Dear Book Thieves,
I don’t know you, except from Twitter, where I came across the above conversation this morning. I don’t wish you ill, nor am I trying to encourage anyone to harass or shame you. There are a lot of people out there doing exactly what you are doing, and the fact that you should all be ashamed, and clearly are not, means to me that you haven’t really thought about the consequences of what you’re doing. No-one need be ashamed of ignorance – but ignorance can be remedied.
Let me try to explain.
It takes a lot of people to bring a book into print. (I’m not talking about self-published books here, which obey slightly different rules, and which are sometimes offered for free, to build an online readership, or legitimate free downloads, which are often used as a marketing tool).
No, I’m talking about people who make their living creating, writing and selling books; people like editors, PRs, reps, copy-editors, booksellers, cover designers and artists. There people rely on a monthly salary to look after their families, buy food, pay their mortgages. These are the people losing their jobs, right now, all over the world, and why? Because publishers, squeezed on all sides by companies like Amazon, are having to cut costs where they can.
Of course, authors don’t get salaries. Authors get what is known as an advance on sales. This can sometimes be very large (J.K. Rowling-large) or very small (£5000 or so), depending on how many sales the publishers expect to make.
The advance is subject to tax, of course, like any other income, plus agents’ fees, and it usually has to last the author till the next book. So an advance of £10,000 or so (fairly typical for a first-timer) would have to stretch a pretty long way.
There are also royalties, which means that the author gets a certain percentage (usually between 7% and 12% of the sale price of the book -let’s call it 10%, which is generous).
But, the author only receives royalties when the advance from the publisher has been paid back – which means that, if your advance is £10,000, with a royalty of 10% per book priced at £10, you would have to have sold at least 100,000 copies (and in light of discounts from supermarkets and Amazon, usually a lot more) your publisher breaks even and you start to get royalties.
Some authors sell more than that. Other authors never will. And these are the authors who suffer most from online book piracy. Because if an author doesn’t make money for their publisher via royalties, sooner or later the publisher (who is not a charity for authors), will stop publishing those books. The author will be out of a job.
It’s happening right now; mid-list authors with a decent (if not an enormous) readership are being dropped by their publishers in favour of the big names who will sell millions. In the same way, editors, copy-editors, proof-readers, reps, printers, booksellers, designers and all the other people who contribute to the making of a book are losing their jobs. Last year my publisher made 30 people redundant (I don’t know how many authors they dropped). This year it’s happening again.
Who’s responsible? Well, you are, actually. People who download books illegally from torrent sites without paying for them, and those people who “share” the books, under the mistaken belief that they are doing the world a favour. They’re not. They’re killing the publishing industry. They’re killing mid-list authors by reducing their sales to the point where publishers no longer believe in them. They’re making it impossible for publishers to invest in new writers, niche writers, writers you’ve never heard of – and never will, thanks to people like you.
I know books are expensive. They’re expensive for a reason. It takes a lot of work to make a book (and not just the writer’s work). Some people genuinely can’t afford to buy the books they want to read.
However, there’s a great way of reading books for free. The library. It’s free, it’s legal, it’s a tremendous community resource, and guess what? Book piracy is killing libraries,
Still thinking of downloading that book?
Now’s the time to feel ashamed.
BRILLIANT POST from Joanne Harris on illegal book downloads. Very important message here…