Free books are a treat we all enjoy. Books given as gifts. Books won in contests, like the ones I frequently offer here and on my website. Books loaned to us by good friends. Even books checked out at the library, although, of course, your taxes support that fabulous institution, so technically those books aren’t free.
But what do all those books have in common? It’s very simple. Someone bought them before they were presented to you. Somewhere along the way, someone paid money they themselves had earned at a job, to purchase them. The publisher, who shadowed the progress of the book, who hired an artist to design and create the cover, who paid editors to be certain the book was the best it could be, who maintained a sales force to market it, who paid bookstores incentives to place it where it could be found? That publisher received a payment when the book was sold. That publisher was paid, so more books could find their way to bookstores and the cycle could continue.
Then, of course, there was the author. Authors exist on royalties. We have a job that pays just twice a year, which is how often royalties are issued. Sometimes we are paid a bit more often if we’ve received an advance that year, but many, actually most, authors must work a second job to support their writing habit. So when a book’s bought and paid for, we receive our royalties sometime in the next year. Lots of money? Don’t we wish. No, generally, an author receives between 4 and 12% of each copy sold. Work that out on paper and ask yourself how many copies of a $5.99 paperback at 6% an author would have to sell in order to put groceries on the table that week.
Enter the pirates. Technology and the proliferation of ebooks has created a brand new problem. Suddenly people are stealing our books, and there’s very little we can do about it. Anyone with a scanner, a little technical knowledge and loose morals, can scan our books and offer them free on the Internet. There’s a rising tide of downloadable books out there, many at sites that “claim” they aren’t offering the books themselves, just providing links. Many of those websites exist outside the US, and there’s little our legal system can do to stop them.
I wonder why anybody would take a chance at one of these sites and risk viruses, suspicious cookies, and general computer problems when books are not expensive to begin with. A book gives a lot of bang for the buck, and if you can’t afford one, libraries are everywhere. But clearly not everybody worries, and books are downloaded. I’ve talked to friends who have no idea what they’re doing is illegal, or that every time they download, they’re violating an author’s copyright and threatening that author’s livelihood.
Maybe you didn’t know either? But now you do. There are many perfectly legal places to download books. Sometimes publishers even offer free ebooks for a limited time, in order to showcase a particular author’s work and find him or her new readers. I first found author Lee Child this way, and have bought many of his novels since then. The system works when it’s controlled by publishers. It doesn’t work when people with nothing better to do, steal books and “fence” them, just because they can.
So that’s how the illegal downloading of books affects your favorite authors and affects the publishing industry in general. But how does it affect you?
The answer’s pretty simple. Most of us write for love, but we also write for money. If we aren’t paid, we have to find other jobs. The books you love will eventually disappear.
Wouldn’t that be sad?