“Obscurity is a greater threat to authors than piracy.”
This quote from Tim O’Reilly, from the well-known American media company, O’Reilly Media, is quite thought-provoking. How often have we dreamt of becoming published authors? How often have we written something and said, “Pretty good! This ought to get published!,” and then stashed it away in an obscure corner? I, for one, sadly count among the many and sundry whose manuscripts are gathering dust in a drawer, waiting to see the light of the day.
Think about ones that do get published. It is just the start of a series of trials and tribulations for the author with the publishing house. The book’s published-kudos! But then the sales of the book and its publicity are significant as well. Promotional events, book signings and reading sessions by authors are some tools via which publishers try to give an impetus to the sales. But while these innovative methods may help to some extent, it is also important to stay in step with the times where digitalization of resources is ruling the roost.
Earlier, authors’ works proliferated by means of sales of hard copies of their works and getting access to those copies was a big deal. But with the advent of technology, the internet, and more so, social networking and self-publishing, authors are able to bring their work forth to the public by themselves bypassing intermediaries. The role of traditional publishing houses has therefore been minimized to a great extent. Additionally with the increasing use of technology, the piracy of creative works- music, books, cinema is on the prowl and not easy to contain. YouTube, Flickr, Napster and free file-sharing websites have made obtaining pirated copies a piece of cake, which makes them a bane for traditional publishers.
Piracy started off ages ago as VCRs and tape recorders and computers and the like made their way into the world. Earlier, the legitimate copy of the work was all that a person had. Later, however, photocopies and scanning and then e-copies made their way, encroaching upon legal distribution of creative works. Piracy, as a matter of fact, has been constantly shown to be a source of annoyance for authors in terms of financial and other losses incurred.
As far as the cons are concerned, understandably, piracy means illegal copies of the work available for free access to users through the internet and otherwise. A copy with one user translates into a million copies for others- there are copies created by a single click, in the cookies of the browser, on your computer and the inevitable file-sharing that occurs. It is not much of a riddle to solve that once free copies are available, people are less likely to purchase the work legally which will eventually reflect on the net sales that occur for a particular work. This means that if a publishing house notices sales for an author’s work deteriorate (courtesy mass piracy), they are most inclined to pull it off the market shelves, as otherwise their profits will be adversely affected. Or so it is argued.
But, with the evolving times, it is hard to ignore the positives that emerge from ‘piracy’. An intricate analysis of the ongoing trend clearly reflects that ‘piracy’ has in some cases, its own advantages as well. Bestselling fantasy author Neil Gaiman has embraced piracy on the basis that it has helped his sales. He compares piracy with lending of books and elaborates that when you lend a book to someone, it helps in spreading awareness about the book and the author; similarly, through piracy, knowledge about the author’s works gets disseminated. Russia is one of the oft-discussed examples in this regard. Gaiman noted how after pirated copies being released in Russia, his sales went up by a notch. He has advised publishing houses to gauge the effectiveness of the method by leaking pirated copies in areas and sure enough, a hike in sales has been observed, owing to the increase in popularity of the author’s work, by distribution of free content whether pirated or deliberate. Paulo Coelho, author of many books including the worldwide hit The Alchemist, leaked his ebooks in Russia on piracy networks deliberately. His sales went from 1000 to over 1 million per year. He says “Don’t be fooled by the publishers who say that piracy costs authors money“.
Joanna Penn, a published author and blogger of The Creative Penn fame (www.thecreativepenn.com/) recounts that piracy is bound to occur in this digital era. For instance, J.K.Rowling did not release e-copies of her books which eventually led to illegal copies leaked throughout the web. No doubt it is a cause for worry for authors but a middle path can easily be adopted to ensure that legal distribution of works occurs, but in tandem with the need of the hour, i.e. technology. Also, most readers happen to be law-abiding citizens and while it may sound too idealistic, I think most book enthusiasts prefer to buy e-books rather than lay hands on illegal copies by ‘theft’.
It would also help to remember that there are easy and effective remedies available in case of losses or any grievances suffered due to piracy. The author can report abuse or websites which he/she deems detrimental and mostly, objectionable content is immediately removed. Many websites like Youtube, Scribd, Tumblr and Pinterest have such operating functionalities in place. One can monitor your web presence through Google Alerts which will send you an email daily of any mentions of oneself on the web. One can set up one’s name, one’s book names and anything else one wants to monitor. Thus, a safety mechanism is well in place to help protect the author’s interests against piracy.
Books have, for long, been the thread of a tradition which facilitates conversation and link people. Ironically, it is with the help of adapting to the iPads and iPods of today that we can be sure to preserve and maintain that culture by effective proliferation of books and creativity. Thus, viewing from an overall perspective, it is evident that ‘piracy’ with regulated norms serves a three-fold purpose. First, authors get recognition and popularity, and the cocoon of obscurity gets broken. Second, this is turn, makes people aware of their existence and works and induces them to buy them. Third, this process catalyses publisher’ interests in that the sales of the books rise and consequently their profits. In this fast-growing digital world then one can then say with some good confidence that piracy is marketing.
Anujaya Krishna is a huge sports fan and tries to spin new tales and facts. She dabbles in poetry and writing whenever possible, while trying to add a twist to serious subjects in her writing, to make for an interesting read.