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You Should be So Lucky To Know Pirates Such as This

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

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amjb May 26, 2012 um 3:48 pm

Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry is on the UK Kindle store, so her philosophical stance is not consistent. Personally speaking, there are more brilliant books published each year than I have time to read. If they don’t appear as ebooks I don’t bother. Simple.

Nate Hoffelder May 26, 2012 um 3:55 pm

That book has a different publisher, but yes.

Mike Cane May 26, 2012 um 4:34 pm

>>>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.


Wozzie29 May 27, 2012 um 10:04 pm

Exactly – it’s frustration that pushes us in that direction, when we’ve spent hours trying to find a way to give them our money. How "precious" Niffenegger is/was – it’s all about the darned story, people! If the story is good, then let it be read in any format. If the story is bad then a a pretty "artistic" design won’t mean a thing. And btw, you CAN include good design in eBooks!

What also makes me cranky is when ebooks are grudgingly published at the same time as paper books at the same price, eg as I recently found, A$32.99! WTF? I’m definitely not buying that since I refuse to allow myself to be so gouged. Short-sighted publishers have missed out on my money, and I bet I’m not alone. Like someone else said here, I too live in a smaller space nowadays, so there’s no space for more paper books than I already have.

ioxman May 26, 2012 um 8:52 pm

Coincido plenamente con el comentario final.
La situacion es peor si condideran las restricciones geograficas. Para un latino es casi imposible comprar ebooks.

Karl May 27, 2012 um 8:31 am

I have severely limited space for books in my house, and I’m often frustrated by the absence of an e-edition of some book I want. So naturally, luddite numbskullery like Niffenegger’s really ticks me off. Also infuriating is the fact that ebook editions seem to "go out of print" fairly often. I’ll add a Kindle book to my Amazon wish list, only to find that the Kindle edition is no longer available some months later. WTH is up with that?

So yeah, I do sometimes find myself forced to look for ebooks that, so to speak, "fell off the back of a truck."

Kieron May 27, 2012 um 3:15 pm

I still find this sort of thing unbelievable. I would have thought that the hard lessons learned by the music industry [and they are still learning] would have informed authors and publishers of the importance of embracing the new technologies and not pushing would be purchasers of your content into the willing arms of the pirates.

A recent conversation with a 'professional journalist' revealed attitudes to the new technologies of Luddite proportions. The way he disparaged e-books/publising reminded me of the way that many record labels [particularly Major labels] responded to the new opportunites presented by the internet about 10 years ago. Sobbery, arrogance and ignorance. Unwittingly they were carving their epitahphs on their own headstones.
Authors and publishers – wake up. People want your cotent and by ignoring their media/medium of choice [because you are more tactile and like the smell of books….hey, most of us do!] they will find your content elsewhere.
Sad that the lessons of one industry are not learned by the others 'sister' industires.

Sturmund Drang May 27, 2012 um 4:29 pm

Two words:

….To Kill A Mockingbird

(I wonder how many people will walk away from the obvious cheap shot?)

William W May 29, 2012 um 12:40 pm

My stepfather is a writer (writes a regular article for a biker magazine, and short stores and novels), and I’ve helped him put his 3 novels up as ebooks (1 in fact is ebook only). When I put him up on smashwords and showed him that he could send "gift" coupons to people he wanted to send free copies to, he did a LOT of that.

Like most writers I’ve met, the more important thing to him is…well…being read. Getting paid is nice, and he always gets excited when a payment comes in, but what gets him more excited is when he hears from a reader.

My aunt is a lot like that author you mentioned tho. She has an ipad, refuses to read ebooks on it, only wants to read real physical books. She did buy her husband a kindle that he wanted, and gets a kick out of how much he has enjoyed it, but just wont embrace the digital publishing age for herself (yet, I’m working on her).

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