Don’t Dread The Pirate — a guest post by Dorothy Grant

*This came out of a discussion over at my blog, and Dorothy sent me a guest post.  Because I’ve been sick, I haven’t done the roster for our rotating Friday Posters (Round and Round they go.  Where they stop, you’ll never know) so I’m using it here.  I promise to institute the rotation next week and tell you about it.*

Don’t Dread The Pirate — a guest post by Dorothy Grant

Why it’s silly to worry about piracy when you’re starting out.

Eric Flint, when starting the Baen Free Library, said “When you’re starting out, the problem isn’t piracy, the problem is obscurity.” Until you have a well-known name, the hardest part of expanding your audience and growing your sales is getting people to notice you exist long enough to take a look at your books!

There are ways to try to solve this – running ads on Project Wonderful or Facebook, targeted Google ads, showing up at a related event and trying to hand-sell your books, blog tours, etc. They work with varying (not at all to a little) degrees of succes. The best way to sell yourself is to write another book.

When authors start to have a pile of books out there, a common tactic is to offer the first in the series discounted, or permanently-free (permafree). This is solely to catch the eye of readers looking for something new, and hoping that giving away thousands of copies will result in a couple hundred readers deciding they like the series and buying the rest of the books. The authors often pay Bookbub, Pixel of Ink, or ENT to advertise that they’re giving away books for free. Why? Because the more people know you exist, the more people will look for you.

So, where do pirates fit into this? (Not the eyepatch and parrot kind, the ones who torrent copies of your book!)

There are roughly three kinds of people who pirate entertainment. (Books, movies, and songs.)

The first kind are the ones who can’t afford it. If it’s easier to get from pirate bay than the library, they’re pirating. If it’s easier to get to the library, the borrow. Either way, they can’t afford their entertainment, and you wouldn’t have gotten a sale from them anyway. However, broke is often a passing condition – and the people who borrowed/stole/listened to the radio/sat outside the concert hall where they could hear works earlier in life often buy the same things again, and everything else they like besides, of the artists whose work they were exposed to during that time. The Baen Free Library is a long-running experiment that proved you can get a lot of lifetime fans with one book free… and that you can sell signed hardcover editions to fans who first got FreeHold for free.

A subcategory of these folks are fans who don’t have access to your work. Just as HBO-cable-only A Game of Thrones is the most pirated television show, so, too, are books heavily pirated where they’re not sold. Several authors have found out, to their surprise, that they’re really big in Russia, with not only pirated English copies, but fan-translated copies being passed around. Oleg Volk, a photographer, notes that the severe problems in finding reliable and secure ways to transfer money between Russia and the USA leads to his work often being pirated by people who can not figure out a way to pay him. They enthusiastically praise him across the internet and send all the outside-of-Russia custom they can his way.  In the ebook category in America, this happens most often with folks who have a walled garden device, and want something only available in a different format. For example, they have an older nook that cannot support a kindle app, and your book is only available on kindle – or as a converted epub on pirate bay.

The second kind are people who refuse to pay for anything they get. If they can’t get it for free, they won’t get it. So if they get their hands on one of your works, it’s hardly a lost sale… and at best, if they really like it, they’ll often talk up your works to their friends. So they can become word of mouth advertising to people who will pay.

The third kind are kids who are in it to score points. They’ll race to see who can get the most stuff, downloading gigs upon gigs because they can. They’ll strip the spine and run book after book through OCR and upload, just to say they have. They really don’t care about the work, and will likely never look at or listen to most of what they have, because quantity is much more important than content. No, they wouldn’t buy your stuff, either, unless it’s to strip the DRM and immediately return for refund, so they can upload and say “f1rst w1th th1s b00k! Lulz!”

Yeah, they all have copies they didn’t pay for (or demanded a refund.) But how does it impact you, as an artist? That’s three chances for exposure, two chances at gaining a fan and word of mouth, and one good shot at having a fan who spends plenty of money on you when they grow up and can afford to… without you having to pay for advertising at all.**

That’s awesome!

*Note 1: there are downsides to permafree, as opposed to temporarily free or on deep discount price. It isn’t a silver buulet. The conditions, limits, pros, and cons could fill a post all their own.

**Note 2: this “piracy is not worth getting upset about” stance does not extend to sites that are selling pirated versions of your work. If they’re making money that should be paid to the artist, then they need to be hit with a DMCA takedown hard and fast. Money should flow to you, not to the pirates!

11 thoughts on “Don’t Dread The Pirate — a guest post by Dorothy Grant

  1. Yep getting people to notice you. Take Vox Day for example. I’d never heard of him until SFWA threw a tantrum.
    I read his blog, the charges layed by the kids, read his response, checked out one of his books and am now a reader.
    It’s the same way I found the MGC.
    As for buying new books, I don’t buy on spec anymore, it’s referrals from friends or authors who write stuff I like.

  2. I found Baen Books through the free library. The library turned me on to Weber, Ringo, Sarah, Flint… On and on. I had stopped reading SF but was bored working over seas. I have later paid $ for books I downloaded free because I need my fix and writers need to eat. :o)

    You know what they say about pushers. They give you the first one free.

    1. I’ve mentioned the Baen Free Library to lots of people since it started. Most recently to someone sitting behind me in class who I overheard say something about David Weber. “Oh, I think that book is available from Baen Free Library……” “Cool, I’ll check it out.” and he’s typing away on his laptop right then and there.

      The chances of him not looking at what is offered for free from authors he’s never heard of once he gets Weber’s book? Darned slim, I think.

  3. Vox Day also has free days of some of his books on Amazon, one week every four months I think. He’s as proud of how many books he gave away as he is that have sold. I dove into both Baen and Amazon’s free library as soon as I bought a tablet. Came back sloughing off some refuse (Amazon) but a few new writers to add to my- must buy list. Nook or B&N said ‘free’ but I couldn’t find any, so I never bother with them. I’m not going to sink ten bucks into something I can’t even use to line the litter box with.

    Before the ebooks, I usually bought/buy used paperbacks. I can afford four dollars to practice my basketball skills or trade them in for another writer test. In some cases that’s the only way to get the books of authors I like. About six months ago, I noticed that I hadn’t read any Harold Coyle in years despite visits to the local bookstore. Hit his name on Better World Books- I now have about fifteen of his books waiting to be read. That too is piracy, he won’t get any of the money I paid BWB and it is the bookseller’s fault, because, I woulda if I coulda. That’s why I don’t feel sorry for bookstores, they did it to themselves. I just didn’t know that I have to shift to shopping Online, now I do.
    I’m thinking of introducing some of my work to the market. The idea of free-stolen- deep discount on first book is scary. However, stores have lost leaders and it’s estimated that over twenty percent of inventory goes out the back door by way of employee theft and they seem to survive. I think that maybe I’ll go back to dreading the night thing in the closet instead of pirates.

  4. The Baen Free Library kept me sane when I was broke and sick. I’ve bought 5 or 6 paper copies of some of my favorites.

    At one point, I would scour every used bookstore I could contact looking for my favorite authors. There were several books that were so far out of print, the only way to get them was to find scans that were passed around different lists. I’ve found several of them in used paperback since Amazon started that but those are the ones that the publishers had the ebook version priced double, or more, of the original paperback price. My response has usually been “My, they’re certainly proud of themselves” and going back to looking for a used copy. It’s not that I don’t want to pay for it, it’s that I don’t want to pay 13.99 for a book that was originally in print for 3.50. Especially when from the sample of the book I did download, it was made from the same scan I read almost 20 years ago.

  5. There’s one industry though where this doesn’t work so well, Porn. Because people feel guilty about paying for it/don’t want to risk being identified by the means of paying for it/they all think it’s overpriced anyway, since there’s so much out there for free.

    That’s one reason there’s just so much of it, the producers have to keep ahead of the pirates, because within a week, the pirates are getting more hits than your site, and the paying customers dry up fast.

    I guess it’s a difference of degree. Books are cheap, and plentiful. Porn is more expensive, so there’s more incentive to pirate it. When 1% of your work is stolen, no big deal, when 90% of your market is stolen, then it is.

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