We Are Concerned…
Unfortunately with any new and lucrative opportunities come great concerns. Very few people can say that they haven’t shared or ‘pirated’ movies or music in their lifetime. If we were to express our piracy in costume, almost 99% of us would be wearing eye patches and calling everyone ‘Matey’. Arrr, it’s the truth. Over several years we have been bombarded with stories of the music and film industries apparently declining sales and battles over copyright.
The chief concern among authors is losing money due to sharing of their e-book files as opposed to the purchase of them. One solution to this concern is the implementation of digital rights management (DRM) codes placed on e-books to ‘prevent’ sharing. Yet in the long run these sorts of prevention methods are counterproductive, treating lawful customers like criminals. What we all need to ask ourselves is, is it worth it penalising a fan for promoting our work? Many consumers resent DRM as it limits their ability to fully own and enjoy their e-book.
There is a growing body of evidence that authors and publishers who have abandoned DRM are actually enjoying greater sales of their works. As noted by Cory Doctorow, it is practically impossible to prevent copying in this technological age. As such, the way he markets his books is to just give away the e-book version (under a commons licence that allows non-commercial sharing) to attract readers to buy hard copies of his works. Essentially, by enlisting his readers to promote his novels, he increases his sales by simultaneously releasing the e-book and published copies. It is worth noting that Cory has had his novels on the New York Times bestseller list over the past couple of years. Now, I’m not suggesting you just suck it up because you’re not going to earn any money. Nor am I suggesting you close your eyes and give your baby away for adoption to the nearest pirate clad stranger. However, with the correct marketing and pricing, people are willing to buy rather than steal.
As a way to visualise this copyright issue, think of digital sharing as a person lending their friend a physical book. That friend does not want to buy the novel of an author they don’t know, but by their friend lending the book to them, they are giving a recommendation on the quality of that work. As a result the friend may become hooked on that author’s work and now, the author has a new fan and customer who will recommend the book to others. Currently in bookstores we are seeing a decrease in the number of books sold due to price, however, a digital e-book is cheaper and more people are inclined to buy this non-expensive entertainment as opposed to pirating it.
Word of mouth and sharing are some of the most powerful ways to create a fan base and hence income. Cory has almost 111,000 twitter followers; it’s ridiculous to think with 111,000 fans you would make no money. How did he get that many followers? Because he got his work out there, in fact he is giving it away, and now he is reaping the rewards.
Should an author be worried about the sharing of their works, or should they be more concerned about their work of art never, ever, seeing the light of day as it is rejected year after year? Personally I would prefer not to waste years in which no-one reads a word of what I have written, in which no-one follows my writing and no-one knows who I am. It is more important to reach an audience initially than it is to make money. Hell it’s like a comedian refining their jokes until their big moment at the comedy gala, and never getting there because they didn’t do any damn practise shows! No one knows they’re funny, and unless they shove their material in front of people they will never get the attention they need to make it to that gala.
Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust and Coraline and one of the world’s most beloved writer’s has also spoken about how piracy may even be beneficial to an author, as seen in the video below.
In some cases showing you can reach an audience is beneficial. This relates to the concern that first publishing rights for a novel will become less valuable to a publisher if it is already digitally published. This is possible but not inevitable. One has to consider a publishers view on the commercial marketability of their work. If you, as an author, can prove that you can sell books and that a market exists for your writing, then you increase the value of your body of work. You will also have a fan base the publisher can market to. Scott Sigler, another New York Times bestselling author, created a large online following by giving away his self-recorded audio books for free as serialised podcasts, similar to an old school radio drama. This was all before he was offered a traditional publishing contract. By using the internet to his advantage, and leveraging his books and the art of viral marketing to his fans, he was able to prove the quality of his work to publishers. It’s an alternative for people who can’t bear to have their book in a possibly-pirated-digital-form, but want their work to be known and appreciated.
Another common question is how is quality maintained? Aren’t e-books a medium where anyone can publish the drivel they have written? I think we can all agree we have read books by highly regarded publishing houses that have turned out to be utter crap. I mean, you are damn near ready to burn that book and recommend it to your worst enemy because of the time it wasted. I continuously ask myself how some books even made it through. In the digital world, like the physical world, one thing can be certain; it is up to the readers to decide what is worth reading. The great authors bubble to the top through word of mouth, and the lesser authors will drop out of sight. There are ways to make sure that your MS is up to a high enough standard so that you’re writing does not fall by the wayside due to easily fixable issues.
TOMORROW: We’re going to whip your manuscript’s wobbily behind into shape!