Actually, Yes, Please Do Pirate My Book
By now you’re probably wondering, so how did the book giveaway go last week? The short answer is: not bad. Pretty good, actually, although not phenomenally good. I’m perfectly happy with it. I owe you guys a real post about this sometime soon, one with details and real numbers — but I kind of had the wind knocked out of my sails by a particularly rough Causality shoot this past weekend. You can read one person’s side of how that all went down over on the Causality blog.
But anyway! Speaking of, uhh, sails, and, you know, sailing ships and all that, let’s talk about piracy! (Man, that might be one of the worst segues I’ve ever tried to pull off in my entire life.)
Chuck Wendig, unwholesome Internet god, has declared today to be International Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day. (There’s a hashtag for it, too, for all you Twitterians out there: #dontpiratemybookday.)
Now, when I first saw this, I was all ready to crack my knuckles and set to work typing a long screed about how Wendig’s thinking was still mired in the ideologies of the last decade, but then I actually went and read his blog post, and … it was quite reasonable, actually. And he linked to a YouTube video of Neil Gaiman talking about the subject, and that was even more reasonable, God dammit. How am I supposed to be able to argue with people on the Internet if they won’t do me the courtesy of being wrong?
Both Neil and Chuck realize that when people pirate books, and their books spread even farther and farther, the net result of this is that more and more people start buying their books. That might seem weird to you, but studies have shown that it’s the truth. It’s almost like — and this is totally weird, I know — if people try something for free, and they like it, they might end up spending money to get more of it!
Or, and this is the even weirder part, they might end up spending money to get a legitimate copy of that same thing. I can certainly personally attest to that. One of my favorite bands of all time is Placebo. I first heard their music in movie soundtracks, and thought, “hey, these guys are awesome.” And so I went and downloaded a bunch of pirated MP3s of their songs off the Internet. (This was in the days of the late, lamented Audiogalaxy.) I listened to them over and over again and passed them around to my friends said “hey, you need to listen to this.” And later on, when I was less of a broke-ass young punk, I bought every single one of their albums, went to their concerts whenever they came to Seattle, and bought some seriously overpriced concert T-shirts. I don’t think I’m unique in this at all.
So I’m going to go a little beyond Wendig’s grudging acceptance — I’m gonna say please, by all means, do pirate my books.
No, seriously. If someone told me, “hey, did you know people are downloading Permanent Damage off of some skeezy little pornography-ad-laden Russian torrent site?” — I would fist-pump the air and do a little end-zone dance. Because I would know I have arrived. I would know that there is enough demand for my work that people are actually stealing it. I would know someone read my book and thought, “I bet other people would like a copy of this,” and uploaded it.
Hell, like I was saying, last week I went to a lot of effort to make sure as many people as possible did download my book without paying for it. It was kind of like reverse piracy. I raised high the Jolly Roger, set full sail, matched course with your ships, and threw my treasure over onto your decks.
As Cory Doctorow once said, “you can’t monetize obscurity.” Would I like to be making a living from my writing someday? Yeah, of course. In order to do that, I’ll need to become well-known, and in order to do that, I need to just accept that a certain percentage of my work will need to be circulating around out there for free. Either with my knowledge, or without it.