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On Piracy, Freeloading, and Glass Houses

530733467_a6549aeec5_oOver the past few days the subject of piracy and reader entitlement has reared its ugly head.

It seems one person posted a FB status update, asking for recommendations for pirate sites, and all hell broke loose.

That status update is either no longer public (or no one is willing to link to it) but Sarah Madison summed up the situation quite nicely over her blog:

I stayed up FAR too long last night reading the posts and comments generated after someone solicited recommendations for pirate sites on their Facebook page. A few people took her to task for finding ways to steal stories–because yes, that’s what it is–but astonishingly, others came to her defense. The perpetrator herself shut down the censure of others, blocking them, calling them names, and then making fun of the people who dared take her to call her out for stealing from others. I have no doubt there will also be retaliatory negative reviews on some author’s books because that seems to be the way things work these days.

You should go read her post; it’s far more nuanced than you would expect, and even if you have a firm opinion one way or the other it’s still an insightful read.

And you should also go read Amanda’s post on Mad Genius Club.

As for me, I had planned to make a related point about freeloading, people not wanting to pay for web content, ad-blocking, and the like, but I got caught up in a heated semantics argument over at MGC. Further debate could lead me to epitomizing an XKCD cartoon – again.

I will add, though, that while I have some sympathy for those who cannot buy the content because they lack the means or the access (*), I’d rather not get involved in debating the actions or request of the original FB poster.

She should do what I do when I don’t want to buy a book: use the library. It is neither a perfect nor complete source of books, but it is legal and ethical. Anyone who wants to justify piracy has to first explain why a library isn’t a viable alternative.

Does anyone have a link to the original FB post, or a screensnap? I’m wondering how the OP justified it.

Edit: Connie of shared a link to screensnaps of  the original request. It was literally as simple as a single sentence. (I’m surprised that everyone is getting all bent out of shape over it.)

image by jsmjr


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BDR June 7, 2016 um 3:23 pm

The fact is, if you have to ask on FaceBook where to find ebook sources, you’re probably not bright enough to read much, anyway.

The further fact is that if you’re making a big deal about this, you’re probably dumber than those who have to ask on FaceBook. Why? Alternate sources are available everywhere and they are unstoppable. Whether torrents or UseNet or the common web, the selection is almost as good as Amazon and just about every possible book ever created is already available or is available for the asking.

All publicity does is make those alternate sources known to those who previously had to ask on FaceBook. How dumb do you have to be not to see that?

Nate Hoffelder June 7, 2016 um 3:41 pm

The fact is, if you have to ask on FaceBook where to find ebook sources, you’re probably not bright enough to read much, anyway.

I had problems with that as well. I can’t say for sure without seeing the original request, but I wonder if the OP was intentionally trolling FB. I really don’t understand why you’d ask in public like that.

poiboy June 7, 2016 um 9:14 pm

i too smell a troll

Connie June 7, 2016 um 4:04 pm

If you just search for her name in the Facebook search box there are several public facebook posts with screenshots of the conversation.

Nate Hoffelder June 7, 2016 um 4:08 pm

Whose name?

No one has told me who it is. If they had I would have found a screenshot and links on Twitter.

Connie June 7, 2016 um 5:35 pm

This will take you to the public posts. although, if you’re friends with a lof authors you’ll probably see a lot more. There’s not much on Twitter about this.

Nate Hoffelder June 7, 2016 um 5:56 pm


Rasputin June 7, 2016 um 7:56 pm

I don’t think you can stop piracy, but you can make it difficult to the point that most people can’t do it or are scared of doing it due to lack of understanding. As such, I think the piracy problem is over-rated. The days of Napster are long-gone.

On another point, some people really don’t have access to libraries. Some people live in countries where their language is not spoken (sure, you can read in a foreign language, but it just ain’t the same) and also a lot of libraries are being shut down due to austerity cuts. Someone’s got to pay for those offshore accounts documented in the Panama Papers. Things are getting worse out their for kids born into lower-income households.

DavidW June 9, 2016 um 12:14 pm

I agree that the piracy problem is over-rated these days. I think that Netflix and Spotify really helped cut down on piracy. Kindle Unlimited is making some progress but it could be improved.

I really think that alot of these people that pirate ebooks would not if they had that affordable endless buffet of content like they have with video and music.

In my time teaching I’ve seen my students go from always pirating to endlessly watching Netflix. I think if Sarah Madison signed up for Kindle Unlimited she would see some of her lost to piracy revenue come back.

Jason van Gumster June 8, 2016 um 8:03 am

My only problem here is the "lost income" fallacy that a lot of authors jump to (the third section of Sarah Madison’s post is rife with it). Copyright infringement does not have a 1-to-1 correlation with lost sales. Going to a torrent site and counting every download of your book as a lost sale is flat-out inaccurate. That’s like pointing at any group of people on a crowded street and saying, "All of these people walking around aren’t buying my book… and they might never buy my book. They’re lost sales!"

Yes, copyright infringement is illegal. Yes, people should not download content from illegitimate distributors. However, this really is a tempest in a teacup. If you’re an author and you’re worried about your book showing up on a torrent site, then your priorities are misplaced. *Most* authors should be concerned that their work *isn’t* on these sites… it means there’s no demand for their work.

Adam Tesh June 8, 2016 um 4:45 pm

But legally they are abosolutely entitled to compensation for each and every copy made by downloaders. While I agree there isn’t a 1 to 1 correlation between those who would buy the book and those who would download for free with 16,000 downloads if only 10% would have bought the book that would be 1,600 sales. Not bestseller status but still nothing to sneeze at.

Catherine M. Wilson June 8, 2016 um 4:14 pm

I have put work on my next book on hold, not because of the usual pirates, the ones Jason refers to, but because I caught one of my fans–someone who loved my books and valued them especially because I write for an underserved audience–offering the ebooks for free to anyone who asks. I found it profoundly disrespectful, and it took the heart right out of me. My enthusiasm for writing for that audience has waned considerably. So here is one writer who has stopped writing, because of piracy. Put that together with the scammers who return ebooks after having read them, and it feels pointless to continue doing a job with such a poor return. I have much easier and more lucrative ways of making money.

1 June 8, 2016 um 9:01 pm

"Anyone who wants to justify piracy has to first explain why a library isn’t a viable alternative."
Given the terms publishers are offering ebooks to libraries at, I think you will find most digital libraries do not have the selection needed for your point to make sense.

Sure, ethically you should go to a physical library before resorting to piracy, but once you get used to the convenience of downloading ebooks rather than visiting a physical library, it can be hard to go back.

Nate Hoffelder June 8, 2016 um 9:17 pm

And what about paper books?

Sorry, but "convenience" is not good enough to excuse piracy.

1 June 8, 2016 um 9:42 pm

You can mock my convenience argument (and be ethically correct), but I do believe piracy is partly the fault of the publishers, retailers, etc.

I think they could lower piracy rates by making the legal option easier / more convenient than piracy.

The insistence on DRM is a good example. I have wasted quite a bit of time messing with DRM (including having to contact Adobe multiple times). Even when it works properly (rather than claiming I’ve activated too many devices or something), it restricts which apps I can use, and prevents me from using my favourite (Moon+).
In contrast, if I pirated the book, I would actually get a better product, and be able to read it without hassle in whatever app I want.
Prices of ebooks have reached ridiculous heights, often higher than the price of the paper books. Again, ethnically you should just buy the paper book, but it is these little inconveniences that make it tempting to pirate.
Geo-restrictions are another problem. If I want to buy a Harry Potter book from Pottermore in Canada, they will only sell me the British version. If I want the audiobook, I can only get the American version. How does that make sense? It have to admit it has made me tempted to pirate the British version of the audio books.
Publishers and ebook stores need to make an effort to make buying ebooks more convenient than piracy, and sell as good a product, rather than putting all the blame on the reader. Sure, some people will pirate anyways, but I bet it would be a lot fewer.

I know I read an article recently about a study that showed the correlation between piracy and the amount of time after a movie is released in theatre before it is released in DVD format. It shows that if they removed the inconvenience of having to wait for no particularly good reason, piracy rates on these movies would be a LOT lower.

Nate Hoffelder June 8, 2016 um 10:09 pm

I wasn’t intending to mock you. I just disagree.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 9, 2016 um 10:30 am

The blame is on the reader if that reader chooses to pirate. Readers may not like DRM, may not like georestrictions, may not like price. But only the reader is responsible for the decision to pirate (or go into a store and steal bread, milk, or a pair of Nikes). I don’t like the price of the Tesla car, but certainly cold have used the experience driving one to help write one of my books. That doesn’t mean I’m going to steal one.

Sure, book prices are high and maybe even ridiculous. DRM is inconvenient, but there are plenty of books without DRM (Baen is just one publisher. Smashwords is full of books without DRM). There are alternatives and options. It may be easier to pirate, but it is the sole responsibility of the person doing it.

1 June 9, 2016 um 12:31 pm

I’m not saying the reader is in the right. Of course a truly ethical reader isn’t going to pirate no matter what, and is going to seek the alternatives (I certainly do).
But how does blaming readers really help?
If there are changes the publishers can make to reduce piracy and/or increase sales, isn’t in the best interest of the authors if they make the changes rather than just hoping pirates will have a sudden of heart?

Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 9, 2016 um 4:07 pm

The only person responsible for pirating is the reader/downloader. Therefore there is no one else to blame other than the reader/downloader. The seller of any product can price that product however they see fit. A high price does not make it right to steal it. There’s no way to know if the author/publisher would be more profitable with lower prices. That’s a guess. I have held prices on books at 99 cents for a month and made less than when that book was at 2.99 — I’ve run this test MULTIPLE times on multiple retailer sites. The fact is, news about my books reaches x eyeballs. Y people buy the book and the price is not always the determining factor. (In fact, in the last year plus it rarely is the most important factor.) Essentially I sell the same number of books per month whether it is priced at 2.99 or 99 cents (baring certain other factors such as advertising that boosts the number of eyeballs that see the book).

Are there cases where an author could make more money at 99 cents? Probably. Does the author/publisher know that for a fact ahead of time? No. It’s the same with any product. The publishers are trying to maximize profit. Some of that is guesswork. Catering to a crowd that swears they wouldn’t pirate "if only" is not the way to form a business plan. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who "plan to buy" my book. You can’t make a business plan based on what people SAY they will do. You have to base your plan on actual sales and the real data you have. Some people who pirate are simply not book BUYERS. They may say they would buy the book if it cost less, but you have to base your business plan on the people who really are buying.

1 June 9, 2016 um 4:41 pm

"A high price does not make it right to steal it."
Again, I think you misunderstand my point. I am by no means claiming it is right. If you see someone pirating something, by all means explain to them the effort that went into making it. It is definitely wrong of them to pirate.

Your whole 0.99 vs 2.99 isn’t really relevant. I think both are quite reasonable prices. I’m talking about ebooks going for as much as 15-20 dollars.

"Some people who pirate are simply not book BUYERS."
Of course there are some people who will pirate anyways. Perhaps even the majority of pirates. But does that mean we shouldn’t try to lower the percentage of pirates slightly?

"Does the author/publisher know that for a fact ahead of time? No."
Actually I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some real statistics that show which price points make more. I think they were posted on this blog at some point? Perhaps you can’t tell specific to one book, but you can figure out which price points are going to make the most on average. It sounds like you have figured it out for your books (2.99).

"The publishers are trying to maximize profit. "
Yes, but are they trying to maximize profit from ebooks (which I admit you may consider to be irrelevant)? I have heard it speculated (on this blog maybe?) that the publishers are trying to discourage ebook sales in favour of print.

"There’s no way to know if the author/publisher would be more profitable with lower prices. That’s a guess. "
I’m making a guess yes, but I bet Amazon could actually calculate it.

DavidW June 9, 2016 um 12:02 pm

"I think they could lower piracy rates by making the legal option easier / more convenient than piracy."


Buying ebooks is already very convenient than pirating them. You turn on the wifi to your reader, click the store icon, search for the title, click buy. DRM doesn’t factor into that convenience at all.

Now look at the steps that you would have to do to acquire the same ebook illegally. You would have to navigate to a torrent site. Install a torrent downloader. Search that site. Download the torrent. Check with your antivirus software that you did not download malware! Now download and install Calibre. Add the ebook to your Calibre library. Now convert the ebook into the format that your reader supports. Connect your reader. Transfer the ebook to your reader. Disconnect your reader.

Wow one is really easy, and one is really hard. I hate DRM too, but this has nothing to do with this article and you know it. Please don’t be one of those people that twists any article into an excuse to rant on your favorite subject. DRM IS NO EXCUSE FOR PIRACY.

1 June 9, 2016 um 12:48 pm

"Buying ebooks is already very convenient than pirating them. You turn on the wifi to your reader, click the store icon, search for the title, click buy. DRM doesn’t factor into that convenience at all."

I guess you have a point about the DRM. The big ebookstores do make downloading to their hardware or apps quite easy. Of course that doesn’t do people with obscure or discontinued (Sony?) ereaders any good. It probably isn’t a very significant number though.

I’m talking about much more than the DRM though.
Ebook prices are ridiculous.
Library ebooks are far more expensive than their physical counterparts. And I believe there is often a delay between a title launching and it becoming available to libraries.
In the past there have been some popular titles that weren’t available as ebooks. I have definitely seen lots forum discussions where people said they were pirating an ebook, but would buy it as soon as it was available (I have no idea how many actually do).
I think there has actually been some progress in improving the convenience of digital libraries. For example, Hoopla is quite good because you don’t need to place a hold.

I’m not talking about excuses, I’m talking about causes / ways to reduce it.

It shows fairly conclusively that inconvenience (in this case delay before dvd release) does cause more people to pirate.

1 June 8, 2016 um 10:19 pm

Perhaps mock wasn’t the best word choice. Dismiss maybe?
And to be clear, I don’t personally pirate ebooks. I just wish would the publishers would make doing the right thing a little easier.

DavidW June 9, 2016 um 11:46 am

She makes valid points but a couple of things rub me the wrong way:

(a) Not reporting on the source so that we can see if she is taking things in context or horribly not. And no the facebook link provided in the comments section did not work for me.

(b) Unnecessary condescending tone. If you addressed someone face to face as she does in the blog you would get slapped. Especially statements like this: "That’s called life, sweetie."

Part 2 was just posted so I’ll probably be back.

DavidW June 9, 2016 um 11:52 am

The new article is here:

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