Steal This Blog! eBook Piracy Presents Authors an Opportunity

Authors and would-be authors know ebook Piracy is on the rise. Just like digitizing songs (read: Napster)  put every piece of music ever at your fingertips (legally or otherwise), ebooks and online magazines places nearly any book or article within easy download and create similar opportunities for illegal downloads. Throw in movies and television, and there’s practically no way to keep up with new, worthwhile content.

Image: Media Bistro

Back to ebooks though. If you are like me and believe authors deserve to be appropriately compensated for their electronic novels, what should you do? Vanessa K. Wright offers an interesting payment scheme in her blog, which would set two prices, based on whether you want your book sans advertising:

“Option 1 (U.S. TV model): The ebook is free to the consumer, but you have ads every X amount of chapter breaks. Option 2 (U.K. TV model): The consumer pays for the book, but there are no ads.”

Or a service like Netflix could step in to offer monthly access to print books and limited time downloads for a limited selection. If anything, this would likely worsen the crisis facing bookstores. Remember Blockbuster or the movie rental store? Well, it’s likely your kids won’t remember them or the big box book stores either.

If publishers are making an inferior product and the illegal one is substantially better, Wil Wheaton argues the industry is practically herding readers to download illegally. He explains that DRMs suck and contribute to ebook piracy, but scrupulous readers could choose to download the book illegally then make a contribution directly to the author. This is a variation on the pay-what-you-will scheme that some indie musicians have tried.

Which payment model, if any, would you prefer?

Here’s some real food for thought: ebook piracy can be a good thing. Yes, good. Good for artists, good for readers, good for the industry. (Not that stealing or plagiarizing is OK. That’s for a different day though.) I argue all piracy, in one form or another, is opportunity in disguise.

The Grateful Dead encouraged fans to record live concerts, which in turn created even more demand for their shows. OK Go works with its audience to create unbelievable videos fans can’t help but share, driving interest in the band and in their concerts. It can work for books, too.

Welcome to the new meritocracy, where the public becomes the taste makers and the balance of power shifts away from the traditional industry gatekeepers.

Scott Turow, best selling author and president of The Author’s Guild, takes the sky is falling stance. Copyright is coming undone; people are sharing and profiting without author consent. So does Youtube when it runs ads before videos hosted on the site. And same goes for libraries charging for overdue library books. And Amazon when it places an ad for Weight Watchers on Tim O’Brien’s listing for The Things They Carried.

How does a fractured marketplace and digital piracy create opportunity? Even writers who have a huge audience can boost their overall sales by putting out material for free. And piracy becomes like when readers lend great books to one another or borrow them from the library. Sharing creates interest in the author and his or her future works. A satisfied reader, I believe, will buy the next book then share it other friends and family, who then may buy older books. Nurture that audience and legit books sales will spike. Or, as one famous, successful, and clever author noted:

“In a widely circulated video produced with the Open Rights Group, author Neil Gaiman recounts how the correlation of sharing and sales led him to experiment with making his work available for free. ‘…I started to notice that in places I was being pirated—particularly Russia—I was selling more books. And I started to realize that actually you’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. You know, that’s really all this is: It’s people lending books.’”

The galleons are in the water and have been for a long time. Digital piracy, no doubt, will only grow in coming years. So stop fighting the pirates. For emerging authors, this might be just the perfect wind needed to launch their careers.