Episode 69 – Pirates, Simplicity, and Summer Reading

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Question of the Week: Will book piracy become as huge as music piracy did during the Napster days? Will it impact the average indie author? Why or why not?

With solid nights of sleep behind them, Jim and Bryan tackled the latest topics in self-publishing. After discussing Bryan’s new URL for his service, BookBestPageForward.com, and Jim’s latest interviews on Authorpreneur.fm, the marketing mavens took on the tips and news. Tips included how to average out the stats of the bestsellers of the last decade, aspiring authorpreneur advice, and how to live more simply. News stories focused on picking a new term for indie authors, Mike Shatzkin’s potential about-face, summer reading statistics, a review of indie author library services, and the impact piracy has on indies. The Question of the Week: Will book piracy become as huge as music piracy did during the Napster days? Will it impact the average indie author? Why or why not?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • Why Bryan is tracking his daily writing speed
  • What the top-selling titles had in common in the last decade
  • Joel Friedlander’s top tips on authorpreneurship
  • Why concentrating on just one or two things may help your career
  • What indie authors and organic produce have in common
  • How Mike Shatzkin thinks publishing companies need to change
  • Some telling statistics on summer book reading
  • The pros and cons of three library placement services
  • Why piracy hasn’t taken hold in the ebook world
Question of the Week: Will book piracy become as huge as music piracy did during the Napster days? Will it impact the average indie author? Why or why not?

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  • I think Bryan hit the nail when he brought up examples of ways that books are already free. Libraries have been around for ages, and many indies are offering permafree stories. And most importantly, honest and trustworthy sites like Amazon offer these free stories, so one does not have to worry about risking a download that has malware and the like. Oh! And I think you forgot to mention Wattpad!

    With these reasons alone, I doubt we’ll see anything similar to Napster for books, and even if there was one, we all know what happened to such services in the end.

    • Bryan

      Ah yes, Wattpad too :).

  • QOTW – I think the market for pirated books is pretty small compared to music. People listen to dozens of songs (or albums) per day, and collect them just to collect them and have them at their disposal. I don’t see that with books.

    Also, I think the actual number of people who like to read is small compared to people who like music. There will always be piracy of books, pdf ebooks, games, and music, but I doubt many people have the passion to make a web site to host a napster-style network for sharing pirated books.

    • Bryan

      I agree!

  • Crissy Moss

    Piracy will be just as much trouble for books as it is for movies and music, which is to say “it won’t be.”
    Ebooks, and amazon in particular, actually made it so easy to get free books everywhere that piracy doesn’t really make sense. Even if/when there is a napster like app for ebooks it won’t really effect anyone too much.

    Just look at how much movies are pirated. Yet they still earn millions per movie, still get lots of people in theaters to watch them. Music has pandora and spotify, both giving listeners absolutely no reason to buy music, and yet people do. Heck, you can que up your favorite music on youtube and listen to it, or watch the video for free every single day. No issues.

    Who would use a napster for books? Young people who have no money but love books, people who want to try a book but not necessarily give money for it, or people who are inammered with the idea of “everything for free.” All of which encompass a small portion of society. Several of who would go on to purchase books.

    If there ever comes a point where there is a napster for books I will personally go put all of my books on the service myself with a note saying “if you love this book please support the author by buying a book from amazon, giving reviews, or telling others about it so they can enjoy it too.” And that’s it.

    • Slow. Clap.

      Well said

      • Crissy Moss

        Thank you 🙂

    • Bryan

      Seconding the slow clap :).

      • Crissy Moss

        Aww, now I’m blushing.

  • QOTW- I agree with Jim, with the right technology, yes people will pirate. And I agree with Bryan, it’s going to be limited to big named authors. If you’re an indie and your book gets pirated and read that could help you get known. For indies it’s the anonymity that’s the problem not the piracy.

    Excellent show gentlemen.

    • Bryan

      “It’s the anonymity that’s the problem not the piracy.”

      / This! Thanks!

  • Paperback books are like art, shells, or a record collections. They can be organized and displayed. No one is going to look at their list of books on a kindle and sigh. Hell, you can’t even put out them in your own order. There is NOTHING to make it more than computer memory.

    Maybe the killer app for ebooks will be a way to share, organize, and display more than improving the mere reading experience.

    You can’t do this with your collection of mp3s, downloaded games, or ebooks: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AQvOnDlql5g.


    • Bryan


  • I saw via a web alert that someone on one of the pirate sites specifically requested my book. I admit, I felt a twinge of pride.

    There will always be pirates, and side loading is not a deterrent. If you can transfer a file to a thumb drive you can transfer one onto your Kindle. I don’t think it will have a meaningful impact on the average mid-list indie. Now for the superstar millionaire authors it could represent a serious hit, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it 🙂

    • Bryan

      Pirate pride! 🙂

  • Piracy can only help, because 1) those people weren’t going to buy your books anyway, and 2) if they like it, they might tell their friends about it, and that’s how you gain fans. Also, side note about the question of the week that (maybe) should have been: WHAT’S A BETTER NAME THAN INDIE AUTHOR OR SELF-PUB AUTHOR?
    For your consideration: Free Authors.

    • Bryan

      I like where you’re going with Free Authors. I’m not sure if it’s quite right, but I like it :).

      • WarrenBluhm

        Free-range authors? goes with organic …

  • I think it will be a slow process. It’s extremely easy to pirate anything digital, and ebooks are no exception.

    By the way, Bryan, I don’t know why you changed your site to BOOK Best Page Forward. I thought “Best Page Forward” was a lot more catchy and easy to remember for the website.

    • Bryan

      Never owned BestPageForward.com. Before, my site was bryancohen.com/bestpage
      BookBestPageForward.com is slightly better than that :).

      • Ah, Gotcha. Too bad you couldn’t snag that other web address. But when you explain it that way, you’re right, it does sound a little better than the old one.

  • jayme

    The problem with piracy isn’t necessarily the people downloading stuff for free… its the people who upload the files to begin with.
    Maybe it would make us feel better to think about it this way-

    It’s not always that people won’t pay for books, many times it could be that they can’t.
    Not always true, but 15% of the US lives under the poverty line, and 50% are at or below the middle class (median US household income of <50k and all that) But more and more people, especially young people, have access to computers, but not money. And kids are crazy wizards with the technology!

    So, my dad once put it to me like this:

    My dad ran a movie theater in the 60's. Each night, the movie ran whether 4 people showed up or 400. On occasion, kids would sneak in. He said it was extremely rare for adults to sneak in. Granted, my dad isn't making royalties off of the movies he's showing but he thought of it like this:

    Most of those kids didn't have a cent in their pocket. They simply couldn't pay. So he didn't feel like he was losing a customer because the poor aren't his customers sadly. Without the money to see a movie, or buy a book, the option is either A. Don't read the book you want to read. or B. Steal it.
    He said cheeky kids would choose option B and god-fearing serious adults would choose option A.

    For my dad's analogy, the movie was going to play regardless, and the world would keep turning. He felt that if a kid was going to go to the trouble to sneak in and risk getting caught, it was probably worth the risk to him. It was worth the 50/50 odds, because not risking it meant the kid just never got to see the movie and have that experience.

    Now, I know not every pirate is someone who is truly poor, but a lot of them are kids, and whether they don't have money of their own, or their family is struggling, it might make authors feel better about the idea of piracy and not freak out about it too much. Just chalk it up to goodwill and like everyone says, just focus on the writing.

    My dad and I also have the general philosophy that the vast majority of people in this world are good. So my dad felt that if the kid could pay, he would. He said that he knew this was true because when that kid had a date the kid brought the girl up to the ticket booth and paid for her ticket.

    And, my dad said that the kid always looked really proud to pay when he could.

    • Bryan

      Great way of looking at things, Jayme. Another reason to quit worrying about the pirates :).

  • Another thing about Napster that made it so popular was the ease of downloading new songs. There was no iTunes back then. Until Napster you had to physically go to a record store. That type of technology didn’t exist. When the technology caught up and iTunes was created the popularity of Napster and other pirating sites declined.

    The ease of purchasing a book and having it transferred directly to your ereader already exists on Amazon and the other big sites. If some major pirating site comes along (and there is already Pirate’sBay and a ton of other torrenting sites) then I don’t think it will ever be as big as it was in those early days of the wild west of the internet.
    Most voracious readers are already set up with their Amazon accounts that send books directly to their ereaders. I don’t think they’ll bother going to other sites, learning how to navigate a new search engine to find the books they like, learning how to side load it and worrying about getting viruses.
    People will always be willing to spend big money on their hobbies!

    • Bryan

      Great points, Kim. Not sure what could be easier than what Amazon has set up.

  • WarrenBluhm

    Side topic re: a new word to describe self-published authors. Once upon a time movies were called movies, and then sound was introduced and the new products were called “talkies.” But then the movies with sound became mainstream and what used to be movies were now “silent movies.”

    When self-publishing completes the transition, I suspect it will just be called “publishing.” Self-published authors will be known as “authors.” New words will be needed to describe companies and authors who hang onto the old ways.

  • Patrick Stemp

    A little hazy right now because I took a drink every time Jim said “tipping point.”

    I’m with Crissy, and I know at least one author who has already uploaded their work to pirate sites for exactly that reason.

    Personally, I haven’t had cable in a dozen years, but I haven’t missed a single episode of any show I want to watch within 24 hours of it airing. But we also have a huge DVD collection of the shows that deserved our money once they were available. For us comes down to…well, to put it simply, fuck the cable company.

    On the music front, I used to DL music, but when Spotify came along I went all in. The price is right, and while there are a few things missing, the content is pretty darn solid. And the artists bitching about the Spotify model are idiots, because there will be plenty of people like me – who have gone out and bought the CD after hearing it on Spotify, even though I can listen to it anytime I want already with my monthly service.

    Worrying about piracy is a waste of time and energy. It’s going to happen, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Every pirated copy is a potential reader who will hopefuly enjoy the work, and talk about it to someone who may buy it themselves later. How many billions did the music industry spend on the piracy issue…and to what result?

    Put a donation button on your site (I think Hugh Howey does this), use Patreon…find other ways your readers can support you if they want to.

    Make sure you’re selling direct through Gumroad (a fantastic service) for the folks who are tech-savvy enough to side load and don’t want to give Amazon their money or simply want you to keep more of it.

    Time thinking about piracy is time better spent writing the next book for people to pirate!

    • Bryan

      Agreed! Here here. What do you drink while listening to our show? Just curious :).

      • Patrick Stemp

        Absinthe and tequila. I call it the “tipping point”. 🙂

        • Bryan


  • patcheschance

    QOTW: Pirated books, for better or worse, will never have the same humongous mass market appeal that piracy of music and video content has. Even then, it’s not something anyone should be worried about, because it’ll probably only become an issue for trad-publishing.

  • Daniel Martone

    Even if more books become available, only a very small percentage of readers will utilize the technology to acquire pirated books. Almost every movie and tv show made is available on torrents, yet subscriptions services like Netflix, Amazon, and even Hulu, continue to do well and people continue to purchase dvds and blu-rays… and pay movie channel viewership is actually increasing. I don’t see the average voracious reader surfing the torrents or using some special app to get their fix. We’re safe.