People have always felt a sort of ownership over art, and that’s actually good. It’s why you keep a book on your shelf and return to it, it’s why you hang a picture on your wall that speaks to you. But when this gets out of hand and you mistake access or a personal connection with your rights, as happens so often in our Internet age, it leads to a dangerous sense of entitlement.
I agree Amazon is not solely to blame for the meager earnings authors make these days. It’s not just about corporations and publishers racing to the bottom. It’s also about the entitlement of audiences who believe they are owed something simply because they want it. This is at the heart of the piracy debate.
Piracy websites (that includes movies, music, and television shows, as well as books) were visited over 300 billion times in 2017. Millions of those visits resulted in the illegal downloading of books written by authors who already earned a living below the poverty line. And yet, when confronted with their theft, pirates turn to the age old defenses:
“I can’t afford to buy new books.”
“It’s not really stealing because it’s not a physical copy.”
“I wasn’t going to buy it anyway, so it’s not really a lost sale.”
All of this is nonsense. It’s easier to deflect one’s indecency than to own up to just generally being a shitty person who did a shitty thing.
Maggie Stiefvater learned about piracy the hard way. Her books were New York Times #1 best-sellers and yet:
Stiefvater, author of the Shiver and Raven Cycle series, raised the issue after she was contacted on Twitter by a reader who told her: “I never bought ur books I read them online pirated.” On her website, Stiefvater later explained that, when ebook sales for the third book in the Raven Cycle – Blue Lily, Lily Blue – “dropped precipitously”, her publisher decided to cut the print run of the next book in the series to less than half of its predecessors.The Guardian – November 6, 2017
Piracy has consequences and the people who pay are not the publishers. The publishers will always get their money somehow. It might be in the form of lower advances, or lower royalties, or by publishing more garbage books by cable news pundits because that demographic isn’t known for pirating the way YA fantasy and sci-fi audiences are.
When a book is pirated, it IS a lost sale. It IS theft. It is taking money out of the pockets of authors who have spent years creating the art some people feel they are owed.
Author Alisha Kirpalani breaks down the numbers of a sobering reality:
1. Most writers receive 7.5 % to 10% of their book value. Do the maths and you will work out how much that figure is worth in the real world.
2. An average writer spends between 2 to 4 years on writing and getting his book published, if he/she is fortunate enough to find a publisher
3. A writer usually pays for book launches, travelling and all other marketing activities associated with selling his/her book. Before making a single sale, there is an investment that disappears into thin air.
The writer pays–for marketing, travel, research, and if they self-publish, they pay for everything, from cover design to formatting to ARCS for reviewers. Those costs add up and when people don’t pay for books, authors can’t afford to write more of them. It’s that simple.
The bottom line is this: artists need to be paid for their art. If you cannot afford a book, visit your local library. If they don’t have it, see if they’ll order it for you. You are not entitled to someone’s hard work simply because you want it. Authors need to eat. They need to pay their rent and feed their families. You don’t NEED to read their book.
It disgusts me that the average income for full-time writers is only $20,000 when MILLIONS of dollars that could be spent on debuts and mid-listers are poured into marketing known entities. James Patterson is worth $700 million. He doesn’t need a full-page ad in The New Yorker for his latest Alex Cross novel. It will sell regardless.
(My issue lies less with Patterson and more with the Publishing Industrial Complex that enables him. He awards yearly bonuses to hundreds of independent bookstore employees and helps aspiring authors break into the business. He actually pays his co-authors out of his own pocket. I’m not a huge fan of his work, but I am a fan of the man himself.)
You know who could use that money? The mom who wrote her debut novel in 20-minute increments before her kids woke up for the day. The actual young adult who filled several three-ring binders with the world bible for her YA epic fantasy series. The cozy mystery author churning out a book a year while working a 9-5 job to pay the bills. People who didn’t just “write for themselves” (ugh), but who had hoped to turn the worlds inside their heads into lucrative careers.
We celebrate entrepreneurs who build apps and services and subscription cooking boxes. We throw money at them because what they’ve created make our lives better. How are authors any different? They pour years into building something for people to enjoy. Work that spawns pages of fan art and fanfic, yet we treat it as a commodity. Something that will always be there because it’s always been there.
Well, it won’t be. Not if we don’t pay for it. Amazon can be blamed for a lot of the mess publishing is in right now, but this? This dearth of money to spread to the people who need it the most? That’s on us.