Sunday, June 29, 2014

Interview With a Book Pirate

When my third book was published, it hit pirate websites within hours. I remember staring at the page, stunned, and then bursting into tears. It took the better part of an hour for my husband to calm me down, and I still don't think he 100 percent understands why I got so hysterical. I'm not sure I can explain it myself.

Most writers fall into two groups when it comes to piracy: the "They're going to do it anyway," school, and the "Witch!" camp. I mostly belong with the stones and pitchforks group, but to keep my sanity I've been forced to adopt an attitude more in step with the first.

There's a third thing that's harder to articulate. Piracy hurts. There's the obvious financial pain of stolen royalties. But I'm talking about a pain that goes deeper than that. Piracy just straight-up hurts my feelings, making me feel like the writerly equivalent of the skank who just gives it away under the bleachers after school, during football games, and most times in between.

Yeah, I went there.

And yet, there are so many book pirates out there, many of them otherwise decent people leading decent lives. I know some of them, and you do too. Maybe you've swiped a book or two yourself. I'm really not trying to judge, but rather to get inside the mind of a pirate. That's why I hunted one down, and got it to answer some of my burning questions.

Me: How long have you been a book pirate?
Pirate: For a few years now. Once ebooks started getting really big, I began reading them on my computer, but I didn't really start downloading pirated versions until I got my first Kindle.

Me: So the Kindle was kind of a gateway drug, then? (shakes fist at Amazon). I would have blamed bleed over from music piracy.
Pirate: (laughs) No, I pretty much stick to ebooks. I'm much more into books than music.

Me: I guess the burning question is: why? You've got to know you're hurting people- taking money away from writers and their families.
Pirate: I know that on a level, but it seems far removed. Technology makes it really easy, makes it almost seem like a victimless crime. When I look at the price of an ebook- let's say ten bucks, which is pretty standard, I think- my brain turns that into groceries, or a sliver of the cable bill, and that makes me think really hard about whether to buy or pirate. My financial standing is not nearly as strong as it was before the ebook revolution, which coincided, incidentally, with the Great Recession. So cost is a major factor.

Me: That's an interesting connection- ebooks did start to get really big around '08/'09. Do you see a connection?
Pirate: Absolutely. People woke up with 1/3 to 2/3 less of their net worth, and suddenly here was this cheap, or free, entertainment, without having to leave home. So yes, I think they're connected.

Me: If ebooks cost less, would you pay instead of pirate?
Pirate: Probably. I read some Indie writers, and I'm much more likely to buy a 99 cent book than a ten dollar one, but only if it's by a promising author or one I already like.

Me: What about free books? Like through Amazon or BookBub?
Pirate: I subscribe to BookBub, and I'll frequently download the free books that catch my interest, but honestly, I almost never read them, and I'm not re
ally sure why. The same goes for Amazon. The exception is if I know it's the first book in a really good, usually cheap series. Then sometimes I'll bite. But free books? Nah. I can pirate major releases for free.

Me: You're breaking my heart here.
Pirate: I don't want to! But you asked for honesty.

Me: Right. I did at that. Let's get technical, then. Where and how do you acquire these pirated books?
Pirate: I use Mobilism and Pirate Bay. I either download direct or use UTorrent, then run them through this free software called Calibre. Calibre is supposed to act as an ebook organizer- like a library on your computer- but in reality it allows you to download almost any format and convert it to another format. So I can download an epub (like Nook books) or pdf (common, because you can easily scan books that way), and convert it to a Mobi file (Amazon) in seconds. It takes just seconds more to put directly on my Kindle.

Me: Amazon doesn't somehow detect that you have pirated books when you buy from them, or deal with them?
Pirate: Nope.

Me: Do you ever worry about getting caught?
Pirate: No. I do worry about viruses, but I have software for it.

Me: Did you pay for that software? Just kidding. What can an author do to avoid being pirated? Anything?
Pirate: Sometimes I run into notices where the author or publisher has had the file removed, and then I have to make a call as to whether I want to buy it or not. If it's reasonably priced and I want it enough, sometimes I'll buy. So I guess find a way to take your books down. I've also seen notices- usually Indie writers- asking people who pirate to please buy the next book, if they *must* pirate. That works with me sometimes too.

Me: I said I wouldn't judge, but you have to know you're taking money away from hardworking people. Piracy has cost my own family thousands and thousands of dollars- just taken that money right out of my kid's college funds, or kept me from having the security to write even more. How do you live with yourself?
Pirate: I don't feel good about it. I'm definitely conflicted.

Me: What would have to happen to make you stop stealing?
Pirate: Having enough money.

Me: You realize that's a terrible double standard, right?
Pirate: Like I said, I don't feel good about it.

... and that's as far as I could go without devolving into a frothing-at-the-mouth Hound of Hell. I know there are no answers here, but honesty was really what I was after. And I did learn some things. What I'll do with that, I don't quite know.


  1. Great interview, Vicki! It's interesting to see someone who is pirating's perspective. It hurts like crazy, because most author's aren't wealthy, and I hope we can bring that to light, since the pirates have the same low income problem. I see it like cheating on a test in school; someone else has done the hard work and you're looking over their shoulder to get all the credit.

    1. No we aren't wealthy, and neither are they, apparently, so it's like a vicious downward spiral. I don't have any answers, except that taking books down does seem to help sometimes. CQP is really good about that- just shoot Eugene an email if you find your book pirated somewhere. I really related to some of this, though- I too think in terms of "That book is 12.99- I could make dinner for that- is it worth it?" And a lot of times the answer is no, but I'll read an Indie, or offer to review instead. There *are* other ways. Maybe I'll do a post on 20 Ways Not to Pirate, or something? Anything to raise awareness.

  2. I call BS on people who use the '08 crisis or I-ain't-got-no-money as a reason for pirating books or music. Morality doesn't have an income bracket. Piracy is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

    There are so many free books and songs offered by their creators all over the internet. There is certainly enough honest-to-God free entertainment around. Stealing-because-I'm-afraid-of-boredom is not good justification.

    But having said that, I know people do it and will continue to do it. I can't make people be better than they are, so I have made my peace with it.

    1. Yeah, I get sick of the whole "blame the recession" attitude too. Everybody suffered, for god's sake, Well, almost everybody. What struck me as interesting was the connection between the rise of ebooks- even the ones people pay for- and the recession. They did happen at about the same time. I am absolutely not saying that's a reason to pirate, but it seems like there's some connection there. Maybe I'll check it out at some point.

    2. The "I-aint-got-no-money" is a valid excuse. At least it is to me. Yes I do believe it is stealing and I do believe it is wrong. And I am glad that you have apparently never having to decide between using your last dollar-six, in your account or that you have scrounged between the couch, or found on the floor, to get a 99 cent meal at McDonalds or buy an ebook that for a few moments in time a capable author can take you on a journey, so you experience something that is not your stomach, or your head hurting because you are hungry. An ebook that lets you focus on something else outside of the fact that you are sleeping in your car homeless. But you have an old laptop that you can download and read from while you are in the McDonalds parking lot eating your sandwich using free WiFi.

      Keep in mind you need an address for libraries, and while everyone's situation may not be as extreme as mine, but just because you aren't poor doesnt mean others arent. And because I am poor does that mean I am not allowed the luxury of being able to read something worth while? Or even a whole series? b/c yes there are free books out there, (and I take advantage) but there are never free series. That's the point to suck you in.

      I for one only download ebooks, and I keep a list of every book so I can one day pay for it. I also edit and review books to get access, what ever it takes, b/c pirating is a last resort. And before anyone asks b/c apparently most people here are at least minimally well off any may not know how these things work. I cannot sell my laptop it is too old, the pawn shop wont take it b/c they cant resell it. But why would I sell the one joy in life I have left. If I did I might as well be dead. I cant sell my car, b/c I am a woman and that would leave me without a reliable safe place to sleep. There are shelters but there are lots of dangers inherent in using them.

      I am sorry it is at your expense, but that 99 cents, 3.99, 8.99, on up is worth my mental health to me.

      And BTW, I went to college, I got my Phd. I never touched drugs and sparingly drank. (In the area where I live this is EXTREMELY common.) But when you get laid off and the jobs you are qualified for are arent hiring and Mcdonalds and their ilk say you are over qualified, trust me sometimes you need a little fantasy to get through the day.

  3. But you can take out books from a library instead of pirating them! And many libraries now have e-lending as well so there's really NO excuse for book piracy!

  4. True enough. I don't use the e sections of the library myself, but that's because I get free books without pirating them. By oh, say, reviewing them, beta reading, my work as an acquisitions editor, and taking advantage of the freebies that come my way. I've also traded new releases with friends- actual physical copies. So yeah, there are ways!

  5. I guess what I'm trying to get at with the recession comment really has little to do with piracy. I'm just intrigued by the idea of ebooks *in general* becoming popular in concert with the Great Recession. I can see how having a new form of entertainment, relatively cheap (for those of us who pay), without having to leave home would be popular in those circumstances. Kind of like board games became popular in the Great Depression- people could play them at home and skip the expense of a night out. Just a point to ponder, I guess.