Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Opinions on Lending, Borrowing and Piracy

I know you've all been dying to hear my feelings on the matter, so in light of all the discussion on several of my author boards in recent weeks, I've decided to post a little note on the topic of "piracy" and "sharing" and "lending" and "ebook libraries," etc. Okay, so maybe you haven't been dying to know, but you're going to hear, anyway, 'K?

I should preface this whole discussion by saying that my opinions in no way reflect those of my publishers. They protect copyright, and I appreciate them for it, and I try to follow their policies as closely as I can, since I signed a contract with them and I wish to honour that relationship. Thus, anything I write here does not trump my agreements or change the publishers' desire/actions to protect their investments.

Having said that, I personally go back and forth on the subject.

I admit, I'm torn. I get the sense from others that I should possibly be outraged, like so many of my colleagues, when my books get read for free. I understand this feeling, I really do. When I see one of my books circulating for free, I sigh a little with disappointment. On one hand, it's kind of nice (as a new, little author) that people want to read my book, but it's disappointing that they'd rather not pay for it.

I get paid very little for my work, as it is. This is not my "day job," and I don't live in luxury. In fact, I teach on contract, and I struggle a lot of the time to keep the roof over my kid's head and food on the table, just like everyone. I don't write books for the money, but it would be nice if I got some bread out of publishing them. So, while it's great that people are reading (which really is a dream come true in its own right), it's also discouraging to see free copies going around when I make so little money for creating them.

Don't get me wrong here. In light of being perpetually broke, I also understand that it's hard to afford books at times. I sympathize, believe me. This is likely what saves me from "outrage" and keeps me in the "exhausted sigh" range. It's just not an easy time for anyone right now.

Now, piracy is a different issue from lending. Lending sites don't carry the files; they just match-make lenders with borrowers. Piracy sites hold the file and feed it out endlessly, which is a harsher sort of bummer.

Lending books is a time-honoured tradition, so it's harder to be annoyed by that. I've borrowed paperbacks from people, and I've lent some, so the word "lending" is difficult for me to cry over.

In fact, as a newish author, lending has a nice ring to it. There's a major part of me that thinks how wonderful it would be for someone to turn to their friend with one of my books and say, "Hey, take this - you'll like it!" That's the kind of "marketing" money can't buy, and is worth much more than its weight in gold.

The ebook lending sites are not quite that, though. There, it's strangers lending and borrowing, without the personal recommendations and shared enthusiasm. I still hope it can lead to new "fans," but it's hard to say. Somehow, it just seems different than a couple of sisters swapping paperbacks, but I think I need some more time to figure out how I feel about it.

For now, I guess the word around the block is that ereaders and distributors allow for this, so it's not illegal. So, for the time being, we kind of have to grin and bear it no matter how we feel, and hope for the best. For me, the best outcome is that people borrow one or two, enjoy my work, recommend me or buy my other books. That wouldn't be so bad, come to think of it.

(I should note that I have very little actual knowledge of how lending works, but I'm pretty sure it's not the end of the world. From what I gather, only certain Kindle books are available (which might actually work in the "little" author's favour, if the Big Pubs opt out), and only for 14 days at a time. I've heard B&N only allows ONE lend-out per purchase, EVER, so if that's true I don't think that's much of a threat. (I don't know for sure how many times you can do it with Kindle books, since I've seen different answers.) But, as I say, I don't have hard knowledge, so who knows? My gut says, though, Amazon would be all over lending sites and forums if they were a major drain on profits.)

(ETA: I have since discovered that Kindle books can also only be shared once.)

However, as an aside, I must say I'm not keen on the word "library" for actual file share sites. Libraries pay premium prices for their books and materials, and often buy multiple copies and eventually replace worn ones. Ebook files don't wear out, so it's a different kettle of fish. Eventually, someone could wait around and read my entire opus without anyone paying a dime, theoretically, if ARCs if my books are the root source. (This would be my not-so-good outcome, obviously.)

That's a bit alarming, the speed and eternity of it all. This is where file sharing squicks in a way paperback lending doesn't, I guess.

But I have to admit, while the poverty-stricken me would like the royalties, I cannot come down on the anti-lending side. Would everyone who "borrows" (or straight-up pirates) my book buy it, otherwise? Likely not. But does that put a rosy ring around file sharing? I honesty don't know.

I see good; I see bad. It's how I generally roll.

There is one final thing in all this that weighs on me, though. I know I can't be the only writer who's considered quitting due to the sometimes-low compensation in this business. (Most small pub and self-pub authors don't get advances, so we depend on royalties, which is a crap shoot.) I will always write, since I love it, but I struggle often with whether publishing is worth it. There are better paying second jobs, that's for sure. Or, I could finally get some sleep with my "spare time." Does diminishing the already meager pay-outs for authors discourage productivity? I'm not sure, but it's something I worry about. Yes, I know libraries and friend-sharing has always been with us, and books kept being made, but I wonder if file sharing could be what will drive the genie back in the bottle on indies and small publishers. Sure, there are less gate keepers in publishing today, or at least more gates available, but maybe the pirates will be what knocks "little" authors out of the ring instead. Will the burnout rate keep climbing?

The "everything online should be free" trend is something to consider over the coming years, in my opinion. It's not the whole issue-enchilada, but it's something to think about.

So, after all that rambling and prevarication, what am I left with? I'd love it if people bought my books, but I'm not foaming at the mouth over the whole thing, especially the lending. It might well have some benefits, even if it's frustrating when sales aren't great as it is.

I'm actually kind of okay with people wanting to "borrow" one of my books to see if they might like the others, to be honest. A little flattered, even. But, I would like it if that borrow led to a purchase at some point, I admit, or some other form of reciprocity. Thus, maybe this is my best wish: If you read one of my books for free, and I won't ask how, and liked it, maybe you could leave a review some place. That way, I still get something good out of it. That would lessen my indecision, I think.

In the meantime, I guess my only conclusion is that things happen as they happen. I'll just keep on writing, and not worrying about sales, or sharing. Out of my years of experience on this earth, the only piece of advice I've ever come across that really sticks is this: "Keep on trucking."

In other words: Keep calm and continue writing (and reading), folks.

And, regardless of how you come across my books, I do hope you enjoy them. In the end, that might be the only profit I can really hope for, and the only one that lasts.


Melissa Keir said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm also torn. I feel like now I'm a "real" author since people want my books but like you I struggle with people reading all my books for free.

Anne Holly said...

Yes, it's not a clear-cut thing, in my mind. I don't know that it harms sales, since I remain unconvinced all the people on those sites would buy as many as they borrow. It's very nice to be read, but, in the end, I'm kind of too tired to do this for nothing for long.

Andrew Ashling said...

Yes, the jury is still out whether piracy is harmful or might be beneficial in certain cases.

But I loved your closing sentence.

Anne Holly said...

Thanks, Andrew!

I keep thinking of all the bands that benefited from tape sharing and so forth, which makes me think it's not an "all-bad" situation for new creators. Yet, I can't dismiss all the anger I see from other authors.

I reckon the best course is just to keep on keeping on, and just keep on getting one's name and work out there.

Thanks for the comments, you two! It's so nice to have some feedback. :)

Anne Holly said...

I updated this today to include some new info I scrounged up on lending. The 14-day period and such gave me a lot of comfort, but I admit, never having lent or borrowed, I don't know for sure how that works. Comments are very welcome from anyone who has more insight.

Chrystalla Thoma said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anne Holly said...

I really don't think I have any issues with lending, to be honest. It's been such an integral part of reading for so long, especially in genre lit, that I can't argue with it, even if technology changes. I can definitely see how it could benefit authors for people to sample easily through borrowing.

But, I can understand the discomfort with "lending sites," as being kind of different from the traditional methods. It still doesn't bug me, but I can understand it.

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