Yesterday’s news about Mark Waid and his positive attitude towards being pirated reminded me of an incident that happened a few years ago. This one didn’t end on such a positive note, but there’s still something to be learned from it.
A movie by the name if The Time Traveler’s Wife came out in late 2009. It starred X and why, and it was based on the novel of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger. The movie was a fairly good adaptation, but this story revolves around the book.
I saw the trailer long before the movie came out, and once I saw that it was based on a book I immediately went looking for the ebook. I was not alone in this; a small clique of would-be fans formed over at MobileRead. None of us had any luck in finding the ebook for one simple reason; the author hadn’t allowed it.
I was desperate enough that I found the author’s email and asked her where I could get the ebook. A bunch of MobileReaders also contacted her, and this is what she wrote:
I’m sorry, but I’ve devoted my life to physical books (I helped found the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts) and e-books = dematerialised books. E-books imperil book design, typography, and other art forms that I care about. E-books are also not helpful to bookstores, and I love bookstores. So even though I understand that many people prefer e-books, I am not planning to issue my books in that form if I can avoid it. If that means I sell fewer books, so be it.
I can understand her viewpoint as an artist, but I was still astounded by the situation. Here we were, a bunch of bookworms who begged the author for her to let us give her our money and she said no. We were in pretty much the same position as Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal. A few months back he blogged about his experience in trying to buy a copy of the Game of Thrones tv series shortly after finishing the books. He tried to buy it via every venue imaginable, only it wasn’t available anywhere (not streaming, digital, DVD, anything).
Eventually he pirated it. A lot of commentators at the time focused on how naughty he was to pirate it but in fact they completely missed the point, which was that he was pretty much screaming “let me give you my money”. He was throwing money at the screen and was rebuffed repeatedly.
If you are a creator, you should be so lucky to be pirated by people like Matthew Inman. (You’d also have to be an idiot, but that’s beside the point.)
The Niffenegger tale had much the same outcome. There was no ebook available (still isn’t) so those who couldn’t do paper ended up finding a pirated PDF. I checked the book out of the library (never did buy one). The movie was very good but the book was much better. (It’s worth a read.)
Yesterday’s post about Mark Waid got me curious about that PDF. I knew of it but I didn’t like to read PDFs (still don’t), and I’d never given it much thought. So I went googling and that PDF was the top search result (if you add ebook to the search terms).
It is surprisingly well made. I’ve bought ebooks which had more errors, poorer formatting, and that were clearly shown less love while being made. In fact, I’d say that this pirated PDF was made by someone who was both a fan of the book and loved books as much as the author does. (The telling detail was the glyph surrounding the page numbers at the bottom of the page.)
People like Matthew Inman and the creator of this PDF are why I am so ambivalent about piracy. All too often I have heard from and met pirates who were huge fans of a work. Many only turned to piracy after they were blocked from buying the content they wanted.
And that’s why I’m not concerned about the dire threat of piracy. Those who might buy the content will usually make an effort to do so (so for god’s sake help them). The rest were probably never going to buy it anyway.
If piracy is ever involved in a company losing money it won’t be because pirates refused to pay but because the pirates weren’t given a chance to pay for what they wanted to buy. And that is the tragedy of piracy.
image by fuzzcat