Many authors have expressed their feelings on the intellectual theft known as book piracy, but I’m going to try to take my post in a different direction.
Every action has a reaction as they say. What effects publishers and authors does also affect readers. Before you can understand the truth about piracy, you first have to understand publishing. I’m going to offer you a crash course on the basics.
When an author sells a book, the majority get paid an advance ranging from $0 – $100,000. Most authors fall somewhere in the lower end range of $0 – $25,000. Does that sound like a lot of money? Not if you consider it takes the average author six months to write a book and the majority only publish one book a year. Could you live off of $25,000 (and don’t forget about the taxes which reduce that amount roughly by 30%)? That means an author needs to make money on the back-end with royalties (a percentage of each book sold). Well, authors only get royalties after they’ve paid back their advance, and most don’t. Perhaps now you can understand why every book sale is important to an author.
Still, I haven’t really talked about how this affects you, so let’s get into the down and dirty. With the poor economy and bookstore closures, publishers are limiting deals to non-celebrity authors. Instead of buying a planned series, in many cases, they buy the first book only and see what happens. So, if a book is downloaded several thousand times (which are pretty standard numbers), it could mean the publisher is never able to break even on the book. That means, they reject the rest of the series and you never get to see how it ends. A character you’ve grown to love and cheer for is now gone. Of course, the rest of the series could get picked up by another publisher, but who wants to invest in a failed series? Would you buy a broken bungee cord? Not likely.
But you reviewed the book you downloaded which draws attention to the book and author, right? That’s a sweet thought, but a million reviews won’t save a book that isn’t selling. It’s all about money people – it always is.
Now, why should you care how a publisher is affected? They’re all billion dollar companies making money hand-over-fist, right? Nope.
When a book is published, a publishing house has a number of expenses to pay beyond what the author gets to publish a book. They have to pay editors, publicists, book cover artists, and advertisers just to name a few. All of those expenses combined must be recouped for a book to be considered a success. That means every book published starts out in the red as a debt. Now, you’re probably thinking I haven’t mentioned sales to chains such as Barnes & Noble which would put us back in the green with a profit, right? Wrong. Any book that doesn’t sell in a bookstore, in most cases, can be returned to the publisher for a full refund. So, putting a book in a bookstore doesn’t mean it’s going to make a profit for a publisher/distributor.
So what happens when publishers don’t make money? Well, exactly what you’ve seen in the news which is massive layoffs and pay cuts. And do you think it’s the big executives feeling the pain? Nope, it’s the people like me and you just trying to get by; the average Joe’s. The employees lucky enough to keep their jobs are left overwhelmed with work because they have to keep their departments functioning even though they are now understaffed. Perhaps edits get rushed and the book isn’t as good as it could’ve been had they had more time to spend with an individual author. We’ll never know I suppose, but it is a possibility.
Are you still arguing the facts? Maybe you don’t see the difference between getting a book at the library and downloading for free. The difference is the libraries paid for those books. They get special government grants for this purpose. And, if you haven’t been to the library in a while, you should know they’ve come a long way. Now, you can look-up a book throughout your entire county versus one location. So, if one library has it, they will ship it to the location nearest you. Also, many have eBooks available for those with an e-reader. If you can’t afford to buy book, then I would suggest you give them a visit. The more you visit, the more grant money they get and more books for you! Sounds like a win-win to me.
Bottom line: Cheating the publishing industry hurts the reader. Also, it makes you into a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. Support the authors you love by buying their books, or if you can’t afford it, support your local library that supports those same authors.
Stacey O’Neale is a writer, book blogger, and a senior publicist with Entangled Publishing. She has participated in panels for Book Expo America and teaches courses through Savvy Authors. Beyond her websites and speaking engagements, you can find her on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook.
Special Thanks to Nicole for the Picture