Back in the day, people would record music off the radio on small plastic cassettes and create their own mix tapes which we’d share with each other by handing them over or sending through the mail. They were even considered romantic gestures (can you imagine?) It was no big deal, since the music usually had a second or two of the DJ’s voice, and it definitely featured the charm of pops and crackles. These days, with the technology at hand, music can be recorded perfectly, with no pops, no crackles, no interrupting voices. Not only that, but it’s easier to share music. You just attach a file and hit ‘send’. And if that’s where things stopped, with one person sending one song to one friend, it wouldn’t seem any different to people than one friend sharing a paperback book they’d read with another. But that’s not where it stopped. Millions of people started sharing songs with millions of other people, thanks to the glories of the internet, and suddenly it was clear that the once-minor sharing had grown into full-blown theft.
I have to be honest – I never gave it a huge amount of thought. I stopped using Napster when the word went out that it was stealing, and these days I pay for my music online because it’s the right thing to do. But I never really thought about how illegal downloading might affect me, the writer. A couple of months ago, when an acquaintance told me she’d downloaded a copy of my book online to read on her e-reader, I wondered at it, since my book isn’t available for e-readers, as far as I know. I tried asking about it, but the acquaintance avoided any straight answers, and I assumed she’d actually not read it at all. Then I saw this post – Free Books Aren’t Free.
She’s right, you know. Downloading books for free is stealing, and you’re stealing from the writer. The only reason we are able to produce books for readers to enjoy is if those books make money for the publisher. When readers steal books off the internet, that’s one more sale we don’t make. Every sale I don’t make is one more tick against me ever selling another book again. Yes, it’s convenient to download books, and it’s lovely not to have to pay for them. But the retail world doesn’t support products that don’t sell, and publishing is a retail market. 50,000 people may have read my book, but if 45,000 of those readers stole the book, it doesn’t matter. They can sing my praises on their blogs, but the market will only notice the 5,000 people who actually bought the book. 5,000 may seem like a big number, but in terms of book selling, it’s not. So now I have people who like my work, but apparently don’t like it enough to pay for it. I’m glad you like me, but I’m trying to make a little money here. A great dentist wouldn’t be expected to give his patients free cleanings just because they like how he works, right?
Some people say they paid for a copy of the book, so illegally downloading another copy for their e-reader is okay, because they paid for it once. Let’s look at it like this… you bought the hardcover, and you love the book, so you want to keep the hardcover perfect, and just have a paperback for rereading. Does that mean you can walk into the store, take a paperback off the shelf and walk out again without paying? Of course not. This is the same thing. Taking a product without paying for it is stealing, no matter what justification you can attach to it.
So folks, if you hear people talking about all the books they downloaded for free, steer them in the direction of this post, and the one I cited above. Tell them how they’re hurting their favorite authors, and hurting themselves by ruining the author’s chance of ever selling another book. We’ll be grateful!