Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Some thoughts on ebook piracy (and some alternatives)

I recently had that common author experience: I found my book on a pirate site. To be precise, over 20 pirate sites, from which it had been downloaded for free hundreds of times. Obviously, pretty much every author has had this experience, and there have been a range of responses. Some people think piracy doesn't affect authors' sales because those people wouldn't have bought the book anyway, which can be true to some extent. But it does affect authors' careers, especially those without the backing of a larger publisher.

Here are the hard facts:
  • Piracy is inevitable.
  • Piracy can lead to more people discovering your books.
With that having been said...
  • Unlike borrowing from a library, ebook files can be copied infinite times. You send a takedown notice to one site and it pops up on another the next day.
  • Pirating can and does lead to cancelled series. Publishers depend on sales figures to decide on whether or not to continue with a series. If the numbers aren't there, the series (and author) is quickly dropped. Not all illegal downloads are lost sales, but some are, and the number can quickly add up.
  • Piracy can and does affect whether publishers decide to make review copies of books available. For instance, I no longer submit my books to Netgalley because so many people pirated copies of Darkness Watching from there in the brief spell it was available in 2013. I'm still finding copies today.
  • As for indie authors, we have to make tough business decisions about which projects to invest our time and money in. Some of you may remember my first published novel, The Puppet Spell. It's no longer in print as I terminated my contract with the (vanity) publisher who never paid me for most of the copies I sold. I've never posted this publicly, because to be honest, the experience was so depressing and demoralising, I wanted to put the whole thing behind me. But the reason I'm never returning to the series is because sales were terrible. I've since found the book on five pirate sites. People are reading it for free, but they (and anyone who bought the book legally) will never get to read other books in the series. It wasn't a light decision, but self-publishing a book costs time and money I just don't have for a book which has been stolen more times than it's been legally purchased. When you've had months of single-digit sales, finding your book on multiple pirate sites hits you where it hurts.
  • On the subject of money, I'm over £2000 in the red from publishing and far from breaking even. This is a business investment I don't regret making, but I can't afford to give my books away for free. We live in an era where anything can be accessed freely online, but someone has to create that free content. I work 15-hour days. I spend more hours trying to reach readers than I do actually writing, and each book takes at least 6 months to write and edit. You wouldn't expect anyone in another profession to work unpaid for six months.
  • There are ways to get books cheap and free legally.

So, here are some alternatives:

Wait for a sale. I often run 99 cent promotions on the first books in my series (here's a head's up: Darkness Watching is scheduled to be on a Kindle Countdown promotion on the 12th/13th May). Otherwise, my books are priced between $2.99 and $4.99 (£1.99-£3.99).

Subscribe to Scribd or Oyster to borrow my Alliance books, or Kindle Unlimited to borrow my Darkworld books.

Request Adamant on Overdrive.

Join my advance review team to get early copies of my future releases in exchange for an honest review.

Newsletter subscribers will get a free Alliance short story next month, as will all new subscribers.

Without sales, there would be no publishing industry. Of course I want people to read my books, but this is my job. It's sales figures I look at when I'm calculating whether I've made a profit or not, and deciding whether to continue with a series. Not illegal downloads. The best way to ensure I keep publishing books is to buy them legally.

(Also, check out this post from Beth Revis, which says it better than I can!)


  1. Ugh, I'm so sorry this has happened to you after all your hard work. People just don't stop and think of the consequences. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. I had to share it, even if it's just... ugh. Rage-inducing. I wish people would consider where their free books actually come from!

  2. I'm curious, do you know of someone who had their contract canceled because of pirating?

    1. Not directly, but I've seen a number of authors have sequels rejected by their publishers due to sales not meeting expectations. It seems to coincide with pirating-related posts a lot, especially with ebook sales. It might not necessarily be the case for all authors, but it does seem to be a trend. I know I sell fewer books per month than the number of sites I found my book on!

    2. I think it's more likely the contracts were canceled because of poor sales in general. It's unlikely pirating had an impact. Recently I did a free weekend for one of my books. Overall I had 3000 free downloads over 2 days. I've never had that many sales in a 2 day period, which leads me to believe those downloaders wouldn't have spent $ anyway. It wasn't a loss, technically. Pirating sites (if they're legit) cater to the same type of consumer. Not much we can do about it, and not worth getting upset about.

    3. It's true most people wouldn't have bought the book anyway (though there are some pirates who give away books acquired through reviewing sites like Netgalley before the book's even published and pretend to be legit so people downloading it don't know the author isn't getting paid). The worst are the sites which illegally try to SELL your book. Luckily I haven't run into one of those yet, but it's only a matter of time! I'm going to try not to worry about it with my indie books, but it struck a nerve when I found that old cancelled book for free online which isn't even available legally any more!

  3. It really sucks that so many sites are offering pirated versions of your books. Nice to know people want to read them, but still. I don't understand why most people don't consider piracy the same as walking into a store and shoplifting right off the shelf. There's no difference, except that it's easier to get away with. If only people had more integrity. Anyway, this was a really informative post, so thanks for addressing the topic!

    1. Exactly! It's a shame it's so rampant these days. No problem! I was worried about posting it, but I think it had to be said!

  4. There are quite a few fake pirate sites around at the moment (assuming this is a recent thing). I did some digging after someone accused me of wanting to steal their book:


  5. I was having a bummed writer week last week and my niece sent me pics of comments from pirate sites. She joked, "You're really popular among the thieves."

    Flattering, but it also sucks the wind from your sails (and sales).

    And you're right- why not wait on sales and offer reviews?