Literary Pirates

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: News, On Publishing

When I lived in Taipei in the early 1990s, my furnished apartment had a television monitor that didn’t receive any local channels. Limited to watching movies, I went down the street to my local video store (all VHS back then) and rented a few films. I was happily surprised by how quickly Taipei was getting the fairly recent films from the States — and I soon found out why. The video and sound quality was so poor the movies were hardly watchable … because they’d been pirated, of course. (Even if I hadn’t been against piracy for obvious reasons, the films were so hard to watch it just wasn’t worth it.)

This New York Times article presents the latest in acts of piracy — not in Asia but here. And not films  but books.

It’s an interesting piece that shows why authors are paranoid about making their work available digitally — Ursula K. Le Guin talks about finding unauthorized digital copies of her books on Scribd. (Scribd says that it removes illegally posted content once the company is made aware of it, and it has even installed filters to identify copyrighted work.) But clearly LeGuin’s work made it through the filters, leaving authors to wonder whether they need to start devoting time to prowling through web sites looking for unauthorized copies of their work.

The publisher John Wiley & Sons employs three full-time staff members to do just that. The Times notes that most pirated content is already bestselling work, like the Harry Potter or Twilight series. Stephen King told the Times that, basically, he couldn’t be bothered trying to chase down the pirates: “My sense is that most of them live in basements floored with carpeting remnants, living on Funions and discount beer.”

While the piracy problem isn’t going away, digital publishing isn’t either. Because more readers are turning to the Kindle and Sony Reader, it makes sense to offer books in digital form (in fact, we’re in the process of preparing Forgetting English for its Kindle version even as I type this post). It makes especially good sense for writers who aren’t Stephen King, or J. K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer. As the novelist Cory Doctorow, who offers free electronic versions of his books on the same day they are published in hardcover, told the Times, “I really feel like my problem isn’t piracy. It’s obscurity.”


  Comments: 6

  1. thought i’d post this over here for non-redroom members 😉

    I couldn’t agree with more with the quote from Doctorow at the end–obscurity is worse than the prospect of pirated copies of my work going out. As far as I’m concerned, as long as my name is still on it–I’m not all that upset.

    Now, it could just be that I’m young and unexperienced…but I see the literary community as similar to the music scene–and they’re having the same problem. Many (especially new) artists simply give away their music and make their money through performances. As a poet, that’s doable for me–sort of. It all goes back to the obscurity problem.


  2. sorry, the link at the short review should finish with html, not htm.

  3. Thanks for the link — I enjoyed reading it, and Scott Pack’s Friday Project sounds so interesting. A few authors here have given away free content with good success — it definitely generates interest in the book! And, as you say, if people like a free download, they’ll go out and buy the book so they can curl up with it, read it on the bus, whatever — I would tend to agree that it helps more than hurts sales.
    And thanks so much for your good wishes re: Forgetting English! I hope you enjoy reading it.

  4. Sorry to be off-topic (and with another link), but I have just ordered a opy of your book, and noticed that you are mentioned in The Short Review.
    Having loved Tania Hershman’s book, I think I will greatly enjoy yours as well and look forward to reading the review.
    Good luck with the competition.

  5. Hello Midge
    I am a great fan of The Friday Project books in the UK, and there is an interesting related point of view by Scott Pack in:
    I don’t currently have an e-book reader (no Kindle in the UK yet), and I don’t like reading more than a few pages from a book on my PC; hence, if I download a book, and like what I read, I will definitely buy a hard copy (so it’s a gained sale, not a lost sale).

  6. Sean Truman Farley

    Oh boy, this one’s a toughie. But it makes so much sense keeping up with the times — recording artists have embraced the digital age, and it’s paid off big time for some. Writers — if they don’t want to remain “obscure” — need to embrace it as well. With the good comes the bad; it’s the law of nature.