music industry is not dead, and there are studies that suggest that the more likely shift in buying patterns occurred when vinyl owners finished replacing treasured albums with CDs.

As replacement sales declined, purchase patterns also shifted from whole albums to individual songs.  This was a trend that the music industry actively resisted, in the end fostering the piracy it wanted to prevent.  The lesson here could be more readily distilled as: “Don’t take actions (like delaying the release of e-books) that frustrate consumer demand.”

At a recent BookExpo panel you said, “The transcendent issue for all of us is piracy. Piracy killed off the record store business.”  There’s no doubt that there are far fewer music stores today than there were a decade ago.  But: cause and effect?  The links are not there.

Even a decade ago, most music stores had a limited selection of titles, a problem that only accelerated as album sales declined.  Along the way, Apple introduced a digital storefront that is easy to use, offers a wide selection and can deliver immediately.  Think Amazon and Kindle.

Finally, you’ve noted that “Musicians make up for the copies of their songs that get pirated by performing live. I don’t think there will be as many people showing up to hear me read as to hear Beyonce sing.”  It’s a clever line, and it distills an argument that many authors have made about piracy and enforcement.

This line of thinking, though, mixes cause and effect (musicians performed long before they recorded), and it sidesteps some business arrangements that have long favored labels over artists.  It also excludes some innovative pricing and packaging experiments by bands like Nine Inch Nails, approaches that some publishing people (Richard Nash’s Cursor comes to mind) have embraced and extended.  Publishing is not just about buying the physical book.

After hearing me out, you may still feel that every copy should be paid for.  The moral argument is a fair one, but it runs counter to the ways that content has been long promoted.  Galleys, blads, advance reading copies, sample chapters – these are all considered legitimate (even mandatory) ways to help build awareness of new titles.

Publishers routinely print and distribute a few hundred to tens of thousands of galleys to help promote their books. ARCs can be redistributed; some are used for purposes other than pure promotion.  As one librarian said, “There’s nothing better than BookExpo America for collection management.

This isn’t to suggest that you declare librarians persons of interest.  But the reflexive “stop pirates” argument doesn’t really work, especially when the pirates are inside the house.

I understand that you want to send the message to AG members that you are on top of the hot button issues they are likely concerned about.  I would hope that you agree that the membership deserves the truth about piracy, its effects, and even potential uses your members or their publishers can make of existing piracy.

So, here’s what I think you should do: keep piracy on the agenda, but change the language you use to describe it.  The goal is not to “stop piracy”, but to understand its impact and use enforcement in markets where doing so has the greatest positive impact.

And work with authors to distinguish between the instance of piracy and its impact. A pirated file is not necessarily equivalent to a lost sale. Most authors want to make money, but I’d wager that all authors would like to be read.  Discovery, even with a pirated file, may lead to more sales (something J.A. Konrath is finding, at least for now).  This is an area where more research data would be helpful.

In that spirit, think about having the AG and the AAP put some money behind impartial data gathering and assessment exercise.  I like the work we’ve been doing, but it need not be us.  Use your influence, both as a well-known author and as president of the AG, to lead and contribute to an objective analysis of piracy.

This is the time to put piracy front and center at the Authors Guild.  We can do as the music industry did, presuming a single answer and defending an existing model.  Or, we can choose a data-driven, more flexible path.  I prefer the latter, and I hope I can convince you that you should, too.  Even with the best of intentions, the walls we build up can lock us in.


Brian F. O’Leary

Posted by Sean Cranbury
Jun 07, 2010  at  10:04 AM

Great letter, Brian.

I was just speaking about this topic, as you know, at Bookcamp Halifax 2010 this past weekend. 

I was speaking from Vancouver via skype video to Halifax where the 1.25 hr session included an energetic and thoughtful Q&A;period.

The entire session was also video’d from the room in Halifax and streamed live on the internet.

I only mention this weird communication/video arrangement to underscore the many digital options available for getting content out to the world. 

All of it cheap, if not free.

The problem that many people have with ‘digital piracy’ is - as you mention - the notion that somehow any shared file represents a lost sale.

Even though there’s actual evidence to support the notion that the largest consumers of paid digital media are also the largest consumers of ‘pirated’ digital media.

Anyway, the point that I would like to make here is, for me, the absolute core of the problem with the book publishing industry’s stance toward piracy.

We publish books!

On our best days we publish works of literature, history, poetry, journalism and all manner of writing and thinking that broadens our perspectives, that stretches human possibilities, open minds, generates new ideas, pushes us forward.

We all have that list of books that blew our minds, that changed our lives, that we return to again and again for wisdom or humor or insight or whatever.

We should be in the business of being open-minded.

The book industry should be in the business of discovering and sharing new ideas, of engaging the present, of not hiding from the truth but of looking honestly at it and opening up a discussion.

The real shame in the piracy debate is that the industry is cowering like a frightened child behind mum’s petticoats as a breeze blows in from the back door. Ruffling the drapes.

As an industry we need to play to our strengths, we need to be honest.

Great books and creators will continue to publish and flourish.

That much we know for certain.

Sean Cranbury

Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 08, 2010  at  06:36 AM

Thanks for your thoughts, as well as the contributions you made to BookCamp Halifax.  I’m sorry I was unable to attend - the BookCamp events always challenge and inform.

Posted by Mike Shatzkin
Jun 08, 2010  at  09:17 AM

Great, restrained, and well-reasoned post that gives comfort to all of us who were pulling clumps of hair out of our head while we sat and listened to some of the most ill-informed commentary ever to come off a BEA stage. And not from Turow alone!

I personally suspect that Turow, as a bestselling author, is in a similar category with the college textbooks as among those actually hurt by piracy (“progressive taxation.”) But a) that’s my conjecture, not to be confused with fact, and b) it’s an effect that only would impact a small percentage of the AG members he has been elected to serve.

I certainly hope his Google Alert picks you up!

Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 08, 2010  at  10:23 AM

Thanks… it helps the discussion to try rolling the ball down the middle.

I agree that Mr. Turow’s novels (as well as One L) represent what Tim O’Reilly called “prgressive taxation”... unit loss is greater for best-selling authors.  There, the decision is one of balance: is it worth the cost of pursuing infringement, and does it return what would have been lost sales?  I don’t have an answer either way.

Posted by Dutch
Jun 09, 2010  at  02:22 PM

Just have the need to say that I like your position. Especially the move forward not backwards paragraph;

” This is the time to put piracy front and center at the Authors Guild.  We can do as the music industry did, presuming a single answer and defending an existing model.  Or, we can choose a data-driven, more flexible path. “

A Consumer’s View
I do not use digital books due to a preference for hardcopy (think textbooks & reference books). I may have stacks of books that do nothing but collect dust but the one time I need the information it is there. No device DRM problems or missing key code to hamper me. That is just the way I feel about current ebooks.

That leaves leisure reading. I am a big consumer of audio books. Cost and portability is a factor. As long as I can listen on a mobile, in the car and the computer I shell out the money. Obviously I don’t listen in all three places at the same time; it is the ability to do the listening where I am that matters.

In the case of reading an ebook I am not there yet, partly due to devices/DRM and partly because audio seems to have what I want. That said, I am still waiting for the electronic system that will not be, “Our way or no way.” Terms Of Service.

Just one person’s opinion.

Posted by Andrew Boyer
Jun 09, 2010  at  02:24 PM

A well thought out and presented argument.  You may be interested in reading Eric Flint’s introduction to the Baen Free Library (  He echoes some of your sentiments, and expands.  Many Baen authors have found free (and drm-free) copies end up boosting print sales (here, the first one’s free!).

Posted by Matt
Jun 09, 2010  at  10:20 PM

One thing that everyone keeps missing is that if books weren’t so unfeasibly expensive in many places, more people would buy and read them instead of pirating them. It’s cheaper for me to buy hardcopy books individually on and have them shipped here, paying the postage each time (never mind buying lots and combining the shipping costs) than it is to walk into a bookstore and buy the same book here in New Zealand. That’s insane.

Now extend that same pricing hilarity to electronic versions of books (that due to equally hilarious format wars, can only be read on selected devices, not all of them) and it’s not surprising that people pirate them. I object to paying nearly the same as an actual book for an electronic version. It’s nothing short of daylight robbery.

As someone who’s 110,000 words into his first novel, I understand authors wanting to get some hard earned cash for the work they put in but lets face it, it’s not the authors that make the lion’s share of the money (at least not immediately), it’s the publishing houses.

Like the music and movie producers that whine about losing money due to piracy, how about sensible pricing on the real deal? Then people would go to the cinema more, buy books more and shell out for legitimate songs/albums (electronic or otherwise). I know for an absolute fact that if it cost me $5 to go to the cinema instead of nearly $20, I’d go all the time and so would many of my friends.

Rant over. Take heed publishing/movie/music fat cats, it’s your greed that got you into this in the first place.

Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 10, 2010  at  07:22 AM

@Dutch @Matt Thank you for your perspectives.  I agree that the issues of convenience, including the ability to migrate content across platforms, is a consideration that can drive readers to pirate content.  I touched upon this briefly (“don’t frustrate demand”) in the open letter, and I’ve written more elsewhere on the blog.  If you’re interested, check out the tag cloud entries for keywords piracy, pricing and DRM.

@Andrew You are right; Baen is a good example.  I heard one of the company’s editors speak this March at the Publishing Business conference in New York, and I was impressed by their belief in treating their community with respect.  It does appear that the feeling is mutual.

One of the hard things to do, even in a letter of this length, is touch upon all of the salient points.  I really appreciate that you all have taken the time to read the post and add to it here.

Posted by Dutch
Jun 10, 2010  at  09:21 AM

Good day Brian,

I understand the difficulty summarizing an essay sized topic in one letter; well done. I will take the advice on using the tags and read more.

Also, Andrew’s mention of Baen Free Library has left me with that “deer in headlights” feeling because I did not know of its existence. I have at least 8 banker boxes of mass market SF paperbacks. Baen Books are about 90% of the total. So, I now have to put my money where my rhetoric is - (..) I am still waiting for the electronic system that will not be, “Our way or no way.” Terms Of Service (..)

to do: twitter search “Baen”

Posted by JB
Jun 10, 2010  at  10:07 AM

I agree that the Baen Free Library is a great example of what is possible. I buy most of my SF paperbacks anyway, but Baen has gotten me to try several authors whose books I would not have read otherwise.

Since once I find someone I like, I tend to buy and read all their work, this has expanded the Baen author pool I buy.

What I like best is the ability to download the books for reading on flights onto my laptop, meaning I don’t have to add books or a dedicated reader to my luggage.

Great letter!

Posted by Jon DiPietro
Jun 10, 2010  at  10:33 AM

I’m one of those vile “bloggers-turned-author” who is about halfway through his first draft of his first (non-fiction) book.  My primary motivation is telling a story that I think will help others in their careers.  My secondary motivation is personal brand building that will enable me to raise my profile and earn business in other ways.  As such, I’m in the process of building a community around the book’s concept - something about which Richard Nash speaks eloquently.

As a newcomer to authoring and publishing, I’ve been struck by the lack of business creativity in the hands of such otherwise creatively gifted folks.  We live in a renaissance period of self-publication that should be bringing writers and readers (as well as readers and readers) together in ways that wouldn’t have ever been dreamed possible just 10 years ago.  The innovation will come, no doubt.  And the publishers would be wise to embrace it (no, that was not sarcasm).

One of the other hats I wear is a leader for the Publications department of a non-profit trade association.  Piracy of the Society’s intellectual property is a hot topic.  I’m trying to articulate a heretical argument in favor of a new, less aggressive attitude toward it.  Similarly, I believe that the net effect of piracy would be a long term benefit to the Society in the form of raised awareness and (eventually) new members. 

Posts like this are helpful in stirring thought and challenging assumptions.  Your blog has been bookmarked and I’ll be rummaging around your archives this afternoon.

Posted by Sean Cranbury
Jun 10, 2010  at  12:19 PM

Jon: Great post.  I agree with much of what you say, especially that it’s amazing that an industry that’s based on creative output seems to find it difficult to creatively self-examine their own methods in the face of such opportunity.

I also consult with a healthcare non-profit and assist them with embracing new collaborative technologies and a HUGE question is IP piracy. 

What happens if we let everyone see and share our content?

They want to be collaborative but not THAT collaborative…

I’ve tried a bunch of ideas and tactics with varying degrees of success but the thing that has been universally successful has been creating a wiki.

It has been a revelation in terms of getting people from across generations and technical aptitudes to contribute, collaborate and has essentially quashed the IP piracy debate.

Something to think about.

Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 10, 2010  at  03:00 PM

This thread says it’s time to put together a good post about Baen smile

Jon, I’d echo Sean’s comments and say that you are raising a number of important questions.  Some of them have emerged as blog topics elsewhere on this site (see the tags “content strategy” and “paid content” as well as POD (print on demand) for more), but we continue to explore the implications.

A fair share of the Magellan client base is in the association/society space.  If you’re interested in having some direct conversations, feel free to take this offline.  Contact information is on the right-hand tab.

Posted by Sean Cranbury
Jun 10, 2010  at  03:18 PM

Thanks, Brian.

Further feelings about the benefits of a wiki in this context:

It emphasizes active content creation, collaboration and refinement. It allows people to be experts and at the same time belong to a community that values shared space and information accuracy.

And because it’s communal, the sometimes paralyzing notion of me-first IP is trumped by the larger benefits of participating in the creation of a common resource.

Like a public library where all of that IP is contributed for the greater good with notations and trackable authorship.

There’s also an interesting hitch: the people with the greatest initial resistance to the notion of ‘free content’ are often the greatest, most avid contributors.  The biggest sticklers on details and notations.

A wiki is an amazing tool, I am finding and it may provide some interesting ideas for how creative industries approach solutions for generating awareness and handling free content.

Thanks Brian for writing a post that has generated such wide-ranging discussion!

Posted by Tod Shuttleworth
Jun 10, 2010  at  05:19 PM

Brian -

This is so true. It is amazing how fear runs wild and people look for ways to extend that fear, even though there is little data to support it. Then again, creating fear alslo creates perceived value, even though rational thinking would not support the value.

Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 12, 2010  at  03:38 PM

While I agree with you that there is no “stopping” piracy, I completely disagree with the correlations you draw and some of the “facts” you state.

There are legitimate lending systems for ebooks as there are for print books, which you conveniently cast a blind eye to. They would include the Kindle and Nook systems and the legitimate lending library systems for ebooks.  Authors of my acquaintance, including myself, and indie publishers support these systems.

In addition, there will always be incidental sharing between siblings, parents and children, and friends. There’s no way to stop it and very few people complaining about it, since it really IS no worse for us than libraries and used book stores are.

eBook authors are no more asking for no sharing whatsoever or a payment for every book read than print authors are. You misrepresent us grossly…as most people do, it seems.

But if you really expect us to sit back and do nothing while people share our books with thousands at a shot on pirate sites… That’s not incidental sharing and yes…I find it hurtful. Beyond that, copyright, as it is currently written has a “defend it or lose it clause to it” that prevents us from being quite so cavalier about the subject.

In addition, many authors give free reads that are allowed to be passed freely but NOT used for commercial gain. We understand the benefit of such a system.

Does piracy equate to lost sales? Yes and no. I’ll cover Doctorow and Konrath later, because that’s a heavy issue with a lot of variables you should make yourself aware of. Any blind support of Konrath would only indicate to me that you aren’t aware of them.

There is admittedly no one-to-one or even thousand-to-one correlation you can make between pirated copies and “lost” sales. However, I will advance this as solid fact. Piracy does not steal away a loyal, paying audience. What it DOES do is keep an author from building the audience as they should and leads to a diminishing audience that does not have to be. Konrath and Doctorow do not have to concern themselves with this, as they have already BUILT that audience. Newer authors do. For them, yes…piracy may well outweigh obscurity.

What do I mean by that? It’s simple. When pirates get a book, a very small number of them will purchase further books. From my discussions with them, I’d say that number is negligible. The vast majority have no intentions of buying anything.

Some say they can’t, and that is the fault of either their own governments or of the publishers/resale sites. I’ve never agreed with geographical restrictions on ebooks…or in fact much of the way NY conglomerate is handling ebooks. I understand WHY they do these things, but they aren’t right, in my book.

And they aren’t responsible for piracy. Pirates pirate everything, from indie and NY and even self-published, no matter the formats available, no matter the price, no matter when the formats release, in relation to each other….

Back to the subject… You won’t lose a loyal audience to piracy, most likely, unless you really hack them off somehow. The other side of this coin is that people that don’t know piracy is wrong, those that have been taught on the sites that this crime hurts no one, will not pirate book one and buy book two. They’ll pirate book two, as well…and three and four and five… And the six major subdivisions of pirates that know it’s wrong and don’t care will likewise do it.

Which leads to what? New readers that MIGHT have become part of the loyal, purchasing audience of an author won’t. That leads to a stagnating audience, and that’s bad news for an author. Beyond the fact that it keeps authors from moving onward and upward to larger markets, as the natural attrition of a readership occurs (this one dies, that one loses interest, this one loses track of the author, that one has financial difficulties and scales back on buying books), it leads to a decreasing market that may cost the author his/her contracts or discourage the author from writing at all.

“That’s not the final word, but it’s an indication that conclusions drawn on the limited data available are premature, at least.”

And I don’t find yours much better. Sorry.  I wish I could.

Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 12, 2010  at  03:55 PM

Thanks for weighing in.  You’re projecting some things onto my letter that I don’t feel that I claimed, most notably the use of “facts”.  I cited data that would argue for a different approach to piracy.

I’m glad that you quoted my claim that conclusions are premature.  If you look three paragraphs ahead of that line, you’ll see that I included our own work in that limited data set.

I’m not claiming that we have answers, only that we have enough data to suggest that focusing largely or entirely on enforcement would be a mistake.  That’s why I encouraged Mr. Turow to keep piracy on the agenda and change the language used to talk about it.

Both Cory Doctorow and J.A. Konrath may be outliers or they may be something else.  I don’t ignore the distinctions that may make them different, but I feel we need to look across a cross-section of genres and authors before drawing conclusions.  That’s what I’m hoping the AG and its leadership will support, as well.

Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 12, 2010  at  04:04 PM

The reasons I cannot support Konrath’s experiment…

1. Konrath, like Doctorow and others who get on this soapbox, made his audience before ebook piracy was as prevalent as it is today. Of course, his core group of readers will continue to purchase his works, because they already do and have loyalty to the author. His test is based on the assumption that he will lose that core group of readers, and he won’t lose them. He just won’t build new ones as quickly as he might have otherwise.

Doctorow, in a recent comment about piracy, said he sells 6000+ books in a month. That’s nice that piracy doesn’t hurt him, but the reason why is obvious. He’s NOT a newer author trying to build an audience in this mess. He’s not worried about selling 600 books…or 60…or 6 in a month. He’s an established name with an existing audience working for him to bring in new readers from legitimate sources. Any results these two come up with are skewed automatically by the self-selecting nature of the beast.

By comparison, I had a newer author of ebooks contact me this week, frustrated because she has 2000 “loyal readers” on a certain pirate site, clamoring for every book she releases and begging for more…but she’s only SELLING less than 100 books in the same period of time these “loyal fans” are heisting 2000. That is the reality of what happens to your average author that hasn’t built her audience yet.

2. A search of Konrath’s books brings up 75 results, most of them print (mass market or hard bound). Granted, Baen has made a name for giving away the first ebook in a series, but they make out on that because their PRIMARY market is paper books. The paper still sells, because readers that want to purchase the rest of the series in paper will also buy the free first book ebook in paper (after reading it for free) to have a full set on the shelves. If it’s an ebook reader, that person just purchases the rest of the series in ebook. Doctorow, Konrath, and several others I’ve seen take this line about piracy not hurting them sell a LOT of print books or have and are now working their readership to ebook. That is their primary market, and ebook is just an add-on for them.

In fact, in a discussion of Doctorow, someone mentioned pirating one of his ebooks to GET an ebook copy of a print book she already owned by him, so she could carry it with her on business trips and still have the paper copy safe at home. Of all the reasons out there to pirate, that’s probably the least offensive to me, and if that’s what Doctorow primarily deals with for piracy, I can understand why he’s so relaxed about it. If that was what I was dealing with, I might be tempted to say that it works that way for ESTABLISHED PRINT authors.

But what about the people whose primary market is NOT print? What about the authors whose primary market is ebook? What about the authors that have the bulk of their works available only in ebook with no print counterpart? Beyond the fact that many authors do not have the established audience these guys do is the fact that many authors do not have a print product to “fall back on” for sales.

3. I’ve done a week-long or three-day-long type of first ebook in series free scenario and had sales spike on the rest of the series, as well…in ebook. But that’s not piracy. That’s me reaching out to legitimate purchasers on a legitimate distribution channel with a gift of a free read to spur new sales. That is also what Baen is doing, I’ll note.

Konrath’s experiment… Chances are, he’s going to reach legitimate purchasers with the way he’s set this up…not the pirates…or at least not the pirates right away. How do you reach the pirates? Do what I did with some of my free reads. Post them on the pirate sites (I do, with notation that the FREE READS ONLY may be passed along, hand to hand, and no commercial use is allowed). Like Doctorow and Konrath, I see the point of free reads going viral. Unlike them, I am loading free reads to pirate sites after I remove illegal posts of books I sell, because…look at points 1 and 2.

4. If Konrath does reach pirates, two things will happen to further skew his results.

One is that he cannot physically track the downloads that will occur on the real pirate sites. Anyone that says they can track them all is deluding himself/herself.

The second is that the bulk of those pirated copies will not occur in his one month window for the experiment. Something like this has long-term results he isn’t taking into account, as far as I’ve seen so far. If he’s mentioned monitoring for a longer term, I’ve missed it in the uproar. When I suggest experiments on books, I typically put forth a 1-3 year window on actively following results, as best I can. Rowena Cherry is currently in the second year of such an experiment on sales prices and formats. No one watches this sort of thing for a short period of time and expects reliable results.

Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 12, 2010  at  04:06 PM

Believe it or not, I agree that “enforcement,” as we handle it now…and even the laws we have now are not the best way. I belong to many groups that do education and outreach.


Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 12, 2010  at  04:23 PM

Thanks for the additional comments about authors Doctorow and Konrath and publisher Baen.

As I wrote in my initial response, these data points may or may not represent exceptions.  I accept your arguments fully, and I’d like to test them using sales data from a broad mix of genres and authors at different stages of their careers.

When I linked to J.A. Konrath in the original post, I pointed to comments he has made that piracy appears to be helping his sales.  I don’t mind that he is experimenting; I think more experiments (and coordinated data collection and analysis) could improve the conversation and cut down on the number of assumptions made about digital piracy.

I’m not sure I agree that one can’t track downloads on pirate sites.  Some sites report that data directly, and we’ve developed a tool for our research that tracks files shared.  It’s also confusing to hear you say that ebook piracy is much more prevalent today and then say that downloads can’t be measured.

Baen came up in the comments as an example of a publisher that does not use DRM restrictions on its content and reportedly suffers less from piracy than other publishers that favor the use of such restrictions.  Although we’ve looked at “free” promotions, you’re right that the post and this conversation is really about piracy.

I appreciate your latest note about the value of enforcement in this environment.  If you could find a way to add “data collection and analysis” to “outreach and education”, I think we’d be close to agreeing.

Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 12, 2010  at  04:52 PM

Actually, we do data collection, within our limits. I’ve done surveys of readers on what price they are willing to pay for ebooks and how they feel about DRM, for instance.

Actually, the indie publishers I deal with do NOT use DRM, save where places like Kindle put it on automatically. But we still get pirated quite a bit, and most annoying to me… The pirates use what NY conglomerate is doing to justify pirating from everyone…among many other things. Like I said, I find that pirates are equal opportunity.

Things change in this industry. Back in 2004, the original owners of Fictionwise stated that they found that books without DRM tended to sell up to four times the amount that books with DRM did, that secured formats caused ten times the customer service help calls that unsecured did, and that a reader that had a problem with a single secured format was ten times less likely to purchase another secured format and would stick to unsecured after that. Considering they were the #1 sales point for ebooks at the time, they had plenty of data to go on. But I acknowledge that things have changed since then. If you look at Fictionwise today, you’ll find that three of today’s bestsellers are secured formats.

I won’t deny that SOME pirate sites report data, but many do not. It would be nice if everyone had your tracking software, but most of us have to depend on Google Alerts and periodic checks to find what we can…and deal with sites that actively protect pirates and refuse to help us with enforcement.

I don’t think anyone would argue that, as people become more tech savvy, more people come into pirate sites and start “sharing” books. So yes…I think it’s safe to say that it’s more prevalent than it was (for instance) pre-Napster. Especially with the rise of the “entitlement” crowd and the “mixing” crowd.

But at the same time, the pirates go to great lengths to hide what they are doing, making it harder for anyone to get hard numbers on it.

Am I making some assumptions along the way, based on my best guess and what I CAN track? Probably so, but it’s a LOT better constructed than trying to track “lost sales” by number of pirated copies you can track. I agree with you that doing that is an exercise in futility.

Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 12, 2010  at  04:57 PM

Clarification… three of today’s five bestsellers at Fictionwise are secured formats.

Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 13, 2010  at  08:23 AM

@Brenna I’d be happy to talk offline about using the tools we’ve developed to track file-sharing and sales activity of the titles of interest to you.  We’ve invested some money to make the tracking process both easier and more comprehensive.  If that’s of interest, contact information is on the last tab on the right side of our home page.

Posted by Dutch
Jun 15, 2010  at  10:04 PM

Ref: June 10th 4PM

(..) This thread says it’s time to put together a good post about Baen (..)

Been to Baen Free Library and I am impressed. I am also a little letdown. The essay on how the idea came to be and how it plays in reducing piratic activity is great. The letdown is from not seeing more space dedicated to out-of-print books. That feeling has to be adjusted for my rather narrow SF like/dislike problem.

If you do some writing about Baen’s tactic of addressing consumer’s desire first and those who will take entire books and post them as an symptom of not serving that readership; I have a couple of ideas:

1) There does exist in the population a take anything from anyone person - existing laws cover them.

2) Publishing in some ways is like advertising. Does ‘Social Media’ have a chair at the table? (Should because that is how I got here, i.e., twitter @fairuse).

3) Along with ‘printed word’ ebooks where is audio?
(I know that is kind of a loaded question due to copyright, 1st sale doctrine & maybe the Goose’s golden egg theory).

4) Kindle got the “Word” from publishers on converting text to speech; don’t do it. My experience reading text on a mobile (Android G1) is, I shall just say not good. Converting text to mp3 via software is nice. Will publishers treat that as piracy? Baen to their credit offers HTML, plain text and device/reader specific formats.

I think I have used my quota of 2-cents space. Thanks again.

Posted by Silverdrake
Jun 16, 2010  at  12:15 AM

@ Dutch Some of the input for setting up both Baen’s Webscription ebook service and the Free Library came from blind users. Ease of text-to-speech conversion was one of the criteria. Platform portability and compatibility were others.

@ Brenna I have seen several instances where Baen ebooks have been posted on pirate sites, so the prevalence you mention appears to be acting in some extent even for Baen. However, back when Webscription was new (1999-2000), someone on alt.binaries.e-books asked for the new David Weber book, and was flamed for being too cheap to pay the $10 that the Webscription month cost at the time. In Sep 2000, on Webscription’s one-year anniversary, someone posted a Baen book on the newsgroup. It was the Weber book that had been up in its entirety since Webscription’s inception as the free sample. Everyone, including Jim Baen, had a good laugh about it.

In the case of the e-book writer you mentioned who is losing sales because of pirate sites, I wonder what effect it would have if she posted on the site with her “2000 loyal readers” about what their use of that site is doing to her sales figures. Because the reason that Baen’s Webscription went to $15 per month instead of $10 was that the e-book-only readers found out that the authors were not getting as much from the e-book sale as they would from a paperback sale, and they didn’t want the authors being shorted. The same reasoning later went into setting the price-point for the individual book downloads.

Of course, this has no relevance to pirate site users who either cannot afford to buy the book in any format, nor those who steal just to be stealing. It might, however, gain her some sales from those who are basically honest and want to see her get something for the work she has put into writing the books they so enjoy.

Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 16, 2010  at  04:34 AM


Out of print or out of copyright? If it’s JUST out of print, they can’t legally place them there without the author’s permission. If it’s out of copyright…well, they could, but they have no reason to, since there are so many other places that do that. Check Project Guttenberg, for instance.

As far as audio books, it depends on how you get them. MP3 would be akin to an ebook, but if you have books on tape/CD, you certainly can resell them as you can resell or give away old DVDs. Just sold and gave away a bunch of old DVDs of kids’ movies the other day. Nothing wrong with that.

Personally, I think the Author’s Guild are being idiots about text to speech issue. It’s one of the benefits of ebooks that allows vision impaired and young readers-in-training to access books, and I’m all for access to things you legally purchased. Text to speech is highly unlikely to replace books on CD…ever. Why? Because people who use books on CD do so because they like being read to. The tinny voices and stilted recreation and conversion errors of text to speech won’t be the same for them, at all.

Like a lot of things NY conglomerate does concerning ebooks, they are looking at it from a cocked angle, IMO.


Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 16, 2010  at  04:44 AM


You’re assuming these so-called “loyal fans” actually care, and they don’t. I’m being sarcastic by using their term for themselves…them saying they are loyal fans.

In fact, authors have tried explaining it many times. The site in question makes a habit of taking down authors’ comments, even if they are considerate and factual comments (mine were…hand up…went out of my way to be nice about it). They will temporarily remove links, at the author request, but they never follow their own TOS and ban members with multiple complaints, which means the people posting the links just post them again a day later. It’s a never-ending cycle with some of these sites.

And if you’ve ever read the forums where they talk about the jobs they hold, it’s very telling. It’s not that most of these people can’t afford the books. They certainly can. These are people who are earning 100K plus per year. They aren’t poor single mothers, for the most part. A few are, but not the majority. Some of the are lawyers (who I think should face disbarring for it), doctors, software designers (wonder how they’d like having their IP infringed on?), CEOs… They do it, because they want to do it. They don’t do it because they can’t get the books other ways…most of them anyway.

The only ones I feel really bad for are the ones that do it, because they are hampered by geographic restrictions and can’t buy the books legally. That is the fault of their government and of the NY conglomerate publishers and some of the distribution channels. And it’s counterproductive.


Posted by Silverdrake
Jun 16, 2010  at  09:50 PM

Brenna, I’ve never any problem with those who can’t afford books downloading them. And geographic restrictions have never made any sense to me, whatsoever. You’re right, it’s the attitude of the beancounters that causes some of the problem. Rowling and Scholastic basically guaranteed that her books would be pirated on the internet by refusing to allow an ebook edition for those who wanted it. They were both too afraid of it being pirated and too married to their midnight release parties. Result: People who got it in Europe had scans on the internet an hour after they bought it. They left money sitting on the table and someone else filled the want.

As for the rest—those who could easily afford the book but steal it anyway—they are the people who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Posted by Dutch
Jun 16, 2010  at  11:53 PM

Hi Brenda and thanks for the pointers.

Out of print or out of copyright?
I don’t worry about public domain titles, that is not the issue. Out of print titles in a publisher catalog are at the mercy of print setup cost and run count. Digital download has a lower setup cost and no media cost except storage & bandwidth. Ok, throw in some IT overhead and cost of a studio (audiobook) But that is not a recurring expense and may in fact lower the long term cost of putting print titles back in consumers hands.

I said earlier I need to study ebook text and audiobook offerings - So I did. The offerings by (Barnes & Noble ) are a format specific nightmare. Their customer base is wide I guess and they have a big reader hardware list; DRM is their game and if one plays that game that is fine. I can handle limited DRM that has. Freereads by James Patrick Kelly got me hooked on audible. Thanks Jim -                shake that piggy bank. Some of out of print magazines that Mr. Kelly is in are on fictionwise but I can’t jump through B&N;hoops. Authors playing in fictionwise/B&N;are bound by exclusivity contract. That has to be the pits for authors because it limits exposure. We know what happens next - off shore copies.

I was not going to say anything about what I can do with Text/Audio/Video because it may be off topic. I think it needs to be said; to clear the air as it is said. I have the skill to to turn text into speech that rivals bookradio, the use of commercial grade software is a must. If I want an uncompressed audio of anything ditto that. Video? Off topic but proper tools required for quality. DRM? See Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But I am lazy plus retired. Someone else can do the work and sell it to me (audible, baen, amazon, etc.).

How does this apply to publishers format game? Easy answer is I should not have to waste my time undoing a stupid business model when all I want to do is read or listen to purchased product. The stuff from download sites is a symptom of a bad business model.

Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 17, 2010  at  04:02 AM


But the problem remains… If you have a decent contract, an out of print book has reverted rights back to the author. The publisher cannot legally put the book out for sale again in ebook format, if that is the case. Not without the author’s involvement and a new contract.

In some cases, they can’t, even if the book is OOP and the publisher still holds rights to reproduce and sell, because the publisher might only hold PRINT rights and not ebook rights. That’s more common in NY conglomerate than you might think. A lot of savvy authors a decade or more ago refused to sign them away. From what I’ve seen…good thing for them they did! So they can’t put the title out in ebook without a contract addendum.

Unless it’s a really old title, chances are the setup to get it into ebook is negligible. In fact, I’ve been involved with the process of getting several books that we had ONLY the print copy of the original of into ebook, and it’s not difficult at all. The OCR scan, check for conversion errors and a new cleaning edit, and reformatting is really not that hard to do. No worse than formatting for a clueless green author and easier than those edits by far.

Now personally…I always seek to get my OOP titles back out there, as an author. I only have two that are not actively out for sale or given as a free read now. It only makes sense to allow new readers coming in to buy the old books.

As far as audio? To be blunt, turning a book into a proper audio book…the professional type…costs money. Some publishers have that sort of money to invest. Some don’t.

But I’ve used text to speech and will continue to use it for audio editing. Not to your quality, and most people won’t have that professional software available to make their text to speech audio, which is why I still say that text to speech isn’t likely to replace audio books soon. I can’t say what pirates will do with your type of software, but I can guess. If they pirate with it, they deserve to be prosecuted. If readers use it for access…kudos on making a better product for you to access with.

In fact, I don’t have a problem with someone like yourself using your software to make a better conversion for others who need access…as long as you don’t make a full-blown business out of it or pirate along the way. Why? Because believe me, someone out there will sue you for piracy using the same prosecution line they used in the Clean Flicks case, creating a new version without the express permission of the original creator and selling it.


Posted by Brenna Lyons
Jun 17, 2010  at  04:05 AM


Sounds like we think very much alike.


Posted by Dutch
Jun 17, 2010  at  12:09 PM

Hi Brenda,

On OCR to ebook. I have done that using iMac and a HP all in one printer/scanner. It was a real chore in the late 90s taking Hardback print copy to readable, searchable and indexed format for CD ROM; per customer spec. Results? By today’s standard less than a good PDF. Ok, that was not really an ebook just letting you know I understand part of the process.

Copyright! Sounds like the record label model - grab all rights possible. Glad authors didn’t fall for it like musicians did.

On audio? I support audible because of the setup cost; they made the commitment in equipment and quality narrators in-house. I own Random House (aka BigBook) and other shops - tape, CD, digital download.  But as you know BigBook has a system and it is bookstore shelves with bestsellers.

(..) But I’ve used text to speech and will continue to use it for audio editing. Not to your quality, and most people won’t have that professional software available to make their text to speech audio, which is why I still say that text to speech isn’t likely to replace audio books soon. I can’t say what pirates will do with your type of software, but I can guess. If they pirate with it, they deserve to be prosecuted. If readers use it for access…kudos on making a better product for you to access with. (..)

I pulled this out so there is no misunderstanding. Quality text to voice (the technical term) can be done but the trick is the license fee for voice library when commercial runs are contracted. The software is cheap but the fees are not. The software I use is a step below that - single user, personal use only or research. Everything I do is in personal or research mode. Nothing ever gets to the internet except a minute or two of test samples. I wish I could do production but that would be for somebody like Audible, Penguin, et. al.. We agree audio cannot be done on the cheap unless user does it.

As far as I know what audio that download sites have is less than ideal. Conversion via A/D and then skip any serious editing of dynamic range or worse convert directly to lowQ mp3. I doubt, but cannot rule out, text to voice done with unlicensed voices. If they commit one IP crime, what is stopping them from adding more IP violations? I don’t know today but need to lurk some.

My to do: See if there is an ebook/audiobook situation like the one that movie houses cannot handle well - screener or advanced copy being posted on the net. Mishandled & 3rd party posts or deliberate post by the reviewer. Fact is I have been offered DVD copy before 1st theater opening - at lunch!

I have had this discussion with Jerry Pournelle a while back. I should find that letter & e-mail because I think nothing has changed.

I think you and I are on the same page. || humor - UnderCoverTech; sounds like bad Harry Niles parody.

Posted by J.A. Konrath
Jun 18, 2010  at  11:35 PM

I’m sick of people using logic and common sense to deal with this issue.

As an author, I want someone to knee-jerk react to piracy without any evidence whatsoever, and then make specious arguments without any data to back their lazy opinions up.

I demand LESS actual facts, and more hand-wringing and rabble-rousing and kow-towing to Big NY Publishing.

Most important of all, I want the leader, who represents my interests as a middle-class American author, to be richer than God. I want a man in charge who pays more annually in taxes than what I earn a year. That’s a guy who will look out for me.

Oh… wait a sec. I’m not a member of the Author’s Guild.


Posted by Brian O'Leary
Jun 19, 2010  at  10:31 AM

Sorry that I have been slow to re-join the conversation this week.  I’ve been attending conferences in Washington and (now) Salt Lake, so my normal schedule is a bit disrupted.

I wish I could put all of you together on a discussion group or a panel to hash these issues out in real time.  It feels as if there is much more agreement than not, although nuance does exist.

Even where we disagree, the differences are ones we can test, not just a function of assumptions.  That’s the discussion I hope to make a reality when it comes to piracy.

@J.A. Konrath - it’s a pleasure to have you post.  My approach to the AG is “eyes open”, in that I know the ship may turn slowly, if at all.  But the AG can be a force for positive change, and I figured it’s worth the outreach.  You did make me laugh, though, and that’s a good thing smile

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