Many of my fellow authors get pretty hot under the collar about file-sharing websites that infringe on our copyrights by facilitating illegal downloads of e-books and files made by scanning physical copies of books. While I deplore the practice of sharing such files--it is, after all, a clear violation of both United States and international law--I am not of the opinion that every such file download, or even a large percentage of them, represents lost revenue for publishers and authors.
People will take just about anything that's free. If I gave you a link right here and now so you could download an e-copy of my latest book at no cost, dozens of you would click without even scanning the rest of this post. Well, sorry, there's no free (legal) download. But if reading my book is important to you, click here and download it from eHarlequin for a mere $4.46.
Did you click? Probably not. Right now some of you are muttering that you can't afford $4.46 just to read a romance novel. Yet you might end up going to the movies this weekend and spending more than that on your bucket of popcorn alone.
That doesn't hurt my feelings. We all make our own choices, and I accept that buying my book isn't a priority for most of you. But again, if I were offering free copies, many of you would hurry to get one before the offer expired.
That being the case, it's unreasonable to assume that all or even most of the people who download illegal copies of e-books would purchase those books (in print or electronic editions) if they weren't available via file-sharing sites. So I don't worry about losing money that way. In fact, I wonder if that activity might actually increase my sales. It's possible, isn't it, that some of the people who download illegal copies of my books are being exposed to my writing for the first time and might like it enough to actually buy a book some day?
Don't think I'm condoning the illegal activity. I'm just saying there's no way of knowing how much--if any--revenue the average author and her publisher are losing when those files are shared. And I'm saying that any truly lost revenue just might be offset by the "free advertizing" the books and authors receive from the lawbreakers.
Argue as much as you like in the Comments, but this is how I see it. (And those of you who are wondering if I paid for all of the songs on my iPod, the answer is yes. I even put $60 worth of iTunes gift cards in my kids' Christmas stockings.)
Now here's something sort of funny: This week a new file-sharing site has caused a fresh round of teeth-gnashing among my author friends, with several of them reporting finding titles of their as-yet-unreleased books listed on the site. That seemed rather strange, so I did a little checking.
Download-Provider.com claims to have over 1,400,000 files (movies, games, software, etc.), which anyone can download after paying $4.95 to join the site. A quick search showed all four of my books available for download, and that smelled fishy because the first two were never released as e-books. Sure, the print copies could have been scanned and uploaded to the site, but I wasn't buying that. So I entered "Brenda Coulter My Next Book" and what do you know? They had that "title" available for download. I then entered "You people are jerks" and "Download Provider is a scam" and the search results showed files by both of those names available for download.
Of course I didn't join the site, so I don't know what would happen if a member clicked on a link to one of those bogus files. It's possible that a member's search wouldn't turn up results for everything, the way a visitor's search does. But I figure anyone stupid and greedy enough to pay a site like that $4.95 in order to illegally download copyrighted material deserves to get burned.
UPDATED 4:35 PM
Turns out the website I mentioned (http://download-provider.com) is a total scam. They'll charge your credit card again and again and sign you up for porn sites, as explained by these frustrated people at Complaints Board ("Helpful information for consumers regarding allegedly unethical companies, bad business practices.")
It's not easy to feel sorry for the people who thought they were paying $4.95 for all the illegal downloads their little hearts desired and instead found themselves cheated, but somehow I still do.