The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Ten

Some observations about e-books and illegal downloading.

Those wishing to enter the quiz only have until midnight my time tonight. It's still very much worth a shot. Those hard questions have foiled a lot of people.

First up, some news. Last night announced their Twelve Doctors of Christmas, a series of blogs about the different leads in Doctor Who, starting on Boxing Day. On the 28th, I'll be writing about the Third Doctor, and I'll be joined by such luminaries as Seanan McGuire, Pia Guerra, Graham Sleight and Mark Waid. Should be good!

And the latest issue of SF fanzine The Drink Tank is online, looking forward to Worldcon in Reno next August, and giving Hugo voters some ideas as to what to nominate this time round. (The Hugo nomination phase starts on January 1st.) Tim Powers being the Guest of Honour, there's a distinct Powers slant to the issue, do check it out.

Now, I've been saying for months that I'd do a blog about e-books, but I've been putting it off in sheer terror. Because, and let me quote a fellow author here...

'E-books, self-publication and agents are like abortion, marijuana and taxation - it seems no one can discuss them rationally' - David Levine.

And I've seen the truth of that every time I mention this subject online or in public. But having done some research, I don't want to let it go to waste. So I thought I'd break it down into a few bullet points, and then stand ready at my comments list with a shotgun and a nervy smile.

1: Publishers have always thought that when you buy a hardback, what you're paying more for is the chance to own it on the day of publication. Paperbacks are cheaper because they come out a year later. The reading public, on the other hand, always thought what they were paying more for was the extra physical mass and quality. (Actually, a hardback costs, one publisher told me, only from 50p to a couple of pounds more to make.) So obviously publishers think an e-book, out on the day of publication, should cost the same as a hardback. And obviously the reading public think it should cost less than a paperback. From this difference in perception stem all subsequent horrors.

2: British publishers are faced with an additional cost for e-books in the form of V.A.T., Valued Added Tax, currently set at 17.5% of the sale price going to the government, set to rise to 20% next year. This tax doesn't apply to printed books. I asked Ed Vaizey MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, if this was going to change, and was told there were no plans to alter the V.A.T. rate at the moment.

3: The concept that one should give away the e-book version of a title online, and then make money through sales of the physical version of that book, as espoused by some well-known authors, only makes financial sense (to anyone making a living purely on their writing) while the e-book market forms a small percentage of the general market. If, as seems possible now, e-books become the favoured format, then authors doing that will be left sitting on the kerb with signs saying 'will write for nothing'. I've been present when one major author, known for their support for this system, changed their mind in the face of recent developments. To bet one's career on the idea that a new delivery system will fail to become a major force seems to me to be betting against the future, which is surely an unwise stance for any SF writer.

4: People just like stealing stuff. As a recent Wired magazine article pointed out, every utopian excuse for illegally downloading music, from the presence of Digital Rights Management on tracks to the inability to move tracks between systems, has now been swept away by a market desperate to sell more music. There's literally no excuse any more. But this year illegal music downloading continued to grow, with 1.2 billion tracks being stolen in the UK alone.

5: It's hard, these days, to tell people they've done a minor wrong. Because one is now either a saint (or whatever the atheist version of that is) or a paedophile. Illegal download sites look perfectly normal, and ominous orchestral tones don't strike up when you visit one. 'Everybody' does it, and people who do are often quite surprised at the thought that they're doing something wrong. But they are. A small thing. They're each stealing small sums of money from creators. But put those minor wrongs together, and they become an enormous problem. Villifying these people rather than educating or preventing them will just convince them that their minor wrong is cool and rebellious. A lot of them tell themselves that already. They're sticking it to the man. The trouble is, the man in question is me. And those like me.

6: If everybody did illegally download, it couldn't continue as a practice, because no further music or movies could be made. (Except by those willing, through existing wealth or poetic poverty, not to make a living.) Illegal downloaders rely, parasitically, on an honest mainstream who purchase this stuff. The 'alternative revenue sources' that might fund every creator who's not already rich enough not to care simply haven't appeared for the vast majority. And it's hard to see where they'll ever come from when illegal downloading can simply put an end to a market.

7: Illegal downloading is already changing the shapes of markets. Profit margins on comics are such that if an ongoing title doesn't sell hugely, it ends after five issues. This is why you don't get many of those quirky, second string titles that fans used to love, and see so many events and crossovers. Worried that The X Factor TV talent show is dominating the British pop music charts? That plays to an older audience who wouldn't know one end of an illegal download from the other. No SF on TV? SF fans, like any niche audience, are more likely to illegally download, and those 'ratings' are invisible to advertisers. The anime market is a particularly sensitive one, where many titles now never make it to the west, because theft has almost destroyed the legal market. Again, it's the children's and more mainstream titles that have avoided this. You can't protest about these changes in culture if you're illegally downloading, because you're one of the things driving them.

8: I think, and have had many conversations to support this view, that a large majority of creators in all media loathe illegal downloading. But few of them are willing to say anything in public. Reasons range from a desire to be seen to be cutting edge, to a fear of alienating one's audience, to fear of a denial of service attack on one's website. I've been on a lot of panels where, asked that question, everyone answers an entirely different one, about how 'e-books are the future'. I feel that the one thing we can do, as creators, to affect illegal downloaders is to make it clear that we withold our approval. You can't be an enthusiastic and beloved fan of a great writer and at the same time steal their stuff.

9: I hate how saying this stuff in public results in friends and close associates of mine getting into terrible wheedling conversations with me about it. They're almost like the debates children have with adults about where naughty behaviour begins. 'You're stealing 6p off me every time.' 'Ah, but if I asked you to lend me 6p...' 'That would be fine.' 'If you gave me 6p...' 'That would be fine.' 'If I found 6p in the street...' 'Yes, yes, all that would be fine. You putting your hand in my pocket and taking 6p from me is what isn't fine!' And as for 'Well, you should be fashionable and technologically savvy enough to just make 6p appear out of thin air. Like I did when I took it out of your pocket. It's hardly my fault you can't do that!' or 'I'm probably going to give you your 6p back, possibly 12p or even 24p!' Well, statistics don't support your highly optimistic view. Statistics say most people who nick my 6p just keep it. And forgive me if I can't feed my family on 'probably'. Most friends of mine at least don't go that far. These conversations are about guilt, about weighing perceived mini-societal approval of theft against a creator's disapproval. But do me a favour: we can still be friends if you've stolen my stuff, just don't seek my approval for having done it. You can't get it.

10: Oh, and people who have those awful conversations with me, in person or online, where they try to find all sorts of intellectual justification for minor theft, always start by using my first name. 'Paul...' It gives their speech the air of a wise old head talking down to someone who's obviously new in the world. Yeah, that annoying.

11: I've done it too. I taped music when I was in college, I used to have a pirated word processor program. I stopped doing that when I realised it made me a hypocrite. I wasn't a war criminal when I did it, and neither were you, illegal downloader reading this. We were both just doing minor wrongs that, across populations, add up.

12: Some authors with smaller profiles have benefited from 'alternative revenue streams' like befriending illegal downloaders and asking for their 6p afterwards. I'd say that their success, which I wouldn't at all begrudge them, is a question of having gone from nearly nothing to a tiny something. And stemmed from an emotion that only stretches so far: making guilty people feel better. I don't know if it'll fly as a career. (Which is not to say, I emphasise, that I'm decrying the quality of the work involved.)

13: Of course, obviously, hugely, there remain, considering e-books only, a number of problems in terms of satisfying both reading public and publishers. The market isn't where digital music's is. These problems have formed the meat of almost all discussions about this subject, to the point where I hoped I could get through this post without mentioning D.R.M. or 'the agent model'. Because these discussions are mazes full of mirrors, the source of much of what makes David Levine sigh. And the comments thread will do this stuff without me saying again the same things many people have said already.

So what am I against?

14: Regionality on books seems Victorian in the same way regional DVD releasing is. I decided when I got my iPad to only buy e-book fiction from now on. If I can't download Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey now, I'll wait until it does appear as an e-book (such a wait being not an excuse for theft, but rather a temptation towards it, to deal with another often ethically muddied area of complaint), not give in and buy the hardback. Regionality exists to aid marketing campaigns and help prevent illegal downloading. There are good reasons for it. As the e-book share of the market climbs, those reasons may decline in importance. I've heard some clever ways of setting your reading device to enable accessing e-books from outside your region, but I've also sought the opinion of a lawyer (I won't name the source, because they stress it's their personal opinion and not formal legal advice), who says that this may constitute fraud. I've presented their complete assessment as an appendix at the end of the post.*

15: If it's not out now as an e-book, I'd like to know when it will be. A list of forthcoming titles somewhere, anywhere, would be excellent.

16: E-books are still treated as an afterthought by many publishers. The design and navigation are often all over the place. I love the e-edition of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine beyond all reason, but does anyone there even know that the little description of each story that's meant to go above the title (and often ends with 'as you'll find out in...') goes below it in the e-book version? And the sheer hoo-hah of downloading it edition by edition from Fictionwise (if you have a Kindle, you can subscribe) is only made worthwhile by the sheer quality of the magazine itself. And don't get me started, in terms of novels, on texts that slip between pages, tables of contents that don't work, etc.

17: The e-book market is still the wild west. Having paid what I see as a fair price (around £10) as an advance order for The Quantum Thief on Amazon Kindle (very much my store of choice, considering iBooks' high prices, narrow selection and bad layout, and yes, I do wish we had Nook in Britain), I was staggered to see it go up to nearer £15 on the day of release (as expected) but then drop to around £6 a day later! (I've heard this was down to Amazon, before the agency model came into play.) If e-books are going to make up a majority of the market, then legal e-book customers should feel the same sense of security that those who buy physical books do, not like we're trying out version 0.1.

18: Online stores continuing to list free and very low price titles alongside mainstream titles is another way in which e-book customers are made to feel like they're lab rats. It emphasises hugely that price is overwhelmingly the most powerful factor when buying e-books (which is not the case in physical bookstores), and that no edition is cool enough to counter that (in a physical bookstore, nice new Jane Austens do better than cheapo out-of-copyright-label editions). But it also means that right next to our list of priced SF e-books, we can see that in with a bullet at number two in the free SF top twenty (behind, of course, Frankenstein), is Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton's account of his 1914-1917 expedition to Antarctica. (Why is that SF? What did he find?!) If it's a mistake, it's one that's been hanging around, untended to, for several months now. Even if it's correct, this is us browsing a musty second hand shop, not being cutting edge consumers in a new medium. I genuinely admire the pluck of self-published writers like Barry Nugent, whose excellent adventure in taking his Fallen Heroes to number one on the Kindle Contemporary Fantasy chart is described here. And mainstream SF writers like Gary Gibson have also benefited and found a new audience from having a low price point set for their back catalogue. But I would say that, instances like those guys apart, a low price is no guarantee of quality. We're not selling this stuff by the yard. And the way these charts are set up (unlike for instance the pop music charts, where a minimum sale price is set for a single to qualify) makes it look like we are. It's brilliant that new authors now have more ways to get audience attention. It's not so brilliant in the case of Captain Shackleton.

19: I do think the market will sort a lot of this stuff out in the next few years, as it has for digital music. I think that punishing authors for prices set by their publishers (with low star reviews on Amazon, for instance) is wrong. Some publishers (I won't name them here because I don't want to favour one over another) have set a low price point for new e-books and are thus influencing what the market will become. I'll continue to hold out and only buy new fiction for myself in e-book editions. I just hope that publishing and distribution catches up with the desire and enthusiasm of the market, and that illegal downloaders don't destroy the relationship between the two.

Phew. Maybe I should write about unicorns and pixies next? Actually, there's another potentially turbulent one in the last two of the Twelve Blogs. Why do I do this to myself? Until tomorrow, Cheerio!

*For those of a legal disposition, here's the full text of what that lawyer told me:

I have recently been asked a question about some of the issues arising from ebooks, and in particular Amazon’s Kindle. The question arises from the fact that some books are either cheaper on the Kindle store than they are on the one at, or are not available in the UK store at all. For instance, the latest book by Bret Easton Ellis, ‘Imperial Bedrooms’, is £9.98 for Kindle in the UK, but only $9.99 (about £7) in the US store, while Ellis’ first novel, ‘Less than Zero’, is only available in the US. To quote the question:

“If I create a US Amazon Kindle account for myself, and lie by giving a real US address that I have nothing to do with (such as the British embassy in NY), in order to download US ebooks, or do the same with iTunes for US TV shows, am I committing an actual crime?”

Now to be honest I am not entirely sure that this would work, either because you might need a valid credit-card billing address in the USA, or that Amazon might look at where you are, or appear to be, connecting from. But assuming that these were not problems, or were circumvented, and thatsomeone (lets call him X) did manage to buy a book from the US Kindle store and save some money (£3 in my example above), then my legal analysis is as follows.

Firstly, X has in principle committed an offence under s.1 Fraud Act 2006. This provides that:

(1) A person is guilty of fraud if he is in breach of any of the sections listed in subsection (2) (which provide for different ways of committing the offence).

(2) The sections are—

(a) section 2 (fraud by false representation), [...]

Turning to s.2, this defines fraud by false representation as follows:

(1) A person is in breach of this section if he—

      (a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and

      (b) intends, by making the representation—

          (i) to make a gain for himself or another, or

          (ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2) A representation is false if—

      (a) it is untrue or misleading, and

      (b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

(3) “Representation” means any representation as to fact or law, including a representation as to the state of mind of—

      (a) the person making the representation, or

      (b) any other person.

(4) A representation may be express or implied.

(5) For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention).

By supplying a US address X has implied (s.2(4)) that as a matter of fact he lives in the USA (s.2(3)) and this is untrue (s.2(2)(a)) and he knows it is untrue (s.2(2)(b)). It does not matter that he made it to Amazon’s online purchase system rather than a human (s.2(5)). So X has made a false representation, but has he made a fraudulent representation under s.2(1)? For this to be made out, the false representation has to have been made dishonestly (s.2(1)(a)) and there must be the intent to make a gain for himself (s.2(1)(b)(i)) or expose another to loss (s.2(1)(b)(ii)).

Taking these last points in reverse order, it is certainly plausible that X has caused Amazon to lose £3 in revenue. This could be arguable on the grounds of whether it is one single entity that has suffered the loss, although then one might argue that X has diverted a sale away from Amazon UK by misrepresentation. It is more certain that X has made a gain for himself, in that he has £3 more than he otherwise would have. As to dishonesty, the test is that of R v Ghosh [1982] QB 1053:

(i) Did the accused act dishonestly by the standards of an ordinary and honest person?

(ii) Did the accused realise that such conduct was dishonest?

Although R v Ghosh was expressed as regarding theft, the offence in question was in fact now one assimilated into the Fraud Act 2006, so the test is, in my understanding, valid for Theft Act and Fraud Act offences.

I would submit that an ordinary and honest person would think it dishonest to tell a lie to get a £3 discount on a purchase, and that anyone going to the effort to set up a false Amazon account for this end would realise this.

The conduct described is thus, I believe, an offence against s.1 Fraud Act 2006. However a jurisdictional question then arises as X is in England and has as its principle place of business the USA. (Although there is the issue that X might be defrauding Amazon UK). This point is dealt with by Part 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.

Offences under s.1 Fraud Act 2006 are defined by s.1(2)(bb)(i) CJA 1993 as ‘Group A offences’. S.2(3) CJA 1993 provides that for Group A offences, an offence may be committed if any relevant act, by which it means an act necessary for commission of the offence, takes place in England or Wales. S.2(1A)(a) states that for s.1 Fraud Act offences this includes the dishonest gain.

As such, if X made the gain when in England, he does indeed commit the offence under the Fraud Act.

86 Response to "The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Ten"

  • Anonymous Says:

    I have my own little bugbear when it comes to e-books. I've got several short stories and a couple of books on Amazon where--get this--the reader can purchase your work and then demand a REFUND within seven days' time! A good policy for those who are into drunk-typing, for those who accidentally made a buy, or for when someone gets on their account and clicks madly... but it's also a "legal" way to steal your work. "Oh, I didn't like this. I want my money back!" I've had two people do that, one for a $4.99 e-book and one for a $0.99 story. What kind of a cheap bastard returns a $0.99 story?!? Again, it goes back to that issue of, "If someone came up to you in the street and asked for $1, would you give it to them, then ask for it back if they didn't say 'thank you'?"

  • Rich Says:


    Excellent blog that very clearly laid out your opinions, which I almost universally agree with. Bravo.

  • Anne Lyle Says:

    I like the suggestion I've heard bandied about online, that we should be pitching paying for ebooks as "fair trade for authors" - turn it through 180 degrees and have it be about doing good, not about crime. Of course you'll still get people who think all writers have incomes like Stephen King and J K Rowling and don't need the few pence from each download... *sigh*

  • T Says:

    Not to get into a huge conversation about piracy... I see many of your points, and some of the points of downloaders are silly, but some are valid. But I DO appreciate when the market rises to fill a void that had previously only been filled by piracy. Why the hell would I waste time downloading a TV show I missed, that my DVR did not record (a woefully frequent occurrence in my household thanks to my craptastic cable company) when Hulu has it? I'm lazy enough to watch a few commercials if it means I don't have to search and wait and bla bla bla. I'm also incredibly appreciative of the fact that BBCA is airing the Doctor Who Christmas Special ON Christmas (a Christmas Special ON Christmas is a foreign concept in America... UNCUT. Uncut being the operative. Scifi cut out an entire subplot in a few DW episodes it aired, and you'd never see the whole episode until you bought the DVDs. It also makes Doctor Who seem very strange and confusing when plot points are being cut out to squeeze in a few more commercials, and makes it a harder sell to American audiences, and annoying to long-time fans who were spending weeks and sometimes months being spoiled by internet friends. I'm really excited to see DW a few hours after it airs in the UK, LEGALLY, and UNCUT. With my family. I think there has been some give and take in the market with services like Hulu, etc. I'm not advocating theft, however, a lot of these changes in the marketplace, have been largely good (I'd argue seeing Doctor Who same-day is WAY preferable to waiting a year and a half, like we did for series 1). And they've come as a response/alternative/whathaveyou to theft. Obviously there was some LEGITIMATE need in the marketplace (wanting stuff for free being less of a legitimate need than..say..timeshifting)that was not being filled, that piracy was more than happy to step up to the plate on. DRM was a killer for me for a while. I'd download an audiobook through my library, and it wouldn't play on MY machine because I had a Mac, etc... and i was *trying* to do the right thing. I think some people cling to convenient excuses, especially in light of how the market *has* changed... but at the same time... people who shoplift are going to shoplift. Anti-theft devices in clothes are a great deterrent and help keep an an honest man honest... but are just another level of challenge to a kleptomaniac. My great grandmother was one... she had all the money in the world, but the actual act of theft was its own reward, and so she was like... 84 and still taking the five finger discount, no joke.

  • jeff-morris Says:

    Great post, Paul. I'm an avid reader (the $145 bill from Barnes and Noble last weekend is a good example), and a number of my friends have asked why I don't have a Nook or Kindle or what have you. The answer, silly as it sounds, is I just prefer the book over reading on a monitor.

    The problem I have with e-publishing in general is the concept of ownership. There is nothing stopping Apple, Amazon, whoever from deciding you shouldn't have that item you paid for and snatching it back. Even if they don't, you're still beholden to them if you want to read what you've bought--the files are built to their individual platforms (I'm thinking specifically of comics here). I don't own an iPad and I sure as hell do not want to read comics on my iPhone--my eyes are bad enough already. If there was some sort of universal standard set and a browser/reader provided so that you could read on your computer, iPad, Android, etc., I'd feel a bit more comfortable about the idea.

    Even if I have to take off my glasses to read the damn things. :)

  • Garpu Says:

    Am I the only person who really doesn't like ebooks? Kindle/ipad or some other device can be taken into the bathroom, but with all the water prevalent, it's not exactly safe for an expensive thing.

    Probably the most expensive books I own are a set of four volumes from 1953 of the pre-Vatican II Benedictine Divine Office. When I got them they were in good condition, but obviously "well loved." There's something sensual about holding their leather covers on a cold morning (leather holds heat well). And there's something special about knowing that there were at least two generations using my books. You don't get that experience with an ebook. (Although I have no clue what I'm going to do when the books eventually wear out.)

  • Maria Lima Says:

    Brilliant post, Paul. And I agree with it all.

    DAILY, Google alerts link me to yet another illegal download for one of my books. It's disheartening, especially since I get so little per copy when legally sold (mass mkt pb).

  • Stephan Kinsella Says:

    "If everybody did illegally download, it couldn't continue as a practice, because no further music or movies could be made."

    This is clearly not true. YOu can argue there woudl be fewer novels or movies made, but not NONE. There were books before copyright, of course.

    See Innovations that Thrive without IP
    Funding for Creation and Innovation in an IP-Free World.
    Look at the linked posts there about Nollywood; and Germany v. Britain. Consider the case of Tolkien who made money without copyright, or other authors. Author David Sedaris is on tour now charging people to hear him do readings of his book. Etc.

  • Jim Mann Says:

    I think, for TV shows at least, more content creators should take the attitude expressed on a panel at Interaction (sorry, at this point, I forget who it was). His attitude was that if fans want to download a show before it comes to their country (e.g, Doctor Who in the days when it only was shown in America many months after the UK showing), that was fine -- just watch it again when it was actually aired so that the show would get the ratings. (I'd even go a step further and say "download it, but watch it when aired, then buy the DVDs when they are released" -- something I did in fact do with Doctor Who.)

  • Link Says:

    I have a few questions for you as to where you stand on certain areas that have always seemed to be "gray".

    - I downloaded e-book versions of Harry Potter, which were assumedly crafted by fans or with a PDF scanner or something of that sort. JK Rowling made a stance about not having any of her stuff available electronically, and that the books should be read in their original formats, etc. etc.

    I would have GLADLY paid money for these e-books if they existed. But they simply don't, and perhaps never will. I'm not saying what I did was "right" but when I'm left with no legal electronic option, am I supposed to just suck it up and fill up physical space with these large books that I'd have to lug around with me?

    - Sort of the same question with Anime, Video Games, and other things that aren't readily available in my country. Whether they're fan translated or whatever, while it's still taking money away from the original creators I've always been of the understanding it's not illegal until it's licensed in your country. When the only choice you have is piracy or not to have it any way at all, I'll always lean towards the eyepatch.

    - Another thing, which is definitely much more clear and less gray nowadays, were things like emulated games from older consoles. This is a lot clearer now with the dawn of Virtual Console and other digital versions of older games, but when the original creator isn't making money and instead second hand sellers on eBay are, is it still morally wrong? A good example might be Superman Red Son, if I remember right that wasn't collected in Trade for a really long time or even better, Suicide Squad (which is only recently getting put into trades.) Because I wasn't reading comics when Suicide Squad was coming out, should I be forced to pay outrageous back-issue prices because a publisher has dropped the ball and not put something in a globally accessible format? I want to read an excellent and amazing story, but I don't want to pay 200 dollars to read it, especially when it never originally cost that much.


  • Link Says:

    All of that aside, I think the market, especially with e-books and other digital media is broken down into two parts: users and collectors. There are some people who just want to read a book or play a game or listen to a song. There are other people who want to have a book shelf filled with hardback books from all their favorite authors, etc.

    In the gaming industry, things cost less when they're digitally distributed. Less money is spent on packaging and discs and all that such and you just download and install a file. The e-book industry doesn't seem to make as much sense. The argument you mentioned about the hardback being more 'cuz of it being a 1st day purchase is definitely odd. I think books are the only thing that keep this sort of system. I know most other forms of media just gradually lower their price tags as time goes on. The older it is, the cheaper it is. But, yeah, back on track, I've always felt that you were paying more for a Hardback because it wouldn't damage as easily. It was of finer quality, the best physical copy of the item you could buy, almost like a "special edition" of the book.

    I think the reason e-books need to be cheaper, is because you can't guarantee the existence of these items, as far as I know. If a company just suddenly goes bankrupt or we lose access to all our electronics due to a crazy EMP blast during World War 2099, then we've lost our item. We can lose access to our items at any time (granted you have that danger in the real world in the form of theft and/or natural disaster, but at least it feels like you have more control over the safety of your physical items.)

    With an electronic format, well... anything could happen, and it's just not a physical thing. People would pay more money for something they could physically look at and hold and understand and that's greater than just a file on a computer. (As a side-note, MP3s have somehow evaded all of this because you can just burn them onto a disc or whatever and keep them stored, I'm not exactly sure if you can do that with e-books or digital games and such. Those usually seem to be controlled by the company/application/whatever you downloaded them from.)

    So... yeah, that's my big rant.

  • Stephan Kinsella Says:

    BTW, I think the right way to approach this is from principle: what are our property rights? Law should be about justice and property rights, not about tweaking incentives this and that way in an unprincipled, utilitarian way.

    I am a pro-property rights, pro-technology libertarian. I am a practicing patent attorney. I believe patent and copyright are completely unjust and should be completely abolished. For arguments as to why, see my various publications collected at this page.

    As for e-books, I have an iPad, love it, and get every book in kindle format to read on iPad when I can.

  • blazingskies Says:

    I'm curious about a couple of things:

    What's your opinion on direct creator distribution? It's becoming increasingly common - particularly in music - for creators to offer their works directly to consumers without record companies etc. getting involved. Do you believe this is a viable model?

    Also, what is your thoughts on the subject of illegal downloads when the media is not available any other way? Out of print, no longer broadcast, not available on DVD and such?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    So many people doing point 9 already! And a bit of point 12. Thankfully, only a bit of 10 so far.

  • Ros Says:

    I like the way you point out that it's a minor wrong, but still wrong. I think I read somewhere that the average UK author makes around 1/4 the average income. When the money you make depends on an awful lot of these small payments, it can all add up to one big wrong when people decide to take it away from you.

  • Mark Says:

    Hello Mr Cornell,

    There is another decent ebook store that I believe is available in Britain called Kobo - the prices sometimes compare favourably to Amazon and sometimes don't - here in Canada, William Gibson's Zero History is cheaper on Kobo, but American Gods is cheaper for the Kindle.

    Anyways, it's a third option from iBooks and Kindle (or maybe it isn't and I'll look dumb).

  • Gaspodia Says:

    I agree with most of what you say. I think you hit the nail on the head by highlighting the main reason people buy hardbacks and I don't think it is at all unreasonable for an eBook released at the same time as a hardback to be priced at the same margin level as that hardback + VAT (but not margin %!). We all happily pay a premium for being the first to buy the latest gadgets and it is not unreasonable to do the same to be amongst the first to read an eagerly anticipated book.

    There are two issues that I think are not helpful in the fight against piracy:

    1. EBook/Music/DVD releases that are not global or that occur at different times in different markets.

    2. EBook/Music/DVD prices that differ significantly depending on what country you purchase the product.

    I do appreciate that thanks to the internet, market globalisation has appeared before our legal and sovereignty structures are able to cope with it, but there's no putting that genie back in the box without upsetting people really.

    Also not helping the piracy issue are TV shows that become unwatchable due to the volume and size of on screen graphics - some of them advertising the very show I am trying to watch! There are too many shows which fail to hook me because of this issue.

  • tylik Says:

    I'm probably not particularly typical. To date I have downloaded three books illegally - in all cases large reference books of which I already owned dead tree editions and desperately wanted to be able to cart the things around a little more easily. I don't think this is a good solution (I look particularly as the copy of Horowitz and Hill's Art of Electronics, which sits chastely on its shelf and is never read so that I can consult it on my table - I've been on a hybrid tablet for years now - when I wish.) In these particular cases it's the compromise I've made around functionality.

    I am a huge fan of the format. At the moment I'm working at keeping my life portable. And books, even after giving away most of my library, are clearly my most numerous and heaviest possessions. At this point I'm primarily buying fiction in the form of DRM-free ebooks. Not exclusively, not yet, but that slants my fiction choices considerably.

    I'm not generically against DRM, if we can come up with a standard way of implementing it so that people actually get to own there books and are not coerced into an ongoing relationship with the distributor. (I wonder if some kind of archiving insurance might fill some of the void here - if a distributor goes belly up, but there is a guarantee that servers will be maintained honoring those contracts, I might be willing to cope.)

  • Nightsky Says:

    I, personally, buy a lot MORE music now that it's available without DRM. And let me add I don't illegally download books or music.

    You're absolutely right that quality control is lacking in ebooks. (The Michael Moorcock Doctor Who is peppered with extraneous instances of the phrase "doctor who" inserted into the text, for no reason I can fathom.) Headers, footers, and page numbers (from the physical book, that is) should be stripped. Tables of contents should WORK.

    The book publishers honestly think we buy hardbacks just to get them as early as possible? If that were true, no one would buy hardbacks after the paperbacks were released! I like hardbacks for the practical reasons you mention: sturdy, good-looking, sit squarely on shelves. And yes, I absolutely think that ebooks should be cheaper than physical books, inasmuch as it costs virtually nothing to produce and distribute. The author's royalty and a reasonable markup for the publishing house should be the bulk of the cost.

  • John Picacio Says:

    @Stephen Kinsella -- You took issue with this quote from Paul: "If everybody did illegally download, it couldn't continue as a practice, because no further music or movies could be made."

    Your take was "This is clearly not true. YOu can argue there woudl be fewer novels or movies made, but not NONE."

    When I read that quote from Paul, I heartily agreed but read it a different way. What I read him saying is that if illegal downloading is the way of new media, then professional writers and artists (of which I'm one of the latter) can no longer maintain livelihoods in this business and must take our services out of publishing in order to survive. And if that happens, then yes, the market ceases to exist from a professional standpoint because no pro can afford to write or illustrate fulltime within it, and feed their family. In that way, yes -- the professional market for professional quality writing and art does disappear because only hobbyists can afford to do it (along with a few independently wealthy). Goodbye to the middle class that constitutes much of the professional writers and creators you now enjoy.

    You are correct in that "yes, there will still be material" but it would be from a field of diminished professional quality from shotgun hobbyists and/or parttimers who write while living in their mom's basement. If you're OK with that, then sure -- the market will definitely still exist. But I would argue the quality of the field would be much diminished from what you expect and deserve.

    I'm all in favor of progress and new technology, but as consumers, we should expect it to bring greater opportunity for better art and culture not less of it. And if you're not creating an environment for that, then you've swung and missed.

  • Lou Anders Says:

    Great post. I too have stopped buying physical books, with the exception of art books like the Spectrum annuals, final books in series I have been collecting, and certain graphic novels (though ComiXology is changing this). I use an iPad and have bought books on the Kindle, Nook, iBooks platforms, as well as some DRM free books from Baen. I am paying for content, not format, and have paid up to $14.99 (and that isn't a price ceiling with me, just happens to be the current highwater mark). The corollary to higher prices is that I expect the ebook to be well-designed for what I pay. (And having worked at Pyr to produce several epub ebooks now, I can tell you with authority that a LOT of work goes into making an attractively formatted ebook.) I don't have a problem with authors giving away their work for free if that is the business model they choose to embrace, as Cory Doctorow and others have done, but it is absolutely stealing if someone has *NOT* chosen to give a work away free and you take it without paying simply because you feel their choice is wrong. If I come to your house and carry off your television because I believe that "all property is an illusion" I'm still a thief. And yes, I'm aware that your television is not endlessly replicable the way a computer file is, but then, you didn't labor for a year or more to write that television either !

  • Adam L G Nevill Says:

    Great blog post, Paul. Good to see a writer tackling this in such a detailed and intelligent way. Few writers and publishers are talking about this because few are affected, but just wait. Back in 2007, when I was working in publishing and we used to discuss what was then only a spectre of ebook piracy, I was derided for my "apocalyptic scenarios" about the file sharing of books. I was told that people who buy books are mostly older and more responsible and won't download illegal files ... and that seemed to be the sole argument for why charging 8 quid for an easy-to-duplicate PDF was a good idea. Alas, the internet has created a culture of entitlement to content and that will not change for any medium (only PC games seem to have effective protection and now dominate entertainment revenue). The next couple of generations of readers who already get most of their content from screens will be the test case when they become a bigger market share in book buying.

    I found one website recently with a counter of how many times a book of mine had been illegally downloaded since it was uploaded that very week (45 times); one week's piracy, on just one of dozens of websites featuring the book for free, was half of total actual ebook sales for six months (which were admittedly pitiful). Ebook sales are tiny right now for most writers, but if hand-held devices become 'must-haves' (wait until they're practically given away like mobile phones were to create a market), that ratio of duplication Vs sales will be truly apocalyptic for writers and publishers.

    One business model I have seen work in the US with romance features cheap ebook prices; print sales don't seem to suffer and readerships grow. I asked readers at the RWA conference what they thought about ebooks, and they were happy to buy them "cheaply" for a few dollars to sample the book, and if they liked the book would then buy a print copy for posterity. So the ebook was treated as a kind of cheap sample. I asked a handful of female readers who all said the same thing, so in no way is that universal. But my gut tells me that the current high ebook prices will be a disaster if ebook demand ever exceeds print.

  • Chip Says:

    One of the things that you didn't say in this piece, Paul (now I sound like a "wise old head"; this is hard), but it bears mentioning to people like Link: no one has a God-given "right" to consume media. Delayed translations of anime, region-locks, or transmission delays are in many cases archaic, anti-consumer, or counterproductive. They don't, however, violate a universal human right. Producers haven't "wronged" you because other people can access their stuff first, therefore you have not been given the moral authority to get your Robin Hood on.

    That said, I think technology is well and truly stacked against creators and I'm not sure that there's anything short of massive social opprobrium and aggressive legal action that can put a dent in the piracy problem. DRM is too easily cracked. The value of digital media is plummeting because there is no scarcity. Creators such as musicians are trying to make a buck on touring rather than media not because they prefer it that way, but because the current marketplace is robbing them of an alternative.

    I don't see a technological fix for (4). Where it falls down for piracy advocates is that "because I can" is also not a moral justification for it.

  • Brian Mac Says:

    Thanks very much for posting this, because I was one of those who asked for your opinion on the matter. It's clearly well thought out and something that affects you personally.

    I've been giving it a lot of thought myself for the past decade and a half, since I'm employed by the publishing industry, and I'm a published author myself -- I wrote a few programming books for O'Reilly; hardly bestseller territory, and my royalty checks allow me, at most, a nice dinner out when I get them, but it does give me a horse in this race, so to speak.

    Technical books, like sci-fi books, are quite frequently pirated, since the target audience is obviously fairly technical to start. I know for a fact that my books have been pirated many times, and I could tell you where to find them if you wanted to pirate them. So I have that same visceral reaction of, "Excuse me, I wrote that, and it took quite a lot of time and effort, could I have my 50 cents, please?"

    The counter to that argument -- proposed by Tim O'Reilly, who owns the company that publishes my books, and is quite a bit more tech-savvy than I'll ever be (since that's his job) -- is that the person who pirated my book was never going to buy it in the first place, and if the opportunity for piracy didn't exist, he would have just done without. So he didn't take my 50 cents, since he wasn't going to give it to me anyway. All he did was provide me with a bit of free publicity. I've really tried to take that to heart, but in the end, I can't agree with it totally, because that visceral reaction keeps popping up.

    I've been taking a "wait and see" position, because eventually people smarter than me will have to figure it out, and I'll just have to go along. I don't particularly like that position, but it's safest for me -- if you think sci-fi fans react badly to the author wanting to be paid for his work, try saying it in tech publishing, where "information wants to be free" is the rule.

    One ancillary point really resonated with me, this week: why isn't there a good schedule of upcoming e-releases? I'm really looking forward to the Doctor Who Christmas special this week, and I'm thrilled that BBC America is showing it on the 25th, but I don't get BBC America. While I'm enough of a fan that I'm tempted to subscribe for just one day, no matter the cost, that's absurd if iTunes will have it for $2 on Boxing Day, which is reasonable to expect...but they won't tell me. Or if they are saying, they're hiding that fact from my Internet search skills, which are not inconsiderable.

  • John Picacio Says:

    'If I come to your house and carry off your television because I believe that "all property is an illusion" I'm still a thief. And yes, I'm aware that your television is not endlessly replicable the way a computer file is, but then, you didn't labor for a year or more to write that television either!'

    A thousand times 'yes' to this, Lou. So right on.

  • DeathCry Says:

    Digital piracy is basically equivalent to borrowing...borrowing on steroids. If I buy your comic book, you get your 6p from me. Then I let everyone in my dorm read it. You aren't getting your 6p from the rest of the dorm...except that potential future sales. Now translate that to millions though and you are out of a lot of 6p's.
    It's a new world, someone brighter than me needs to figure out a better distribution model for digital things in this new world to keep the creators in some coin for their works.
    And that VAT tax is ridiculous. What the British government have against digital distriution???

  • Lou Anders Says:

    On the idea that you give it away free as an ebook to generate print sales: This very well may have been true in the past, when the ebook user experience was inferior to that of the print book. Charles Stross used to write about how everyone had a comfort threshold for reading online, a point at which they stopped and bought the print edition (for me it was a couple chapters in to halfway). But with the iPad, this has changed. Suddenly, the ebook experience is more comfortable than the printed book. The last printed book I read drove me nuts - I couldn't bring up a dictionary, the lack of back-lighting meant I couldn't read in bed when I woke up before my wife, I couldn't knock off a quick chapter while standing in line at a store, etc... Now I'm an ebook convert who only wants to read ebooks. So giving me a free ebook is absolutely NOT going to result in my buying a print edition. The ebook is my preferred format. As this becomes true for more and more people, "give it away to sell it" breaks down.

  • Lou Anders Says:

    More on free stimulating sales, because I want to be clear I am not opposed to experiments with this when the author/publisher has chosen to do so. A few weeks ago, we (Pyr books) gave away a free novelette by James Enge called Travellers' Rest. It took a team of us three weeks to get it like I wanted it, but it has an embedded cover on the first page, a workable TOC, interior artwork, and photos of the author and illustrator in their bios. We made this available after James entry in my Eos anthology, Swords & Dark Magic caused a spike in his book sales. So this was a choice to use free content to sell other, nonfree content. (Please check it out).

    But speaking of - Swords & Dark Magic is the most heavily pirated books I've been involved with, counting all 100+ Pyr titles in that. For weeks after it debuted, I was getting Google Alerts of up to three illegal torrent sites a day. And has this resulted in a huge sell-through for the title? Well, let's just say it's incredibly unlikely I'll get to do the Swords & Dark Magic 2 that I would so dearly love to do. The second most pirated book I've edited, btw, is also lagging behind in print sales in comparison with similar titles.

  • matthew dow smith Says:


    (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

    Really interesting to hear your thoughts on this subject. And I'm anxiously waiting to see how some of these issues shake out, especially as they apply to the comic book industry, where illegal downloads can very easily destroy quality books with borderline sales.

    And on a side note, I'm shocked at how quickly illegal downloads of a comic book title are available. I found sites offering downloads of a book I'd worked on the same day it was released to comic book shops.


  • Michael Croft Says:

    Paul, (he begins, unwisely..), interesting article.

    I'm interested in your response to blazingskies' first point. As a music and software dabbler (I won't call myself a pro, because I don't get paid enough), I am increasingly seeing independent, self-produced media being successful enough at lower price-points to both provide a living for creators and to discourage piracy.

    It does not stop piracy, but the economics works, sometimes, in my fields when it's both cheap and convenient to users. If I gave you £4 instead of 50 people giving a publisher £10 to give you 6p, you'd be up £1 on the whole.

    I know a number of ways for creators to get to this place in software and music, but I'm not very knowledgeable about book production. In music, there's plenty of discussion of how the creation, reproduction, and distribution are no longer viable reasons to use a label, leaving only marketing. Is this the future of text as well?

  • Cheryl Says:

    Issues like this were a constant worry to me when I decided I needed to get into ebook publishing. I have no doubt that books I publish (and books from other publishers that I sell) will be pirated. If the books reach any degree of popularity there will be far more pirate copies than legitimate ones. The question is, what can I do about this?

    One answer is to only sell through DRM'd outlets such as Kindle, but I'm sure that there are people out there who know how to un-DRM Kindle books. Also Amazon are big enough and nasty enough to take money from me in all sorts of legal ways, because laws tend to favor rapacious behavior by large corporations.

    The alternative I adopted was to try to be consumer friendly, and to do whatever I could to get a good deal for the creators. This includes:

    - No DRM;

    - Sale to any part of the world;

    - Ebook prices lower than physical books (for what few physical books I produce);

    - Well made ebooks (again for what I publish, though I'll try to encourage publishers whose work I stock to do the job well too);

    - Giving creators (and publishers in the case of selling other small presses books through the web store) a larger slice of the pie than they get from the likes of Amazon;

    - Taking an idea from and allowing consumers to pay more than the list price if they want to support the creator.

    The question then becomes, "will this work?" Will people be prepared to buy books from me, or will they still buy them from the likes of Amazon where the books are DRM'd and the publishers and creators get a raw deal, or simply pirate the books.

    For many people the answer is probably going to be "no". Many people will pirate because they can, and for the majority of customers (as opposed to us tech-savvy geeks) the convenience of the one-click buy/download process on Amazon will far outweigh the feel-good factor that people get from giving more money to creators. So the real question is actually whether I can do enough trade to cover my costs and reimburse me for my time and effort.

    Right now it is too early to tell, but if Paul will forgive me for a little advertising, the web store is at and we currently have a sale on all the books from Prime that we sell.

  • Gary Russell Says:

    Huzzah for you!

    I got into a very narky argument with someone at Chicago TARDIS (US Doctor Who convention who are mad enough to invite me as a guest cos I've done a small bit of writing books n stuff) who couldn't understand why I was against illegal downloading of my books (or Big Finish CDs or music or anything) and that I was a 'dinosaur' for not embarcing the future ... When I pointed out that was my bread and butter she was cheerfully stealing I was told that I should give up writing then, because 'real' authors would work for love and nothing (at this point I realised this was someone who'd been rejected not just by 'real' publishers but by fanzines too - maybe her work, like her ethics, was a bit shite). I suggested that this fad for musicians etc giving away albums for free would soon pass when they realised they could no longer pay their mortgages; she said that was rubbish and musicians, writers, artists etc would just have to find new ways of making money.

    This splinter of society who think they should get everything for nothing (but I'm sure want to be apid for whatever their day job is) and are convinced online theft isn't real theft and there are no 'victims', really are scary...

  • Stephan Kinsella Says:

    John, et al.:

    I tried the Marvel comics app and it's beautiful but the selection is terrible, as is the pricing. I think the content companies are desperately clinging to an outmoded model. It's sad to see. Songs should be a nickel each. Books a quarter, or a buck. Etc.

    "if illegal downloading is the way of new media, then professional writers and artists (of which I'm one of the latter) can no longer maintain livelihoods in this business and must take our services out of publishing in order to survive. And if that happens, then yes, the market ceases to exist from a professional standpoint because no pro can afford to write or illustrate fulltime within it, and feed their family."

    I undersatand this concern, but I think it's misplaced in several ways. The fact that you have questions about how a free market would operate is not an argument for state intervention. The fact that entrepreneurs have a challenge in figuring out how to monetize their services, how to find exclusion devices that are not too costly, does not mean the state ought to simplify their job by providing them a temporary legal monopoly privilege which is counter to property and free markets. This is just not a principled argument. All these arguments are swimming in a sea of statist presumptions we are all surrounded with daily--the utilitarian, pragmatic, unscientific, non-rigorous and frankly pseudoscientific notion that the state is some benevolent agent that can by trial and error tinker with incentives to make us all richer. It's all nonsense, of course, and I think everyone konws this. What is really going on is special interest lobbying. It's simply pure protectionism. Special interests bribe and lobby the state's law makers to protect them from competition, but IP law and many other laws.

    "I would argue the quality of the field would be much diminished from what you expect and deserve."

    But you have not argued it. This is jsut an assertion. All the studies out there conclude the opposite. See

    And suppose you are right. Why is it just for a state to arise, which criminally steals tax dollars from innocent people, and then threatens them with jail or death for non-compliance with its artificial edicts and laws, to penalize people for using information to use their own property, just for the sake of improving the quality of literary works? Are you kidding me? Let me get this straight: we empower what is basically a mafia, which ends up metastasizing and stealing half the wealth in the country (and wasting most of it to jail drug criminals or bomb brown people), thus impoverishing us all--we empower this monster criminal agency to .... grant monopolies to favored supplicants.... ? to encourage. .. ART? Are you kidding? If the state were not regulating and taxing the holy crap out of us, we'd all be orders of magnitude richer. Tons of surplus wealth to use to engage in hobbies, leisure, support of the arts, whatever. But the state robs us of this, and then people turn to the state to make up for this a little bit but granting more state regulations and controls? this is so perverse as to be obscene.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Those of you who've advocated and say you'll continue to illegally download: I don't approve. You're doing something that's wrong. (That's me doing the witholding approval thing I mentioned. I hope it makes you feel slightly awkward, a good deal guilty and rather embarrassed.) That's not an eyepatch, Link, when it covers both your eyes. Everyone else: many interesting points, which I'll try and get to in specifics tomorrow.

  • Link Says:


    Oh, I fully realize I don't have any sort of "right" 'nor do they have any obligation to give me an item and/or translate an item for me or whatever. I'll just say I feel less "guilty" of anything wrong when I don't have a legal option to do the right thing. Yes, stealing is stealing, but when I'm starving and you're waving a piece of food in my face and giving it to other people instead of me, regardless of my desire to pay you for said food, then... yeah, I don't feel that bad about playing the role of Robin Hood.

    Bottom line of it all is, If someone is unwilling to sell me a product because I don't live in the appropriate country (and it will never ever be localized for the foreseeable future) or they don't want to put it in the format I need/want it in, then you're not going to get my money one way or the other I guess, so I might as well get my item via the channels of piracy over the open seas of the Internet. Because to the creators, they weren't going to see my money one way or another, regardless of my intent to give it to them.

  • Lou Anders Says:

    "If someone is unwilling to sell me a product because I don't live in the appropriate country..."

    They may be perfectly willing to sell it to you but not have the legal right to do so. One reason for territories is that works can be resold. If I am an author and I sell a book in the UK, I can turn around and resell it in the US, in Germany, France, each time for more money. Given how small the average book advance is, these additional revenue streams are VERY important to an author's income.

    I often bring out the US edition of books published first in the UK, but too many import editions compromising my sales potential and I can't do that. But at least with an import someone is paying something to the creator, if not the producer. The idea that simply wanting something entitles you to take it if you don't like the terms under which it is being sold is ridiculous. I think that the current price on Amazon for the Frank Miller Batman Black and White statue of $400 is overpriced. Should I steal it then, since I don't want to pay more than $50?

  • farsh-nuke Says:

    I agree entirely with your post and was slated by someone after clarifying why Any Human Heart was more expensive as an ebook on amazon.

    I have a kindle myself and enjoy reading e-books but I see the device as a chance to read top quality fanfiction which encourages new authors rather than treading into the murky world of FreEbooks.

  • John Picacio Says:

    @Stephen Kinsella -- Sir, your opinion is your business, but don't try to twist mine into something it clearly isn't. Check yourself.

    All this strawman mumbo-jumbo about 'state intervention' is your own invention, not mine. Don't even try to tag that on me.

    Fancy theories don't pay the mortgage or the monthly utility bills in this world, as much as you'd like them to. And until they do, I'm gonna just keep working fulltime here and let you box with your own shadows. Thanks for the thoughts.

    Paul -- brilliant post. Way to go, man.

  • Nightsky Says:

    @Lou Anders: That is a crying shame. :( Sometimes I want to get on a megaphone and shout to society "See, this is why we can't have nice things."

    A point from a technical perspective (I'm a computer security researcher): DRM will always be an imperfect solution, for the very simple reason that the attacker and the legitimate user are the same person. It's hard to protect against unauthorized decryption when your attacker necessarily has the key. We have a truism, in computer security, that goes something like this: Technical solutions to social problems do not work. I submit that what we have here is a social problem: we have no good way to put a value on creative work.

    We end users also have plenty of legitimate room to doubt that Amazon is acting in good faith. If it says that DRM is necessary to protect copyright, why are out-of-copyright ebooks DRM'd? Amazon seems to want us to give up the rights that come with owning a physical book (like the right to resell it) without ever acknowledging that we are giving up rights. That stinks.

  • Gail Dayton Says:

    Thanks for saying all this, sir. ;)

    @jeff-morris - There's been a court case somewhere in the US (a state court, I think) that says e-books, and maybe downloaded music as well, isn't actually purchased, but only licensed. I have a problem myself with this--but I have saved all of my e-books onto a memory card, which I can do with my Sony Reader (don't know if the Kindle will do this). They can't snatch them back.

    When the Sony and other readers adopted the E-Pub format, it seemed as if the readers were going to a universal standard--and then the Nook decided to use a "B&N only" version of Epub, so that Nook can buy only from B&N, and other readers that can read Epub can't read B&N books. It was a step backwards, IMO.

    However, most of the book formats DO have free software that you can read on your computer. I just don't like reading from a computer screen. I love my (ancient (2 yrs old)) Sony.

    Like Lou, I will pay more than $10 for an e-book. I have gone to digital files because of storage issues. It is just NOT possible to store all the books I want to keep, no matter how lovely it feels to hold them in my hand. And I don't want to lose them if another hurricane strikes...

  • Anonymous Says:

    Agree. I'm a writer.

    I think - I think you think too, yes - that new models need to emerge to guilt more of the thieves into being less thiefy; and to deal with some of the more annoying things being done by publishers who haven't got a clue what they're doing. I think cheap ebooks will be really important to this, for what it's worth. But the nutshell is that I agree. You'll be over the moon to learn this.

    In addition, by the way, one thing that people often don't understand is how much writers earn, because people speak in generalities in generalities. When I was published - proper, big publisher - people relentlessly said to me, 'What's it like to be rich and famous?' and always included 'rich'. I don't like making my friends uncomfortable, so I didn't disabuse them, but there comes a point, eventually, where you say, 'I'm probably more successful in my field than you are, and it's harder to get into, and my book, which took me more than a year to write, didn't make me £10,000, and I'm doing better than most people. Don't steal books, please.'

    My friends, when they think of someone earning 'a very small amount of money' as a writer, do not think of £10,000 a year. They think of a sum of money you can live on. And it really is awkward to disabuse them because you don't want that to govern the way they relate to you, not out of embarrassment but simply because it's boring to be constantly thinking about money and you don't want other people to feel awkward.

  • Anonymous Says:

    1. What you conclude is a difference in perception is actually a misunderstanding on the publishers part. Purchasing a hardback is not the “chance to own on the day of publication” but is the chance to own the larger, nicer, better bound version.
    2. The very idea that the sales tax (aka VAT) is 17.5% is just insane, you need to work on that issue on your side.
    3. I don’t think you should give away the ebooks
    4. The vast majority of people do not like to steal stuff.
    5. If the downloader would not have purchased the item in the first place, no money was stolen.
    6. The ebook, movie, and music markets together make billions of dollars per year. The fear cited is unfounded.
    7. If the downloader would not have purchased the item in the first place, no money was lost.
    8. If the downloader would not have purchased the item in the first place, no money was stolen.
    9. Sure, I won’t seek your “approval”.
    10. Maybe that is because it is you that doesn’t get it.
    11. By “taped music” do you mean recorded a song off the radio, or made a copy of a friends music tape?
    12. I don't think that holds much promise.
    13. Any form of encryption on any media that is for sale to the general public should be strictly forbidden.
    14. Regionality has nothing to do with the book. Does it read differently depending on my location? Does the plot of the book change based on my location? No.
    15. The ebook should be available the same day as the paper version.
    16. Current formatting and proofing leaves a lot to be desired.
    17. The current ebook pricing model is way off, they should be about half the price of the paperback version in most cases.
    18. Listing free or very low priced ebooks next to mainstream titles gives everyone a simple point of reference.
    19. The publisher should not set the price, the seller should.

  • Aimee Steinberger Says:

    A lot of good points here, Paul! I just hope that publishers (and music and tv "sellers", too) learn to find ways not to penalize people for doing the right thing.

    Ie, Doctor Who airing in the UK several weeks before it aired in the USA, and then in the USA it would be cut. (important scenes were cut out!). So then, the fans have to not only avoid people spoiling it for them for weeks, but then they can't even watch it properly when it comes out.

    I'm beyond happy that BBC USA is going to be showing the new Christmas special ON Christmas and uncut. Now people have no excuse for watching it online instead of supporting ratings.

    Honestly, I think that's why BBC thinks/thought that there weren't that many american fans of Doctor Who, because SO MANY people were frustrated with the method/time of delivery that they were watching it online.

    Regarding ebooks, I do wonder if authors will be able to gradually cut out more of the middleman so that they personally get more of the profit from their work. Because right now, I'm not really sure where the money goes. (I'm not saying that's a reason to steal.) But, I'm hoping that without the "needing a big company with lots of money" to publish the PHYSICAL book, that authors can get out of the thumb a little bit. I know it's hard to make a living for artists and authors and I want them to be getting as much of that 6p, as you say, as possible.

    And I do think that buyers feel a bit cheated when they pay hardback prices for an ebook.

    I think this is why Apples mp3 selling plan is so successful. Because, now it's like, "really? You can't afford $1 for a song you really like?" Because that's almost just mean, that you wouldn't give a dollar to the person who made this great song. If you see what I mean. It used to be that people wouldn't buy the physical cd because they only wanted one song and the cd was expensive. No excuses now.

    I really don't understand the manga scan-translators. I do understand translating something that might never be translated. But there are plenty of licensed and sold in the USA in english manga where people read them online for free instead. And tons of USA manga companies are going out of business, but people still steal it. (or they sit in the BORDERS and read the WHOLE THING and then leave the store without paying).
    People just wont be able to afford to make art anymore if people aren't willing to pay for it. And these folks are BIG FANS of what they are reading, but they think its giving money to some big company. ... but then that little bit of money that goes to the author never gets to them. And the author is already working their butt off just to get that bit.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Mr Cornell, I agree with most of what you've written here.

    What I'd add is that I think there's an important difference between what's moral and what's legal. Of course the two are related, and of course recourse to the law is the formal way of seeking redress, but the two things aren't synonymous. And one of the reasons it's difficult to 'tell people they've done a minor wrong' is because they shift ground between a moral wrong and a legal wrong at their own convenience. Since the proverbial 'everyone' has committed a legal wrong by going slightly over a speed limit or whatever example you wish to use, they want to take the obvious disjuncture between abstract law and concrete life, and use that as a basis for moral relativism.

    Intellectual property law, while necessary (so long as we live in a capitalist society in any case), is ridden with tensions and problems. Much of what is said by both its proponents and its opponents involves sophistry or bad faith (the latter is usually behind 'wheedling conversations'). It's blunt, and depending on how it's interpreted and applied, it can militate against desirable creative appropriation of the sort you blogged about yesterday. In yesterday's blog, you said 'any copyright holders reading this, please note, it's all done for love, there's no money involved' – thereby showing that you're a class act, and not about to treat the law as a sacred text or an end in itself. At the level of informal exchanges with individuals, it's unfortunate if you even need to invoke the law.

    Morality is different. While it would be misleading to say that morality is 'simple', it's certainly more straightforward than law. You've asked people not to nick your stuff, and you've explained that there are bad consequences for you if they do nick your stuff. If they then nick your stuff, it's probably illegal, but more importantly it's rude. So withholding your approval is exactly the right thing to do, and in the first instance is the preferred disincentive.

    Alex S

  • Ash Says:

    Wow. That's a very powerfully argued blog. It's opened my eyes to a couple of things; for one thing, I'd never even thought piracy of comics would be an issue at all... Though I'd argue that the reason for a decline in sales is rather more due to the endless, increasingly complex, epic crossover stories occurring every year. Marvel and DC are both guilty of these. Every time I'm in Forbidden Planet there's huge numbers of issues for each company's current big epic. These make it very expensive to follow the whole story. Though I guess for some the way of negating the expense would be to get out the ol' eye patch and download...

    I do think that one of the main problems with digital files of any kind is that they are, usually, very overpriced when compared with the physical product. For example, with the physical product, there is an inherent value to it; if you decide you no longer want it you can sell it on and get a bit of money back (or if generous, give to a charity shop...). But you can't do that with a digital copy. There's no re-sell value, as it's not possible to sell them.

    I'm not going to pretend I've never naughtilly downloaded things; I have. Sometimes I'll download a CD to see if I like it. If I like it, I'll buy it, if not, it gets deleted.

    Other music I've downloaded is things like radio sessions, or live tracks, or demos, or other things that have never seen a release. I used to have bootleg copies of the Pixies' BBC sessions. Never stopped me buying the official release when it came out...

    My main bugbear, though, is with TV shows. If I download off the internet an episode of a free to air TV show, who actually loses? To my mind, no-one. I'd not have paid for it, as it's free to air, so the TV company won't lose out. Yes, I won't see ads as their chopped out; but if I record a show myself, I'll skip the ads anyway, so again no difference. Pretty much every show I'll download, watch, and delete; and if there are exceptions, these'll be the ones I end up buying on DVD anyway...

    I guess it's that everyone has their own line as to where they see right separated from wrong; as far as I'm concerned that line sits at the point where you're depriving a work's creator (and the company releasing it) from cash. If what you're doing does that; you're in the wrong. If not; you're okay.

  • Link Says:

    @Lou, I actually have no problem importing things. Especially a book (as long as it's in my language of course and I can understand it, otherwise I'm going to have to download a translated version of it from some fan out there somewhere who did it in their free time between college classes.) My "I want things and I can't have them so I'll download them for free" is more restricted to electronic formats that have region encoding IE. DVDs, Videogames, etc. or out of print formats like single issue floppies of a comic that haven't been collected in Trade and are price gouged amongst the collectors (which happens outside of comics too.)

    Some consoles are region-free such as the Nintendo DS and the PS3. That is amazing. I love it. I just recently imported a game for the DS from Europe because it didn't get an American release. If I want to get a Wii game however, I need to own a European Wii Console (possibly a European Television) just to play European games, and the same issue comes if I want to play a Japanese Wii game. It's at points like that where I say "Ok. Well... screw that, time to resort to downloading it off the Internet and modifying my console so it can play pirated games." In the end, yes, I'm stealing from people and not giving them the money they earned, but as I said above, it's no longer in my hands. It's in the hands of the companies who say "Well, this country isn't interested in this type of game or franchise because it sold poorly." And in other ways, I have to resort to piracy of these games so I can apply a translational patch to the game because I don't read Japanese, so even if I could import the game from Japan, I wouldn't be able to fully enjoy it.

    I am 100% about supporting creators (this is the part where I ass kiss you and tell you I've bought every issue of Knight & Squire so far, honest) when it is possible for me to do so. I spent a good deal of my teenager years pirating things left and right, and I've done my best to support my LCS as well as creators by purchasing their goods legitimately. My gateway back into comic books actually started with a pirated copy of Long Halloween. Now I have an Absolute Edition sitting on my shelf along with a bunch of other hardbacks and a nice chunk of longboxes filled with single issues. Piracy is always a last resort to me, and it is SO damn tempting to just wait a day or two after Wednesday (new comic day in America) and download my pull list and save myself a couple hundred bucks a month. But, I figure I've stolen more than enough throughout my early years of life, that it's my duty to support the things I like.

  • Link Says:

    I hope that explains what I'm talking about a little better. Sometimes it's a choice between not having it at all or pirating it, with no in between due to regional reasons and the inability to properly import the item or have it in a format that is usable to you. That's where all your fansubs and translations and other stuff come into play, and I absolutely do not see the harm in that (in terms of getting access to inaccessible content.) I have watched a large share of fansubbed anime in my lifetime, and as things finally start coming out in the states I find myself buying these DVDs and putting them on my shelves. I realize I'm in a minority of the pirates out there who just want something for free (that's really what piracy boils down to in most cases regardless of how people spin it) but as long as you're paying for the item or intend to pay for it when it's accessible to you, I don't feel as if I'm doing wrong (then again, I'm a person who has taken donuts from the bakery in my grocery store, eaten the donut because I'm hungry and can't wait, and paid for it during checkout after it's already in my stomach.)

    Unfortunately, the above scenario is very dependent upon people wanting to do the right thing, and sometimes it's just easier to do the wrong thing and just pretend you never ate that donut in the first place.

  • moretta Says:

    I agree with you in a lot of points but two "minor" details:
    * People always talks about loss due to illegal download, how do they count them? Please, don't be so sure about an ESTIMATED amount.
    * Geographical restriction: people read in English in other countries aside USA or UK, even in some countries where English is not the main language (Spain, for example, excuse my bad English) and, in some cases, I can't buy the ebook at any place... nodody sells it, nor the English publishers who are responsible of these restrictions.

  • jeff-morris Says:

    Gail--we've currently got...let me think...eight bookcases full in our house, so I know exactly what you're saying about moving to digital. I know that my wife has books on her iPhone...I just can't seem to make the mental transition, even though I downloaded the Kindle app on my own phone.

    I read an interview with Mark Waid this week about the digital migration. I'll be interested to see what he comes up with next year.

  • luckykaa Says:

    When it comes to pricing of eBooks, what publishers think people should want to pay is irrelevant. People are only willing to pay what they're willing to pay.

    I think it's important to pay more attention on how to get people to pay for books rather than stopping them from pirating them. It's as foolish to assume that every pirated copy would amount to a legitimate sale as it is to assume that none of them would.

    Clearly a lot of these people want to acquire the eBook. The question is how do you also make them want to pay for it?

    The publishing industry needs to work out a way to increase sales. Some people will always pirate. There's nothing you can do about that. Even if you became a despotic ruler and have them vaporised for their crime, you're still not going to be making anything from them. There are others who will buy when it seems worthwhile. And some of them object to things such as DRM and region locking on principle. No price will make it worthwhile to those people so it's a question of whether the sales increased by these methods (and not the amount of piracy prevented) is greater than the sales lost.

  • Bill Willingham Says:

    Paul, I very much agree with your essay. Illegally downloading stories, music, or whatever, is wrong, and always wrong, no matter how little one steals and how easily the victim can afford the loss. The notion that wanting something is justification for taking something isn't new, and no amount of dissembling, quibbling and hair-splitting will make it so.

    What is new, at least to me, is the idea that some authors are reluctant to go on record standing against illegal downloading. Perhaps I haven't been paying attention, but is this common? I can't imagine how or why.

  • hatgirl Says:

    I have pirated in the past. I may pirate again in the future.

    But 6 months ago, when I bought my first eInk ereader, I decided to try an experiment. I would not pirate and I would only by DRM-free ebooks. I was curious to see how long I could stick it out without breaking one principle or the other. And I'm doing OK. Sure I feel frustrated when someone recommends a book and I can't find a legal DRM-free version of it. But the reality is that I have 300 unread ebooks of excellent pedigree sitting on my ereader right now. I think I'll be OK for a while yet.

    I hope I'm not edging into Point 9 territory here, but what is your opinion on secondhand book shops? I'm really interested in your opinion of them. They are entirely legal, and certainly aren't a new concept that the publishing industry needs time for which to formulate a plan. But the author doesn't get a penny from me. So... from the point of view of an author, are secondhand book shops just as evil as torrent sites? Do you, or other authors of your acquaintance, refuse to shop in them?

    Um... again, really trying not to do a Point 9. It's a topic I'm hugely interested in, and I'd love to know a Real Author's opinion on the topic.

    (@Cheryl: Oooh! Out comes the credit card...
    @Lou Anders: Cool! Downloading it now!)

  • Dave Says:

    I personally think the RIAA should take a lot of the blame for this because of how they set up the playing field. By prosecuting a minor wrong as a major one, they set up a situation where not only were they considered bullies, but where rightsholders treated their customers as the enemy. That led to many consumers seeing rightsholders as the enemy: and once you give someone the "enemy" tag, it's normal to put them outside the protection of law.

    It's the whole "it's not wrong to lie to the enemy" mindset.

    Build a relationship with the customer and piracy will drop. Make things easily available and reasonably priced, and piracy will drop.

    I think more people would accept high launch prices on ebooks if they were guaranteed the price would drop when the paperback was released.

    As for comics, I think one thing that will help there is making continuous runs available at decent prices. $1.99 is fine for a recent book - but I think books from the seventies and eighties would be better priced at $0.99/ea - $9.99 for 12 issues or something.

    Piracy is never going away - especially amongst those who would never buy anyway: so the best defense otherwise is making digital copies cheap and convenient and readily available.

  • Blue Tyson Says:


    Six months later, and Swords & Dark Magic is still not on sale in Australia - you get that nice kobo page 'we're sorry, not available here' for that title.

    If there are a growing group of readers like you and Paul who are only buying digitally, then such restrictions will certainly kill the potential of a lot of moderately popular titles.

    The total world sales for your anthology if there was only paper and ebook didn't exist will be some number X.

    If some readers move to digital only in countries where it isn't available (and if not available in Australia, then that is probably everywhere in the world except the USA/Canada I suppose).

    Then they cannot buy your book at all. Number of people that can't get it legally is now Y.

    So rather than X sales, you now have X - Y sales. And no sequels as Y continues to get larger.

    It is possible that the growing market in the USA could overcome the - Y all by itself, but along with the agency 40% price hike, it would seem to be unlikely.

    We'll still be able to buy Alastair Reynolds and Stephen King etc. but not yours.

    As far as I can see, there is never likely to be an Australian edition of this book. Same goes for the Kowal, etc. Neither of which are notable enough of likely to have the upside for anyone to bother.

    If the English reading body outside the USA switches to digital reading in a majority, then you can say goodbye to all those sales that were previously print. Minus the small percentage collectors that want the object, of course. And increasing postage costs. The USA just tacked on a 9 dollar surchage for sending 500g items to the USA for 'security reasons' from here. If that sort of thing proliferates between lots of countries, paper bookselling internationally is in big trouble given the trend to much larger padded out volumes.

    No-one seems to bring this sales gone forever from switchers point up.

  • Anonymous Says:

    So far comics piracy has cost the comics industry at the very least $28680.59, today, and that's just using some sketchy numbers from a single torrent site.

  • Teresa Says:

    First of all, I'm thrilled that you're doing the Tor 12 Doctors of Christmas and that you're doing John Pertwee. I think he's probably my favorite of the classic doctors (though I'm only halfway through Baker at the moment) if for no other reason than he had a TATTOO!

    Just one or two things about the e-books/piracy topic.

    1) Thanks for writing this. It gave me a lot to think about. I definitely agree that if more creators came out and said they were against piracy, people might be less likely to do it. If you care about someone's work, then you care about them getting paid for it.

    2) Piracy is definitely wrong. However, I think it's also on the publishers/producers/etc to anticipate customer needs rather than try to dictate to the customer what they should want. Most of the piracy I see among people I know happens because a certain thing isn't available in a format they want, or isn't viewable in this country, or isn't on demand. The internet has made it so that people can get exactly what they want when they want it. Do I think this is the healthiest thing? No. But I DO think that the publishing and entertainment industries need to stop running their business models as if the internet isn't real. E-books shouldn't be in a "trial period" right now. Publishing should have figured out their e-book business model years ago!

    Rather than only worry about criminalizing piracy, publishing and film/TV should also be worrying about keeping up with the customers they want. Otherwise, the problem won't go away.

  • Dave Freer Says:

    ;-)I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in Rick's Casino!
    Really Paul, Publishers had absolutely no idea why readers were paying more for hardbacks? Thought it was because they got them early? Surely, logic says they would have printed them in the cheapest format and said 'early edition' on the cover (as is case with E-ARCs and ARCs)where the price is a geniune reflection of the readers desire to get it early. Let's be straight here: publishers knew perfectly well what the public wanted and thought they were paying for. It undermines the rest of your arguments, some of which are valid. The cost of production materials (paper, printing) has been repeatedly used by publishing as an excuse to hike prices. Now, when those costs disappear, one cannot really say 'oh they were really minor, and we were actually selling you early access' without looking like a bloody liar. Also conveniently forgetting to mention the the 50% loss in returns and distribution costs - something I have yet to hear a publisher admit is now being saved... is well, shall we say avoiding the truth about costs? If of course that 50% was now given to the author, there'd be some justification in keeping the price up. But really, given the lack of transparency about pricing and who gets what, and historical lies (about material costs and needing to keep authors eating ;-/), the publishing industry, like the RIAA, has a serious credibilty problem with their customers. Authors would be well advised IMO to distance themselves from this, and to let their readers know (as the music professional have) that pricing is the business of publishers and retailers and that authors at their 6-8% of cover price are victims too.

  • Tim Says:

    My only comment is thus- every e-book I have illegally downloaded I already own the dead tree version, and cannot legally get the e-book (author/publisher won't) I've already paid once, and would cheerfully pay for the e-book if it were available. (flying is boring)

    other then that minor point,
    Good post!

  • Amy Says:

    What if you own the physical book and want to get rid of it to make more space on your bookshelf and replace it with an e-book? You're essentially paying for the book twice.

    Note: I haven't done this, I just want to know what people think :)

  • ButMadNNW Says:

    Blogger apparently doesn't like me. So I put my comment here:!/ButMadNNW/status/17790950759735296

  • Lou Anders Says:

    Piracy is never going away - especially amongst those who would never buy anyway: so the best defense otherwise is making digital copies cheap and convenient and readily available.

    I agree with this. However, that does not justify the piracy. The fact that other people are doing it does not make a crime not a crime. So while piracy may never disappear, that has no bearing on whether you, Dave, choose to pirate a work or not. Or anyone else in this discussion.

    Also, I want to say again how much work is involved in providing ebooks across multiple platforms and formats. Publishers are racing as fast as they can to get as many ebooks as possible out in as many formats as available. That the work is backlogged is no excuse for stealing it. Entertainment isn't food. You won't die if you are forced to wait, or have to choose something else.

  • ButMadNNW Says:

    @Cheryl: I for one am heartened and intrigued by your business model (no DRM, etc.) and have just bookmarked your site. No promises on purchasing, but I'll certainly be taking a look.

  • Katharine Eliska Kimbriel Says:

    Nicely said, Paul.

    I handled the DRM issue by re-releasing my SF novels at Book View Cafe, where the books are DRM-free and in four formats minimum. The DRM version is at's Kindle store. I'd run specials occasionally, or try a price break as an experiment, but it's a pain to do that through Amazon -- they will start tinkering with your price, if I'm reading the contract correctly. And you can't undersell them, or they'll yank your book.

    We may all end up selling proposals to cable and games in the end -- no books at all....

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Oh, I see the party's still going. Okay, there's breakfast in the fridge, and powerful over the counter medication for those who need it, I've got to get on and write another blog post, and these comic pages won't write themselves. I note that David Levine was right, and withhold my approval from a great many of you, including some great friends. I wonder if this is one of those posts I'll still be hearing from years later, like the Doctor Who canonicity and BBC Space Themes ones? Could someone throw a rug over that guy on the couch? And put on some Christmassy music, eh? It is nearly Christmas!

  • pekinghomunculus Says:

    I applaud you for taking a stand. Piracy has become so easy that and convenient and it is easy to justify the action. I have done this in the past but I work hard to resist the temptation. It is surprising how quick and easy the justifications come on me, though. I've recently decided to start reviewing every episode of Doctor Who in broadcast order. I'm doing it to develop discipline in writing more than anything else. Imagine my surprise when I actually had people reading my blog on a regular basis. Since I am not independently wealthy, I have major gaps in my collection. It is quite tempting to acquire these missing episodes through "alternate means". I hear the justification manifesting in my mind. "It's for your readers. Just watch then delete. If you break your pace, they will stop reading." Again, it is so easy, much like running a red light or speeding. We all have our reasons and they make good sense to us, and the laws of the land be damned. Bottom line is that I'm choosing to pursue the legal route for my blog and will try to rise to the challenge of finding other topics to write about as I save my money to fill the gaps.

    Again, great blog and if reason doesn't convert someone, go for the guilt.

  • Ancouh Says:

    The problem with anime is that American distributors have practiced censorship, bad translation and editing, lack of understanding of the Japanese culture and enthusiasts, and overall have provided an inferior product to what has already been released by fans.

    Fans who often work weeks on a single episode for free.

    American anime distributors overall have simply shot themselves in the foot from the get go. They didn't understand their target market and have suffered from it.

    Now, obviously piracy has had a huge impact on it, but if you can't produce a higher quality product than those of people doing stuff for free then you don't deserve to be successful.

    Plus, the dvds have been very very expensive.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Hi Paul,

    Just to add some points to those of the Australian commentator above, I'm in New Zealand and have seen weird things with rights to comic books and some anime here. Since NZ is a very small market, it often gets simply left off the list of English-speaking countries in a licence, as for instance some US published manga is North American rights only, so Diamond cannot distribute them here. Similarly, Boom Comics' Muppets books can't be bought here either (despite being written by a New Zealander ironically enough). However, to get the exclusively New Zealand rights to import (or God forbid, if you want to burn money - print)is basically simply not worth the effort time or money-wise. So we have a situation where there is a product in English, that the writer has been paid for,but which we cannot legally buy...
    BTW I'm not advocating or suggesting downloading a pirate copy here, I'm basically saying that the rights situations in markets than the US and UK is somewhat more complex, whether they're e-books or physical books. Kindle and itunes for example came to NZ quite a bit after they were established in the US and UK.

    Just to sidetrack you a little too,I love Knight and Squire,it has been a pleasure to read something that a writer clearly had such great fun writing :-).
    Any hints as to what you'll be writing once your stint on Action Comics ends? Is it 899,or will you continue?
    I also read British Summertime last year, and loved so reminded me of Dan Dare. Oh,and Captain Britain was brillant too, at least it lasted more issues then the equally lamented - by me anyway - The Establishment.
    Season Greetings and Happy new year to you and your readers. Bye.


  • Stephan Kinsella Says:

    Mr. Cornell -- could you tell me where you got that Levine quote from?

  • Anonymous Says:

    I am a hard-core book whore. I buy books from everywhere and almost everyone. If you provide me with the ability to purchase quality work in my preferred format (w/o DRM), you are going to get my money. I do rail against geographic restrictions and late release dates, but that doesn’t drive me to piracy – it stops me from supporting the author. I just own NO copies of the work, so you still didn’t get my money.

    I am currently in the process of BUYING my physical bookshelf in eBook format - just for ease of use. I could pirate the materials, but I choose to purchase for: good formatting, cover art, working TOC, and reasonable pricing. I refuse to purchase DRM titles (since DRM does NOT work - All it has done is made the legal user conform to a bookseller, not stop piracy) as I feel it curtails my rights as the purchaser of the materials and it limits my purchasing choices.

    What piracy does (for some authors) is create awareness of the author. It seems to me that a lot of authors (now) sit at home and complain about piracy. Instead you should network with your potential customers – be the one who introduces your work first - in a legal format.

    I’m a serious fantasy reader (and I’m always on the lookout for a TALENTED author) who has been regulated to my current bookshelf for a good read. If we knew more about you guys, you would get better sales. Even talking about piracy creates great dialogue where authors can interact with potential customers. I found this thread from a link at Mobile Read. So, Lou Anders, thank you for posting your book and site. Congratulations, sir! You just made a sale!

    I’m done with this argument for a while. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be at Wizards Tower Books checking out their DRM-free titles.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Great post, a well-reasoned and well argued summation of the current state of piracy from the creator's view.

    It is spot on to use the word "rude." If you ask people not to pirate your work, they shouldn't do it, period. Doing otherwise is acting like a jerk.


  • John Lees Says:

    Great post, Paul! Lots of well-argued points that I agree with. I myself have never torrented a comic and have no intention of doing so, but I have a question about a possibly murkier middle ground, that I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on.

    What are your views on Scans Daily?

    This was the site that posted up scans from comic books (I think there was a maximum of 5 pages of any 22 page comic, or something of those lines) along with commentary and observation. It ran for several years, but eventually some complaints from high-profile creators led to legal injunctions getting taken against the site and it getting closed down.

    Now, I can totally understand the arguments those creators used for why they were unhappy with such a site's existence. But I don't think such a place was all-bad.

    Yes, there was the element of people just posting the key plot beats from the week's latest releases without any comment or any real purpose other than giving people the "Cliff Notes" version of the week's comic. But I rarely had much interest in that aspect of the site: if I wanted to read a comic, I bought it. And I think such behaviour was an abuse of the resource rather than it's true benefit.

    See, what I always loved about Scans Daily were the posts where people posted scans of obscurities, scenes from years-old or even decades-old comics - many out of print or difficult to get a hold of. I loved when people would write essays about recurring themes with a certain character in their portrayal over the decades, using panels from their various appearances to illustrate these recurring trends. Things like that made for fascinating reading, and I felt largely harmless.

    But did you have any opinion of Scans Daily, from a creator's perspective? I think perhaps rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it may have been wiser for the comics industry to embrace such a site, but in the process reform it, try and push for greater emphasise on analysis and obscure back-catalogue exploration rather than just loading up pics of the newest releases.

    But is it an all-or-nothing situation? Is it impossible to say SOME stuff is acceptable to scan without it instantly becoming a slippery slope scenario?

    I just fear that all the closing of Scans Daily did was encourage more people to seek out the torrent sites and sources of outright comics piracy to get their scans fix.

    Or does this whole rant of mine just remind everyone of the "mild treason" joke in "Arrested Development"?

  • Arnold Bocklin Says:

    It seems inevitable that the era of commercial mass publishing, as we've known it since the birth of widespread literacy in the 19th century, is coming to an end.

    It also seems inevitable that writers will continue to write, and that readers will continue to read.

    The question is, how will this be funded?

    I suspect that the answer is already in front of us. Writing will be funded the same way that other artforms are funded, the same way as sculpture or painting or classical composition: through a mixture of public subsidy, private and corporate sponsorship, and the unpaid enthusiasm of those with an artistic vision.

    Less will be written. But the things that really need to be written will still be written. And the things that need to be read will still be read.

    What we'll lose will be the things that didn't need to be written, the commercial hackwork - vapid movies tie-ins, ghost written celebrity biographies.

    What we'll gain is access to works that previously would not have been published because they were seen as "uncommercial" (and remember, even the likes of J K Rowling originally struggled to find a publisher).

    We shouldn't mourn commercial publishing - we should celebrate it's demise, we should dance merrily on it's grave. The world will be a far better place for its death.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    The David Levine quote was from a twitter post of his, he may be quoting himself from elsewhere. In general: thanks everyone! Many good points here. Can't dive in to do this one by one. Christmas Eve! Intellectual property is still property: not having something, or not being able to have something is not a good reason to take it, you don't *deserve* to have it. (My, isn't that a festive message?)And several of you point to one point (comic book company crossovers, anime not being translated) on a vicious circle as cause, when you yourself (by illegally downloading) are also the cause pushing towards the thing you don't like. There's a couple of instances of friends wheedling, trying to find a point where I'm okay with them doing this: see the blog post for details of how I feel about that. You won't get my approval. I hugely disagree. But we're still friends. Thanks Gary and Bill and others who are the victims in all this for wading in. Having said that, a Merry Christmas, and a polite but fierce disagreement, one and all!

  • MeiLin Miranda Says:

    Mr Cornell*:

    What a lot of publishers and content creators don't recognize is that an illegal download does not reflect a lost sale. The people downloading probably wouldn't buy a copy anyway. A lot of illegal downloads, especially of books, sit around on people's computers until they forget what that oddly named file is, and into the bit-bucket it goes.

    I actually had someone get a bootleg copy of one of my books, come to my site, and buy a legal copy (which I ask people to do at the front and back of each book). Why? Because unlike a lot of illegal copiers, SHE ACTUALLY READ IT and she liked it enough to pay for it. (Come to think on it, that's happened several times.) As you say, it's nothing to build a career on, but the fact is: illegal downloading/copying is going to happen. You can DRM the sh*t out of your stuff, and not only is it still going to happen but you'll also piss off your paying customers. May as well just ask for the money; you might get it. (I think independents like me are more likely to get that afterthought money than traditionally published folks, and for us, yeah, it makes a difference. A dollar is a dollar.)

    My books are priced low--free to $3.50. I can do that and make good money on my books because I'm an independent; I make *way* more per book than most authors. Like, all of it if people buy direct from me, most of it elsewhere. If that's unfair to people stuck with what their publishers decide to charge (and pay them), that's sad, but why does that mean my books should be segregated from the rest? That's definitely not fair to me. My books, though low-priced and independent/self-published, are professionally edited and produced; they hold up to scrutiny. I can see why public domain stuff mightn't be included in sales lists.

    That said, I agree with a lot of what you said. I haven't bootlegged anything in a very long time. I still buy used books, though. Perhaps I should stop that, too. ;)

    *see what I did there? :D

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    And to those who say 'a stolen sale isn't necessarily a lost sale, they wouldn't have necessarily bought it': why do we care about what might have been? They would either have been someone who bought my book or someone who wanted my book and might have bought it later. Approval withheld! (I do like doing that. I may start doing it in real life.) Ho ho ho!

  • Neal Asher Says:

    Thank for that Paul. It's a subject I've been thinking about lazily for some time and you've highlighted some things that have been vague to me.

  • Stephan Kinsella Says:

    Re Levine: Could you tell me which David Levine it is? I"ve so far contacted 4 of them and none of them are the author.

    "Intellectual property is still property"

    The state slapped the "property" label on it for propaganda purposes. That doesn't make it property. See my post Intellectual Properganda.

    "not having something, or not being able to have something is not a good reason to take it, you don't *deserve* to have it."

    But if I use information to guide my own actions and my own use of my own property, I have not "taken" anything from the guy who originated the information. He still has it. It literally is not taken. See Nina Paley's Copying Is Not Theft. As for "deserve"--in a free society people are not supposed to live by permission, but by right. I don't need to show that I "deserve" something--I only need to avoid invading your rights.

  • Anonymous Says:

    The "copying is not theft" video seems to say copying books and music is OK, by depicting cartoon characters copying bicycles for each other.

    You know, if we could easily copy bicycles, houses, food, etc. then whether readers paid how much for whatever format or region of e-book would matter a lot less. But we can't copy food or houses quite so easily, and these things are needed in order to write those books.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Stephen, on deserving vs. rights: OK. You're confusing whether there are legal repurcussions for the act (fines, imprisonment, disconnection from the internet, etc.) with Paul's idea of withholding approval. I don't think you want to recommend having some kind of thought police if people want to disapprove of something whether or not anyone's "rights" were infringed. Withholding my approval, public shaming, etc. do not violate the freedownloader's "rights" either. And if I can convince other free entities to do the same, to withhold their services from you? e.g. internet service, for example? Were any "rights" violated?

  • Martin Declan Kelly Says:

    Interesting article, marred only by the fact that almost none of it is true.

    1. Publishers get away with charging more for first-day reads by including a value add (better quality physical media). That value add is lacking in eBooks, so they need a new one. Publishers want to cling to their old model which only worked because of scarcity in a new, non-scarce environment. Here, book publishers, meet Music Publishers. You two have a lot to talk about.

    2. Yeah. That's kinda stupid, I agree.

    3. Bald assertion, and one contraindicated by how well the music market, which is several years further down the road than ebooks is.

    4. True, but orthogonal. DRM was never the reason. It was just an excuse.

    5. "They're each stealing small sums of money from creators."

    No. They're not.

    It's not theft.

    Theft means taking someone else's property without their consent.

    Copying is not taking.

    Taking has two parts. I get it, you lose it.

    When someone violates copyright, they don't take anything from the copyright owner.

    A typical rejoinder when it's pointed out that the theft-whiner is wrong is "well if they didn't download it they'd pay the content creator, so they're still taking money from their pocket, so it's *like* theft". That relies on the premise that every download would be replaced by a legal purchase if downloading were not available. That's bullsh*t.

    If there's another explanation beyond dishonesty or ignorance that I haven't thought of, I'd love to hear it.

    Either way, it doesn't incline me to view the rest of an argument as being informed and in good faith.

    "6: If everybody did illegally download, it couldn't continue as a practice, because no further music or movies could be made"

    Not true, for multiple reasons.

    First, music was made and books were written before copyright. Copyright didn't create the novel, or music. It just made it illegal to enjoy it without compensating the creator, creating a legally enforceable model for ensuring compensation.

    Second, downloaders in aggregate spend *more* on content than non-downloaders. Nearly double overall, and nearly quadruple on downloadable content.

    If everyone was like downloaders, content creators would be *much* better off.

    8. "I think, and have had many conversations to support this view, that a large majority of creators in all media loathe illegal downloading"

    Anecdotal. I think you probably know more writers than I do, but I know a hell of a lot of professional music professionals, I'd wager more than most, and while some of them protest it (around %20%), 100% of them engage in it. How much is that argument worth? About as much as yours.

    9. Not relevant, since it relies on point 5, which is false.

    10. I'm sorry Mr Cornell, but that's really just argumentum ad hominem.

    11. I have no quarrel with this point.

    12. Hah. Tell that to Radiohead.

    13. This part is right. The market isn't where music is, and some of what happened with music (music revenue as a whole climbing) relies on adaptations that aren't as applicable to authors.. you guys don't generally charge for live performances, for example. Do authors have the leeway for adapting to changing market conditions that musicians have? I don't know. What I do know is, people spend money when they find something they like. Free distribution breaks the copyright copies to revenue link, but it does expose people to more

    Ok, all that aside, I agree that people *should pay for stuff they like*.

    If you enjoy a content creator's work, you should compensate him for it.

    No disagreement there.

    I just hate bad arguments (on either side).

  • Anonymous Says:

    Honestly, I will not buy an E book, I will not download one for free either. I do though think that it is a complete flaw to imagine that even 5% of the people illegally downloading (it's the uploading that is overtly illegal at the moment anyhow) would actually buy the produce if they could not get it for free. Honestly if the publisher decided ebooks were costing more in illegal downloads then they gain in online sales they could just not make an Ebook version. I've seen online "Ebooks" for things that are not sold as ebooks, hideous things. Bad PDF scans text documents etc... Honestly by pushing Ebooks they are getting the public used to reading on a screen. Give me my real book a couch and a cup of hot cocoa and you can keep all your Ebooks.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Some follow ups:

    1. on used bookstores; this still relies on a single copy/owner at a time, and that is part of the original value when the first buyer buys the book. with a physical book, there's also a limit to how many reads/hands it can go through and remain saleable.

    2. a more interesting question might be the library. Particularly for audiobooks, which you can check out from the library, rip into your MP3 library, etc. But also with books, though (1) library orders area great thing for authors, as libraries generally pay full price and (2) there's still that finite number of hands a book can really go through in its useful life, and a physical limitation to how many people are reading that book at a time.

    3. Comparing e-books to music is really a mistake. Music has so many more outlets than CDs: Radio, Jukeboxes, and the big ones: Touring, Merchandise, MTV, etc. etc.

    4. Radiohead can do what they do because they are incredibly talented and already well known.

  • Martin Declan Kelly Says:

    Hey, I guess the whole post did make it after all. Thanks Mr Cornell (see what I did there?) and sorry you probably had to wade through a large number of failed resubmissions.

    Just one quick rejoinder

    "Radiohead can do what they do because they are incredibly talented and already well known."

    It was a response to Mr Cornell's point that alternative/download/pay what you like models only work for authors with small profiles. So, yeah, that's the *point*. They're big. It works for them too. It also works for mid-range content creators (Cory Doctorow for one example), and newcomers (The Joy Formidable for another example).

    So, you're half right. It does take talent. It just doesn't take being well-known.

  • Anonymous Says:

    We need a Spotify for ebooks - a library, not a bookshop.

  • Ben Says:

    I agree with you that piracy is horrible. But I just bought a pdf book from BookAMillion .. works fine with the Adobe Digital Editions Reader but no other software on the Mac that can read PDF's. I copied it to the Nook Color and got a big fat error opening it. Barnes and Noble DOES NOT sell the book so what am I suppose to do? Find a program to strip the DRM off or go to a "pirate" forum and get a DRM free version of what I just bloody paid for so I can read it ON MY device of choice. That's the problem with DRM. Just like with those "free" digital editions of movies on the DVD's .. unless I make a certain company my goto for my digital existance .. I'm screwed.

    So until the content creators can pool their MASSIVE brain power together so as not to waste my money or time .. I really don't know what to tell you.

    I never, ever purchased from iTunes while their files were DRM'd. I preferred instead to buy physical media, cover it and then sell the discs. Then Amazon started selling mp3's that would work on my Android phone, my Mac and/or my Linux box in the office .. haven't bought a physical CD since.

    If you want the law abiding citizen to purchase your wares instead of doing the easy route (and the cheaper route) then STOP SCREWING with us.

  • beagley Says:

    Want to know something funny? A friend passed me a quote from this post (point #1), and I thought it was very true and was going to re-blog it, without reference.

    Then I thought, "Well, that's crappy of me. The least I can do is try to Google a sentence or two and find out who really wrote the paragraph."

    And I found it!

    Great stuff Paul, keep up the good work.

    -Douglas in Vermont