I have taken a strong stand against piracy here and elsewhere, as many other authors have done. While I disagree with the contention at this point that a pirated copy is a lost sale, I also disagree that a pirated copy isn’t a lost sale (because they would never have bought the book in the first place.) Why? Because at this point in time, I think that the majority of pirated books are stolen by people because of the convenience, and they would never have bought them (thus no lost sale) or by people who can’t purchase them because of where they live.
However, ebooks will become more popular among readers and thus there will be more lost sales–people who used to purchase print copies who learn about “free” (illegal) downloads and stop buying. (As a format, e-book sales are still a very teeny percentage of print books sold–meaning, if a book is available both for print and e-book, the print books will generally sell in far greater numbers. My own e-book sales have slowly risen over time, to about 1% to my total sales.) Joe Konrath had a very interesting blog about the success of his Kindle experiment–that by pricing the books rejected by traditional publishers at a low price point, he is able to make a goodly sum of money–more than through traditional publishing as a midlist author.
There are many pros and cons to Joe’s experiment. The pros include the fact that he’s one of the first to self-publish through Amazon (and I also assume through the other e-distributors, though that wasn’t explicitly stated in his column.) By virtue of being early to the game, he’s able to garner a name among e-book readers as a reliable source for reading entertainment. He’s already published, and I would assume far above the average self-published author in terms of editing ability–he can tell a good story, knows how to edit it, and put out a clean book.
He gets to keep most of the money, price the book what he wants, and build sales through providing his readers with more of what they want.
As e-book sales grow–both in terms of print books available in e-format and self-published e-books–readers will be inundated with more choices than they have now–which are an incredible number. I don’t have the latest per year or per month releases, but I know it’s staggering. According to a May, 2009 article by Publishing Central, Bowker’s reports there were 275,232 new titles and editions in 2008, and a historic (over doubling from 2007) self-published/on-demand books published.
(One comment to put the numbers in perspective, of the 275,232 titles, 47,541 were fiction. Non-fiction still dominates the total number of books published. Also included are textbooks, college publications, etc.)
The Bowker’s report (pdf) has other interesting data. While books published (not self-published) declined from 2007-2008, they have still increased from 2002-2008. In addition fiction showed the highest percentage increase from 2002-2008, 89% of titles published, and is still the largest percentage of categories (17.27%) For our purposes here at Murderati, I think we’re most interested in the fiction numbers.
According to a 2006 article, 93% of books published (this is all published, not self-pubbed/on demand) books sell less than 1,000 copies.
Joe Konrath has proved that he can and will sell more than 1,000 self-published e-books–a rarity among print-published books. But at his price point and already having a fan base through his traditionally published books, it’s almost a no-brainer to try this with books he hasn’t sold.
Authors with an established fan base may do well in this new e-book world because they are a known quantity. Readers have already sampled them, so they trust the author to tell a good story. Authors who are new to this world may have a shot because they can price the books on the cheap side where someone might be willing to sample a story by an unknown author if it doesn’t cost a lot.
The problem becomes volume. There were 285,394 on demand/self published books in 2008 and it is still growing exponentially (now maybe we can understand the vanity press business–there is a huge market for them to make money from writers.) The overwhelming majority of these books are not available through traditional outlets, they sell few copies (there are exceptions of course, but by and large most sell poorly and only through the hard work of the writer) and even on Amazon and other sites, they rank low. As more people self-e-publish, there are more choices–and as we know from the self-published world as it stands now, many of those books will be poorly edited and not very interesting. I’m not dissing self-published authors–there are many who have published great books for a niche market. But as it becomes easier and cheaper to publish in e-format, even more people will do it, making it even harder to stand out as a new author.
Some other downsides include paying for professional editing (unless you’re already a fantastic grammartarian and self-editor), marketing (on-line, which right now isn’t hugely expensive, but it’s growing as more people spend more time on-line), and design. That comes out of your profits (as opposed to the publisher–who pays an author less money per book but eats the cost of publication.) A professionally edited and presented book gives comfort to a reader who knows that based on his experience with that author, they’re going to get a good story.
But I’ll admit I am intrigued by Joe’s “experiment” and how it will both succeed for some and fail for others–very similar to print publishing. Readers are going to gravitate toward the people they know, so authors who are already bestsellers may fare exceptionally well with this model. Midlist authors like Joe will also do well because they usually have a loyal fan-base (and thus keeping a higher percentage even on a lower price, you’ll earn more per sale.) Unknown writers? Not so much. As the titles increase, name ID will become even more important, as readers aren’t going to want to sift through thousands of books in their favorite genre. That means endorsements, marketing, or already being an established author.
I don’t believe print publishing is dead. I do believe that more people will choose the e-book format. I believe that sales will remain relatively level for each individual author (all other things remaining equal) but the percentage of format sales will change (such as I do see within the next 5 years my e-format sales increasing to 10% of my total sales.)
I also agree with Joe that publishers need to becoming more innovative in this Brave New Market. While I don’t think devaluing stories–it is the STORY that has value, not the platform it is delivered on–is the answer, I do think that e-books should be discounted from the print copy. (For example, my Kindle books are 20% less than my print books full retail price.) I, personally, like the idea of where a reader can buy a print book and get a coupon to purchase the e-book at a greatly reduced rate. I also like the idea of added value for e-books–author interviews, exclusive short stories, photographs, pictures, or perhaps include a free backlist title. So you pay the same as the hardcover, but you get more.
There are lots of options and ideas for this expanding market. I’m both excited and apprehensive–excited by the possibilities, but apprehensive about how much time exploring the possibilities will take from my writing.
But all that aside, more than anything, I believe that authors should be united against piracy.
As e-format books increase, so will piracy. And e-book exclusive authors are hit the hardest because theirs is more a “lost sale” than a print published author. In the romance community, there are many e-published authors who fight tooth and nail against piracy because see it affect their bottom line and their ability to make a living.
Piracy is stealing. Even the pirates don’t really dispute that. They simply think there’s nothing wrong with it. They justify it to make themselves feel better. Dan Brown is already a multi-millionaire. Another author is an asshole, I don’t want to give her any money. I can’t afford to buy the book (and don’t want to go to the library, don’t have a library near me, don’t want to get on the waiting list, etc.) I’m not hurting anyone. I wouldn’t have bought it anyway. I just want to try out the author, but not pay for it or stand in the aisle of a store.
What makes this all so much worse, and hugely frustrating, is when reputable people stand up and announce that it’s okay to steal. When Randy Cohen tells someone that it’s okay to steal an illegal pirated copy of a book because they already bought the hardcover, it gives everyone the sanction to do it. Generally law-abiding citizens now breathe a collective sigh of relief, because they can steal with a clean conscious. Randy Cohen, The (so-called) Ethicist for the New York Times, has deemed that while it is illegal to steal an e-book, it’s not unethical if you already bought a hardcopy.
Soon, no one is going to think they need to buy a hardcopy. That it’s their right to read any book for free (which it is–if they get it from a library.) As it becomes easier and easier to download illegal copies, more people will do it without buying the hardcopy. (And honestly? I doubt there are many people similar to the reader who wrote Cohen–that they buy the book and download a “free” illegal copy.)
So I would ask Randy Cohen this: If I buy a ticket to Clash of the Titans, is it okay for me to download a pirated copy when it comes out on DVD? After all, I already paid to see the movie . . . why should I have to pay twice?