Paulo Coelho and Book Piracy

This week the Guardian covered Coelho’s impassioned plea to his fans to pirate his books. He argues, and rather well, that people who might not have bought hard copies did so after reading pirated chapters. His sales are remarkably high; The Alchemist alone sold 12 million copies. The piracy leak sent his sales skyrocketing, so it is understandable that he would be an advocate of book piracy.

It is difficult to measure the effect of piracy on any medium. This blog post at Freakonomics suggests that the actual cost of piracy might be very low, since those who are pirating probably can’t afford the product anyway. Removing piracy won’t solve the problem of financial difficulty. We can’t really work out how book piracy affects sales, and since people have been sharing books for years the damage may be neglible. I do feel that putting digital rights management (DRM) on books will do for books what it did for music: cause a further rippling of piracy. After all, that’s one of my major gripes with the Kindle: those books would not be mine and can be revoked or deleted remotely. This has happened already with 1984.

I’m a passionate believer in the freedom of information, as I’ve shared before, but I would be unforgivably naive if I assumed piracy wasn’t having an impact somewhere. Everyone pirates, intentionally or not. But to counter Coelho’s argument, some people are happy to read thousands of lines on a screen rather than shell out for a book. Again, if they can’t afford the book then the publisher won’t be making money anyway. But I am willing to bet this blog and my signed copy of The Night Circus that there a great number of people who are quite happy to get digital versions of a book and never buy the hard copy. Geeks are particularly comfortable with just not paying for media. Most of the ones I know are in an income bracket where they can afford nice things, but would rather not buy them. This attitude has done some serious damage to the manga and anime  industry in the West. The closure of Tokyo Pop USA is a prime example. Here’s ten more companies that have closed down. Don’t forget about Bandai. Why buy an issue of Bleach or Naruto for R100 upwards when it can found freely on the net? Anime episodes proliferate as long as people are willing to translate and host them. But the problem lies here: the same market that reads/watches manga/anime is nearly entirely made up of people with access to torrents. Unlike TV series and movies, watched by a broader demographic who might not know how to download a folder, geekier things tend to be watched by the geeky. And the geeky often do not like to pay for things they can take.

It seems like a terrible thing to say, but consider who keeps the terabyte drives full of shows and documentaries and audio books. Its not the average parent, and its not the average yuppie. In a Venn diagram these groups might overlap but sadly the same generation howling for the freedom of information is doing some damage to the companies that need their support. I know I said earlier that we can’t always measure the effects of piracy, but we can at least see some evidence that a lack of buying interest is harmful.

Which brings me back to books. Sure, Sir Terry Pratchett has sold tens of millions of books and likely gets royalties from reproductions of his work. I am willing to bet that he is one of the most pirated authors on the planet because I am yet to meet a geek that isn’t a fan. But how many people have bought his books because they wanted to have it to hand? How many of them are content to load pirated pdfs onto their tablets and read that way? We don’t know. We can’t know.

The book industry is in the middle of either death throes or rebirth, depending on who one asks. Some say that self-epublishing is a ponzi scheme about to crash; some say that eBooks will rule the world. Some say that hard copies will always triumph and others will argue that bookstores will be defunct within five years. Already many of them are being treated as displays for online stores, and the closure of two decent book stores in SA so far in 2012 is not heartening. Kindle sales were up 175% from 2010, this past Christmas season. With the massive complexity of this industry, which is different in each country, we can’t really measure the effect of piracy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about it, especially when there seems to be so much on the line.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. mtb says:

    I borrow most of the books I read. Sure, I give them back to the owner after I am done, but the publisher still gets nothing and I get enjoyment.

    Likewise secondhand bookstores, which are great fun….

    Reading on a Kindle is not the same as reading on a computer screen. I would rather have dead-tree than have to read *everything* on a computer. The Kindle screen seems better, more like paper. I dunno. Not going to buy one soon, but I would love to have one.

  2. Darry Fleming says:

    Well a few things to talk about here.

    Firstly, hard copy’s are the devil. I hate them, they cost twice as much as paperbacks and feel way more bulky. I know they carry the industry but to me they are annoying.

    If you are talking about real world books then cool. I still buy them and I know quite a few other geeks who still get them to.

    Secondly, there is more correlation between the recession, an increase in digital sales and the losses faced by the manga/anime industry than with piracy. To see what I mean just read the below post.

    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2011-07-30/icv2/north-american-manga-sales-fell-15-percent-in-2010

    Here they mention how the sales for both manga and anime have dropped over the last 3 years. What happened 3 years ago? Yes that huge mess up up in America and then BAM recession.

    Next they mention how digital sales went from $ 500 000 in 2009 to $ 6-8 million in 2010. Is it possible, just maybe, that this increase in digital sales reflects the same move to online that the book industry is facing.

    Lastly I feel that you just need to ask a little logical question. If you say geeks tend to pirate and geeks( file sharing and the net) have been around long before 2010 then we should have seen piracy crippling the industry long before 2010 and more in the region of 1999-2001 (when file sharing first became massive).

    Other factors can explain the decrease and I would imagine piracy has increased(because of the recession) but like you say, they would never have gotten money out of those people anyway (because of the recession).

  3. mtb says:

    Late, but apropos: http://baen.com/library/intro.asp

    In particular: “Take, for instance, the phenomenon of people lending books to their friends — a phenomenon which absolutely dwarfs, by several orders of magnitude, online piracy of copyrighted books.

    What’s happened here? Has the author “lost a sale?”

    Well. . . yeah, in the short run — assuming, of course, that said person would have bought the book if he couldn’t borrow it. Sure. Instead of buying a copy of the author’s book, the Wretched Scoundrel Borrower (with the Lender as his Accomplice) has “cheated” the author. Read his work for free! Without paying for it!

    The same thing happens when someone checks a book out of a public library — a “transaction” which, again, dwarfs by several orders of magnitude all forms of online piracy. The author only collects royalties once, when the library purchases a copy. Thereafter. . .

    Robbed again! And again, and again!

    Yet. . . yet. . .

    I don’t know any author, other than a few who are — to speak bluntly — cretins, who hears about people lending his or her books to their friends, or checking them out of a library, with anything other than pleasure.”

    and

    “And, just as important — perhaps most important of all — free books are the way an audience is built in the first place. How many people who are low on cash and for that reason depend on libraries or personal loans later rise on the economic ladder and then buy books by the very authors they came to love when they were borrowing books?

    Practically every reader, that’s who. Most readers of science fiction and fantasy develop that interest as teenagers, mainly from libraries. That was certainly true of me. As a teenager, I couldn’t afford to buy the dozen or so Robert Heinlein novels I read in libraries. Nor could I afford the six-volume Lensmen series by “Doc” Smith. Nor could I afford any of the authors I became familiar with in those days: Arthur Clarke, James H. Schmitz, you name it.

    Did they “lose sales?” In the long run, not hardly. Because in the decades which followed, I bought all of their books — and usually, in fact, bought them over and over again to replace old copies which had gotten too worn and frayed. I just bought another copy of Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, in fact, because the one I had was getting too long in the tooth. I think that’s the third copy of that novel I’ve purchased, over the course of my life. I’m not sure. Might be the fourth. I first read that book when I was fourteen years old — forty years ago, now — checked out from my high school library.”

    Both of which make eminent sense to me. And this was written in 2000….

  4. Charlx says:

    Interesting point of view, I think that the attitude of just downloading and not buying could damage the industry, however I must differ that the piracy it’s just wrong. Like always, there is no absolute:

    Sure, one can say, piracy is damaging the industries, they`re kiling it, and that’s is, they’re killing the industry, known as the “others” who depends on the work and creativity of others, and because most of the artists were stuck with them, they also fall with them.

    The problem is that mostly of the money that one work gets, it have to be splitted between a lot of people, but mostly, no equally nor proportional. I just don’t get it, how most of the ones that are complaining about piracy are the ones who have millions in their bank’s account and then they’re using that”millions of americans are losing their jobs thanks to piracy”, while i mostly, have never seen one of those “million” affected on TV giving their own point of view. Sometimes I think the reason they don’t show them, is that is not convenient to them.

    Personally have readed people’s blog worikng on music, tv, videogames and movies, and some of them are one of those “million losing their jobs” however, most of them are there because it’s free, cause there are like come kind of students and the pay it’s the experience, and the ones that get a salary, mostly it’s a missery. Yeah, “piracy destroying millions of jobs” my ass. The problem it’s that greed, that people who is always in a comfty place and even limiting and having a luxury life are ones whining, while the hardworkes have no voice.

    Personally, i’am one of those geeks, and also an otaku. I’m my country there is no thing as manga publisher nor anime dvds. So the only option we have is the fansubs, who supposely are the villians, but who they know. A few years ago, there was a hope for manga, while i was looking there, i saw a store, caught mi attention i saw a manga which i was really into. So the first thing i’m searching, the price which i surprised it was less than 5 dollars (in that time, before the recession) so i just pay and a little before start reading i look for the publisher, so, when got the name, i look on the web and found that they were publishing for the first time manga 100% original, with no cutting, no censor and no modifying.

    So i became a regular, and while i was happy with that news and looking for the next issues and series, BAM, recession. So my budget it’s affected, but as an loyal otaku to mi series, i try to get some money, and unfortunely, the price also rises, but it was just a few cents (i’ll say in that time would be 30 USA cents) wihch i thought, well okay it’s not so big deal, but then it got 50% more than the first time, about 7.5 dollars now, and less than a year per increase?, heck how was supposed to keep buying?.

    But the things just got worse, and not cause money, they were also another things, one is that they just got series who knows is that, and also there were delays, lots delays. But there’s more, some issues just got messed: missed pages, repeated pages, upside down pages, not correctly cut pages and a lot of imported series (who was supposed to benefy? me paying double or triple?, they buying to others and re-selling?, what’s wrong with them?).

    And about 2 years ago they just gone bankrupt.

    With this, the real doubt is, it’s just piracy the reason?. The answer is NO, there are a lot, and it depends on how someone do bussiness, how it’s the econmy, and if something really deserve the chance. But no. What’s more, why don’t put in jail the ones in charge of the economy of that time?, recession’s responsible?, they really cost millions of jobs and lifes, and i never saw such response as with the “pirates” and the supposely loss of billions of dollars, if they are so many losses, how they’re making such a horrible movies, music and tv series? how they afford so much luxury when there’s such crisis?.

    Now, as mostly of my fellows otakus, we don’t have access to a series in our language, and if we want it and we can understand it, our only option it’s buying online or going to the USA. The first it’s that we have to pay more taxes to import, pay transport and wait like a week (even a month o more) to get a manga or an anime dvd. The second option, it just no worth, ridiculous go just to buy a few things when there’ll be much more in a few days. So our only option, “piracy”.

    Really you are lucky to have so many things, so much variety, we don’t.

    If I would like to buy an anime dvd, specially a boxset (which i’m surprised it costs the most newest about 100 dollars, gimme a break) i’ll have to pay the transport, and the taxes, which in the best of the cases, it’ll cost me like 1.5 times the original price, but mostly it costs the double. Even most advanced avaliable computer in my country it’s just the half’s good than one in your country and the worst, it costs double that half. So, why complain?, at least you’re not living here.

    Like Coelho said, thanks to piracy we know more, we have more variety, and if it wasn’t the anime, manga, comics, movies, music, tv series, etc. web’s hoster. A big part this industries would be dead, just dead, specially the anime and manga, cause we wouldn’t know about those hot treading series, we couldn’t know when there’s something good.

    On a side note, i have to say that there is also… althought i don’t think that there is absolutes like wrong and good, i have to say…
    There something REALLY WRONG with the popular culture, how is that the twilight movies and books are so wide spreaded, or even those reality shows and their merchandising are so liked, they shouldn’t promote, nor even produce or be made. There’s a lot to think about.

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