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Learning from Other Media: Digital Music

Arrrrrr! I'm the evil ebook pirate! Fear me!

I was going to write a nice post about how music can teach writers to add pauses to their manuscripts, thereby adding tension and drama. But I’ve decided to go a completely different direction because I believe the most important thing the music industry can teach writers is about digital content piracy and DRM.

I’m going to say this pretty plainly. I want people to pirate my book. It’ll be a badge of honor, and it will mean ton of free publicity. When JA Konrath literally gave a book away free on his website, his Amazon sales of the same book (at the original price) improved by 600 percent over the same time period. So, you can guess that this isn’t going to be some big lament over lost income due to ebook piracy. My own small study supports this, and other business models actually use this exact technique. Many comic writers give away digital copies free on their sites.

There are no credible studies out there that prove piracy affects sales negatively. People take things for free that they may never have bought. They take it just because its free, so a pirated copy does not necessarily mean a lost sale, but it may mean a new reader who will buy your next book.

Let’s look at what happened in the music industry. Everyone went crazy and started calling for digital rights management (DRM) and filing lawsuits against pirates. What good did that do? Has piracy stopped in the music industry?

No. It hasn’t.

So my question is this: what makes publishers and authors believe the same approach will work for them? I believe that is a good example of doing the same thing but expecting different results: insanity.

There are publishers and authors who refuse to allow their books to participate in the lending programs offered by Amazon and BN. (Each ebook can be loaned once for two weeks.) They believe they are preventing a lost sale by forcing people to buy instead of borrow. What does this really accomplish? It pisses people off. If they can’t borrow a $10 ebook from their friend, like they used to be able to borrow a paperback, then do you think they’re going to go buy the $10 book or go find a pirated copy for free? Hint: the fact that they were going to borrow the book originally shows that it was not worth it to them to pay $10 to have a copy of their own.

This isn’t a writer vs. reader thing. We should be trying to make our readers happy, and readers just want what they’ve always had: the freedom to do with their books as the please. I want them to be able to put their ebook in any format on all the ereaders they own or will own in the future. I want them to be able to share it with friends. They can delete it, but they can’t sell it to a used bookstore or donate it to a library, which is a disadvantage of ebooks. I shouldn’t add to those limitations.

So how do you prevent loss of sales as an ebook writer? Well, Konrath talks about convenience and cost, and I’m inclined to agree with his assessment.

  • Make it easy for a reader to purchase your ebook. Sell it everywhere and in all formats.
  • Make it easy for them to use the book as they please. Don’t use DRM. It’s useless. It can be overcome fairly easily, and it just irritates people who otherwise would never turn to piracy. Enable lending. Give them freedom.
  • Sell it for a reasonable price. I’m not going to tell you what the right price is, but setting your price too high isn’t going to help you make sales, regardless of the piracy issue.

Do I think piracy will help my sales? Maybe, but at the very least, I do not think it will hurt them. The fact that ebook sales have grown despite piracy shows that it’s not so detrimental that all growth is stopped.

What about websites that arrange exchanges of lendable ebooks? So? There are limits on lending (1 time only per ebook). And there’s no guarantee that someone would have bought my book as opposed to checking it out from a library. A loaned book isn’t necessarily a lost sale. It’s a potential future sale on my next book.

Do I support piracy? No. I worked hard on my book, and I deserve fair compensation for my efforts, but I also realize that the current methods for dealing with piracy are completely useless, so I have to find other methods (cost, convenience) to ensure the best possible return on my time and labor.

So writers, learn from digital music. Don’t waste your time fighting piracy by using useless methods and don’t bother getting angry about it. Fight by making your books good, available, and inexpensive.

4 thoughts on “Learning from Other Media: Digital Music

  1. Great points! I don’t understand musicians or authors who try to make it hard for people to access their work. If it’s good i want to share it with friends, and, also, if it’s good I’m willing to pay for it. There have been several albums, and several books, that I’ve bought more than once.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Food for thought. I think price is a big factor. When videos first came out, they were expensive. People wouldn’t pay $25-45 to buy a movie they might only watch a few times, so they taped and copied them illegally (as you pointed out, that doesn’t really represent a lost sale in most cases). Now, when you can buy a “gently used” DVD for $4, why would you go to the trouble of obtaining one illegally. If they’re affordable, people will buy – books, music, or video.

  3. I agree that prices of eBooks should be reasonable. Personally, I find it hard to swallow have to pay over $5 for an E book… a book that I cannot put on my shelf, cannot lend to others, or donate to the library… One of my ideas, which would never come to pass, I think, is that if you bought a paper copy of a book, have the digital one FREE with purchase! If I love a digital copy of an ebook (that was reasonably priced to begin with), I will most likely buy the paper one later…so that I have a new friend on my bookcase – one to lend and hold and treasure!
    Looking forward to your two new books coming out – this summer?!?! :~)

  4. I agree with you all! I’d give away an ebook with paperback purchase if there were an easy way to make that happen. Right now, I can’t figure out how it would work logistically. Retailers would probably have to add a new feature for authors and publishers, and that would be super cool.


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