*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.**
*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!