Tag Archives: piracy

Book piracy is likely a thing of the past

Most writers are still getting used to the idea that almost anybody can get a copy of almost anything on the internet, including the book that took the writer months or years of effort to create. Understandably, many writers get very angry about this, while others think constructively about how copying can help writers and creators build new business models.

Books are actually much less affected by piracy / file sharing / copying than other media. Reading audiences are smaller in size and generally more loyal. The general wisdom today is that copying brings more upsides than downsides, and that even if it doesn’t, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. But even as authors are adapting to the 15 year old reality of file-sharing, technology is disrupting the digital paradigm in what might be exactly the opposite direction.

You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin as a new kind of money that fluctuates wildly in value, leading to multiple suicides and suspicious deaths. It’s a cryptocurrency, each “bitcoin” the outcome of a complex calculation. Bitcoin in turn is built on a technology called Blockchain. And it’s highly likely that Blockchain, or a technology similar to it, are about to effectively end digital file sharing.

All you need to know to understand why is that Blockchain allows people to track online transactions with a very high degree of accuracy. The how isn’t profoundly complicated, you can read about that elsewhere. Imagine that every time a digital music film, film or book was copied, the creator could see the exact details of that transaction. That’s the promise of Blockchain.

A number of startups are currently attempting to lever Blockchain type technologies as a way to limit, control or stop file sharing. Currently these are music centric, but there’s every reason to think this will be applied across all digital media types. It’s early days, but here are a few Blockchain based models you can easily imagine emerging.

Limited Editions – writers might choose to limit the number of copies of a book to create artificial scarcity. This is impossible with ebooks currently, but an ebook integrated into a block chain can be tracked to limit its distribution.

Trust Systems – writers give readers access to a book, perhaps for a set fee, but if it’s then discovered that user has made or passed on copies they are knocked out of the trust system and don’t get future access.

Collectables – the Blockchain system could make all kinds of digital assets collectable, in the same way they were in the print era. Signed editions, first editions, variant cover and all kinds of merchandising, all become possible for artists to make income from.

The implications of Blockchain for creators are staggering. To get a deeper insight pick up a copy of Blockchain : Blueprint for a New Economy by Melanie Swann.


Authors! Book pirates aren’t your best friends, they’re your only friends.

There are 7 billion people on planet Earth. 7,000,000,000. That’s a vast audience that in the digital age is only really limited by language and literacy barriers. But let’s be really tight, and say that the operational potential upper audience for your book is 1 billion people. 1,000,000,000.

“Your enemy is not piracy, but obscurity.”

The best selling novels of all time like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter top out at between 100-200 million copies sold. That’s 10-20% of our arbitrary 1 billion. Sell 10 million books and you’ll easily enter the ranks of all time bestselling authors. But that’s far more than you’ll need to get on the New York Times bestseller list, which are often around 10,000 sales in a week. And a writer can penetrate the Amazon top 100 with only 1000 books sold. That’s right, you can become a bestselling author by reaching only 0.0001% of your potential audience.

If your goal is to be a bestseller, lack of people is not the problem.

“Your enemy is not piracy, but obscurity.” It doesn’t seem to matter how often this famous statement by Tim O’Reilly is quoted, authors and the publishing industry that represents them don’t seem to take it on board. That’s partly a matter of emotion – success as a writer is hard fought and for anyone who doesn’t find it, piracy is a convenient lightning rod for negative emotions. But I suspect the wider cause is that many writers have miscast the basic nature of their problem.

CONTENT by Cory Doctorow

Obscurity is your problem. Obscurity of the kind a snowflake faces in a snowstorm, or a scream faces in hell. There are 7 billion people in the world and almost all of them are selling something on the internet. And so, as a writer with the goal of becoming a bestseller, are you. Engineers use a term called “signal to noise” to talk about the challenge of getting a desired signal through the background noise around it. The signal to noise ratio of the internet is immeasurably huge.

But the irony is that you may be better off penetrating it as a indie published writer than with the backing of a major publisher. Because in the unfolding era of digital publishing, major publishers aren’t demonstrating a single clue about how to overcome that staggering signal to noise challenge. I’m watching hundreds of mainstream published debut authors plunge in to the abyss, while all the new names I see establishing themselves in the imaginations of readers are either indie publishing or building their own marketing platforms on blogs and podcasts. Why is this?

Could it be that the hysterical response of publishers to piracy is emblematic of why? Faced with the titanic struggle to penetrate the signal of a new writer through the noise of the internet marketing apocalypse, what do publishers do when they identify small pockets of people who are actually interested in reading that author’s book? They waste their time issuing DMCA take down notices (because legal threats are always a great way to solidify a reader / writer relationship) when they should be taking a leaf out of the indie writer playbook and doing everything they can to befriend the book pirates. Because while pirates aren’t your best friends, as a debut author they may well be your only friends.

Learn why piracy may be a thing of the past and find insight into the mystery of dramatic suspense.