Open Season on Authors?

Ahoy, there! Please welcome talented thriller author Michelle Gagnon back to the lair. She’s here today to express her feelings about the topic of literary piracy. Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts, Michelle! We’re happy to have you as a guest again.

I received a Google alert last week for a website called, “Plunder.com.” I clicked on it, and lo and behold, it led to a file sharing site. And there were all three of my books, in their entirety, available for free download. Including THE GATEKEEPER, which was just released two weeks ago.

Obviously this is not a rarity, I know plenty of other authors who have been the victims of piracy. And to the site’s credit, as soon as my publisher’s legal department contacted them, the files were removed. But still–who knows how many free copies were downloaded during the few days that the files were posted? Ebook downloads still constitute a small portion of overall sales–but did the free files make a dent in my Kindle and/or Sony Reader sales? Impossible to say.

The publishing industry is entering a new phase. They’re now confronting issues that the music industry has been wrestling with for the past decade. Year after year, total music sales have declined, and industry insiders attribute much of that loss to the continued popularity of pirated songs. According to a report issued in January by the IFPI <http://www.afterdawn.com/news/archive/16667.cfm> , fully ninety-five percent of all online music downloads were unauthorized.

The statistics are much lower for pirated books, but it’s only going to get worse. As eBook readers come down in price, chances are they’ll become as ubiquitous as iPods. And when that happens, this type of piracy will become more and more prevalent.

Most authors who renewed contracts in the year since the financial meltdown saw their advances slashed by thirty percent or more. Combine piracy with the impact of the book price wars <http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2009/11/book-price-wars.html> , and it’ll become nearly impossible for most writers to eke out a living from their work.

Last week Declan Burke <http://crimealwayspays.blogspot.com/2009/11/woe-is-me-etc-failing-writer-writes.html> posted a poignant message about why he’s decided it’s no longer feasible to pursue a career as a writer. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that more and more authors will be forced into making the same decision. Our own John Ramsey Miller recently posted <http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2009/11/dog-boy-wolf-man.html> about the difficulties writers face today, and how it only seems to be getting harder.

Some people argue that self-publishing ebooks will fill this void. To be honest, I have my doubts. First of all, the benefit of an advance is that it enables an author to pay the bills while writing the book. You also receive editorial assistance, marketing help, and distribution. I can say for a fact that without that editorial help, all of my books would have suffered. Sure, I could hire an outside editor–but that would involve more money out of pocket. Throw in cover design, formatting, marketing materials…and my ebook would enter the marketplace down a few thousand dollars. So I’d need to earn at least that to see a profit.

And if the marketplace is flooded with self-published books (which is already happening), how does an author stand out among the crowd? Even if you manage to claw out a niche for yourself, how do you sell enough books to earn a living? I know authors who are garnering a few thousand dollars a year from their ebooks, but that’s clearly not enough to survive on. And it’s only going to become more difficult.

Sorry to be all doom and gloom, but the truth was that seeing my work posted for free struck me as a harbinger of worse things to come. I spent a year of my life on each of those books. If you factor in the total hours worked on them, I earned less than minimum wage for their creation. And now someone was giving them away, completely disregarding all of that effort. Someone was basically saying that they were worthless, so people might as well have them for free.

I realize that “Rachell” probably didn’t have all this in mind when she converted the files so they could be shared. But think of it this way. You can’t leave a restaurant without paying for a meal, otherwise the next time you go, the restaurant will likely have closed since they couldn’t pay their bills. A good meal costs money to produce; so does a good book. If you don’t pay for things, down the road they won’t be there for you. So if you love books, and want to continue enjoying the same wide selection down the line, for God’s sake buy them. If you want to read them for free, get a library card. Anything else just makes you a thief, and in the end you’ll be stuck eating mac and cheese.

Michelle, thanks for sharing your views on this thought-provoking issue. It’ll be interesting to see how everything unfolds in the months to come.

If you would like to learn more about Michelle and her phenomenal novels, please visit www.michellegagnon.com

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