Books, e-books, and piracy

May 29th, 2005 Comments Off on Books, e-books, and piracy

John Scalzi, a science fiction writer whose blog is one of my favorites, wrote a couple weeks ago about the issue of piracy in the book industry. Summing up his position, Scalzi thinks that worrying about piracy is a stupidity.

He sees two categories of book pirates:

First, the idiots, who won’t buy the books (in electronic or physical form) whether they have the money or not. They are simply not interested in paying for the goods.

Second, the occasional pirates, who download books because they don’t have the money to pay for the books they want to read. The reasons are many: they are cash-strapped college students, the books are not physically available where they live and it would be too expensive to import, and so on. Those persons will likely start paying for books when money starts flowing towards them, especially books from writers they learned to appreciate when they couldn’t still pay for their books.

I agree with Scalzi. I know people who fit both categories and they are easily distinguished. As an avid reader, I once belonged into the second category, although I now rarely download a book I don’t own physically (except, of course, in the case of e-books). When I do, it’s often because I need to find something quickly in the book or solve some problem and it’s easier to “pirate” a electronic version temporarily than manually search five hundred pages for a specific sentence.

Also, when I belonged into the second category for the main reason Scalzi cites (wanted to read the books, couldn’t pay for them — especially where newer books where concerned and the only other available choice was spending half my weekly wages in a single three-hundred-page book), I kept a list of the books I downloaded, and have bought most of them by now. The ones I haven’t bought yet are likely to be published in Brazil soon, and I’d rather buy them here to minimize costs (I’m still not rich, you know).

Anyway, what I find most interesting in the whole discussion is how some authors who otherwise share the same views on the genre take directly opposing views on the issue of piracy. Some believe is the rise of e-books as the main form of publishing is quite inevitable. Others, like Harlan Ellison, are prepared to fight tooth, nail and processes at the mere mention of their books in any kind of digital format (as if paper would somehow preclude their works from being pirated).

Which is a pity. I would gladly surrender my money to some writers were they willing to understand this new market — which, in my opinion, has little to do with the issue of intellectual property. The Long Tail is a reality in the Internet, and, as such, is beyond immediate frontiers. Those writers — Harlan Ellison, for example, is quite technophobic — think it’s possible to prevent their works from being distributed in P2P networks. More than that, they ignore the fact that many of their readers would pay for electronic versions of their works if only the price were realistic, adjusted to the realities of the medium (easy replication, limited availability, etc.) and market demands, as Fictionwise has shown.

Scalzi also talks about his own experience (shared by many people I know) of searching for ways to monetarily compensate writers for reading their books by indirect means — buying them as used books or lending them from libraries, for example, especially when the books were out of print. In my experience, this kind of behavior is mostly limited to readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but serves to show that the undiscriminated bashing of those “pirates” is really excessive.

Obviously, there are other pertinent issues that I’m not considering here, that people like Cory Doctorow and others far more intelligent than me are talking about, and this entry is not the place to write about them. But I’m happy to see writers openly declaring their disdain for the stupidity demonstrated by members of the industry and other writers who can read the writing in the wall.

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