My brother is a published author. He has written several e-books that are available on Amazon. (Yes, our last names are different but that’s another story). E-book writing is not his full- time occupation but provides a nice supplement to his retirement income. I am jealous, because he has the concentration to write a full-length book whereas my attention span is limited to a 1500 word blog. But all is not happy in the world of e-book authors, either for those that rely on the e-book trade for a living or part-time authors like my brother. And that, perhaps not surprisingly to readers of this blog, is because of piracy.
For some reason, e-book authors are still engaged in the interminable and pointless debate as to whether piracy actually hurts authors and/or whether those who pirate books could ever be persuaded to pay for what they consume. I thought this train had left the station long ago. I recently wrote a blog commenting on a study done by several researchers at Carnegie Mellon University who looked at the role of creators, internet platforms and governments in combatting piracy. A key takeaway from this study was the revelation that the authors spent almost no time examining the question of whether piracy causes harm to creators-because for them it was a given. They noted that of 26 peer-reviewed journal articles of which they were aware that studied the economic harm caused by piracy, almost 90 percent (23/26) found that piracy caused significant harm to legal sales. They quoted one expert as saying that “the dust has settled” on this debate. Thus I was surprised to read in the blog post “Fighting Piracy” by e-book author Alessandra Torre that she had an ambivalent attitude about those who pirate her work;
I’m fairly laid back about pirates. I don’t believe that readers who pirate are going to buy books. They aren’t going to do it. If they don’t find your books on their sites, they’ll hunt harder, then they’ll read something else. They don’t give up on piracy and decide to start paying for books. So pirates are already ‘lost’ to me, in terms of income potential. With that said… there’s the possibility that one of them will read my books and recommend them to a paying customer. And a pirate may leave a review on Goodreads which might convince a paying customer to purchase it. Those two possibilities have helped me to bury my head in the sand and pretend pirates don’t exist.
According to her website, Alessandra is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels and an advocate of self-publishing who also offers educational writing courses. It seems however that she may be coming around on the issue of piracy, influenced by an article from author Maggie Stiefvater. Ms. Stiefvater provided a case study of her experiences with the pirating of later episodes of her four-part novel The Raven King. There was a noticeable negative economic impact when the e-book “advanced release copy” (ARC) of her third installment “escaped” and made its way onto the Internet. She then set a trap for pirate readers with the fourth instalment, populating forums and sites with an incomplete version and then watching the social media furor as free-riding fans complained of not being able to find a complete version. As she noted;
Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.
Suddenly book stores started to run out of stock and the publisher scrambled to print more. She had proven her point. Piracy has consequences.
This epiphany seems to have also converted Ms. Torre, who gives her “budding-author” readers three options for dealing with piracy; 1) do nothing and adopt the fingers-in-the-ears approach she previously espoused; 2) “make it a bit harder for the freebie-hunters” and 3) “hunt down those pirates and take your e-books back”. Each of these options has costs. Doing nothing can cost an author considerable revenues in the form of lost sales. Option 2 costs from $7-$13 a month and requires a half hour of an author’s time. The full court press of Option 3–hiring a professional–will cost up to $2000 plus an ongoing monthly fee. While Option 3 is probably the right one for full time writers like Ms. Torre and Ms. Stiefvater, for someone like my brother who has just a couple of works up on Amazon but who gets pirated nonetheless (if your work is not worth pirating, one might argue that it is not worth reading), Option 2 looks like the way to go. So how do you go about it?
No doubt there are a number of tools out there but the one recommended by Ms. Torre is called Blasty. As she describes it;
Blasty works with search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) and hosting platforms to remove piracy sites from showing up in search results. It doesn’t remove your book from those sites, it just means that when a freebie hunter searches the internet for ‘book XYZ free pdf’ or ‘book XYZ free download’ – those sites won’t show up. A hardcore pirater is going to visit the sites they use and find your book, so you aren’t stopping them. But you ARE stopping the curious reader who has been waiting for your book to go on sale, or is snooping around online and doesn’t have the ability to resist a free copy of your book that is right THERE for the taking.
She is very enthusiastic about Blasty, reporting that it removed 7000 piracy links from search engine results in just four days, and was easy to set up. In just ten minutes she had added all her books. You can also tailor it so that legitimate promo links are not captured by the filter.
A visit to the Blasty website basically reveals how the system works.
“Blasty continuously monitors your digital products online. As soon as a suspicious copy is found, it is added to your dashboard and an alert is emailed to you.”
Then, “Just click “Blast” and DMCA copyright removal notices are instantly submitted to Google, Bing, Yahoo and the host of the illegal copy itself. Track the processing of the removal from your dashboard.”
The basic plan costs $6.49 (US) per month; the premium plan $12.99. For part-time authors like my brother, it may be the answer, or at least part of the answer. He is going to try it. I will let you know if he is as satisfied as Alessandra Torre seems to be. (I would note that I have personally not used Blasty, so am going on hearsay as to its attributes, and have no financial or personal interest in the company, so caveat emptor.)
Piracy affects all creators. The canard that piracy represents “free promotion” or that pirate consumers will never be paying consumers is just not true. Whether it is in the realm of e-books, or streaming AV content, repeated studies have shown that consistent interdiction (making it more difficult for the average consumer to access content without payment) is effective and increases revenues for legitimate providers. Services like Blasty will not deter a Kim Dotcom, but they will deter the casual “pirate of convenience”, the consumer who looks for the free and easy route to content but who will pay a reasonable charge for what he or she wants if a freebie is not easily available.
Not all free-riders are in the “starving student” category; in fact the majority of illegal downloaders can well afford to pay for content if the inconvenience factor requires them to do so. A recent study pointed out that e-book pirates are older and wealthier than many imagine. In fact, people in the 30-44 year age category with incomes in the $60K to $99K bracket are more likely to pirate content than those in the 18-29 year age group. Their incomes tend to be higher (29% of those accessing infringing content claimed to earn more than $100K annually) and shockingly, more than 70% of illegal downloaders have graduated from college or have post-graduate degrees. For many of these people convenience and time are major considerations. These days it is very easy to buy legal content online, but in many cases it’s even easier to grab a pirated copy. Change that equation and more people will shift to legal purchases.
There are many victims of piracy. Small scale self-published authors are as heavily affected as large corporations, which themselves represent stakeholders across the spectrum of creativity, from authors to performers to technicians to stunt men, caterers and truck drivers. While big corporations and industry associations have the resources to fight back, individual authors often feel alone in their struggle. Thus a service like Blasty helps fill a niche in the struggle against piracy.
To wrap up, I just can’t resist this slogan (it sounds like an insecticide commercial). “When the pirates get nasty, use Blasty”.
© Hugh Stephens 2018. All Rights Reserved.