Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lesbian Fiction Fans -- to the Rescue?


It's what every author loves to hear.
"I can't wait for the new book!"

"Thank you thank you for getting her book here!"

"I finally got a copy! Reading it tonight!"

"Does anyone know where I can get her last one too?"

"I love her books! More, more more! You rock!"

Sounds great--except these words of thanks aren't for me, my editor, my publisher or a bookstore owner. They're to "fans" who uploaded the PDF of my new book to a pirate sharing site. By the time Above Temptation had been available in digital format for 6 days, there had been 192 illegal copies made that I knew about.

 

Why should you bother reading this blog?

  • Beyond a doubt, if the people who were reading illegal copies paid their share, lesbian fiction publishers would be able to give you better value for your money. For some publishers, it would mean surviving another year.
  • I would be finishing my next book -- one I hope you want to read -- right now, instead of writing this blog and having spent 30 hours since the release of my book 18 days ago protesting illegal copies and dealing with the rigamarole that piracy sites put the lawful owner through. That's the equivalent of three or four short stories that I didn't write. I will spend a few precious hours every week trying to protect my copyright so I can be paid so I can go on writing.
  • If the spiraling rate of piracy continues, publishers and ebook platform manufacturers will lock down your ability to make lawful copies for your personal use. 
  • The lesbian fiction fan's biggest concern: piracy is sapping the passion many writers have for their work. To find that people who love your work don't think you deserve to be paid, and participate in making sure hundreds of readers don't pay you too feels malicious, like something that someone who hated your work would do to you. That kind of stab to the heart can make it hard, some days, to put fingers to keyboard. Believe me, I am not the only author you read who feels this way.
At the bottom of this blog I have a series of suggested ways you can help. I also have a second blog, Pirates Avast and a third, Mythes of Ye Olde Piracy which you may find interesting. And, at this point in the blog, I thank you sincerely for reading this far. Those of you who not only buy the ebook but tell others to do so, and sometimes you then buy the print book because you want to be sure you can have that book even in a power outage--I treasure you. Wind. Wings. Honest.

Nevertheless, this isn't an easy topic for anyone; whenever the business of books gets in the way of reading the books it's not happy-making. Pirates are seriously getting in the way.

What Piracy Isn't

When you buy digital music or books you have the right to make personal copies. The law doesn't consider making a copy from your computer to several devices piracy, nor is making backups. For my purposes, downloading an ebook that both you and your partner read, copied to each of your devices, isn't piracy either. The line begins to blur when a group of 3-4 friends take turns buying the new ebooks, and sharing copies. There the arugment is that they used to buy just one print book and pass it around, and they are still buying one book. I follow that argument, too. Technically, however, they bought one book and turned it into four books, which they could read simultaneously and each keep forever. They received greater ease of use for less money; nobody had to wait to read. Piracy? Not the kind I'm talking about. Of concern? It is when women who used to buy four books start buying only one and sharing.

Of more concern is when an entire book club reads one copy of a book because someone allowed the original purchased copy to be shared simultaneously. Not only does it rob the author of guaranteed sales, sales she earned by writing a book a club wants to discuss, it creates an atmosphere that says piracy is okay...for "us." From there, it only takes one member of that book club uploading her copy to a sharing site to turn a year's worth of book club selections into a thousand stolen books.

 

Why Lesbian Fiction (and Lesbian Writers)
Feel This Issue More

It's a common sentiment to say "This is the whole publishing industry, not just lesfic." True, and does that change anything? When we think something is "everybody's" problem, then "everybody" should fix it--"everybody" being someone else which turns out to be "nobody."

There's also "Don't take it personally, it happens to everybody and it's been going on for years in music." Agreed, and I know that. It's not personal, but it sure feels like it. As for music, piracy has decimated a once-thriving women's music circuit, and does take a toll on the stars. The mainstream acts are still around, though, because 30% less of A Lot might still be Plenty. How many women's music performers are thriving? Many retired, some give private concerts only and don't record their music at all, which means you and I never get to hear them--because of pirates.

Lesbian fiction writers stand in the same place. Most of us chose to write for a paycheck made up of both money and the love we get from our readers. We write our lives--your lives. So our position, financially, is more precarious and the love part of our paycheck is being slashed. In our case, 30% of Not A Lot can quickly be Not Enough.

The problem is that whatever issues mainstream publishing is feeling is magnified for those of us in a small market. However, that could be our one bonus: because we're in a small market, we have a chance to actually have an impact on the amount of piracy that authors like Nora Roberts don't have. We know each other. We also know who our pirates are--or we can find out with some help. Taking time to to do that, however, is time not spent writing and time my publisher has to take from other initiatives.

 

What Pirates Really Do

In this blog I'm not talking about making personal copies on your reader or for your computer at work, or even copies for a friend or two. I'm talking about uploading and downloading copies in any number of ways and using any number of sites. To me, people who do that are thieves. If you're one of the people who thinks that calling book pirates "thieves" and piracy "stealing" is harsh, I'm afraid that I may well offend you then. Most users at download sites go to great lengths to mask their identity, or they frequent sites domiciled outside the US where there is little risk of ever having their identity disclosed to the person whose copyright was violated.

Even when I've placed visible notices on files that they are illegal copies, they're still downloaded as I wait for the company to honor my take down request. (To illustrate how unfair this process is and who the sharing sites really serve, the author who reports piracy to a site may have her contact information shared with the pirate, but she will never get the pirate's contact information.)

As I said above, most downloaders had to upload something to become a downloader. Many pirates belong to circles where they offer up a copy of a book no one else has shared yet to join the group, so everyone in the group goes into the process with no innocence.

Every month the people who've already pirated books are eagerly waiting for someone to show up with the latest releases as their entry fee. One person paid; hundreds read for free and all are emboldened to copy their copy and share it over and over to get more free stuff back. They're thanked and lauded like rock stars and empowered to believe that the activity is somehow just (see Mythes of Ye Olde Piracy). Someone who joins that kind of arrangement isn't ever going to pay for one of my books again; I guess I can afford to piss them off because they can't pay me less than they are.

Some pirates are bullies, too. When a musician or author tries to make their point about piracy, reviews plummet and spam to email increases. A clever pirate can really muck with book information on sites like Amazon if they set their mind to it. So I know it's likely I'll face some negative reviews from mysterious sources for speaking my mind, but I know that most readers see through that sort of thing and recognize when a review has some other agenda. C'est la vie. Therefore, hiding behind a mask, a pirate is a thief and many are bullies. Pirates steal and intimdate. Not saying so doesn't change anything. A pirate putting "Book Lover" in their profile description doesn't change anything either. I can do without that kind of love.

The majority of thieves are blithely sharing PDFs and other format files in their own circle of fellow thieves, and every day more people eager to join their criminal conspiracy show up. They're brazen. So brazen that when an author or publisher successfully has a link removed, they complain bitterly about having to employ a workaround to put it back up. The usual excuses that justify their theft are repeated. Doesn't that sound tediously familiar? The person abusing the system and trust of others playing the victim when they're caught?

 

It's Not Just eBooks; eBooks Only Make It Easier

This isn't just an issue about ebooks. One pirate is busily using a scanner to copy books out of her personal collection. She uses these illegally made copies as barter for other people's copies. Imagine this: The pirate whines that she works so hard to create the first illegal copy it's not fair when she gets nothing for it. She wants recompense for her labor. Yet..it's fair when I get nothing for the thousands of hours it took me and the thousands of dollars it took my publisher to produce that book. She's used a copy of one of my books that has never been put in digital format to get hundreds of books in return. She's another rock star on the bit torrent circuit.

Someone else who got a hold of that file promptly put it on a different site--what impetus is there now to make a legit ebook when it's already floating around for free? Readers who pay for the books, who love lesbian fiction, suffer right along with the author and publisher--because of pirates.

When I tell people about hand scanned copies, they know it's wrong, and they're shocked that someone would copy a print book. Yet the same people may argue about whether copying an ebook is equally wrong. How is it any different? (Again, see Mythes of Ye Olde Piracy.)

 

Now that the Venting is Over

I know that this post is long and has a good dose of bitterness. I'm one of the better selling (and therefore higher paid) lesbian fiction authors out there, and yes, I'm bitter about 150, 200, 250 books being stolen from my publisher and used as legal tender in a pirate circle to acquire more free books written by my colleagues and friends. If you think I'm bitter, how do you suppose authors feel who sell a quarter of what I do? They worked just as many hours on their books and piracy is seriously cutting into an already small return for the labor.

Here's how some of those authors feel: they're quitting. Or, they're going back to publishing online without editing, because the pay is just about the same for a great deal less work. Ultimately, you the reader lose a writer whose work you love, or you don't get the same book from that writer--because of piracy.

We need your help. As the digital revolution continues, our precious lesbian culture through books (and certainly through music) is under siege, and not in the Kiera-Knightly-looks-good-in-breeches way. I know that the vast majority of you reading this want to be sure you have choices in reading that have more meaning to your life than most mainstream books, especially when it comes to matters of the heart and bedroom.

Many of you have met many of us, and you know we have partners who are ill, parents with Alzheimer's, cars that don't start without an incantation to Gaia and ailing computers we desperately wish we could afford to upgrade. A great many authors of lesbian fiction that I know can't afford an ereader for themselves. If 10% of the people who pirated my work actually paid for it, I could pay for the new hot water heater. As that piracy number spirals upward and royalties spiral downward, the future can look bleak.

The bottom line for the reader is, to paraphrase Newsweek editor-in-chief Jon Meacham, "If you're not going to pay for books, then you're going to get a different kind of books."
For the reader like you, who supports the authors who tell the stories she wants to read, it means that pirates undermine what will eventually be offered in the marketplace. You may end up having free lesfic books--and the quality that writers are willing to produce when working for free--as your only lesfic options.

 

So what can you do?

Go on talking up your favorite books. You're all wonderful bringing new readers into the family.

Discourage piracy. If someone says they know where to get books for free, maybe take the time to explain that without readers paying for lesfic books, the writers they want so much to read will stop writing. Their dollars really do matter to all of us.

Don't Be An Accidental Pirate: If you join a site that charges you a fee to make unlimited downloads, don't believe their small print that they're paying royalties. They're not. They're charging you a fee to have access to the piracy of other people; when it all boils down, they're selling you my book, someone else's music or movie, whatever, and they've stolen what you're buying. Since they're in business to make money off of piracy, it's not a stretch that they'll lie about paying royalties.

The only time they pay is through international court settlements, and then those payments don't go to the injured parties. They go to lawyers, foremost, and also to indsutry groups who then try to do some good. But not one penny that you pay ever goes to the authors, publishers, actors, directors, movie studios, musicians, indie labels... The big winner is the small group of people running the site. Where are those sites? You might already know that China and Ukraine are both notoroius safe havens...but so is Canada.

So be suspicious of too-good-to-be-true offers. As far as my ebooks are concerned, I can make it easy for you: the only lawful sites you can acquire them at are BellaBooks.com and LGBTbookshop.com, which is also run by Bella Distribution.

Report piracy when you find it. Tell the author or publisher.

Don't Tolerate It On Your Discussion Groups: For those readers who administer forums and online gathering places, consider developing a standing position on piracy, and don't permit discussions of ways to commit piracy or file share. Another policy to consider: If I gave you a user name, and the email address, would you, as a moderator, remove that person from your group if I also provided you proof that she's uploaded dozens (and dozens) of lesfic books from almost every writer you know?


Once again, I want to close by thanking readers for their loyalty and support. If not for you, I would not do what I do. Your appreciation and enthusiasm is part of the "paycheck" for this job, and I still feel like one of the luckiest people I know.

7/28/2010: Amended to include LGBTbookshop.com as an authorized seller of my ebooks.

12 comments:

  1. Even worse is a trend I've noticed lately among pirates who have my books listed on their sites -- "Donation" buttons! The pirates are now not only sharing illegal copies, but making money on them! Grr...

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  2. I can believe this but as a reader who waits on pins and needles for the next book it bothers me. Maybe I am not as savvy in the technology area but I had no idea this was out there. I wish that there was more that could be done, some way to trace and enforce the laws that are on the books and that new and better laws would be written.

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  3. It's galling -- and really sounds like something Tony Soprano would do. Steal from me, then expect to be paid by the people who buy the stolen property. Yet I don't think pirates see themselves as mobsters. Yet, conspire to steal, encourage others to steal, joining sites that are essentially fencing stolen property...? Sounds like a mob operation to me.

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  4. Well done, Karin! I don't know if you saw my link on Facebook a few weeks ago to a brilliant blog written by Jason Robert Brown that readers of this blog might also find interesting. It's geared toward piracy in the music industry (and similar, in a sense, to the lesbian fiction world as musical theatre is such a small subset in the larger music scene) but as you point out, the issues are the same.

    http://www.jasonrobertbrown.com/weblog/2010/06/fighting_with_teenagers_a_copy.php

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  5. Thanks Heather. I missed that link and will go read now. Anyone doing "micro" entertaining that is really tailored to a small audience will feel piracy almost immediately. It's heightened for book writers because ebooks aren't a new revenue stream, they're a replacement stream, and instead of 1 for 1, it's 1 for .9 and so on.

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  6. I sincerely feel your pain. As an ebook author, I have experienced this same violation. And that is exactly what it is -- a violation. It's financial rape. The same people who would never consider stealing from their employer and then selling the stolen goods at a yard sale will offer up an ebook without hesitation.

    Diligence pays, however. Some sites are beginning to work with copyright holders. The law will change, and some of these sites have a good enough memory to recall what happened to Napster.

    To those who don't... as they say in the military, "BOHICA". Bend over, here it comes again. Eventually, it will be their turn, and I for one certainly wouldn't offer them a kiss first.

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  7. Great piecce, Karin. Would you be willing to talk with a Curve writer about this for our website? I think a lot of lesbian fans would be surprised to see how piracy is affecting lesbian authors. Diane @ Curve (aka and one of those affected lesbian authors)

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  8. Shame on these thieves! Double shame on them for undermining a small industry (lesfic) that is so important to its members. Triple shame on them for jeopardizing the publication of books that are an important source of community, validation, information and the sense that they are not alone, for so many women who are isolated from other lesbians for one reason or another. I buy ebooks a lot - it's easier to get them in Canada and, besides, my bookshelves are bursting. A few authors' books are treasured, so I buy those both as ebooks and as paper books. I wouldn't dream of undercutting the same authors and publishers who bring me such pleasure. I wish there was more I could do. Getting the word out and making sure people understand the ramifications of their actions is an important first step. I'm quite tech / web savvy and yet I had no idea it was this systematic and widespread - what on earth are people thinking??

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  9. Thank you for the supportive comments, one and all. I've been composing these blogs for several months now but after the shockingly high piracy of my latest books I made them a priority. I hope to have an effect on the demand side of the problem while my publisher tackles the supply side.

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  10. Now I understand why I've received hate mail since I put audiobook and ebook editions of my reissued first novel online for free download. Obviously, a lot of women assume it's a pirate site. (www.stickypress.com) It's not.

    When the book first came out in 2002, it did well and received good reviews. It surpassed my expectations. Maybe I'm leaving money on the table by putting it online, but I want women to read it or listen to it, not necessarily buy it.

    I'm not in favor of piracy -- I hope that goes without saying. Still, I want to make my work easily available to everyone who cares to read it, and technology offers amazing tools to do just that.

    The book is called Southland Auto Acres by Lisa Jones. You won't hurt my feelings if you download it for free.

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  11. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this, and, well, it worked on me. I'm a doctoral student with minus money, and while I would never have used a pirated site the 'used and new' on Amazon was starting to look very tempting. So I stopped looking, saved up and bought your latest from my local LGBT bookstore - trying to do my bit, promise!

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  12. I'm a voracious reader on a very low income. It's an expensive habit. I saved my pennies to buy a Kindle because my apt. is overflowing with books. (There's also that whole aging thing with needing larger fonts and something easier to hold.) It's a purchase that I made to make my life easier. It has nothing to do with buying content and everyone who buys one knows that so it's an unacceptable excuse.

    I understand the "lesbian books are too expensive" thing. Books suck up a sizable part of my income. But I have to read and that means deciding how to make the most of book money. It means most of what I read is straight fiction. It's cheaper. It comes down to, do I spend $15 and get two straight books or one short lesbian book.

    But, at least I understand why lesbian books cost so much. My situation (and that of others like me) and the price of books doesn't provide an excuse to steal. That's just low and it severely disappoints me that lesbians so freely, and without remorse, steal from other lesbians.

    I buy lesbian books as occasional treats. I love my e-reader so much I've bought ebooks for titles I already own in paper for my favorites that get reread. (Including three of yours so far Karin, with more to come as I can afford it.) In that way at least hopefully some lesbian authors are benefiting, since I (and many others) wouldn't be rebuying the books otherwise.

    One thing that you missed in your explanation of publishing expenses is that ebooks do have an additional cost to produce, which is the actual formatting of the book files. It's not like someone can just push a button and presto bingo you have an ebook. The digital files have to be formatted to display correctly and that means paying a human to do it. I'm mentioning this because I'm getting tired of the "ebooks cost nothing to produce" mantra.

    I strongly disagree with adding DRM. It's a solution that only punishes the law abiding and does not in the least slow down pirates. You mentioned Rowling. She is notorious for refusing to allow her books to be published in digital format (due in part at least to fear of piracy). Yet her books are some of the most pirated on the web.

    Karin, I salute you in your fight against pirates. I am sad for you that you have to waste so much of your precious energy fighting them. They steal not only your money, but your time. Money can be replaced in a sense, but we can never get spent time back.

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts!