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?
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.