It isn’t often talked about by authors, but book piracy is a real thing…and it can be just as awful for someone who is already an established author, as it is for a debut author. With the internet age, it’s very easy for people to find an advance digital copy of a book, and make digital copies into PDFs that are distributed online either before or right when an author is about to release a book. You might not think it’s a big deal, but bestselling YA author Maggie Stiefvater–author of THE SCORPIO RACES–recently posted about her experience with piracy on Tumblr.
So how does digital piracy work? People make copies of the digital advance copies, and widely distribute them online so that people can read the entire book without having to purchase it. Often, the argument you’ll hear is that those people who read the pirated copy weren’t going to purchase the book anyway, so it wouldn’t make a difference to the sale. But…..this is where it DOES make a difference.
Publishers count everything. They look at sales of a first book. They look at sales of a second, and a possible third book. If the digital sales are dragging (not to mention the traditional sales), the publisher sees this as a lost cause and may cancel a later book in the series, or drop the author entirely. So, for anyone who DOES buy the books, the chances of them getting to read an entire series grow slim when pirated copies are making the rounds. This is true for “famous” authors (who don’t earn as much as you might think), and for unknowns (who earn very little in comparison).
Stiefvater was convinced that digital piracy was making things difficult for authors. While her first book in The RAVEN CYCLE did well, the second book took a drop in sales for e-copies. Her publisher thought it might just be a sign of the times–that readers had lost interest. But she was certain she could prove that idea to be wrong. So, prior to her release of book three in the series, she roped her brother into helping her make fake PDF’s of the book. It looked the same, had the same number of pages, but was just the same first four chapters repeated over and over. On the day the book released, her brother flooded the digital piracy sites with his special copy.
“The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.
“And we sold out of the first printing in two days….
“I was on tour for it, and the bookstores I went to didn’t have enough copies to sell to people coming, because online orders had emptied the warehouse. My publisher scrambled to print more, and then print more again. Print sales and e-sales became once more evenly matched.
“Then the pdfs hit the forums and e-sales sagged and it was business as usual, but it didn’t matter: I’d proven the point. Piracy has consequences.”
——- Maggie Stiefvater
So, the next time you consider reading that pirated copy of a book online (or listen to a piece of music, or watch a digital copy of a movie), consider the fact that you’re doing more than hurting the author. You’re placing the entire future of that series in jeopardy, and making it more difficult for good stories to come to print.