Monday, August 24, 2009

Avast, me hearties!

(Translation: stop fucking pirating our books, peeps.)

By Jenna Byrnes

The topic this week is For Love or Money--giving away our books vs. selling them. I do both. Hopefully I sell more than I give away, of course, but I don't mind giving away a few here and there. I run a contest in my newsletter each month, and the winner gets to pick a download of my available titles.

In July I attended the Carol Lynne Author/Reader Weekend in Kansas City. I met a bunch of wonderful people there, everyone was nice and so much fun! Some of them seemed kind of excited to meet me, which both thrilled and shocked the hell out of me. I signed a few bookmarks, and gave away almost all the print book inventory I had in stock. The people were just so sweet, how could I not give them a little something? Besides, it was obvious the ones I gifted had already purchased some of my books, and for that I'm so very grateful.

There's a third leg in this 'For Love or Money' debate, and it's one that's been spoken of a lot on the web recently. Ebook Piracy. Where the choice to give or sell is taken away from the author. Some people don't think it's a big deal. I'll admit, I never thought much about it when it first came to light in the form of illegal music and film downloads. But ebook piracy has hit me directly in my pocketbook, which can barely afford the hit.

This diagram, found on the website of author Addison Albright, says it all:

Ebook piracy is unfair to all authors, but really hurts small authors like me who are trying to eek their way in the world. Most ebook authors, myself included, work another job to pay the bills. But even those who don't, and those who will never have to again (Stephen King and Nora Roberts pop into mind) don't deserve to have their work taken from them and copied without their permission. Maybe it takes making something personal to get people enraged about a subject. I guess it did with me. When I find the pirate sites online, and see the number of free downloads there have been of my books, it makes me sick.

And totally takes the fun out of 'Talk like a Pirate Day' on Sept. 19.


  1. Hi Jenna,

    Great post. I love the piracy diagram. I think the visuals make it easier to understand the true damage of piracy.



  2. I totally understand the lure of anything free. But I'll bet most people who download from a pirate site don't realize how costly their book could be. The law states copyright infringement is punishable by 5 years in jail and a fine of $250,000.00. Yup, that's a lot to pay for a novel that may have cost 5 bucks.


  3. I've had to enable comment moderation today. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  4. Hi Ashley, Ashlyn and Brenna,

    I loved the diagram, too, and had to pass it along.

    Thanks for stopping by and being brave enough to leave your name on your comments! *G*


  5. Jenna,

    Brave? Me? Nah. I'm not one of these rude, facile cowards who hide behind anonymity.

    Hope you're OK,


  6. Yeah, I saw Anonymous's comment. There's always one. Shaking head.

    To be honest, I know there's no way to stop piracy completely. That doesn't mean I'm not going to prosecute the little dears when I find them, but I know full well that it's going to be an ongoing problem.

    One thing that completely amazes me is the number of NY conglomerate print authors who think that their books are "safe" as long as they don't do e-books.

    Fact: There is no such thing as a book, print or e, that cannot be pirated. An OCR printer (the norm...not the exception these days), a box cutter and an hour or two to play, and any print book can be pirated in e, which is how Harry Potter (never released in e) is being pirated. No DRM commonly in use or likely to be in the near future is foolproof. A week or three after release, it's cracked and passing. Which leads me to...just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD. That's part of being an adult.


  7. Hi Jenna,

    You certainly didn't go the way I thought you would with this topic, but I'm glad. E-piracy touches so many authors deeply and can really hurt them in the pocket book as you've said.

    Let's break this down for those who really don't understand how little an author makes off their books.

    E-Book cost to the public= $5 tops
    Percentage an author gets= 40%
    That makes a grand total of $2.00

    Okay, the $5 books is a novel length piece. Wonder how long it takes the author to write say, 50,000 words, edit it, re-write it, edit it some more, go over the galleys (proofs) held design the cover? That's an awful lot for a lousy $2. Months? Oh yeah!

    Most e-book authors are doing really well if they can sell 500 copies of a book. Some do better, but some don't do nearly that well. That's in the life of a book. Pirate that book and the numbers do down.

    It's heartbreaking. Many authors give up. Why beat your head on a wall for nothing. They may continue to write, but you'll never see it.

    Thanks so much for sharing this Jenna. Maybe a few who read this post will think before sharing that ebook they just bought.


  8. Plus-sized e-books may go for as much as $7 (for something that would be $9-10 in mass market). You're right that the average novel length is $5-6 in indie/e. Beyond that...

    If it sells from the publisher's home site you make that 35-50%. If it sells from a third-party site, you make half that amount.


    The most you're going to make from a $6 novel...$3. Average from the publisher site sale...$2.40, but at least $2.10. If it's a $5 book, change those figures to $2.50, $2 and $1.75.

    Now, change that to a book selling from a third-party site, like FW, ARe, or OmniLit. For the $6 book, you're looking at $1.50 at most, $1.20 at average, and $1.05 at least. For a $5 book, it would be $1.25, $1, and $.87.

    And, as you noted, you're probably going to sell a lot less in unit sales in e-book than you would in mass market from an established and popular NY conglomerate line. The only reason indie/e authors can make as much or more than those mm authors, is that we make more per unit sale.


  9. Good blog post. I agree with the sentiments, but wanted to comment on one of the responses.

    It feels like the median ebook price is creeping steadily higher. Many newer releases are just as expensive as the hardbacks.

    That doesn't excuse piracy, but I just thought it deserved a mention.


  10. Hello, all,

    You're all going to jump on me, I'm sure, but I don't allow myself to get too worked up about ebook piracy. Yes, it's unfair. Yes, it's cheating us out of our hard-earned money. But to be honest I don't think that there's is much that can be done about it, and I don't have the energy to fume about it. Too much else to do. Instead, I want to work to cultivate the readers who are willing to shell out a couple of bucks for a good read.

    This isn't to say that I won't protest and report piracy if I find it. But I am under no illusions that anything I do is going to have much effect in stemming the flood.

    Also, I suspect that there is a strong correlation between legitimate sales and the number of times your books are pirated. The more popular you are, the more likely your work is to show up on a pirate site. (That's why relatively few of my books are out there, compared to dozens of Jude's, Jenna's and Brenna's.)


  11. One more thing. I've read comments by some authors saying that you shouldn't give away freebies as contest prizes because it cuts down your sales. I couldn't disagree more! If a reader wins a copy of your book, and likes it, that makes it more likely she'll buy the next one.

    At least, that's the way I see it.


  12. Thanks for all the comments everyone. I like how we can share different opinions here -- it makes you stop and look at things in a new way.

    Have a great week and enjoy the rest of the 'For Love or Money' debate!


  13. Terry, there's a reason why I said indie prices are averaging at $5-$6 for novel-length and $7 or $8 for plus-sized. The "creep" you're seeing in prices is largely the NY conglomerate and large family-owned in NY coming into the market and charging more for their books.

    The one exception is non-fiction books, especially reference. They follow a different pricing structure than fiction does, all the more so as you get into textbooks.

    Lisabet, I COMPLETELY agree. I give away free books in contests. Usually not the new release, but I do. I give away free reads. I donate stories to charity anthologies. Sometimes I write shorts or articles for the byline or little more. It all WORKS.

    And, I think you're right about the correlation between pirated copies and sold copies. Don't get me wrong. I don't think pirated copies help me sell a thing, but the fact that people know my name means I find my books pirated with sickening frequency. I wish it was a one-for-one comparison between pirated copies and sales, some days, since I've found sites that had more entries for me than they had for Sherrilyn Kenyon. If only I had her sales numbers to match it. Grinning...


  14. Hello, Jenna. I made a Google alert "ebook + piracy" yesterday, and your article was the first it sent me to. Thanks, I learned a lot--especially that I'm not alone.
    I've been wrestling with ebook piracy for over a year, and it has flatlined my ebook sales. One upload went on for a month before I caught it, and in that time, over 38,000 free copies of a $15 ebook were downloaded. Sickening! Not that I would have sold even .01% of that many if people had to buy it!
    There are card-carrying pirates, and then there are naive people who think they're doing everyone a favor by "sharing." I sometimes write to the naive ones, and they are chagrinned to learn that it's really theft.
    Anyway, I've gotten a new burst of energy to tackle this lately and am kicking some serious pirate butt. I've written a how-to piece on combatting book piracy that I hope will get posted on wikiHow, but in the meantime, if it would help any of you, I'd be happy to share it. Write to me at
    We can lick this sucka, comrades! Donna

  15. Donna,

    You might want to join this Yahoogroup...

    Also, check out...

    I know what you mean about the problems. On one pirate site of dozens I find every year, I found more than 800 entries for my books. That's just one site.



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