A Tale of ePirates on the High Publishing Seas

pirate graphic header

Unless you’ve had your head stuck in the sand for the past couple of decades or you don’t read books at all, you’ve probably heard of ebook piracy.

Hell, you might be an ebook pirate. But I really, really hope you’re not.

For those of you who don’t know, ebook piracy is when a person (not the author) or a website (not the publisher’s or an authorized vendor’s) takes a copyrighted book and puts it up on the Internet so people can download it for free.

For those of you who have heard of ebook piracy, you might not know the intricacies of how piracy works, how it affects authors and publishers, and how damaging to the book industry (not to mention authors’ livelihoods and mental health) it is. So today I’m going to give you a crash course in Why You Should Not Be an Asshole and Why You Should Support Your Favorite Authors by Buying Their Books.

Let’s dive into the churning waters, shall we?

What’s the big deal about ebook piracy, you might ask? They’re just ebooks! Does it really matter if they’re available for free on the ‘net? Why do authors get so testy about getting paid for them (or not paid, as the case might be)? Aren’t authors rolling in money?

First… Authors rolling in money?! Hahahahaha!!!!

Okay, sorry, but… Hahahahahaha!!!!

Excuse me while I compose myself. Whew. It’s just, I’ve heard that tall tale before and it never fails to make me laugh. And also cry a little. Why? Keep reading and I’ll explain.

Let’s start with the basics. Isn’t an ebook just a digital file?

Woman reading ebook in garden

Technically, yes. Same as a downloaded song or a downloaded movie is a digital file. But that’s not all they are. When people refer to an ebook, most aren’t talking about a digital file format. They mean a BOOK, whether that be a self-help book, textbook, kid’s picture book, biography, or a novel. An ebook is a full-fledged book the same as a paperback or hardback or audiobook. It has the same content, the same time and energy put into it, and is the result of the same creative commitment. In the case of fiction, which is what I write, it means characters, a plot, a setting, with dialogue and exposition, maybe some adventure and romance, or horror and suspense. The book is a rich world all its own. Far more than *just* a digital file.

Because ebooks are books, it means they were created by awesome people called authors.

You know, the ones who consume massive quantities of caffeine, spend ridiculous amounts of time researching and making notes, lie awake at night trying to sort out pesky scene problems, and swear, sweat, and bleed to get words on the page. They are the same people who also sit at their computers (or iPads or spiral notebooks) day in, day out, missing meals with their families, squeezing in writing time during vacations, holiday gatherings, while waiting for their kids’ soccer practices, and their medical appointments because, like all jobs, writing requires time and commitment to do it well. And authors get testy over being paid because they put a ton of work into writing a book. Depending on how quickly or slowly an author writes, how long or short the piece is, and how tight a publisher or self-given deadline is, it can take anywhere from weeks to months to years to finish a book. That’s right…years. Some authors, even bestselling authors, can write only one book a year or one book every few years. One single book.

To better understand the time an author puts into writing, let’s do some math.

math calculations

Come on, it won’t hurt you. I’ll do the calculations and all you have to do is follow along. For the purpose of this blog, we’re going to focus on fiction writing, but be aware that the process is virtually the same for nonfiction. So, let’s say, hypothetically, an author, let’s call them Taylor, actually takes a year to write one book. And let’s say, hypothetically, Taylor tries to keep to a regular-ish schedule, averaging 40 hours per week like most people working a full-time job. That shakes out to be 2080 hours over the course of the year. 2080 hours to write one book. And before you poo-poo it, let me assure you that I personally know authors who do exactly this. They only write one book a year, they treat it as a full-time job, and they’re at their desk 40 hours a week.

In the state of Colorado, where I live, minimum wage is $11.10 an hour. Anyone in Colorado who’s paid minimum wage would earn $444 per week/$23,088 per year. Before taxes of course. So if Taylor were getting paid minimum wage for their hours spent writing a book, this is what they’d earn for their time. BUT….the thing is, people who write for a living in areas other than book publishing don’t make minimum wage. According to the website Glassdoor.com, a technical writer in Denver, Colorado can expect to earn anywhere from $42,000-87,000 dollars per year. A medical writer in Denver can expect to make $50-80K. A science writer up to $100K. A journalist up to $71K. I’d go on, but I think you get the idea. People who work in the writing industry where they’re paid a regular salary (rather than being dependent on book royalties) earn considerably more than minimum wage. Plus, most probably have full benefits, including a 401K, paid time off, health insurance, etc., which all usually add up to significantly more than the raw salary alone.

Taylor, on the other hand, does NOT get paid regularly. There’s no guaranteed weekly or biweekly or monthly paycheck coming in to help Taylor pay rent or buy groceries. There are no medical or dental benefits. No paid time off. No retirement fund. So where does Taylor’s potential pay come from? As I suggested above, Taylor gets paid from royalties earned on book sales. If Taylor signs a contract with a publishing company, Taylor might be given what’s called an “advance.” Bestselling authors with a proven track record and a huge following can earn a massive advance. The thing is…the vast majority of authors are not bestsellers. Not even close. Even if an author writes for a big, well-known publishing house, if they’re a new author or they write in a niche genre or they have a so-so track record for previous sales, their advance is going to be toward the small side. Maybe $1000 or $5000 or, if they’re really lucky, $10,000 – $15,000. (If you’re interested, you can find a little more info here.) Advances are typically paid out in two or three or four payments. Probably part when the contract is signed, another part when the manuscript is turned in to the publisher, and/or at some stage of the editing. It can vary, but in whatever way the payments are broken up, the author typically receives all advance monies prior to publication.

Sounds great, right? Sure, but keep in mind that an advance is exactly that…an *advance.* It’s not free money. It’s not a bonus. It’s more like a loan. It’s an advance on future royalties based on how many copies of the book the publisher hopes will sell. This advance, like a loan, is supposed to help an author “get by” financially while they finish writing the book and/or until the book is published and begins to make sales. So, if Taylor’s publisher gives them a $10K advance, for our purposes and in order to keep it simple let’s say Taylor would get $5K when the contract is signed and $5K when the book is turned in to the editor. But before you get excited for Taylor about their $10K advance, keep a couple of things in mind. First, if Taylor has an agent, as many authors do, especially those who write for big New York publishing houses, that agent will automatically take a percentage share of all of Taylor’s earnings. A typical agent fee is 15%. So $1500 of Taylor’s advance will immediately go to their agent. Also, author earnings are taxable, so it’s not like Taylor’s going to pocket the full advance (what’s left after the agent cut). Taylor will have to pay taxes on it.

It often takes as long as a year (or sometimes a couple of years) from the time a book is turned in before it’s finally released. In Taylor’s case, a year passes by where the book goes through several rounds of edits, where cover art is created, a blurb is written, and all the usual pre-publication bits and bobs happen. During that year, remember, because of how it was paid out (half on signing, half on turning the book in) Taylor isn’t paid anything else. But, finally, it’s release day. Let’s say Taylor’s book comes out in January. Each publisher has its own timescale for paying royalties. Some might pay twice a year, some quarterly (every three months), some monthly. In Taylor’s case, we’re going to assume this publisher pays quarterly. So the publisher will track Taylor’s book sales from Jan, Feb, and Mar, and then will pay out first quarter royalties at a later day, maybe around the end of April or so. Let’s say Taylor earns $4000 in royalties that first quarter. That’s great. But Taylor won’t receive a dime because Taylor was already paid a year ago, when the publisher gave them an advance on royalties. Okay. Well, how about the second quarter of sales? Let’s say in the second quarter (April, May, Jun) Taylor earns $3000 in royalties (the book is no longer “new”…it’s been out a while and sales are already dwindling). Taylor still won’t see any money because the $4K they earned in the first quarter and the $3K they earned in the second quarter only amount to $7K total. And the publisher gave them $10K in advance. (The publisher doesn’t care that 15% went to Taylor’s agent, by the way. Taylor’s book still has to earn out the full $10K before any further royalties will be paid.) So, the third quarter rolls around and Taylor earns $1000 in royalties (because the book’s creeping up on nine months old at this point, and lots and lots of new books have come out since then, so Taylor’s book isn’t getting much attention). In the fourth quarter, Taylor only earns $500, bringing their total royalty earnings thus far to $8500. Meaning Taylor still hasn’t earned out the advance and it’s now been TWO YEARS since Taylor was last paid.

Stressed writer on laptop in cafe

Some authors earn out their advance quickly, within the first royalty period or two, which is awesome. But many…don’t. It can take a while. Sometimes years. And, unfortunately, some authors never earn out their advance during the contract life of a book. If that happens, luckily an author is not required to pay back the advance, but it doesn’t bode well for their future with that publisher. A publisher would need to think long and hard when deciding if they wanted to invest in a second book with an author who didn’t even earn out their advance on the first book.

For the sake of simple illustration, let’s say Taylor’s book never fully earns out during the contract period. That means Taylor’s original $10,000 payment was all Taylor will receive. If we break it down, that also means Taylor earned a measly $4.80 per hour (remember, 2080 hours of writing) for their year of work on the book. That’s less than half of Colorado’s minimum wage. Not remotely enough to pay rent on even the cheapest studio apartment. Plus, Taylor received that $10K two or three or however many years ago. Hopefully Taylor has continued to write and during the year they waited for the first book to be published, they were busy writing a second book, which they then contracted, thereby earning another advance. But there are no guarantees. If the first book doesn’t sell fabulously, the publisher may not even contract the second book.

Now, let’s backtrack a little.

What if Taylor contracts that first book with a small press that doesn’t pay advances? It could still take six months to a year for the book to be released, and Taylor won’t make a penny until after the first sales are in. But small publishing companies, in general, also tend to have waaay less sales across all formats (print and ebook) than big publishers. Big publishers have the financial wherewithal to promote and distribute books much more widely than smaller pubs. Taylor’s book at a small press might only earn $3-4K over the course of its life. Or it could earn far less. But if Taylor did manage to pull in $4K in royalties at a small press, that’s what? Not even $2 per hour for the year’s work when Taylor wrote it. By the way, if Taylor decided to self-publish the book, it would be very similar to the timing and types of sales Taylor might have with a small press. Some indie books have amazing sales if the authors are particularly adept at promotion or the author has a lot of books and a large following. But most indie books earn fairly small sales.

Stressed writer chewing on pencil at laptop

Of course, many authors write more than one book per year. Some manage two or three a year with traditional publishers. That doesn’t automatically mean they make more money. Depending on the genre, they could have only small advances and/or low/moderate sales. A few authors, especially ones writing for small presses or who’re publishing independently and don’t have the long wait time between finished book and publication, can put out half a dozen or more books in a year. These prolific authors have the advantage of building sometimes phenomenal name recognition because they’re constantly having new releases. And even if each individual book doesn’t earn a lot of money, the authors get by due to having new releases so frequently. The bigger an author’s backlist is, typically the better they do financially by virtue of having a lot to offer readers. That said, even though a few authors make a considerable amount of money in self publishing, the vast, VAST majority of indie authors are lucky to earn enough in a month to buy their family a dinner out at Olive Garden. Many might only be able to afford one grande latte at Starbucks each month. Think I’m kidding? I’m really not.

Check out some statistics.

In January 2019 the Authors Guild posted an article containing the results of their 2018 author income survey. (You can read more about it here, via the New York Times) It was the largest survey of American authors ever done. They found that authors’ earnings had fallen to historic lows. The median author income for the year surveyed (2017) was $6080. This means that half of all authors surveyed made less than this. Even at the median, that’s roughly $507 a month, which is barely enough to feed a family of four on the skimpiest grocery plan. It doesn’t even come close to covering rent or utilities or health insurance or any of the other necessities people need to get by. The Guild’s survey also revealed that roughly 25% of published authors earned $0 in book-related income that year. What this means is that most authors who try live on their book earnings alone are severely below the poverty line and must have a secondary source of income to survive. Many have full-time “day” jobs in addition to writing. Or they have a partner who earns enough to cover expenses. Or they work more than one job on the side. In any case, only a small percentage of published authors (whether traditionally pubbed with big houses, with small houses, or indie published) can actually make a living with their writing. It might surprise you to learn that the majority of authors published through traditional large houses, even with two or three books out each year, still have to have day jobs to supplement their income.

Where am I going with all this?

I’m simply making the point that only a tiny handful of published authors make enough money from their writing to live comfortably. Most of the rest of us are down in the trenches, getting dirty and sweaty, bleeding from our fingertips and souls, to create stories and we’re getting paid a shameful pittance for it. Most of us make far less than the typical minimum wage worker. Some of us make almost nothing at all.

So, what does this have to do with pirates?

pirate flag

Ah, the pirates. You see, pirates–whether we’re referring to historical ones or their modern-day counterparts–as a rule, are a greedy lot. They like to let others do the work, then they swoop in and steal it. Why? Because they can. Because it makes them feel special and powerful. Because they like getting shiny things for free. Because they feel they’re entitled to those shiny things, damn it. They don’t care about the hard work someone else put into building the treasure they steal, nor do they care who their actions hurt. They just want, and woe to anyone who gets in the way. And even if they get caught, they slink off like the slippery weasels they are, only to pop back up in some new hellhole, where they carry on with their thievery.

The scallywags who terrorized the high seas during the Golden Age of Piracy–Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, Calico Jack Rackham, Charles Vane–have been romanticized in modern tales and make many a romance reader or movie watcher swoon. The pirates are charming rogues we want to root for because underneath the thievery and mayhem we like to believe that they have good souls. That they always have honorable reasons for doing what they do. That they may steal, but they’re doing it because they’re secretly saving the world or saving a loved one. History, of course, says otherwise about most of the real pirates who existed back in the day. They were murderous, self-serving criminals known for their violence and cruelty.

Sadly, the book industry has its own brand of pirates. And like the romance and movie industry pirates, the book industry pirates love to spin the tale that they’re honorable. That they’re here to help. That they only have the best interest of readers at heart. They want you to believe they are in the right and are upstanding people who are entitled to the things they steal. Namely…ebooks. They take books that authors have devoted months or even years to writing, books authors have lost sleep over, fought through depression, anxiety, disabilities, personal tragedies, and grief to write, and they–there’s no pretty platitude for it–they STEAL the book and put it up on a torrent or pirate-book website where anyone and everyone can download it for free. Hundreds of times. Or thousands. Or tens of thousands. That’s right, you read that correctly. I have seen, with my own eyes, my OWN books on pirate sites that show they’ve been downloaded thousands of times.

Ebook pirates want you to believe they’re helping out the disadvantaged who can’t afford to buy books. They want you to believe they’re no different from libraries, offering copies for free because everyone should be allowed access to books. They want you to believe they don’t harm authors or publishers because publishers have gazillions of dollars, and the authors themselves, well they’re all making a fine living and aren’t going to miss the money from a few free downloads. They want you to believe they’re altruistic and are doing the world a favor. Hell, they even want you to believe they’re doing AUTHORS a favor by giving the world free access to an author’s book or books. “It helps you build name recognition, gets your book to people who might not otherwise have a chance to read it. See, it’s HELPING YOU, AUTHOR DEAR! It’s helping everyone because that’s what we do! We have good souls and we’re charming rogues who’re only trying to save the world!”

Sound familiar? Sound too good to be true? Almost like….um…yeah…fiction. Like the fictional pirates in romance and the movies. Unfortunately for e-pirates, this is real life and facts matter.

Let’s look at some of the myths revolving around ebook piracy and compare them with facts.

Kindle ereader with pirate flag on screen

Myth: “I only download pirated copies of books because I’m poor and can’t afford to buy them.”

Fact: While this may be true in some cases, a study commissioned in 2016 by tech company Digimarc and conducted by Nielsen revealed that the average annual household income of those who downloaded the most pirated books was between $60,000-$99,000. (You can read more about this here.) Remember our writer friend Taylor? Taylor would be lucky to earn $10,000 in a year for their book. But people who make 6-10 times that amount claim they “can’t afford” to buy Taylor’s book. Not cool. Not cool at all. For those readers who truly are struggling and very much want to read an author’s book but legitimately can’t afford it, many authors (including me) will tell you to drop us a note and ask if we’d be willing to give you a free copy to read.

Myth: “Downloading books from a torrent or free site is no different from checking a book out from the library for free!”

Fact: Wrong again. Libraries PAY for every copy of a book they carry in their collections. Just like with print books, where the library buys one or several copies of a hardback or paperback, and then only one person at a time is allowed to check out a copy, ebooks are handled in a similar fashion, though it’s a bit more complicated. Most library systems have deals with publishers, whereby if a library wants to carry an ebook copy, they pay the publisher a licensing fee that allows them to offer that ebook for a certain period of time (a year or two in most cases) or for a certain number of circulations (say 25 or 50 checkouts). The ebook can usually only be loaned out to one library patron at a time, and when the licensing period is up, the library can no longer offer that ebook until they pay another licensing fee on it. (Here’s a good breakdown of how the publisher/library relationship works.) So, libraries pay publishers for the licensing rights to offer an ebook and the author receives royalties on those library sales. Piracy on the other hand…no publishers or authors are paid. Someone gets an ebook (maaaaaybe the original person buys it…or not), and they then upload it to dozens of torrent or pirate sites, where the book is then downloaded hundreds or thousands of times. The author receives not a dime from all those downloads.

Myth: “Pirating ebooks doesn’t hurt publishers or authors. Publishers make millions of dollars! And authors are doing just fine. They can afford it if a few people download their book for free!”

Fact: Um…did you read the opening half of this post? I think it says everything you need to know about how poor the vast majority of authors are. Very, very few are living large. Most can’t even pay their rent. Remember, the median income for a published author in the 2018 survey was only a little over $6000. As far as publishers… According to Forbes and data presented by the Authors Guild at Book Expo 2019, publishers lose $300 million dollars annually due to ebook piracy. Three. Hundred. MILLION. Dollars. “Good!” an ebook pirate might say. “We’re gonna sic it to the big guys!” The problem is, it’s not only the publisher losing money. If publishers don’t get paid, neither do authors. Author royalty rates vary widely depending on the book format and the publisher, but let’s use an average of 25% royalties on ebooks (Literary agent Mark Gottlieb quotes this amount in his blog post in early 2019. Of course, some publishers pay less, some small presses pay a fair amount more, but for our purposes let’s go with 25%). 25% of 300 million is still $75 MILLION dollars that would, on average, go to authors if the books weren’t being pirated. Ouch. Also…the implication that only a “few” people will download the free book on a pirate site is preposterous. As I said earlier, I’ve seen some of my own books downloaded thousands of times. Better known authors probably lose even more sales to pirates. Frankly, it’s sickening.

Myth: “By giving all these people access to your book for free, it helps you build name recognition, gets your book to people who otherwise might not ever have a chance to read it. We’re helping you, authors!”

Fact: When an author’s book is being downloaded hundreds or thousands of times, I mean, yeah…okay…it is giving readers exposure to the book. But the fallacy behind that statement is that it’s going to get readers excited about our books, and then, if they like this book, they’ll run right out and buy all the rest of our books in a totally legit way. It sounds great. Especially for a series. Put book 1 into thousands of readers’ devices for free, and then they’ll automatically go buy the rest of the books in the series, thereby earning the author fans for life and also getting them paid for all the rest of the books. However, and this is a huge however…that rarely happens. People who download and read pirated books pretty much make a lifestyle of it. They might say they’re in it to find new authors who they will then financially support. But in reality, they’re in it for free stuff. Pretty, shiny free stuff like any pirate. Many of these people download and read dozens of books each month. It’s a habit. It’s how they roll. And they’re quite happy getting all their reading material for free. So, while there might be occasional exceptions to the rule, where someone reads a pirate copy first and then goes shopping for more books by that author, it’s not the norm. On the website Goodereader, they ran a poll in 2018 asking 1800 readers where they acquired their ebooks. The results were eyepopping. The poll showed that 20.94% of readers regularly got books via piracy. That was a higher percentage than any other source. Amazon came in second with a not-particularly-close 17.61%. All other vendors were far down the list, with none of them over 10%. You can see the full results here. But take a moment to let that sink in. 1 out of every 5 reader routinely gets their books via piracy. And that’s if everyone who responded to the poll was being honest. It’s likely the number is higher in practice. Most people know downloading pirated copies is illegal, so they’re not always going to be eager, even on a poll, to admit they do it.

Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget this oldie but goodie…

Myth: “Ebooks should be cheap or free! After all, it costs almost nothing to make them compared to print books.”

Fact: Wrongedy, wrong, wrong, wrong. There’s so much wrong with this I’m not even sure where to start. Actually, no, I do know exactly where to start. With the author. Remember the author? The CREATOR of the story? The person who, once again I remind you, worked their ass off for weeks, months, YEARS to write the story? This is their intellectual property. They imagined it, then they took those fantastic head-visions and translated them into words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and eventually a fully written novel. How would you feel if you worked on a project for a YEAR for your place of business. Forty hours a week. For a full year. And you knew you weren’t going to get paid until the project was done, but your boss has been telling you how brilliant the work is, people are excited about it, and you know that year of work is going to be worth the wait for payment. But at the end of the year, you find out someone has stolen all of your work. Snatched it right out from under you. And they’ve given it out for free to all the consumers who, previously, had been excited to pay for it. Your boss says, “Sorry, we can’t pay you for a product that isn’t selling” “But it’s not my fault,” you say. “Someone stole it and gave it out for free.” Your boss says, “There’s nothing we can do, and by the way, since this product didn’t sell, we won’t be contracting with you to do the next project.” That would sting, huh? You’d feel angry, frustrated, betrayed, and you’d also be broke because you didn’t get paid for something that took you a year to make. Well, welcome to the world of authors whose books are pirated.

Next, let’s talk about the expenses a publisher incurs (or if a book is self published, the expense the AUTHOR incurs) prior to the book’s release. Editing is not cheap. Publishers have their own in-house editors who go over every inch of a novel and make is shine. These editors do not work for free. Indie authors have to find their own editors, but those editors do not work for free either. For an indie author it can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars to get a book edited. Plus, there’s usually more than one round of edits. Some publishers put a book through two or three or four edits. Indie authors often use multiple editors as well. Each of those editors gets paid. Then there’s cover art. Cover artists have to be paid, whether they work in-house for a big publisher or they work freelance. This, again, can cost anywhere from hundreds of dollars to several thousand. All of these expenses must be paid for up front before the book ever sees the light of day. There are other expenses as well, but you get the picture. It doesn’t matter whether the book is in print format or digital…the primary outlay of money for any book, whether with a publisher or released independently by an author, is editing and cover art. The cost of printing for a paperback is negligible compared to these much larger expenses.

There you have it. Facts are a glorious thing. But the question now is, what in hell can be done about ebook piracy?

That, my friends, is a question authors and publishers have been trying to answer since ebooks first took off and became popular almost twenty years ago. And there is no easy answer. Trying to shut down, or even just get books removed from, a book piracy site is like playing Whack-A-Mole. Authors and publishers frequently find themselves beating one mole into a hole here, only to have it pop up over there, and there, and there. Book pirates are devious. And they’re adept at what they do. They’re used to being shut down today and opening up a whole new site tomorrow. If an author or publisher successfully gets books taken down from a site, the books go right back up somewhere else.

I have author friends who’ve spent full work weeks doing nothing else but tracking down sites that have pirated their books and attempting to get the books removed (weeks when they’re not writing new material because they’re too busy trying to stop people from stealing their previously written work). Some authors hire companies who claim to do the tracking and takedown for them. It’s an expense, honestly, most authors can’t afford, and there’s little proof it really works. Of course they’ll be partially successful, but, again, for every site from which they successfully take down books, ten new sites spring into existence. Many authors try not to think too hard about it because it’s so damned painful. Others authors have simply given up and left the business–they’ve gotten tired of fighting the battle, busting their asses to write books, only to have a skimpy handful of paying sales while the book they just released yesterday is already up on a dozen pirate sites where it’s been downloaded hundreds of times.

Just in the past week I’ve had two different author friends say to me, “I’m not sure why I bother anymore to release new books.” I’ve been there myself. I’ve recently had to make some tough decisions about my own work and how I present it due to piracy. It’s frustrating as hell. It’s heartbreaking. For some authors I think it’s safe to say it’s soul crushing.

If you’re a book pirate–someone who steals an author’s book and makes it available online as if YOU own it (or even worse, you’ve found a scam way to make money from it)–let me make this clear. You are not a charming rogue. You are not a hero. You’re a bald-faced thief and an asshole.

It’s my hope that by talking openly about ebook piracy, giving you some actual facts to chew on, making you aware of how this all works and how much ebook piracy hurts the industry overall but, more particularly, how it hurts authors, it might inspire some change. At the very least it might make those of you who download your books from pirate sites aware how your actions, whether intentional or not, are hurting your favorite authors. Because, sadly, if this kind of thievery continues, tomorrow or next month or next year, your favorite authors might no longer be writing books. And if you’re a stand-up honorable person and you only ever acquire your ebooks from a legal source (thank you!!!) maybe having more information might give you some tools to use so you can convince one or two of your friends who do read pirated copies to stand down.

As most authors have, I’ve spent years hurt, frustrated, and downright pissed off at ebook pirates. I’ve been told, “It’s inevitable.” “Pirates gonna pirate.” “Learn to live with it.’ “Try to see it as an advantage…that people want to read your books.” “Try not to think about it too much.” “It’s probably not hurting you as much as you think.” “Don’t let it get you down.”

To that I say a resounding…NO. Having that kind of attitude gives ebook pirates power. Over me, over all authors. And that’s exactly the problem. Staying quiet, “learning to live with it,” or making excuses for it is the same as condoning it. And I won’t do that. Piracy is a huge problem and I’m tired of seeing really excellent authors pack it in and leave the industry because they can no longer make any money or because they’ve been completely demoralized by greedy thieves who don’t give a crap about an author’s time or hard work. Authors have enough damn problems, including predatory publishers who can’t or won’t pay royalties on time (or at all), publishers and organizations who treat their diverse authors like shit, authors who plagiarize other authors, assholes who try to trademark commonly used terms, and so forth. No author deserves to have their work stolen. Because that’s what ebook piracy is–it’s stealing, plain and simple. And as with all theft, it’s illegal. Like, go-to-jail illegal.

No pirates. Pirate flag with red line through it.

So, please, let’s stand up together against this shitty practice. And if you love an author, please, please buy their books as you can afford to. Or if you can’t afford to buy individual books, then at least check the books out from a legitimate library. Or join a service like Kindle Unlimited, which allows you to pay $10 per month and read as many ebooks as you want.** Or drop your fave author a note and ask if they’d be willing to let you read the book in exchange for a review. Authors love reviews. I mean, we really, really do. And if you’re willing to leave a review, some authors would be delighted to send you a copy.

There are other options out there. Thievery doesn’t have to be one of them. Make a stand. Set an example. Talk to your friends.

Be a true hero and not a damned pirate.


** Please just be sure, if you do use a subscription service, that it’s legitimate because some ebook pirates have started running scam subscription sites where they make you pay for access, but the books you read are still stolen. This means the thief is now making money from you, when the publishers and authors still aren’t earning anything. So do your research before you sign up for a service.

Author: mlrhodes

Author M.L. Rhodes writes bestselling m/m romance and fantasy novels. She's also a geek, an introvert, a night owl, a potter, and a damn fine margarita maker.

2 thoughts

  1. I was an asshole. A few years ago, I found a site that offered ebooks for free download. At the time, I really didn’t consider any ramifications for this. I thought, well, I bought them in hardback/paperback already, what’s the harm? Obviously, a lot. Since then, I’ve subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, and either download what they offer (9.99 a month subscription), or buy them outright. I’ve bought a crapload of books over the last two years. Sort of a weird penance, I think. I follow lots of authors on Twitter these days, and promote by retweeting book releases and sharing interesting ones with friends.

    I wonder how many people started by innocently grabbing a book here and there, and later told themselves, oh well, what’s the harm? A lot, it seems.

    So, sorry for being an asshole. I actually purchased your Draegan Lords books, both paperback and ebook, along with a few others. I’m glad I did.

    1. I don’t think you’re an asshole at all. You were unaware. We’ve all been there and done things like that. But you learned and were willing to change, and that’s what matters. That’s what I’d love to see and why I wrote this blog post in the first place. I think if more people are made aware, some of them will also change their habits. I’m hopeful anyway. 🙂 And thank you for buying my books!! (((HUGS)))

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