Maggie Stiefvater recently wrote a post about the implications of piracy on her work. After receiving a mind-bogglingly low royalty statement she had a hunch that piracy was to blame so she and her brother conducted a little experiment to test her theory. They created a dummy file for her novel, The Raven King and uploaded it to pirating sites shortly before the book’s release.
Not long after people were chatting online about how they’d downloaded the file and discovered that it was a fake. And yet, despite the plea Maggie placed in the back of the dummy file for readers to procure her novels in a responsible and ethical way, these people went on to ask each other where to find a copy of the actual story. They persisted in their piracy without regard for how that choice was negatively affecting, not only Maggie’s livelihood, but also her ability to continue writing books in a world her readers had grown to love.
I used to be pretty ambivalent towards the notion of piracy. I couldn’t imagine there being enough people out there willing to steal my books for it to affect my bottom line. I mean, out of the millions of books available on pirating sites, who would seek out mine? And how many would do it often enough for it to infringe on my ability to earn a living?
Turns out, that number is 76,508.
After creating an account on http://www.blasty.com, a platform where content creators can monitor when their content is stolen and/or used for phishing purposes, I was not only able to find the websites that were illegal distributing my books but I was also able to see how many times they had been downloaded, which turns out is 76,508 times.
My books range in price from Free to $4.99. Ironically, my free book, The Girl In Between, made less appearances on the pirating sites than the rest of my backlist. So most of those downloads actually equated to lost sales. Lost sales to the tune of $153,016 if you’re being conservative and $381,774 if you’re calculating at the high end of my backlist.
And here I am, begging bloggers to review my new release just so I can afford my new house payment. All because 76,508 people decided that my art–something I spend 8-12 months and countless painstaking hours creating–should be free.
This is not me taking a stance on whether or not art should be free. I believe that people should have access to good quality books regardless of their socioeconomic status or where they live. For many, this can be accomplished by visiting one’s local library. Most of my books are available via Overdrive, which many libraries subscribe too.
However, I know that this isn’t an option for everyone and I want my readers to know that you can ALWAYS send me an email requesting a book if you’re unable to pay. I’ve given away thousands of free copies of my work and I love connecting with readers this way. In fact, I made this offer in my latest newsletter and encouraged readers who couldn’t afford to purchase a copy of my new book to email me so I could send them a copy in the format of their choice.
BUT, these free books I’m giving away to readers aren’t the same as a free book pirated from a website. Why? Because I’m actually getting something in exchange–a connection, feedback, a relationship that may lead to one of those readers encouraging a friend or family member to buy the book or requesting it at their local library. I gain a loyal reader who may actually buy one of my future books when they’re in a better financial position to do so.
The point is, I want readers to have access to my books but I also want to be able to make a living someday doing what I love. That becomes an impossibility when thousands of readers choose to download my books for free rather than pay for them.