read it like you stole it!

I’ve heard some stupid things in my day, and I’ve probably even said a few stupid things in my day. But I read something today that, well it really tops a lot of ‘em.

If you hang around traditionalists long enough, you’ll notice they’re bound to say something stupid. Especially those who are dyed-in-the-wool, you’ll-pry-this-hardback-from-my-cold-dead-hands, everyone-who-does-it-differently-is-a-Commie traditionalists. This is not to say all traditionalists are stupid, sell-outs, sticks-in-the-mud or made of wool. But even they have to admit there’s a large contingent among their ranks who are.

Did you catch what I just did there? I’ve lumped all Traditionalists into one big group, accused them all of saying stupid things, then couched it with the tried and true caveat.

Now you’ll better understand my point.

It’s about eBooks, forward thinking and open mindedness. Lemme ‘splain . . .

This is what I read today – a quote from the author of such works as The Mosquito Coast, Dark Star Safari, and The Great Railway Bazaar. A writer by the name of Theroux who recently released a Kindle-only eBook. During a podcast interview, he said this regarding eBooks: “… The big danger is copyright infringement. Stealing books and sharing books without paying for them. What could happen to the publishing industry is what happened to the music industry. It was destroyed. Absolutely destroyed. People don’t buy cd’s anymore, they share mp3’s and they steal them. That could happen with books.”

Did ya catch that? Apparently the music industry is DOA. No one buys CDs anymore. At all. Music is dead, and we’re all pirates.

Wow. So, those CD’s I buy all the time are . . . what? Illusions? Sure, I put the CD’s into my computer, so I can load them on my mp3 player, so I can take them on walkies and play them in my car (because the CD player in my car is a right pain in the arse). Do I share them? Well, I give the CD’s to my sister because her car’s player works. I used to make copies on cassettes – remember those? But you know what? I like CD’s. I’ve had too many computer crashes in my time to trust my entire music collection to mp3 files, bytes and bobs.

Theroux says that the music industry was absolutely destroyed –I assume — because he believes that malarkey. In truth, the music industry hasn’t even been bruised. Sales of CDs have increased thanks to file sharing – in the old days it was called “Word of mouth” or “free advertising“. If anything, the music industry evolved into a new beast entirely – one that allows smaller bands, garage bands, individual musicians who couldn’t have made themselves heard beyond the local pub before, suddenly able to find an audience. The music industry wasn’t obliterated, it exploaded all over the ‘net ! It grew, it changed, it expanded, and now we’re all privvy to music we never would have heard otherwise. And that is farkin’ awesome!

He also says “people don’t buy cd’s anymore, they share mp3s, they swap them and they steal them.”

He’s just called you a thief. In fact, he’s just lumped together the entire human race (“people”) and called us all thieves. We don’t buy CD’s, we just steal music. All of us. Every last one of you out there, those reading this blog and all the others, we’re all thieves, responsible for the utter and complete destruction of the music industry!

This is the same argument a vocal group of traditionals make against the eBook “movement”. They think if books become files, readers will all just swap ‘em, trade ‘em, and steal ‘em, and they won’t make a lick of money for writing ‘em. They’re convinced — and balley-ho they’re gonna shout about it — that eBooks will spell the complete and utter destruction of life as they know it for the paperback and trade world.

Well guess what — people have been swapping, trading and sharing books for generations. I’ve done it (gasp!) and I bet you’ve done it, too. You read a really good book, then hand it to a friend, maybe a coworker, a fellow commuter, a family member – and say “Dude, you gotta read this, it was awesome!”.

That book likely gets passed around a few dozen times in it’s life, to people who get to read it without paying. Then someday perhaps it’ll end up in a used bookstore, or donated to a doctor’s office waiting room, and be read another dozen times, all by people who didn’t pay the author a dime.

The author got paid for the copy he sold, by the person who bought it. That person then passed it around to maybe a dozen others who enjoyed the read without paying. Chances are, if it was a good book, that dozen who read it for free might want to read more of the author’s work. They’ll head off to a bookstore and check for more titles, possibly even buy a few, and share those with another couple dozen readers.

The hard truth is, those who read it for free and didn’t go buy something else by that author – or head out to purchase their own copy of the book they read for free – weren’t going to buy your book anyway. They weren’t going to pick you up off the shelf and pay to take you home. These people are not lost sales. But with luck, chances are they will turn into free advertising, which in turn will result in a few new sales you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The music industry wasn’t destroyed, it grew up. That growth period would have been a lot less painful and a lot more pleasant if they’d figured it all out ahead of time and stopped wasting time pissing off their customers. Do a handful of people steal music without ever paying? Of course they do.

Do you?

Probably not.

Do a handful of people steal eBooks with no intention of ever buying them? Of course they do.

Do you?

If I buy a painting from an artist, and pay the asking price – then later on, sell that painting to someone else for a hefty profit – will that bring down the entire art industry? Did I steal money from the painter by selling his art for more than I paid for it? I bought my house sixteen years ago for $69,900 and today it’s worth $147,950. If I sell it, do I owe the previous owner the difference?

The irony of Theroux’s statement isn’t just that he’s lumped all of humanity into packs of thieving book pirates – – the irony is that he’s done so while jumping on the eBook bandwagon himself. What if he’d simply jumped on the wagon and enjoyed the ride?

That’s what I’ll talk about next week – so your homework assignment is to go read this, then come back next week and find out what I mean when I say Define Making It:  

Power to the People!

Make Love, Not War!

Did you pay for that gum, young man?!

2 thoughts on “read it like you stole it!

  1. Mostly what it makes me think about are two things

    1) one should always be wary talking outside one’s expertise. Or at least, if one does, one should proceed carefully and probably with a disclaimer and not just “well obviously I know what’s going on here.” Theroux is not a working musician. Not even a music industry exec. So his opinion is just that, an opinion, and as valid as “what some guy in the pub told me.”

    Sort of like when you get those occasional putzes who say something dim like “well everyone knows comics are just kids stuff going POW! BAM! a lot.” Idjit clearly hasn’t read many comics.

    and 2) of course, the argument against file sharing is that with the book lending you’re talking about, and the paint-reselling…both involve the passing on of a single item, a single copy. The danger of file sharing (the theory goes) is that you can just copy it endlessly. So it’s not that you get a copy and then give your friend that copy. It’s that you have a copy, AND your friend, AND their friend, ad infinitum. The equivalent would be if you, in your basement, had a machine for duplicating paintings and began selling off the duplicates. And THAT would be illegal.

    (that said, I don’t disagree with you. Neil Gaiman said it best. “The biggest enemy of any artist is obscurity.” If people are interested enough in you to be swapping your book and sending it all over, well, there are worse things, you ask me.)

  2. I realize the field I’m coming from is probably further from left – but I know I’m not alone, not even a little bit, when I say that – if given a choice between 100 people paying to read my novels, and 10,000 people reading them for free . . . give me the 10,000.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanted to be paid for your work. Hell, even *I* make money writing. But to spend so much time and energy worrying and fretting about the chances of your work being pirated just seems to me like so much wasted energy.

    First, you have to be good enough TO be stolen. And let’s face it, there are – as Pete said – worse things than being popular.

    Second, you have to really believe the one dude in his mommie’s basement who did pirate your novel did it on purpose and not because he thought it was something else, and is then going to spam all his buddies with copies, who will in turn spam all of their buddies with copies, etc etc. Which in turn results in you being rather popular among the sub-dwelling crowd – no small shakes, y’ask me. They’re pretty particular about who they like, and again – there are worse things what could happen to ya.

    And Third . . . if you still have your tightie-whities in a bunch over it, you can always skip the eBook version of your work. No one says you have to jump on the band wagon. Maybe you’re allergic to hay?

    Just don’t toss meadow muffins at those of us enjoying the ride.

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